When I'm about to deliver a presentation at a conference or meeting, odds are I'll be introduced as "a social media guru." I cringe at the reference. The first thing I tell the audience is that I'm not a social media guru; I'm an organizational communicator specializing in online communication and social media has naturally evolved as a focus of my work.
My defensiveness is a reaction to the assault leveled at anyone calling himself a "social media guru." Need proof? Alex Blom thinks they should be trampled by elephants. Search the blogosphere for the phrase and you get headlines like...
- The Wicked Lies that Social Media Gurus Weave
- Social Media Gurus-How to Spot a Scammer
- Dear Social Media Gurus, Ninjas and Dragon-Slayers: Please Go Away
- Social media "gurus" and bloggers are egotistical jerks
Who would want to be lumped into that group? On the spectrum of despised professions, social media gurus fall somewhere between Washington insiders and oil-and-gas executives.
The hatred isn't reserved only for "gurus." Ninjas are also called out, as are mavens, masters, experts, jedis and rockstars.
Interestingly, all of the vitriol aimed at social media gurus is coming from social media...um....experts. Here's how the authors of each of the posts listed above describe themselves in the bios on their blogs and websites:
- CEO of...an online marketing company specializing in social media, blogging and search engine optimization
- Marketer extraordinaire and social media addict
- Deploying Social Media strategy for Silicon Beach Training
- ...a particular passion for social media, mobile technology, politics, and marketing. With experience on capital (sic) hill, in nonprofits, PR, marketing, and activism, he's seen social media and mobile technology used in a variety of contexts and is constantly looking forward to the future
- ...journalist, producer, and owner of the custom publishing and social media firm...
That's right. Everyone calling BS on social media gurus is a social media guru. They don't use the word, but I'd be willing to bet real money that often they get introduced that way when they speak. (And I can't resist calling out someone who attacks social media gurus, has experience on Capitol Hill but can't freakin' spell it correctly on his own freakin' website.)
The hypocricy is so thick you can almost cut it with a ninja sword.
Nearly a year ago, Jason Falls asked, "Can we please get off the ego-driven, high-horse pedestal and shut the hell up about 'social media gurus?'" Falls wields a lot of influence, but his plea has gone unheeded.
I'm renewing Falls' entreaty. It probably won't do any good because the ego-driven on their high-horse pedestals tend not to pay attention to reason. But here goes anyway: Shut the hell up about social media gurus. Don't you have anything useful to blog about? Personally, I would never hire or recommend anyone who has posted an attack on social media gurus. Here's my reasoning:
Gurus who aren't
I know that much of the criticism is leveled at people with limited experience who hang out a shingle proclaiming themselves gurus. The self-proclaimed legitimate social media experts who author these anti-guru screeds appear to be warning prospective clients to beware.
But do you really think anyone who'd hire an unqualified contractor is reading the kinds of blogs that include posts blasting the blogger's lower-caste competitors? Not likely. More realistic is that they were introduced by a colleague who went to school with the guru. They probably found the consultant that way because they don't use social media themselves and don't know any better.
There are also plenty of unqualified hacks who aren't independent consultants and who don't give themselves titles like "guru." They work in marketing, advertising and PR agencies. They have titles like "account executive" and "creative director." They have plenty of experience; just not with social media. They hate the idea of leaving billable hours on the table and figure social media can't be too different from any other new channel that's come along. Those clients the real experts are so worried about wouldn't have a clue that they shouldn't hire these pretenders because they haven't had the temerity to print "guru" on their business cards.
This being the case, just who are these anti-guru posts aimed at? It seems to me they're mainly written by insecure practitioners trying to bolster their own egos and puffed-up prima donnas lording their superiority over their peers in the echo chamber.
People who hire unqualified consultants
The real experts who vent against gurus are laboring under the mistaken belief that the gurus are using jedi mind tricks to dupe otherwise competent, savvy clients into hiring them. The fact is, if someone hires a social media consultant-regardless of what they call themselves-without checking their qualifications, they're probably failing to check qualifications for everybody they hire. Hiring anybody to do anything without making sure they know what they're doing means the client is equally clueless and deserves what he gets. Besides, it's more work for the rest of us when we get called in to clean up their messes.
There's a certain amount of hubris at play for anybody who calls himself a guru. But I'm done getting exercised when I'm introduced that way. If somebody else applies the label to you, it's praise and you should accept it graciously. A guru, after all, "is one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others (teacher)," according to Wikipedia.
Horrors! Who'd want to be known as one of those?
Lots of people would when they show up on a list like "40 Social Media Gurus to Inspire You on Satisfying Saturday." Not one of those listed left a comment rejecting the label. One did say he was flattered to be included.
Don't judge based on a title
Nobody would suggest that Shashi Bellamkonda is an unqualified hack. Bellamkonda, who manages social media for Network Solutions, has been honored for his work by organizations like the Society for New Communications Research. He has produced measurable results for his employer. He's widely respected and often quoted. He also bears the title, "Social Media Swami." Is it fair to dismiss Shashi's qualifications because you think his title is silly?
Fast Company magazine used to run a feature about offbeat job titles. The column included real titles of real people like Intangible Asset Appraiser, Project Meanie, Director of Ethical Hacking, Idea Ambassador, VP of Happiness, Knowledge Sorceress, Creator of the Enlighted Orchard, Director of Emerging Thought, Digital Yenta and Cultural Czar. Before you make fun of any of these, read the accompanying articles to see what the individual with the offbeat titles does and the value he or she provides for his or her employer.
It's another reason to judge people based on their qualifications, not their titles.
It's not that there aren't good posts out there about what to look for when hiring a social media consultant. These add value. But the over-the-top attacks (trampled by elephants? really?) remind me more of playground chest-thumping and high school jocks arguing about whose is bigger. The authors of these posts may be thoroughly qualified to work in social media, but it doesn't make them professional. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to find better examples of unprofessionalism than consultants who write these savage attacks. I'm sick to death of the anti-guru meme.
Surely we have better things to write about.