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How to Spot a Social Media "Expert" Who's Full of It

ImageA lot of folks position themselves as social media “experts” but sometimes it can be difficult figuring out who really knows what they’re talking about and who’s merely a guru or a ninja. Check out my short guide below. 

Dependence on buzz words

1. They don’t have a program goal beyond “building a community” or “engagement.”

2. They can’t tell you why “community building” or “engagement” is important to your business.

Their own social presence is a hot mess

3. They don’t practice what they preach. If they can’t build their own social following, write decent thought leadership pieces, or inspire others to respond to and share their content, then they probably can’t do it for you.

4. Their twitter stream is filled with automated link after automated link with no commentary or responses to others.

5. They auto DM new followers or don’t understand how an “@” reply works.

They don't understand how to fit social media into a business

6. That being said, just because an expert is great at personal branding, it doesn’t mean they’ll be great at managing a corporate social program. Managing a personal brand is VERY DIFFERENT from managing a corporate brand.

7. They are not familiar with organizational processes. A social media expert should be able to help guide you through some of the bureaucracy in your organization.

8. They don’t integrate social properties or social CTAs into other earned, paid, or owned media (e.g. email, ads, webinars, live events, etc.).

9. Their skill set is one dimensional. When running a social media program, you need to draw on a very broad range of skills from copywriting and design and development skills to project management and analytics expertise. Hire a one-trick pony and you'll get a program that's exactly that.  

10. They don’t link social data to other business metrics (such as website data, lead capture or conversion data).

BONUS (and personal pet peeve): Every piece of content they share is marketing or social media related. That’s not relationship building. That’s link spraying.

Join The Conversation

  • Nov 9 Posted 4 years ago Jim David

    Nice piece Erica.  I run into self-professed  'experts' everyday and as soon as I hear that name my ears go into a non-listening mode.

  • Jason A Howie's picture
    Sep 27 Posted 4 years ago Jason A Howie


    As for the video about @replies I'm really surprised that people don't make that connection, I guess I just took that for granted.


    But this is kind of helpful.

  • Sep 15 Posted 4 years ago Sarah R.

    Extremely well-written. A lot of people I know consider themselves a social media "guru" simply because they have an account on every social media platform known to man and update their facebook status a million times a day. Oh, and because they have tons of followers. (Check out Tumblr. If we want to get into people who have big heads over having lots of followers, it's over there.)

    But I think my favourite one on this list is number nine: 

    • 9. Their skill set is one dimensional. When running a social media program, you need to draw on a very broad range of skills from copywriting and design and development skills to project management and analytics expertise. Hire a one-trick pony and you'll get a program that's exactly that.  

    This is so important. Hiring someone just because they have a background in business or marketing won't mean that you get a great marketing plan, it could just mean that you get someone who's really good a thinking up ways to draw people in. But aside from that, they won't actually do anything else. You'll have to hire someone else to do the design for the idea, someone else to set it into motion, etc. A person who knows social media really well will be able to handle all of these things. 

  • Sep 15 Posted 4 years ago Rasculous

    I love reading articles like this, it's a good benchmark check to make sure I'm not slipping into any bad habits!!

    My only critique is that " don't work on twitter when you share the article... so if you're going to preach about social best practice you need to be beyond reproach. 

    I still shared it though :-)

  • Sep 15 Posted 4 years ago David B. Clark

    This article is interesting. I wanted to make some comments about my view of the "Social Media Guru" or "Expert."

    1- I was in the yellow page industry for 8 years and I worked with 1000's of SMB's in the west. I know business owners and the struggles they face. Especially in marketing and advertising. I never worked with a single "corporate" or "enterprise" sized company. 

    2- When I saw with my own eyes the declination of the print media, I started educating myself about social media. This was in 2007. I received my Masters in e-business and I decided to start my own social media company in 2010. Now, I still work with SMB's because I feel I know them and their specific needs. Our company is called "Social Media Gurus." The word Guru does not mean expert. It means teacher. Our company is the largest in this area and we are respected. We are called upon to teach on the subject of social in all kinds of settings. I just did a workshop for veterans during the "Hiring Our Heros" event in Boise, Idaho. 

    3- What we do is on the ground floor. We do the dirty work of setting up profiles and youtube channels and teaching people how to communicate on social. We do workshops and seminars for all kinds of businesses and municipalities. We do VERY well and we are honest and ethical. No snake oil here.

    4- Sometimes, due to lack of funding, we "experts" don't have all of our ducks lined up. Sometimes we might have a social property that isn't exactly perfect or our website may be needing a tweek here and there. I personally, don't have time to be a thought leader. That's your job. I'm a thought implementer.

    5- There are thousands of us out there, and it's people like you (with large audiences) who should start creating the thought leadership and standards for the social industry. I agree with you, there is a lot of crappy work out there and the consumer should be protected. Most of our work is fixing other experts work.

    6- As you are pontificating about writing articles and placing yourself on a mountain top, and essentially calling yourself an expert, we are serving literally 1000's of customers and most of them 95% are happy and are experiencing their definition of RIO. 


    Thanks for allowing me to post this. With respect, David

  • Sep 15 Posted 4 years ago Sara Lockhart

    Something that's been on my back burner for a long time is the social media intelligence gap between senior management and staff.  Is it closing for the most part because corporate community engagement Is the norm and senior execs have had enough pressure to create an internal crew? Or Are there still a lot out there who choose to believe that it's hogwash because they have no clue how to use it?

  • Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago matt2020br

    Well said, Erica.

    Really appreciate how you differentiated between folks that pretend and the ones that actually know what they are talking about.  I work with mobile app development and CANNOT STAND it when people come across with their heads up their a**es blabbing about social network integration - extremly annoying.  I've noticed that people who actually know what they're talking about, do well at creating an environment of learning and brainstorming.  They do well at teaching others their skills because they're actually secure in their knowledge and are always open to others' opinions. 



  • Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago Joey Macasaet

    I'm not a Social Media expert. Never pretended to be one. I love this article because I think this really drives a point. We can do Facebook, Twitter, etc, but it takes a lot more to be a "guru or ninja".

    I used to work in an ad agency who wants to strengthen it's social media capabilities. Yet, the principal doesn't even want to set up her FB and twitter account. Worst of all, just because there is the word "media", she tasked the media department to take the lead.


    Thanks for writing this.

  • iNet SEO's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago iNet SEO

    I think without targeting, you never will get noticed or taken seriously. You need this level of continuity in order to be seen time and time again. With this, your reputation and influence will also grow.

    From a recruitment aspect, someone wishing to change career paths would need to think carefully about how they do this. You can't go from specialist in one industry to specialist in another over night. It takes time to be seen as a thought leader in a particular industry.

    That is a sticky problem and one without any easy solution. Evidently, Social Media isn't a good solution 100% of the time.


  • The ICT Resourcer @ DataHelpDesk's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago The ICT Resourc...

    Nice one Andy. The focal point is something recruiters are talking about as well, not only for your blue-chip, billion dollar company but for candidates or individuals like me who want to get attention for a specific purpose. I wonder what the challenge would be for somebody having a career-change? Their whole digital footprint would be mismatched. It would be a challenged re-writing the encyclopedia of the universe to rebrand a human's life.

  • iNet SEO's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago iNet SEO

    I think there are two very different audiences Erica.

    You have the ones, such as myself, who sniff out information as soon as possible and share it with followers. I also share all of my own artcles as well. Many of these wont have the same access to the articles I share or wont know where to go looking.

    The second are people such as yourselves who do have a handle on what is happening in the market and as such, you don't need other articles mentioning time and time again, but it is very essy to ignore these through lists on Twitter, etc.

    On your question, personally I have no real requirement to follow people who talk about anything other than SEO and Social Media and of course, related topics. I do feel this chaff would be taking me away from my reason to be following them in the first place and I do unfollow people like that.

    If I apply that to one of my latest SM engagements with a blue chip, if I would have disucssed anything other than the primary subject, it would have put their followers off without a shadow of a doubt. We discussed the products, industry, seminars, innovation, etc., and that is what kept it alive.

    I dont think that either is really wrong but I do think that in some industries, you just can't afford to take it too far off topic.

    You have to really take each one on its own merits and deal with it that way as there are many different scenarios.


  • Erica Ayotte's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago Erica Ayotte

    Hi Andy--

    Yes--good point! I agree with you---keeping a focus and consistency are key, especially for corporate brands. I do think it's important to be focused as a personal brand as well, but I think the rules are a bit different for a corporate brand versus a personal account or personal brand. IMO, it's a just a matter of degree.

    When I'm following a human being, I feel more connected to that person when every tweet isn't laser-focused on their industry. Humans aren't one-dimensional and I think our digital presences should reflect that. If I don't see a little variation, it feels a bit...contrived to me. However, I DO expect lots of links to articles and industry related news from corporate accounts.

    Also, I don't need the people I follow to tweet or retweet every Mashable or TechCrunch article out there--I have RSS feeds in my Google Reader for that purpose. 

    I guess I break it down in my mind like this: Generally speaking, I follow brands, companies, and media outlets for news and for industry trends. I follow individuals for some news (posts from lesser-known sources, for example) but more for conversation, networking, and idea sharing. 

    Do you agree? Do you think it's okay for individuals to share a wider range of topics, or do you think that's a distraction? Curious to hear your thoughts...



  • Erica Ayotte's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago Erica Ayotte

    Thanks, Pete! 

    Your comment definitely gets to the heart of what we're challenged with as social media marketers: share of attention. In essence, not only are we competing against our brand's direct competitors, we're competing against every other brand that wants a share of our customers' and propects' attention. 

    IMO, there will be much more of a focus in the industry on developing and concentrating the few "super fans" rather than all this effort going into gaining mass followership. 

  • surplusrobyn's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago surplusrobyn

    "Link spraying" - I'm going to start using that one.

    I'm not sure that folks understand how difficult it can be to deal with a so called expert until it happens to them. You feel like you're in the Twilight Zone - while you make cogent points, the expert rebuttles with buzzwords that have no real world application. But they sure do sound smart.

    I know this happens in other industries as well, but as you stated, Erica, social medai is a burgeoning field, so it's easier for company executives or clients to get confused. I think it's important that those who actually have the expertise perpetuate the strategies that work, highlighting the fact that it's called "social" media.

  • Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago Pete Dooley


    Great sharp concise article.

    One of the most hilarious social media blunders, among many, are the ads for large companies who use their thirty second television ads on YouTube. Spinning cars, pouting models in the rain, dancing rappers... 3..2..1. [SKIP THIS AD]. All lead in, before they even mention the product name. Sad, but hilarious just the same. What social media guru pitched these corporations?

    Please continue in your style of writing. Concise point by point, take no prisoners, articles are needed more these days and are Social Media in itself. Fluffy soft pedaling articles fearing to offend are passé'.


One of my Social Media tools for accounts is to offer them current articles pertaining to their businesses. Headline hacks are a new Social Media time suck.In a few short scans one can discern fluff from fact.

    Just the facts mam.. Thanks

  • The ICT Resourcer @ DataHelpDesk's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago The ICT Resourc...

    Hi Erica,

    I think you were very specific and a very good writer.Thanks for helping me define certain things in my own mind. I am confused however about why a Ninja is not an expert? Also I'd like to understand how "Link Spraying" as one of the biggest Human Bandwidth wasters is being addressed as a problem, generally.

  • iNet SEO's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago iNet SEO

    Yes and no to points in the article Erica. Whilst there is nothing here that is specifically wrong, I don't agree with your last point...

    BONUS (and personal pet peeve): Every piece of content they share is marketing or social media related. That’s not relationship building. That’s link spraying.

    I think that this is just a 'pet peeve' of yours because if someone only talks about marketing or social media, and that is the industry they are in, that is why people then follow you, is it not?

    As long as you take the time to discuss these matters and answer questions, then this is absolutely key to social media. OK, the odd tech post isn't going to hurt, but you absolutely must maintain a level of consistency with your social activities and keep them focussed.

    Let us say for example you are a travel blogger and you then start to blog and discuss food and recipes, people will then lose interest because that isn't what they followed you for in the first place.

    As a SM strategist myself and having worked with billion dollar blue-chips, I can categorically tell you that maintaining a focus on the primary subject is key.


  • Jim Teresinski's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Jim Teresinski

    I thought it was very specific, to the point, short and sweet. Very well done

  • Erica Ayotte's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Erica Ayotte

    Hi Robin--

    I think the two posts are trying to accomplish different objectives. The one that you referenced is less of a checklist of how to identify an expert and more of a rundown of all the different ways social expertise can be blended with other domain area expertise to create a strong social business across an organization. 

    We'll have to agree to disagree on your point about my advice being sweeping. In my opinion, it's the opposite of that: 10 very specific and actionable points that can be used when researching a consultant or candidate or even asked during an interview. The intent is to give folks a starting point for evaluation--not explore each possible skill set in all of it's complexity. 

    Hopefully that makes sense. Though we seem to disagree, I do appreciate your thoughtfulness and the time you've taken to respond to my post.



  • Robin Houghton's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Robin Houghton

    Hi Erica, as I said, I don't necessarily disagree with any of your points but I think the type of behaviour is a bit of a caricature and your advice too sweeping to be useful.

    If the piece is aimed at small business owners (who admittedly may be vulnerable to snake oil salesmen) I don't quite understand the references to corporates.

    I don't agree that someone can be expert in all areas, nor can he/she know about a company's culture or processes without spending time analysing them. A real consultant works alongside other experts, inhouse and/or third party. The whole thing is a lot more nuanced than you suggest. See this recently published article, Social Media Expert Checklist- How Expert Is YOUR Expert?, for comparison.

  • Erica Ayotte's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Erica Ayotte

    Thanks, Frederic! Great point!

  • Erica Ayotte's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Erica Ayotte

    Hi Robin--

    Sorry you feel that way. Sure, there has been other posts about this topic before, but I would argue it's still a major problem in a nascent industry that is still developing standards of practice. It can be especially confusing for a business to hire a consultant for social when their own level of expertise may be low--afterall, that's why you'd hire a consultant in the first place! So the point of the post is to give those folks guidelines on what to look out for when someone espouses that they have domain expertise that they may not necessarily have. 

    Do you disagree with any of the points specifically?


  • Robin Houghton's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Robin Houghton

    I don't disagree with you Erica, but this kind of 'social media guru-bashing' post is very tired indeed. We've read it all before many times, eg this post on Business Insider a year and a half ago -  and of course the legendary 'Social media guru' video from 2009. I can't say the tone of this post makes me feel warm and cuddly about Constant Contact either. 

  • gonzogonzo's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago gonzogonzo

    Great post, Erica!

    I would add one other element that separates "experts" from real experts who can help: how they address measurement. Is ROI not even important to them? Is it just measured in likes, +1's or retweets? You want to make sure whoever is hired to help has a sound approach to not only strategic implementation but also keeping track of KPIs, whether they are ROI-related or not.

    My two cents.



  • sammaule's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago sammaule

    Rule 11.  They call themself a "social media expert".

  • Tamilore's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Tamilore

    Spot on! And yes, the auto DM thing is so unprofessional! 

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