Being an Expert Stinks

Posted on December 14th 2012

Being an Expert Stinks

I don't understand why there are so many people out there with Twitter bios calling themselves social media gurus, experts or superstars. Being an old school girl, I believe that you take 10 years to hone a craft. While blogging has a slightly longer history (1990s), Friendster was launched in 1999, MySpace in 2003, Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006, Instagram in 2010 and Pinterest in 2010, how can anyone claim to be an expert in the field of social media? Furthermore, according to Blogging.org, there are 500,000 blog posts created on a daily basis and it seems like every other month introduces a new social media policy or government law regarding web 2.0. Is being an expert within social media a legitimate claim?

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Call Yourself An Expert

Your Peers Will Hate You

Many social media practitioners out there, hate these arrogant terms, which means, you're making enemies with your community. Some practitioners such as Miss Coca will even term you a fraud as she did in 10 Ways To Spot A Social Media Fraud.

You Can't Know Everything

Nobody I know who works professionally in social media will claim to know everything. We are simply good at finding out information using digital skills or among our circle/team when faced with a challenging question about the tools of our trade.

I might be reasonably well-versed in specific areas of communications and increasingly so in new media law but whenever I face a technical topic, I tweet/buzz my community of social media practitioners for a quick answer or a fact check. Keeping a group of knowledgeable friends has much higher benefits than attempting to know it all.

It Makes You Complacent

When you think of yourself as an expert, you are likely to become complacent. However, when you are unsure of your knowledge, you are more motivated to read widely and reference credible sources, which makes your tweets, blog posts and FaceBook updates more richer reads.

On average, I read 500-1000 blog posts a month in order to feel secure about my social media knowledge. How much do you read? 

Your Tips Become Irrelevant to the Masses

When you write for major social media or blogging sites, many of the readers do not work in social media as professionals, they are simply keen to learn about the basics of social media. If you think like an expert, over time, your articles become increasingly specialised and unless you are constantly able to attain freshly released news or statistics, your articles have increasingly diminished values for the mass audience. Of course you may choose to focus on a niche audience of practitioners but that might hamper your reach.

My technically awesome boss, Syed Balkhi, for example, started recommending plugins on WPBeginner in July 2009 only to realise 9 months later that many of his readers have no idea how to install a WordPress plugin, which he rectified in Step by Step Guide to Install a WordPress Plugin for Beginners.

Sometimes being too detached from your audience can hurt your business. Get down from your self constructed pedestal and engage on ground level. 

It Puts Your Credibility on the Line

When you write as an expert, you are inclined to make bold claims. While opinionated controversies can help to accelerate your social media profile, a mistake can also ruin your credibility. In this fast changing field of social media, I am wary of practitioners who make arrogant statements about how to succeed in this field, because once your statement's published, there's no taking it back.

Instead...

It's easy to claim expert status in the new world of social media, but that doesn't buy you much credibility. Why not focus on good content instead and wait for someone else to praise you and share that compliment with the world via a blog post or retweet instead?

Let's look at Erica Ayotte, who labels herself a social media strategist, a very respectable title within the field of marketing, public relations and social media. Instead of pompous claims, she focuses on generating results and engagement through humble sounding tweets, which makes her a very likeable person to follow. When Paula O'Connell wrote Social Media Gurus: Friends or Foes? Erica attains an expert status via the article compliment.

Often, true experts do not feel the need to label themselves with phoney titles and focus on their achievements instead. Labelling oneself an expert prematurely often brings about a backlash effect, suggesting the need to oversell due to the lack of quality.

Maybe I am too much of a greenhorn to understand the concept of being an expert. All I have is hard work, consistent research, honesty, my community of knowledgeable friends, valuable comments from my readers and a set of social media tools. Do my blog posts receive less shares as compared to the self-proclaimed experts? Do my non-expert articles contain less valuable? Do you think less of my works? Please let me know through your comments =)

Jeszlene

Jeszlene Zhou

Jeszlene Zhou is the editor of FirstCommsJob and community relations coordinator at WPBeginner, the largest unofficial WordPress resource site that offers free WordPress videos, as well as comprehensive guides like choosing the best WordPress hosting, speeding up WordPress, and many more how-to’s for the WordPress beginner.

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Comments

I have always believed that describing yourself as an expert implies you feel there is nothing more to learn, and so generally avoid the term, feeling it is far better to say 'specialist' or something similar. Having said that, in some instances, customers or clients will expect to be dealing with an expert. For example, would you feel comfortable if the surgeon who was just about to operate on you was not an expert in their field? 

I absolutely agree, though, that claiming expertise in the use of social media, when it is such a young and still developing area of marketing, is difficult to accept. 

Thanks Peter for your comment =)

That's a good point, with regards to client expectations. How about using terms such as 'specialist,' as suggested by you or 'strategist,' as used by Erica Ayotte? It's probably similar to being operated by a specialist surgeon who's certified by recognized institutions but doesn't advertise herself as leading or top within the field. 

What do you think?

Jesz

Agreed, and a good point. Not everyone can be top in their field!

Amen, sister. I've always believed that you stop listening and learning when you think you are at the top. This stuff changes too fast not to keep learning more. It's great, right?

I wrote a song related to your "too detached from your audience" comment: Experts Lie.

It's not really lying, but I'll claim artistic license about assigning intent to the Expert. Sometimes it's there; sometimes the jargon is meant to build fences. That's akin to lying, IMO.

Thanks Michael for sharing your track here and via twitter =)

So true mate, especially as an artist, continuous learning and improvement is essential.
Love your "jargon is meant to build fences" point.

All the best to your music,

Jesz 

Great discussion. Hate to play devil's advocate but we wouldn't be having this discussion if people with no real expertise did not claim to be experts. And it isn't just the young. Some in my generation throw the term around like it is a wish rather than an earned label as well.  

Bottom line: some of us are experts. And we are because we have a lot of experience in the field with real clients and we have deep theoretical knowledge through research, writing, and education. The reason the term expert is greeted with disdain when it comes to social media is that anyone who can put up a Facebook page wants to call themselves an expert. My peers don't hate me. My peers also label themselves as experts, but have confidence that the bio backs up the talk. Expert doesn't mean "the best at", it simply means " having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training and experience." If you claim to be an expert in social media business, that means you've had actual business clients and been successful. The words that bug me are "guru" and "rock star." Honestly, would you put those on a resume? Maybe "wannabe expert" would work better. Potential clients are looking at your client list and background anyway. 

Thanks Chris for sharing, I love it when readers play the devil's advocate, it makes the discussion more fun! =)

You hit the nail with EARNED label, which is the issue with social media since there's no formal accrediation or a history of formalized recognition, unlike other specialist fields. A bio or website citing previous client list and results is definitely more credible. Maybe using the term expert isn't that bad, I just believe the first usage should come from the community instead of one's ego.

I just saw the term social media wizard recently. That disturbs me the most, as if social media is a magical realm that can be instantly conqured via a potion.

What do you think?

Jesz

I agree-wizard is in there as well. Being older and having been around a while, I guess I run away from those terms that sound trendy and cool. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with cute labels like "wizard" or "guru"--just doesn't sound professional to me. But I'm old school about that stuff.

Hi Jesz--

Thanks so much for mentioning me in your post! I especially liked what you said about not being able to know everything. You really hit the nail on the head there. I spend A LOT of time reading industry news, as well as researching different companies, technologies, and campaigns. And I still can't know everything. If I go on vacation for a week or so, I feel like I've missed so much!

My method for staying on top of my game is to read > try > measure > then iterate, improve, or toss. That way I'm always incorporating new tech or methods into what I already know works. 

Which leads me to another point which I think is important when you're talking about expertise or leadership: the willingness to try something even if you're not sure if it will work. I've had a lot of success with the program I run. But that doesn't mean there haven't been a few things that have fallen flat. True expertise comes with some scrapes and bruises. 

An expert knows when to take a calculated risk and is not afraid of failing in the attempt to do something new or great. 

Thanks again!

Pleasure Erica =)

  So true, I sometimes lose nearly 2 weeks of productivity after a 1 week break playing catch up! 

  That's a great method, I'm still on a steep learning curve where most of my time is spent reading, followed by trying, doing and healing from scrapes and bruises. I love falling down though, it's knowing what not to do that gives me true confidence. Love to read your stories of success and failures, they sound like a wealth of knowledge. Are they published anywhere?

   So back to the article and not being able to know everything. I love this ideology by Socrates, "I know one thing: that I know nothing." Hope you like it too =)

Jesz