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Never Plan on Hiring a Social Media Expert? Good Luck With That

It’s funny to see some of the same people who have praised Web 2.0 and social media for years and highly depend on social media themselves, pointing the finger at “social media experts.” These myopic blog posts get views and buzz, but they are so generic that it shows that they don’t really see the entire picture or are simply seeking attention by trying to stand out amidst a sea of social media related content and opinions.

Are these kinds of articles/posts new? Nope. Criticism of “gurus,” “ninjas,” “experts,” “snake oil salesmen,” etc. abound online. Everyone and their cousin has written about it (I’m sure I’ve done it myself and I apologize on behalf of my younger, ignorant self).

Ironically, many of the people  making these claims are the same ones that speak at conferences, write books, and appear on TV and magazine articles to talk about how much they know about social media. They speak as experts and then talk about a generic group of renegade “social media experts.”

Based on my experience, I know how some small business owners see social media and how very large corporations see social media. I also have interacted with PR/marketing/advertising agencies, technology vendors, and startups/developers to have enough of an idea of how they see it.

And from what I’ve experienced, regardless of what you read in blog post x, most large companies need people who specialize in social media in various areas of the organization. In the same way, most small businesses need help with getting started in social media.

Sure, it would be fantastic if everyone from the CEO to customer service reps, marketing departments, and the agencies helping them were not only aware of how the space is evolving on a monthly basis, but also had experience and deep knowledge about what works, what doesn’t, and what it all means for the organization.

In an ideal world, everyone would have experience and knowledge around social strategy, integration, execution, management, testing, and measurement, and everyone would know how to spend dollars correctly to make things happen efficiently, creatively and with relevance, but that is not the case. The fact is that most large companies are still learning and some are still skeptic, despite the strong data suggesting that people are spending a lot of their time and attention on social sites. It takes resources and money to provide great customer service and create great marketing. In the same way, most small businesses probably don’t even have the time to do much more beyond creating a Facebook page and putting a Facebook icon on a billboard.

Pointing a finger at “social media experts” is like pointing a finger at “media planning experts.” It’s terribly vague. 

Another case against the “social media experts” is the large amount of scammers and spammers out there. True, there are a lot of people trying to sell you everything from “ROI” to revolutionary sentiment analysis to $99 Facebook pages and Twitter followers by the gazillions.

Every single day of the year I get either a call, a LinkedIn message or an email from someone trying to reach the social media strategist/manager/expert/owner/director/leader at the company I work for. Every single day.

Are we in a bubble? Nevermind, wrong topic.

So every single day I get these kinds of messages and I try to take some of them because there are some pretty interesting and valuable tools, vendors, agencies and startups out there. The interesting thing is that all of these salespeople want to talk to some kind of social media specialist. Regardless of how good these vendors are, they are all looking for who? Social media experts.

And you know what? The good companies will try to talk to a social media specialist. The bad ones will probably try to reach anyone in marketing communications, corporate communications, media planning, research, or who knows, maybe even HR, legal, and accounting to try to sell what the anti-expert experts call “snake oil.” It might be easier to sell “snake oil” (either through a phone call or a blog post) to someone who doesn’t really understand what works in social media.

Without experts/specialists, it’s easy for companies to fall for fluffy, borderline useless, and/or expensive services and products.

And without people who know how to get things done in social media, it is easy to miss on great opportunities and completely dismiss great threats.

I wish we could, but we can’t just become all-knowing over night.

Someone can’t just wake up one day and do marketing and customer service in social media simply by “knowing the consumer” and saying “transparency,” “brevity” and “relevance” out loud to magically “generate revenue.” Sorry but ummm no. You don’t magically wake up one day just knowing everything there is to know about any topic or profession. And you don’t magically learn about new technologies and opportunities simply by knowing the basics of business. And on a sidenote, marketing is not just about revenue. Social media is most definitely not just about revenue.

Another issue I have with the anti-expert statement is the despise for younger professionals. It’s easy to poke fun at interns but sometimes they might have more passion, interest and skill in social media than people that have been in marketing for a long time.

Everyone learns at some point and that’s why companies need to seek people who are most knowledgeable and experienced (not just most popular or “influential”).

In a way, many of us who work within social media have been snake oil consumers, and even “salespeople” if you want to think about it that way. A lot of the “influencers” in social media were once ignorant Kool-aid drinkers too. At some point Gary Vee was just a guy trying to upload a video online. At some point Robert Scoble got excited over a web log. At some point Frank Eliason was just someone in a customer service department who liked a site called Twitter. At some point everyone was on Google Buzz. At some point Empire Avenue was going to take over the world.

I’m not really sure if this is making sense as I’m just typing thoughts at this point but I must say I simply find it very dishonest and self-righteous to one day brag about the powers of something, and the next day shun others doing it or specializing in it. It is one thing to say to a colleague “watch out for x, y and z because it is not true and a, b, and c will save you some trouble.” It’s a completely different matter to point a finger saying “social media experts are idiots and I’m not.”

I think it’s time to end the whole “snake oil salesmen” and “social media guru” finger-pointing conversation.

We get it anti-expert experts. You think you’re awesome and everyone else isn’t, and you want us to retweet it because you’re so influential and strategic and revenue-oriented.

At this point, blog posts about “snake oil salesmen” are becoming “snake oil” themselves.

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