As social media has expanded into the immense communications platform it is today, along with that growth has come thousands of people claiming to be social media 'experts'. Most in the field avoid such labels - to call yourself an expert in such an evolving and ever-changing landscape can be risky, and either way, if you are an expert, you probably don't need to label yourself, others will do that for you. But that hasn't stopped some, and while there are, of course, quite a few social media types who are experts who rightfully stake that claim, many are not. So how do you know who's who? How do you sort the wheat from the chaff and establish who possesses genuine expertise, as opposed to those who just say it? Here's a few queries and questions to ask when assessing a person's social media presence to get some determination of their right to their 'social media expert' claims:
Klout and Kred scores are indicative, but don't tell the full story.
The calculations that convert 'social influence' into a single number are complex and, for the most part, pretty good at highlighting those who are highly active and have good levels of engagement. This is particularly true of those with very high scores - you just can't fake that, it takes time and consistent effort (for us normal folk who don't have 'celebrity' status). But the rise of content discovery tools does lend itself to gaming these systems. Take, for example, Klout's recently added content discovery system. Theoretically, you could use that system to find and share influential content without ever having read any of it yourself. While the idea behind the process is to save people time and highlight the content most relevant to their interests, sharing options are only one-click away, so you can easily build up a schedule of content to share, which will appear as though you are reading all of it, when in fact you've gained nothing in knowledge, you're just working with the Klout system to improve your score. For this reason, Klout and Kred scores alone cannot be solely relied upon to show a person's social media expertise - though they do remain a solid, indicative measure.
Are they putting forward their opinions?
It's easy to parrot the thoughts of established experts - it's another thing entirely to present you own thoughts and ideas. Putting your perspective out there is risky - what if you're wrong? What if you say the wrong thing and someone shoots you down, ruining your reputation in the community? But if you want to establish yourself as an expert, that's exactly what you need to do. If you want to claim expertise, you've got to stand behind it. You have to express your own ideas, your experiences, share your views on things. If you're an expert, if you've done your research and you know what works, then there's nothing to fear from presenting your thoughts. It's important that a thought leader be exactly that - someone who is presenting thought, not someone re-phrasing someone else. When assessing an expert's presence, see if they are putting forward their own thoughts, sharing their views - a true expert won't hesitate in airing their perspective.
Are they active in community groups, Google Hangouts, Twitter chats, etc.?
This somewhat aligns with the previous point - actively engaging in community groups gives experts the chance to share their knowledge and build reputation in their field. It shows how helpful they are, their position on certain topics. Real-time chats, in particular, are relevant because they're happening right there - the thoughts and opinions expressed can't be researched and rehearsed, you have to put them in as the conversation moves. If someone's highly active on Twitter chats, it would suggest they are comfortable and confident in their knowledge, and more than that, it shows a level of passion about the topic. No one has to do Twitter chats or engage in comments. The fact that people are doing this shows that they're taking part because they want to do. Look through their Twitter profile for chat hashtags, see what they're saying. Look through the comments on their posts and see if and how they're responding. These interactions will give you another indicator of their level of expertise and perspective.
Are their blog posts highly shared and/or aligned to you're seeking to understand?
If they're not writing blog posts, that would raise a question in itself. Thought leaders need to be expressing their thoughts, their knowledge, and the best way to do this is in social is through blogging. Experts are generally consistent bloggers, people keen to be part of the ongoing conversation, keen to share their knowledge with likeminded folk. Without blog content as a reference point, how can you know this person has the requisite amount of knowledge or is staying up to date with the latest trends? As you know, social media moves fast, you need to keep up with changes. Someone who posts regularly, who shares his or her thoughts on the latest trends, that's someone who's presenting their work for all to see. A form of digital resume, data points for people to assess their level of expertise. Without those thoughts noted, it's very hard to assess their level of expertise. Are their posts detailed? Do they include relevant examples and information? If their work speaks to you, and makes logical sense, they may be who you want to listen to.
Are they consistent?
Social media experts are active online. They update, they share, they stay on top of the latest happenings. If someone claimed to be a social media expert and they were posting only a couple of tweets or updates per week, I'd question how on point they are, how solid their knowledge is. This, of course, would be indicated in their Klout/Kred scores either way, but worth noting the efforts industry leaders put in, in terms of consistency. They're online, every day, they're engaging. They underline their social presence by sticking to a personal schedule and being a reliable source for their fans and followers. The experts are the people we rely upon to translate the latest industry trends. If they're not doing that, not making themselves part of the evolving conversation, it may be that they're not the experts they claim.
These are just a few notes, and of course, there can, and will, always be exceptions (e.g. someone may not blog because he/she is not a confident writer, but may still be an expert). While no one can ever know it all, and every expert has a particular area of specialisation, it's important to have some idea of who the experts are - and more importantly, who they aren't. Expertise in social is not defined by academic study, it's defined by action. Consistency, relevance and opinion are three important things that will be displayed by any leader in the field. Using these points in your assessment, digging a bit deeper into their presence, will help determine which voices are the ones you need to be listening to and, when the time comes, which you'd want to be working with.
What about you - who would you nominate as a social media expert and someone people should pay attention to? Tag them in the comments below and show your appreciation for those you've learned from in the field.