Five Myths About “No Social Media Experts” Busted

Still? We’re still talking about whether there are social media experts?

This argument has reared its ugly head again, when some social media practitioners (frankly, people who I would call experts) have declared that they would never ever hire a social media expert, because there’s no such thing.

It’s interesting how people can declare there are no experts with an air of authority that they just implied doesn’t exist. I’m firmly in the “there are social media experts, so deal with it” camp, and have been talking about this for a couple years now, even arguing with other social media experts about their own existence.

So here are the same five myths I hear over and over, and my response to them.

Myth #1) Social media is new.

Social media is not new. It’s really, really old. It’s older than Kyle Lacy, and it’s even his birthday today.

Social media goes back before the mid-90s when AOL cracked 1 million members. (I became member #832,000-something in 1994).
Social media goes back before the mid-80s when AOL was born.
Social media goes back to the late-70s when BBSes and the Usenet were born.

Social media is at least 30 years old, even if we didn’t call it social media back then. But if you don’t want to accept that BBSes and AOL aren’t early forms of social media, then remember: Facebook is 7 years old, LinkedIn is 8 years old. That’s not new either.

2) Social media is always changing.

Yes, and so is medical science, but we still call doctors medical experts. So is finance, but we still call financial planners experts. So is auto racing, but we still call the engineers experts. So is animal husbandry, but we still — okay, that hasn’t changed since the dawn of time.

The social media tools may change, but the idea of relationship marketing has not. People still don’t want to be screamed at by TV ads, or spammed by, well, spammers. People want to have relationships with their brands. That hasn’t changed.

The only thing in social media that’s changing are the numbers of people joining it. But the idea of “being a valuable resource to your customers,” of “don’t spam people,” of “practice good customer service” has never changed.

3) Social media is just a channel. You can’t be an expert at a channel.

Tell that to the TV advertising guys, tell that to the radio advertising guys. Tell it to people who excel at trade shows, who kick ass at street teams, or are wizards at special events.

Social media may be a channel, but so is every other form of communication we use.

4) Social media is just a tool. You can’t be an expert at a tool.

No one said they were an expert at the tool. You said that’s what we had to be when you said “Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to be an expert.”

Remember, it’s not the tool that’s important, it’s message creation and social psychology. In other words, can you create an effective message? Do you know how your target audience will respond to that message?

A good communicator understands his or her audience, and can tailor a message that will move, inform, educate, or persuade that audience. Journalists know how to write good news stories that people want to watch or listen to (now there’s an industry that’s changing all the time. No one’s whining that there’s no such thing as a news expert.) Marketers know how to create compelling copy that makes people want to buy stuff. TV producers know how write shows that make people want to watch.

5) Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to be an expert.

Oh dear God, he did not! Malcolm Gladwell said if you want to be an outlier, the freak of nature who outshines everyone else, you need 10,000 hours of solid practice. Hence the name of his book, Outliers.

To get 10,000 hours of anything, you need to do it for a full-time job, 40 hours a week, for 5 years. If you’re going to quote the 10,000 hour rule at me, then I’m calling anyone with six or more years of experience at anything an expert.

This Is What An “Expert” Is

To me, a real expert is someone who knows more about something than most other people. Even the dictionary agrees with me: a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority: a language expert. (

An expert is not the person who knows the most, is the best in the world, or has stopped learning new stuff. They know more than the average person. That’s it. They don’t get to wear a sash, they don’t get a parade, they don’t get the best seats in restaurants. They get to say “I know more than most people about this subject,” and that’s it.

My doctor better know more than me. My financial planner better know more than me. Dario Franchitti’s engineer better know more about fixing race cars than anyone in his garage. They don’t have to be the best there is, they just need to know enough to help me succeed at what I (or Dario Franchitti) want to do.

And as long as you know more than most people — at least enough to fill a book — you need to wear the mantle of expert and don’t be a snob about it. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be charging thousands of dollars to speak at an event, and should tell your publisher you don’t know as much as you claimed when you signed your book contract.

Social Media is Older Than You Think It Is. Much Older.

Social media is not as new as people think it is.

It’s not even as new as the new date you just thought of after you saw that last sentence.

Social media, or at least its very beginnings, is almost as old as I am. (Give or take 10 years.)

The very first place for people to communicate online was on the bulletin board systems (BBSes), which were created in the late 1970s, and allowed people to dial in on their 300 baud modems. They were usually only for the hobbyists and geeks who wanted to talk about things that interested them, usually computers. Since long-distance charges applied for out-of-town groups, most users were from their particular city. And user gatherings (this was before we called them “meetups”) were a regular event, where people had the chance to meet those they had been chatting with online the night before.

In 1980, the Usenet — a collection of BBS-type discussion groups — was created and used widely in academia. There, people could visit a group, post articles and messages, and other people would reply to them. While Usenet was originally started to be discussion groups for researchers and computer users, people started creating groups for their other interests. Back in 1990, I joined a soccer discussion group on Usenet, and had “friends” from England, Scotland, Australia, Italy, and Germany. We would discuss our favorite soccer teams, and the 1990 World Cup, which had just finished before I joined. There were groups for political viewpoints, philosophical thought, favorite TV shows, and various sports. I connected with people from all around the world, but especially in the US.

"You've got mail!"

Four years later, I took the plunge and joined AOL, downloading the first software in 90 minutes over my wicked fast 14.4K modem. (I had to choose between it, Compuserve, Prodigy, eWorld, and a host of other online communities.) AOL was the first major attempt at offering an online community to people outside the university setting. This was like Usenet on steroids, because there was a more graphical interface to AOL, and it looked nice. There were also more consumer groups, geared toward those non-computer users. I belonged to groups for writers, home brew makers, cooks, and fans of Celtic music. Since AOL had local and long distance access numbers, our friends were from out of town, and meetups were unlikely (and frequently warned against).

A lot of people outgrew AOL, once they learned they could explore outside the walled community with a web browser and an Internet Service Provider. We consumed the web for information, we emailed each other funny websites we found, and we shared graphics by breaking up ASCII files and emailing them, reassembling them in word processor file, and then converting them with a text-to-graphic converter. But we didn’t have community, unless we returned to AOL or joined an email listserv.

It wasn’t until groups like Friendster, Myspace, and Facebook took advantage of the Internet’s increasing speed and the web browsers that did all that assembling and converting for us, making it easier to connect with our friends, and even telling us where they lived. Twitter boiled communication down to its barest essence, letting us share information in text-sized bits. And LinkedIn played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with our professional networks, letting us see who we were connected to, and how far we were from each other.

The point is this: social media is older than Facebook (2004). Way older. To truly understand the history — and age — of social media, you need to talk to the computer geeks who were online in the late 1970s and early 1980s, participating in the different BBSes and Usenet groups that dotted the online landscape.