Social Media Experts. Real or Fake?

9 03 2010

I’m sick of hearing that ‘there is no such thing as a social media expert’.  I hear it a lot.

The latest protagonist was Bloom Media’s Alex Craven talking to The Drum magazine. To be fair to Alex he actually supports his argument by referring to the Wikipedia definition (you need 10,000 hours experience to be an expert – although it requires a citation).

What I dislike is that most people who proclaim the absence of social media expertise are doing so to show just how much they know about social media i.e establish their own expertise.  As an aside I’m conscious of the internal irony of this rant and I’ll try to avoid it becoming too meta.

The simple truth is that there are quite a number of genuine social media experts out there.  Chris Brogan is an expert on social media, Todd Defren is an expert on PR in the social space, as are David Meerman Scott and Brian Solis.  Journalist Aleks Krotoski has an encyclopaedic knowledge of social media.  With the upcoming UK election people like Mark Pack, Stuart Bruce and Iain Dale will be in demand for their expertise in politics and the social web.  Philip Sheldrake is an expert in social web analytics.  There are many more of you I know.

I have a slightly different view on the notion of ‘gurus’.  If you encounter anyone that describes *themselves* as a social media guru (or a guru in anything at all for that matter) I suggest you give them a very wide berth.



14 responses

9 03 2010
Kerry Gaffney

Perhaps we need to change it from ‘there’s no such thing as a social media expert’, to ‘there’s no where near as many social media experts as social media experts may lead us to believe’.

You’re right there are experts but there are also a lot of charlatan’s out there, better to warn people that they might be buying snake oil before the fact.

11 01 2011
Colan M

The well-charted rise and impact of social media has negated the argument which had it pegged as the emperor’s new clothes of the comms world.

Having said that, I’ve worked with quite a few agencies on social media propositions and the dedicated social media ‘experts’ rarely outperformed a rounded comms professional or team, who had the vision to place the activity within a wider well-balanced strategy. Indeed, as a client, I’ve been been at times horrified by the lack of overall comms awareness demonstrated by social media types.

Aren’t we just reliving past trends with different channels (for example,the blog-boom)? Social media, for most organisations, should form part of a sound communications strategy, with the changing SM channels slotting in on a tactical level.

11 01 2011

Colan, I couldn’t agree more. We don’t have any social media experts at the agency where I work. Understanding of on-line channels is a core skill for everyone and communications is always integrated without the need for what now feels almost like an arbitrary separation of ‘conventional’ and ‘digital’ channels.

9 03 2010
David Clare

This is really interesting for me. As a student about to graduate in PR and Marketing, I wrote my dissertation on Social Media. While you might say a dissertation doesn’t give me enough depth into the subject, I think it’s a really good start.

All my student friends would probably say they know plenty about Social Media through their own personal use, but from my studies they certainly do not (and at the moment I am hoping employees will distinguish between people who use Social media, and people who understand Social Media).

I have learnt a great deal about Social Media, and compared to 99% of people also graduating on my course I’d like to think I am more of an expert.

But I am not yet an expert really, so how do I become one? Is it just by becoming famous in the PR world for being the go-to-guy?

I think I am making a start, but at the moment I’m just a gur…. knowledgeable guy.

9 03 2010

I like the way you’re breaking this down. Sure – loads of people use social media, and so we all feel we have some element of ‘expertise’, but we’re not all mechanics. There’s a load of sub disciplines, as you point out. We can also talk about expertise as a relative concept. Dave, who handles social media communications for his business, may be an expert within his company, in relation to his colleagues, but compared to Sue, who advises across a large range of organisations, he isn’t. But maybe Sue is a different kind of expert compared with Jane, who installs and configures social media systems and trains people in how to use them.

There are people who are amazing at the technical side, some who are brilliant at hand holding people through the social, cultural and economic changes the technology is bringing about. There are analysts, who know the big picture inside out and then there are all the people who are experts in their own context – they know their markets, their networks and the platforms they use to engage.

Lumping them all under one banner ‘expert’ is ultimately, not going to help you decide who you need… the key is finding someone who has relevant experience to help you meet your needs.

Dr Kelly Page at Cardiff University has a nice discussion of this here

9 03 2010
Chris Norton

Hmm, interesting I am actually becoming bored of people proclaiming to be experts and then knowing very little. I recently saw a social media expert selling blogs for XX amount and when I looked at their work they were using the standard WordPress template with all of the orginal development links in it and I groaned. I think there are experts but there are a lot of bull shi**ers too.

9 03 2010
Rob Brown

Chris I don’t disagree. There are loads of bullshitters but that doesn’t mean there are no experts at all.

9 03 2010
Chris Norton

That’s what I said, there are some genuine experts out there but it is identifying the real ones that has become more difficult for the normal marketer due to all of the others that think that branding a Facebook page and starting a twitter stream is strategic social media. I haven’t disappeared up my backside on this one it just seems there are now thousands of people claiming to be experts.

10 03 2010
Stuart Bruce

As one of those who has frequently said “there is no such thing as a social media expert” and you’ve disagreed by saying I am one I think now’s a good time to clarify what I now think.

One reason I’ve frequently said that I’m not an expert is that although I fulfilled the criteria of being very knowledgeable I hadn’t sufficiently fulfilled the criteria of being skilful. To be truly skilful you’ve got to have done it – a lot. I’d done it a bit – a lot more than most, but still only a bit. Contrast that to public relations where I’ve done it for 20 years so I’m both knowledgeable and skilful.

The situation is now different. In the last three years I’ve done lots of social media for clients, both globally and in the UK. I’m now far more comfortable with the mantle of ‘expert’ – it’s up to others to judge if it’s justified.

What we still have far too much of is the social media experts who’ve simply become so because of what they’ve read and heard, rather than what they’ve actually done.

12 03 2010
Rob Brown

Stuart, I think you have expertise in social media and are without question an expert.

I agree with you that there are lots of charlatans out there, but the truly brilliant thing about the web is that a little bit of research reveals them for what they are. Those that take advice from them without doing that research deserve what they get.

10 03 2010

There’s a huge difference between people who are experts at using social media to chat to their mates and make new friends and people who successfully use social media to promote businesses.

Most of the so-called “experts” are just individuals who have a lot of Twitter followers or Facebook friends and the “expertise” is in how to get loads of “friends” – not necessarily in how to get the right friends, improve customer relations, do a bit of PR, improve brand reputation, control conversations, market a product, get the word out about promotions, etc. – and who know how to track and monitor the activity and can give some idea of ROI.

It’s a new “industry” and as such this is going to be an issue for a few years yet until people start to really establish their credentials and can demonstrate case studies and work they’ve done for actual clients.

10 03 2010
Mark Hanson

Yep, the experts are the ones who have years of hands-on experience, actually creating and then executing strategies on behalf of organisations. There’s precious few of those around, especially on this side of the pond.

Clients want to see you’ve put your ideas into practice (preferably for ‘someone like them’), tackled the inevitable issues and problems that arise, measured the success, demonstrated the results and what it means for their business, taken the learnings, made the contacts….

I think we do kinda have experts, as Rob says, there are at the very least some experts in specific elements or sectors, but I think we’ve grown weary of folk who blog about what’s happening but haven’t done much of the doing.

It’ll come, and I’d say very soon.

14 03 2010
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18 05 2010
Richard Hamer

Self-titled experts are generally best avoided. I’ve 15+ years in journalism and social media (new media, when I started out), does this make me an expert; I guess so? I don’t go round banging my drum, I just keep an eye on those that do.
As an aside I heard not too long ago of an agency in Scotland charging £2k to set up a Twitter feed. Does that make the experts? I’m saying nothing.

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