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I’d hire a social media expert, and maybe you should, too

imageSocial media experts have been under assault lately. I guess my previous post on the topic didn’t have much influence.

To start with, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. An expert is a person who has prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field. I’m not sure why that’s such an undesirable attribute for someone to have.

The objections fall in a couple categories. First, there are those who believe anybody who calls him or herself a social media "expert" (or "guru" or "ninja" or whatever) couldn’t possibly be one. Anyone with the temerity to so label themselves probably spent six months on Twitter and created a moderately effective Facebook page, then hung out a shingle.

If you hire someone like this, you have nobody but yourself to blame. You wouldn’t hire a structural engineer, a chemist or an auditor without checking their references and verifying that they have experience, that they’ve actually done the work and not just talked a good game. The same due diligence applies to hiring any other kind of expert, including one who focuses on social media.

The other objection was articulated in a recent post by Peter Shankman (all around nice guy, great speaker and successful serial entrepreneur). Here’s what Peter wrote:

Being an expert in Social Media is like being an expert at taking the bread out of the refrigerator. You might be the best bread-taker-outer in the world, but you know what? The goal is to make an amazing sandwich, and you can’t do that if all you’ve done in your life is taken the bread out of the fridge.

That makes for a nice sound bite, and of the 352 comments left to the post, most echo the “Amen, brother” from the very first comment. But it’s wrong. So, so wrong. What if you change “expert in social media” to “expert in “solid rocket boosters?” The goal is to launch the space shuttle, but if all you ever do is focus on solid rocket boosters, you can’t get the shuttle off the pad. Right?

Of course not. It takes experts in many dimensions of the shuttle to get it into orbit. The idea that everybody involved is a generalist who should know everything about the shuttle is ridiculous.

And while social media isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s not as stupifyingly simple as making a sandwich, either. (If you think it is, then you’re probably one of those who also believes it’s really, really cheap.)

Dismissing the experts means never getting the benefit of a Jason Falls, Brian Solis, Jeremiah Owyag, Jay Baer, Maggie Fox, Liz Strauss, C.C. Chapman, Beth Harte and a slew of others who know a ton and by sharing it can add value to your efforts. it means Ford Motor Company should never have hired Scott Monty and Dell was out of its freakin’ mind for putting someone like Manish Mehta in charge of social media, since the marketing staff should just internalize it into their other activities.

But what does an organization lose when everyone’s a generalist and nobody’s the go-to person on a specific area of subject matter expertise? A lot, says I. Pundits have made hay out of another sound bite that goes something like this: “It’s better for social media to be 1 percent of 100 employees’ jobs than 100% of 1 person’s job.” Again, it sounds great but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

At companies like Dell and Gatorade, they’ve hired people just to monitor social media. They’re trained to know what to look for, to process analytics at a glance and to know what they should do with the insights they glean. Should that be part of everybody’s job? Well, to a degree, yes. But it’s all these staffers do. They’re experts. Presumably, the marketers and PR practitioners and other communicators in the organization have marketing, PR and communications to do and can’t spend their entire day just focused on monitoring and analytics.

At BlogWorld last week in New York, I sat in on an excellent panel that looked at Facebook analytics and the EdgeRank system the social network employs. It was mind-boggling watching Dennis Yu go through the paces, from tapping into EdgeRank analytics to showing how he’d bang out a quick script to analyze the connections of any Facebook member (and then use the resulting information to improve a page’s ability to get into news feeds).

If this isn’t a skill you have in your organization—and even the largest companies don’t necessarily hire for something so granular—then Dennis or another expert may be just the ticket.

Together, we could probably list 20 or 30 social media specialties where a company could benefit from the expertise of someone who spends all their time focused on it, learning it, executing for multiple clients, talking about it with peers.

So here’s the deal. Never say never. If you need someone with a specific skill or capability you don’t have, find someone with the qualifications, the experience and the references to do the job, then hire them. I really don’t give a crap what this person calls himself, only whether he’s got the chops to do the job. If you get the results you were hoping for, it was a good move.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Mae Li.

Join The Conversation

  • MIchaelCheek's picture
    Jun 6 Posted 6 years ago MIchaelCheek

    Social Media May Not Be Rocket Science But What We Have Here Is a Failure to Launch... a Strong Argument (http://mykl.co/iGnPet). As I write in my response to Mr. Holtz piece, social media hasn't had enough time to even earn a bachelor's degree and we want to declare ourselves experts at it?

    I have respect for social media professionals, as I am one myself. But we need to give our industry time to mature. We need to develop the best practices, earn the track records and prove to the bottom-line C-Levels upstairs that social media works. Else, we squander this honeymoon period.

    The negative backlash we're beginning to see is because fauxperts have squandered those good graces. We continue to attempt to declare ourselves more than what we are, and we will ultimately be banished.

  • tommyismyname's picture
    Jun 3 Posted 6 years ago tommyismyname

    You make some really great points here, but I think why so many people get so bent out of shape about the term "expert" or "ninja" or "guru" is because the people who actually claim it for themselves tend to be self proclaimed and qualified putzes.


    You're right that it is the fault of the people hiring, but also, who's qualifing these guys?


    To you point of the expert in rocket boosters... the rocket booster field doesn't have a million billion people claiming their rocket booster experts because they tinkered around with a toy rocket. Where as social media, or online marketing as an umbrella dicipline, anyone in their mother can claim "social media expert" or my personal favorite "web developer" when the person clearly only has a Facebook account and/or a pirated copy of dreamweaver which they use poorly. 

    Also, the list of people you use, yes they are experts. Brian Solis says in his bio he's recognized as a thought-leader, and it's true. C.c chapman says he's a motivator, and it's true. Liz strauss claims Founder of SOBCon, and it's true. But not one of them actually claims "expert" or "ninja" for themselves. Other's gave them those titles, because they earned it.

    Seth Godin, who many would climb to the mountaintop to see, and arguably be the only actual "guru" of this industry, doesn't even claim it for himself.


  • JEBworks's picture
    Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago JEBworks

    Well made points. What many organizations don't seem to understand is that successful social web marketing requires more than familiarity with tactical tools like Facebook and Twitter. A broader business background is necessary to develop an objectives based strategy consistent with and integrated into an overall marketing approach. Social media alone and in isolation is not a recipe for success but unfortunately a lot of attention is focused on the latest and shiniest tactical tools. Disappointment is the all too common outcome of that mistaken approach.

  • Courtney Hunt's picture
    Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Courtney Hunt

    Nicely said, Shel - but thoughtfulness and keen insights are no surprise coming from you.

    Earlier this week I wrote a long post in response to the criticisms Peter Shankman made in his recent diatribe against “social media experts.” It offers a different perspective on his arguments, articulates the need for social media expertise, and provides guidance for hiring individuals and organizations (consultants, contractors, and employees) to help with social media initiatives. I would love for folks to read/comment on what I wrote.  

    The post is entitled "Social Media Experts: Yes, they Exist. And Yes, You Should Hire Them. But Do Your Due Diligence." For some reason I'm not able to post urls on SMT today, but you can find a link to the post in the right-hand column of sminorgs.net. 


    Courtney Hunt


    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Josh Humble (not verified)

    As I've stated in other posts, I believe there are experts in many fields - one with a high level of expertise. However, the word now takes on a different meaning - especially in social media, where every novice is now an "expert." Words and titles have serious impact, and they are a part of that first impression. Since so many fly-by-night "experts" in social media have had their day with it, the title is probably best avoided by real social media strategists, since this negative sentiment is held by so many, both inside, and outside the industry. This same principle holds true other industries. There have always been egotistic newbies and scammers, and today, the fancy title issue is sometimes a good sign of snake oil. Mind you, I know of A LOT of real experts and very talented people who use fancy titles - they're just unnecessary, and are sometimes the sign of a not-so-great, narcissistic branding approach.

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Amber Sims Hint... (not verified)

    Thank you for expressing your honest opinion - I totally agree with you! As someone who's been engaged with building brands using social media since the begining with sound principles from a degree in marketing communications and now years of hands-on experience, this article truly brings refreshment and ease knowing that there are others out there feeling the same way right now. Vested experience from numerous projects with actual stats to back it up are definitely things to look for when bringing on a social media marketing expert for your brand or organization.

    In Gratitude,



  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago KevinMGreen (not verified)

    Good points, Shel.  Where it gets a little fuzzy is that most of the people hired into positions (like Scott Monty) have proven experience in other areas (marketing, PR, etc.).  What it comes down to is what does your organization need?  If you're looking for someone to post on behalf of the brand, then someone who has built a solid person brand via social platforms may be the right fit even if they don't have any background in communications, marketing or sandwich making.  For monitoring jobs, I would assume that most of those people can do more than tag tweets that mention the brand.  There should be a level of skill in analytics, etc.  The experts you list are certainly proven experts in more than social media.  This may be their area of focus, but they effectively extend beyond what "guru's" talk about.  They understand social business. 

    I think the point Peter was trying to make is that hiring a "social media expert" that doesn't understand how social media impacts the business is probably not a smart move.  What we don't have is a definition of "expert" or "guru," so these classifications often get tossed about with little information.  In the end, it does come down to what your objectives are as a business and that will always be unique to the situation.  If a Guru, Expert, Generalist or Specialist is whats needed, go for it.  Just be clear about what your expectations are for the job.

    Good post... thanks for writing.  Hopefully Peter will chime in too.

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Will C. (not verified)

    Scott Monty has a background in marketing and PR, he's not just some guy who uses Facebook a lot. A lot of these so-called social media experts are one-trick ponies. Being "good" at social media is not difficult, it requires some research and continuous work, but it doesn't take years of experience to learn how to use Twitter effectively. It's networking, it's a natural human skill. A social media expert without a background in a related field is just a bread-taker-outer. Now if you're a social media advertising expert or a community manager you have skills in other areas like journalism, design, sales, customer service etc. For example, I love social media, I think it's fantastic and presents some unique opportunities. Am I going to call myself an expert at it? No. I want to be in advertising and i think it's one of the skills that becomes helpful in that field, but it can't be the only thing I do well. The problem with these gurus is that many don't have other other expertise. Maybe all we need is a re-brand to differentiate the people with real skills who happen to also use social media effectively from the self-proclaimed gurus. 

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Kevin McIntosh (not verified)

    Great post.


    Quiet honestly, there are people in all fields who claim to be experts who really, most likely aren't.

    I can't help but wonder if the people who are so quick to judge social media professionals are simply bitter because a) They've yet to figure out how social media works in terms of being leveraged for marketing b) Their upset that social media marketing is cutting into their own marketing services they may provide, hence cutting into their incomes or c) a combination of the two.

    I think the whole sandwich metaphor you referred to sums up the situation that I do think is becoming a big problem in social media marketing conversations online - paint a fancy simple little picture and you'll end up with a ton of agreement from folks who really haven't thought the issue through, hence a blogger can end up with scores of followers/commenters engagement that gives credence to theories that are just over simplified.

    Unfortunatley, when it comes to social media, too often it seems  that if you can make it real easy to understand  you'll capture the masses, even if you've oversimplified it. Put some meat on it, think it through in a way that can't be explained in 140 characters and no one will read-they're too busy surfing youtube for some lame statististics they can retweet on how fast Facebook is growing.

    Of course, as Dennis Miller says, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.


  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Jeroen (not verified)

    Amen bro!

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Greg (not verified)

    I think what he was saying with the bread metaphor is that it's easier to teach a sandwich maker how to take bread out of the fridge, than to teach a bread-taker-outer how to make a sandwich.

    A lot of these social media "experts" have no experience in marketing, sales, PR, or customer service.  They view social media as a separate department of the business.  The term "social media expert" is just a buzz phrase. 

    Social media is a communications tool.  Do you have "telephone experts" at your company? No. Maybe you have people that run a call center, that uses phones, but those people have a background in customer service or sales, because that's what they do.  They didn't get their degree in telephones.

    Anyone who understands this fundamental concept of social media would cringe at the phrase "social media expert". Maybe "social media integration specialist"? Because that's more what you're doing... or should be doing... integrating the social media communications tool into the other departments of your business... it can really plug in anywhere (customer service, marketing, PR, HR, etc).

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Adam Lazzara (not verified)

    Riddle me this, how can you be an expert on social media when it moves so fast? New technologies come out every single day and you being an expert means you understand the usability of each. It tough to be an expert on something that is constantly evolving, I define social media "experts" as jack of all trade types and masters of none. The guys you listed are thought leaders in the industry, constant learners and innovators. If you are looking for somebody to set up your social media presence, then go find your "expert" but if you are looking for strategy and implementation you are going to need a thought leader who is continually being educated on the changes in our industry. 

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Claire Celsi (not verified)

    Right on, Shel. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree with every word.

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Anonymous (not verified)

    To label oneself an expert in a field which has only been around for 15 years (and can only be said to have flourished in the last 5) requires temerity of the highest order. I have 4 years of formal training in IT, and a further 8 years of development experience, but could not with a straight face tell someone that I'm an expert in programming.

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Marvin (not verified)

    Great post Shel. There should be one rule about the word "guru". and the rule should be that it CANNOT BE SELF PROCLAIMED. Unfortunalty most of the time people give themselves the title of Guru.

    ....yikes I see an intemidating captcha down there. Hope this comment makes it. 

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago LMD (not verified)

    Fabulous!!  I am also very tired of hearing about how "experts" are all slick talking marketers - I have intense experience in Social Media and try my best to keep up on the practices of marketing on Social Media.  I too wrote a blog about experts and marketing.  Please take a look, I will be posting your blog to my Social Media Accounts today for sure!!  (www.facebook.com/thewordpro)


    THANK YOU for sticking up for us REAL experts!

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