Among those responding to my post about social media experts were a few people who object to experts because, they believe, social media hasn't been around long enough. The cross-post of my item over on Social Media Today produced this item from someone who chose to remain anonymous:
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.
The original post to my own blog also led someone-Michael Cheek, who did identify himself-to comment...
Social media, as the discipline it's developing into, is less than three years old. This means it's not even mature enough to earn a bachelor's degree...Social media and the professionals who do it need time to mature. I don't think that's wrong to insist on waiting. "Experts" in social media do not yet exist.
This is an argument I've never heard before and it's one worthy of consideration.
The definition of an expert is a someone who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area. You can check multiple definitions; they all come down close to this one. The question, then, is how long must a discipline be around for expertise to develop?
How long, oh Lord, how long?
Google has been around only 13 years. If that's not long enough, then Greg Jarboe and Lee Odden are frauds and charlatans pretending to understand Search Engine Optimization, which requires more time to pass before expertise can be claimed.
Which, of course, is utter nonsense. Search algorithms don't need a lot of time before someone figures out how to benefit from them and share that expertise with others.
Besides, I take issue with the assertion that social media has been around for only three years. Cheek's argument is that "Facebook and Twitter (as a business tool) only came into existence during that period of time." But other social channels have been employed by business before that, running the gamut from blogs and wikis to YouTube and podcasting.
But even if I accept Cheek's argument, search as I might, I can't find minimum history requirement for any field of expertise. In any case, the argument doesn't hold water. As The Doctor says:
In this case, the history of social media matters less than the volume of research and data that have accumulated during that time. By virtue of its digital nature, social media is subject to intense data analysis. using tools as simple as Google Analytics to those as sophisticated as Radian6, Sysomos and the like, more analysis has been conducted in social media's brief lifespan than in many disciplines that have been around longer. (Not to mention that folks who work for these organizations-like Amber Naslund-have made the study of social media analytics their life's work.)
Research and case studies
Add to this the number of case studies on record (like those you can find on Tod Maffin's social media case study site) and the huge volume of research conducted by the likes of Forrester, Gartner, McKinsey and hundreds of other organizations, along with scholarly research, and there's more than an adequate amount of data, information and knowledge to serve as a basis for the comprehensive knowledge the definition of an expert requires. (I have just recently started curating social media research.)
People with long-standing expertise and credentials in research-like Katie Paine-have contributed vast sums of knowledge to the science of assessing the effectiveness (or ROI) from social media efforts. I would go so far as to call Katie an expert in social media measurement (a social media niche, which I'll address again later in this post).
But seriously, do we need more than the 11 or so years since the first blog appeared before social media can be deemed a discipline in which experts can exist? Soundscape ecology has only been around since this year, near as I can tell, and already has experts-like Bryan Pijanowski-who have immersed themselves in research. The field of metaknowledge-research into knowledge about knowledge-is considered one of the newest fields of scientific research, but also has its experts (as defined above).
Joining the curriculum
It's also worth noting that social media has entered to curricula of more than a few universities. Anyone who has worked in academia knows the rigor to which fields of study are subjected before they are accepted into the curriculum, yet there are classes at the likes of UC Berkeley, the University of Washington (which is offering a masters degree) Birmingham City University, the University of Kentucky, Drury University, Missouri State University, the University of Southern Indiana-the list goes on (and on and on).
Then there are the books that have been published on social media. A search of Amazon's books, using the phrase "social media," produces nearly 3,000 results-and that doesn't include social media-related texts that don't have that phrase in their titles (like my own podcasting book or "Blogging for Business").
While many of these are just surveys of the space infused with opnion, others offer deep insights backed up by research. The authors themselves can be considered experts, and those who immerse themselves in the study of these books include the knowledge they gain in their own expertise.
Finally, there are dimensions of expertise that simply don't require significant longitudinal experience. Consider Facebook's Edgerank, the algorithms that determine the content you'll see in your newsfeed. Experts like Gary Yu have cracked the code and are advising clients on how to ensure their updates appear in news feeds. The evidence of their effectiveness is easy enough to quantify by determining how many of those updates actually do make it into newsfeeds.
As more time passes, more knowledge will accumulate and experts will become even better at their trades. But isn't that the case in every field of study? Astronomy has been around for hundreds of years, but new information alters conventional wisdom on a regular basis.
In short, it's just ridiculous to suggest that social media hasn't been around long enough to accumulate the foundation of knowledge that individuals would use to establish a comprehensive understanding. Not everyone who proclaims himself an expert is one (and, as I noted before, shame on anyone who hires them). But do experts exist today?
of course. To think otherwise is simply to ignore the overwhelming (and daunting) mountains of facts in evidence. And besides, what are organizations supposed to do while waiting for some arbitrary amount of time to pass? Muddle through? that's a ridiculous proposition, given the huge volumes of data and experience that have already accumulated-and the experts who have made it their mission to develop comprehensive knowledge of all that information.