What is a social media expert?

My answer comes from a different perspective than others do: To me, it’s really the customer or client who decides who the experts are.  Many call themselves experts these days, especially in the rapidly expanding fields of social media, and online marketing and  PR.

This post was sparked by a comment on Twitter.com (an online social networking website) @B2BSalesTrainer asked – “Who are the social media experts?” Now since Twitter is  a micro-blogging platform – that meant that his post (or message) on the site was limited to 140 characters. He was at a conference, so  I might have taken his question out of context (he may have been asking who are the SM experts at the conference), but it got me thinking anyway.

This is a hot, and sometimes controversial topic. Googling the post title brought up a slew of posts/articles. I’m sending this blog post skipping like a small stone over the surface of a very big pond. I’m exploring my point of view on the subject, and hope you enjoy the scenery – please chime in.

Here’s the thing, there are clear experts out there, people who have been involved in the social media, social networking arena for many years. There are also people who arrived in the field within the last year or so, and there are more arriving every day.

The secondary question you might ask is: and why should I care?

An expert, coach, guide, or consultant , whatever name you choose, can help you navigate and understand this online landscape in ways that will move you forward faster to meet your goals. They will show you, and your organization, how to use these tools in appropriate ways to to best reach your objectives. They can provide an outside perspective and help guide your choices to those that make sense for your business. Help you find balance between the “if I build it they will come” fallacy and the “we have to do it all now” trap.

The term expert is not one I really like; it seems too loaded.  There are good experts out there, but, in reality not all experts are, well expert, in all facets of a field. There are specialists, and generalists and both can be useful.  There are people who know huge amounts of information, but are not experts at sharing that knowledge with others; they can do, but they can’t teach.  There are others who have a knack for picking up things quicker than others, and those who are just good at marketing themselves, but lack substance. There are many who have had a shorter learning curve due to the free information put out the by the early adopters like Chris Brogan and others. There are some who find a trick or two and work them to the hilt. There are good people out there who are giving good advice, that may or may not, work for you; it may be too generic or work for a different type/size of company than yours. And there are also charlatans and people who dole out bad advice in the Web 2.0 arena, just like in any other.  There is a bit of Caveat Emptor – or buyer beware – needed on this frontier where few have gone before.

But here’s where social networking has a strength (which may at first seems like a weakness) – Many of these sites seem to be like a popularity contest when you first look at them. And, in some senses, they are. “So and so has this many friends on Facebook, that many connections on LinkedIn, and  even more followers on Twitter.” What does that mean. At it’s worst or most basic level, it means that they are good at connecting with others. On the other hand, having many connections is often a sign of a good reputation; a specific number of people have agreed that this person is worth connecting with. But don’t forget, there may be someone with great information, who just isn’t quite as into, or good at, conquering all networking sites. Be wary of judging a book by its cover alone. One needs to look inside.

When you look closer, it is about MORE than the numbers. What the customer has to decide is does this person or company give me the information, assistance and counsel that I need, in a way that works for me and move me forward. Beneath the numbers, look at the type of information they are connecting people to, who they are connecting with, and how they are doing it.

  • Is it all about tooting their own horn, or do they tell you what others are saying too?
  • Do they reach out an help new people learn the ropes, or only talk with other bigwigs?
  • Does their style of writing and connecting fit with yours?
  • Are they taking a “you have to do it all approach,” or is it customized. Not every business needs to be on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and not necessarily all at once.
  • Do they talk in absolutes – “this is the way you do it,” or do they talk about adapting strategies to individual businesses.
  • Will they play well with others in your business or network? Do they interact with and engage in conversation with others on the network, or just use a bullhorn?
  • If they were at a face to face networking party, would you want to go over and talk with them, and would you want to introduce them to your friend, clients and customers?
  • Are they willing to say I don’t know the answer to that question, let me find out and get back to you, or do they bluff their way through?
  • Are they active on the sites they are teaching you about?
  • Do they have client testimonials, and is there evidence of clients and customers where they participate.
  • Look at their background: do they know anything about your field, & are they willing to learn; do they have a hard technology or a software background ; PR or advertising expertise; small business or big business experience; an entrepreneurial or a non-profit work history, or a combination. Each component influences and informs their approach to situations.

This is a newer business model, using online sites and tools to distribute free information to build trust, lay the foundation of a relationship, and find ways to turn “connections,” “friends” and “followers” into customers, clients and business partners. The “rules” are more like guidelines, and they are being rewritten every day.

You may not need an expert, or an expert may be the right fit. You may need several people with experience in different areas, or a jack-of-all-trades. Regardless of their status or numbers, I think you can learn something from each person you interact with out here. I advocate balance – not always taking someone’s word as gospel; what worked for them, may not work for you. Do a gut check, search the web about their idea, ask others in your networks and see what they say, especially when you are unsure about something. But once you have settled on a person, I suggest not second guessing them at every turn, but only when the fit feels wrong.

So I have sent my stone skipping across the water, you can judge if it sank immediately with a  plop, or skipped merrily several times before slipping quietly into the cool depths. If this topic has been done to death, sorry. I find it useful to explore questions that prospective clients might ask, so they can have access to my thinking on ma subject, and have information to decide if I am a good fit for them.

Here are two other articles on the same topic:




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