Every day, I get a number of new followers on Twitter who all have something in common – they bill themselves as social media experts or gurus.
I’m here to tell you right now that you are not. Sorry to burst your bubble.
These “experts” come in a wide range of flavors, some worse than others. But one thing is certain…none of them are actually experts.
The Job Hunter
The first social media “expert” I see on Twitter is what I call the job hunter. These are people who have no real basis of calling themselves social media experts, but who, frankly, need work. So, they embrace social media, thinking that this is a job they can easily do at home to make money. They may have robust personal accounts, but rarely do they have any kind of professional experience with social media. They bill themselves as experts because they think social media is an easy way to make money.
Social media is a brand new avenue for traditional marketers, and I applaud those who are forward-thinking enough to embrace Twitter and other new media tools. That said, if you’re brand new to social media, you are not a social media expert, no matter how many years of experience you have in traditional marketing and advertising. These people are typically easy to pick out because they approach social media in a direct marketing type of way. They bill themselves as experts because they think social media is the same as traditional marketing tools that they use.
Also common on Twitter is the “professional.” Note: just because you are paid to do something doesn’t mean that you are an expert at it. I think this is the problem with more social media “experts.” Really, what makes you an expert? Because you do it all day? Because you are successful at it? Because people pay you for your help? I don’t know that any of those things makes anyone an expert. It does make you a professional – and that’s awesome!
But the term “expert” makes me think that you know all there is to know about a subject. Or at least pretty close.
I would argue that no one – not a single person out there – is a social media expert. The field is too new. Everything in this field is changing really, really quickly. Just when you think you’re an expert, the world of social media changes, and you have roughly a billion new things to learn. So you can be a professional…but are you an expert? In my mind, no.
Some Closing Thoughts
Bottom line, if you’re trying to make money giving other people social media advice, if you’re “the job hunter,” get some experience under your belt before you start charging people for your services. And if you’re “the marketer” – take some time to learn new types of media before you start dishing out advice that doesn’t make sense in this new world.
And if you’re “the professional”? Keep doing what you do…but be careful. By calling yourself an expert, you set up expectations in people’s minds, and it is hard to be an expert of any sort in an industry that is so new. When you call yourself an expert, it makes me afraid that you think you know everything, that you’re not going to make an effort to learn anymore.
Before I close out this post, I did want to make a few more points that I see a lot of “experts” from all three of the above categories making:
- You are not a social media expert if you follow me on Twitter and then unfollow me the next day, having never said anything to me at all, because I haven’t auto-followed you in return.
- You are not a social media expert if you only have a dozen followers.
- You are not a social media expert if you send me auto DMs about your services, your blog, or anything else – and you’re especially not a social media expert if you send me multiple auto DMs.
- You are not a social media expert if your stream is all automated links, with no RTs, @ replies, or personal tweets in any way.
And remember, calling yourself a social media expert doesn’t make you one. I would much rather see proof of your expertise – show me results in terms of numbers, give me testimonials from your clients, and use Twitter in a way that proves you know how to use it.
I prefer the word “enthusiast.” I’m not close to being an expert but it’s my passion. Nice post, Alli. I’m in agreement.
I like that word, enthusiast. You know, I’ve found that the people who are most passionate about the field of social media would never dream of calling themselves experts. Telling, huh? If I were going to hire someone to help me with my social media, I’d much rather hire someone who says, “I love this field” than someone who says, “I know everything there is to know bout this field.”
will you have my children?
(just kidding… but i hope my gratitude comes across accurately)
This has need to be said for a long time.. i’ve wanted to shout it from the rooftops.. but could never think of the right way… you did and God Bless you for doing it.
p.s. me thinks you will enjoy this..
Excellent points, sadly though, most of those folks who are acting that way won’t be the ones reading this post.
**SOMEONE** has to be an expert. There are always people top-of-the-game in every industry. Problem here is 1) I don’t feel ‘social media’ should in fact be a separate industry & 2) the title won’t be around in five years. I cringe every time I have to identify myself or my company as a social media company/expert/guru just because those not familiar with “online communication technology” look for that term. I am a business developer, technology EXPERT, and strategist and I have been for 20+ years. My ‘title’ just so happens to be different this decade. Last decade it was technical project manager and business development strategist (“biz dev”). My tools have changed, but the business expertise – repeat EXPERTISE – have only increased.
PS – the traditional marketers that have embraced social media channels remind me of reformed smokers….
Hm…I don’t know if I agree with the notion that someone has to be an expert. Certainly, someone out there knows the most about any given thing (that’s just statistics), but just because you know the most doesn’t mean you are an expert.
I agree with you that it is a problem that those not familiar with the industry look for those terms.
You totally nailed it Alli. I completely agree that the term “expert” is way overused in this arena. Thanks for a great post!
I am in agreement with the spirit of your post but not necessary the black and white statement that there are no social media experts. I follow many that I would consider experts on Twitter, and have had the opportunity to meet and work with some as well. You are right – the space is new, and always changing… but so was the automotive industry early last century and the microcomputer industry a few decades back. Nonetheless, I think those industries had early experts during that time.
What I do agree with is the amount of saturation that you’re experiencing. It’s easy to put up a profile that claims to be something you’re not – with the intention of building relationships that you might not otherwise be able to or getting a job, as you say. That makes finding the true experts difficult.
Great blog, I’ll be reading it.
I think a problem arises as well because the term “expert” in and of itself isn’t black and white. The way you define an expert is probably not the way I define an expert.
There’s a little bit of the Dunning-Kruger Effect happening here. People who don’t know they are ignorant are robbed of this potential knowledge by their incompetence. Similarly, those with genuine expertise are more hesitant to claim mastery of the topic.
Or simpler, harsher terms: “I’m no expert, but I’m certainly more of one that guy with twelve followers and no experience.”
I would suggest that social media consists of two components: understanding human nature and leveraging modern communication technology. The latter is much less important the former. We are all working to become experts in social interaction; therefore we are all, to one degree or another, social media experts.
The term I use to represent my state of knowledge, expertise, skill, and what have you is “Practitioner”. I think we’re all practicing (like a doctor, I hope!) and learning as we go.
I hope that catches on.
Good article – I think anyone who calls themselves “expert” probably thinks they have the answers, which means that they are unlikely to pay attention to what’s going on around them, which makes them … much less useful than a novice.
Change is like that. 🙂
Great thoughts Alli. In my personal opinion, to truly be an expert, those you actually help with your product or services, are who determine that, not you by self proclaiming that you are an expert.
well.. it’s not that someone calls you an expert.. my last SVP boss used to call me a Google Guru…
i did teach her about google.. therefore to her i was her guru.. BUT.. we had to agree we would not use that and call me SEO or Google scientist..
(because i do practice scientific methods in social media and seo)
here is what is funny…
sad to say.. BUT, there are probably the same amount of people who are credible in social media and/or SEO.
meaning.. both are filled with people calling themselves experts, yet both have giving unproven regurgitated advice.
I completely agree with your fundamental assessment. The word expert should be used for those who deserve the title. This is, however, an great for people who are tech savvy and business wise to help those who need it and make a couple of dollars along the way. You will not get rich, but you can build a model if it is based on people and not bots. Opportunist is another decent word.
“I’ve found that the people who are most passionate about the field of social media would never dream of calling themselves experts.”
I’ve been *writing* this post in my head for months and months…I’m always looking for new people to follow/read but as soon as I see the word EXPERT or GURU or something of the like…it turns me off immediately.
“Guru” makes me chuckle the most. Not that some people don’t qualify, they certainly may.
I was sitting with a group of people at a restaurant a couple years ago, and the guy next to me asked me what I did. I said “I produce a conference and tradeshow for the New Media industry, how ’bout yourself?” He replied, “I’m an internet marketing guru.”
I immediately pictured him sitting cross-legged and robed on a mountain top saying something Gandhi-esque, such as “I offer you peace. I offer you love. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. And now with my latest launch, you too can have that wisdom for 3 payments of $499.97, but only for a limited time!“ 🙂
This is an excellent post! Thank you for writing it.
I totally agree with you. I don’t know what’s wrong with all these people who claim they are experts or gurus. How dare they even state something like that? If you are in your right mind, you will just let your actions speak louder than your words!
Thank you again!
Thank you! I am a professional, and a job seeker, and I am constantly competing against so called “experts” / interns for jobs that require actual experience. I am constantly saying that if someone calls themselves an expert, they are trying to sell you a bridge to nowhere. And yet, companies buy into the hype with no evidence of results. Sigh. I will now point them to this post!
If you’re well-versed, thoughtful, experienced, successful, sought-after and highly-regarded in any industry, you may qualify as an expert to some degree. Further, if you’re truly one of the most skilled of your kind, some may refer to you as a guru. But when you refer to yourself as an expert or guru, it can definitely come across as pompous, self-affected, and depending on who you’re talking to, it can call your character into question.
The best performers I’ve ever met in business or sport, almost without exception, let their actions speak for them. They never over-sold, over-promoted, and those I admired most were a combination of extremely talented, knowledgeable and humble—knowing that they are ever-growing, continually pursuing betterment, and never satisfied with the level or accomplishments they’d already achieved.
Some people want to become good, and take steps toward that end. Few endeavor further practice to become great. Fewer still work the hardest to become outstanding. Expertise is relative. The good performer appears to be an expert by the novice. The outstanding performer is perceived as an expert by the great.
I’ve met several people in the past couple of years I’d characterize as Social Media experts to some degree. I’m a student of Social Media, they are more knowledgeable, I’m learning from “the experts”. Those people never directly refer to themselves as experts, but others may when talking about them. It’s all a matter of perspective.
I agree with Alli that if you’re promoting yourself as an expert, prove it and earn the distinction by creating valuable results for your clients.
Hi Alli great blog post and excellent comments.
There are social media experts in the world all be it not many. They have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a desire to experiment and discover new methods. They exert tremendous influence and a couple of names come readily to mind.
Three cheers for Alli on this one!
I will add another:
If you call yourself a Social Media Guru, Ninja, SuperStar, etc. you are not a “Social Media Expert”.
This is kinda like the “you might be a redneck” I would love to see others thoughts on who isn’t a social media expert.
If you Follow Friday by loading 140 characters worth of @names without any reason for the recommendation, you’re not a social media expert.
if you do it 10 times every friday i agree… once of twice in your life it’s ok.
Your problem is with the word “expert”. That’s all this blog post is really about. Fine. Many people have a problem with that word too and its not just within the realm of social media. It’s good practice to be under-confident in what one knows.
I really like this post, its what we all believe, Im just a media virgin, but Im immersing myself in the culture and most of my findings are the kind of people you are describing. More power to you, thanks for this,
Find me @sifu33 on twitter Im not an expert!
If I may add one. You’re not social network expert just because you have been labeled one by someone out there in the “Twittersphere”. I spent the better part of 2 months undoing the notion that I was an “expert” and all because I helped and promoted a few people on Twitter for free. Imagine that… using Twitter for what it was really meant for?
Great article, Alli! In addition to your points I would add some didactic education in the field would be helpful. Covered this very issue in “Expertise in Social Media” (http://bit.ly/ho4BTx). Given the general lack of desire to take the long road and spend time learning about the art/science, daresay your artilce will receive much more positive response than mine. Still, desire alone does not an expert make.
Great point Michael! I am going to guess everyone commenting on this post so far has been labeled as a social media expert by someone else. I know I have been described that way many times by people who view me as a social media expert simply because I know more than they do. I always tell them I am not a social media expert and that I know lots of people who know a lot more about social media than I do.
I have heard lots of people say this and I think its another good one to add to the list.
If you claim to be a social media expert, then you are not.
I don’t want to speak for Alli so maybe she can clarify but what I took her point to mean was that there are legions of people out there claiming to have knowledge they do not have. I think we have all seen this first hand.
I belong to a LinkedIn group for marketing professionals and the amount of bad advice given in that group is frightening. Some people are well intentioned but were given bad advice themselves, while others are simply trying to scam people based on their lack of knowledge.
I’d like to amplify my earlier comment by relating the following: About a year ago, I attended a class titled “Social Media Marketing,” a seminar held at the college I attend. The instructor, a noted leader in Social Media theory (at the time) and CEO of an internationally affiliated marketing firm, was asked whether there would ever be a position for a Social Media manager. After giving the student a how-long-must-I-suffer-these-fools look, he stated, “No. Social Media will always be under the purview of a more established department, such as marketing or communications.”
The simple of fact of the matter, as I’ve stated before in my previous resource, is that time has precluded the existence of the defined notion of an expert in Social Media; not enough has passed for anyone to become one. To have matriculated through a university program, and attain seven years of experience (both parameters used by HR professionals to assign expert level experience) would require at least 11-13 years. Social Media in it’s current state hasn’t existed that long. It will be in the future before factual experts can exist.
I love, love, LOVE this post. I agree with you 100%.
Oddly enough the people who claim themselves to be “experts” usually aren’t and the ones who balk at the idea of being considered an expert usually have the most experience.
While I consider myself to be a Social Media specialist, I have reluctantly included the title “expert” in my LinkedIn profile because I have to think of the keywords people will be using when considering my services.
It’s really unfortunate that people will be taken advantage of by charlatans who are looking for a quick buck. It happens with almost every industry (i.e. someone gets a new camera and decides they are now a professional photographer).
I can only hope blog posts like these will educate the masses and bring awareness to those who don’t know any better.
I just wanted to jump in and say that I am *loving* everyone’s comments here, on Facebook, and on Twitter! I think it’s a fun topic to debate, and it’s been interesting to see conversation both from people who agree and from people who disagree.
It takes more than knowing to become an expert. In my profession as an OR nurse, no matter how many times I have scrubbed in with the same case, it still differs at one point or another.
Although these social media platforms are very easy to handle, it takes more than getting our hand on it to be called an expert. I think the real experts on this are the very people who made this? I think “proficient” is enough adjective to use for it, humility I suppose? 🙂
While I agree with the overall theme of this post, the one thing I will address is your comment “You are not a social media expert if you only have a dozen followers.”
Keep in mind that social media fluency has nothing to do with number of followers. With the amount of spam and people gaming the system, having a large following means very little about one’s knowledge. There are people with 20K+ followers that I wouldn’t trust with my competitor’s money. Likewise, there are people with under 1,000 followers that I trust and feel know their craft.
I loved how at Digital Book World conference last month all these ‘experts’ at the digital world pontificated. But when I checked them out, most had only a couple hundred twitter followers and had little presence in social media. Many people tell others what to do that they aren’t doing. When I see “life coach” on a profile it says to me “unemployed”. A person’s bio has to back up what they say they are experts in. Most people are too concerned with technique and not enough with content.
I agree on most points, except for one, which is the number of followers. I don’t think the number is very telling of someone’s expertise. I know a number of university graduates, postdocs, and even a professor who are quite well-read in the material. They know about the ins and outs of sharing via digital media, including social media, as that is what they research, but they are not very active Twitter users, or they use it very selectively. I think it is fair to call them experts, albeit of a specific type.
My favorite was the podcast expert who had been podcasting for 14 years (strange math as podcasting wasn’t truly invented until 2004).
Hi Allison. Just let those people be. They just believe in themselves too much. Nobody knows who the best is actually. Nice post girl. Thanks so much.