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Social Media Experts

written on June 10th, 2011 by zach

In a recent post, CEO and consultant Peter Shankman argues against the validity of self-professed “social media experts,” whom he suggests would do better to light a match and swiftly put an end to their worthless existence. Yet, Shankman’s open-ended invitation for “social media experts” to set themselves on fire seems to come from a cloudy place, a place where the term “social media expert” becomes synonymous with the term “scam artist.”

Clearly, in titling his piece “I Will Never Hire a ‘Social Media Expert,’ and Neither Should You,” Shankman (a social media entrepreneur himself) was knowingly drawing a line in the sand. To be pro-Shankman, however, would mean that you reject the notion that social media experts exist, and, therefore, you would never hire someone alleging to be one.

It is true, of course, that social media (like any field where there’s money to be made) is not exempt from the fair share of bullshitting pseudo-“experts” running around and cutting corners, trying to capitalize on the next big thing and on those who don’t know or care what “good business” actually means. They measure success in Facebook fans, and they tell you that they can get you 10,000 more Likes in exchange for a few hundred bucks. What a deal! What they don’t tell you is that those 10,000 coveted “fans” are actually a bunch of snot-nosed, hormonal teenagers somewhere in Malaysia who will Like your company today and un-Like it tomorrow. These social media scam artists (Shankman’s “experts”) equate fans and follower growth to social media success; they neither know nor care about your business.

Real social media experts, however, can navigate through the hype to find and evaluate the business value of community. They understand how to achieve real, long-lasting results for a company, whether by generating revenue, enhancing reputation, lowering cost per acquisition, or using strategies that are uniquely informed by social media. True social media experts have done and continue to do their research. They practice the metrics in books like Jim Sterne’s Social Media Metrics: How To Measure and Optimize Your Marketing Investment, in order to optimize customer satisfaction, cost, and revenue for a given company. They approach any social media strategy with a comprehensive understanding of how the business functions. They understand that, while $136 may be the value of a Facebook fan for a global company like Coca-Cola, that same data point it not true for all companies.

So, the real issue isn’t whether or not you should hire a social media expert but, rather, how to determine whether someone is an expert and what type of expert would be most beneficial for your company. Here are 8 criteria to aid in the process:

1. Personal experience. In 2006, my friend Lorenz and I arrived at PodCamp Boston. We were welcomed by a very relaxed, unusually friendly guy named Chris Brogan, who showed a very real interest in us. Chris’s perspective on social media and business stems authentically from who he is and from his interpersonal connections. The same can be said for many social media experts whom I know, who don’t see their time spent on Twitter or at social events as a rigid work activity but, rather, as something very closely connected to who they are and to what they believe. Their relationship with social media enables them to understand the unwritten rules for engaging online.

2. Business experience. If you are hiring a social media expert, understanding their business background is key. What was their professional experience prior to becoming a social media expert? What clients have they worked for and what success have they achieved for them? How was that success measured? How has their business background shaped how they approach social media? Is their experience client-side, agency-side, or as an independent practitioner? What social media initiatives have they led and what were the results?

3. Reputation. Who endorses them? What have they published, and where? In what capacities do they have influence?

4. Ability to interpret metrics. Do metrics inform their decision-making process? Are goals and KPIs initially used to measure performance? Do they continually assess their work?

5. Knowledge of emerging trends. Do they have opinions about emerging trends that are based both on their own experiences and on reviews of credible sources?

6. Knowledge of frameworks. Which frameworks inform how they plan and implement strategy, and what sources influence those frameworks?

7. Ability to create and execute strategies. Not only can the social media expert create and execute strategy, but they also have the capacity to predict the outcomes of that strategy, to properly estimate and allocate resources, and to manage a budget.

8. What they hold sacred. Which tactics would they never use, under any circumstances? What would cause them to walk away from business? What are their fundamental values and approaches to social media?

Social media experts do, in fact, exist. They may, however, cringe upon hearing the term “expert” attached to their name. In general, there seems to be a stigma attached to the word “expert” (or “guru,” “master,” etc.) regardless of the field of expertise, and bona fide experts will go to great lengths to denounce their expert-status. Is it modesty? Insecurity? A self-defense mechanism so as not to be targeted for their “expert” opinion?

The term “social media expert” also proves challenging because it’s nearly becoming too general. There are experts in social media who understand promotions, experts who focus on research and sociology, experts who focus on sentiment analysis, and still others whose background lies in-stream advertising within social networks.

Below, I have included my own Top 20 list of social media experts (in alphabetical order), with sincere apologies to those who scoff at being labeled as such:

1. David Armano

2. Rohit Bhargava

3. Edward Boches

4. Dana Boyd

5. Chris Brogan

6. PR Sarah Evans

7. Jason Falls

8. Steve Garfield

9. Paul Gillian

10. Alex Howard

11. Joselin Mane

12. Scott Monty

13. Amanda Mooney

14. Darren Rowse

15. Steve Rubel

16. Brian Solis

17. Aaron Strout

18. Mike Schneider

19. Todd Van Hooser

20. Greg Verdino

Written by Zach Braiker, in collaboration with Lesley Yoder, Ph.D.

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1 Comment »

  1. Great article Zach. The first video is certainly a nice template on how to disarm experts that ‘claim’ to be experts.

    SM is such a moving target that I tend to think that working with a full fledged company (as opposed to a single expert) can be much more synergistic in b2b. I tend to find that the importance of company values (as you pointed out in #8) lag within the SM market.

    Very good points to consider tho. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Ron Eldridge — June 28, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

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Zach Braiker

This blog analyzes where social media culture and business converge. Zach Braiker is the CEO of Refine & Focus a social media agency and an adjunct professor of social media at Emerson College.

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