I've been telling clients that 2010 is going to be the year of accountability as it relates to social media. This means accountability using real numbers (read as: sales) and not fluff (read as: Twiggler.net says we reached 2,001,450 Twitterers with those 3 re-tweets!!1!). With this accountability would come the fall of the social media expert. Talk can only take you so far before it hits the fan and you're called out. That doesn't mean the "experts" are going away, though, at least not without a fight.
A Rose By Any Other Name
If you look at the "expert" space over the past few months, several have changed their positioning. They're no longer talking about social media, because most companies have weeded folks like this off of their short list of who to call when they need help, but they've certainly moved on to other things. I've heard "Human Interaction", "Social Business Design", and even - gasp - PR. What they've realized is that the social media heyday of getting paid to tell companies basic information they can find on blogs and via Google searches about tools is thankfully over -- and with that comes a need to call yourself something different. Saul Colt has a great suggestion that these people should be (and should have been) called Personal Branding Experts, because that's what they really are. They spent a lot of time online answering every question, being there for everyone and giving away the farm for free in order to garner a following of, well, the same wannabe marketers and social media experts. They made pretty charts and graphs, created bullshit bingo cards for Web 2.0 and even wowed their sheeple by resorting to non-Web 2.0 ways of presenting their stale information. And thanks to a surplus of conferences and a low barrier to entry all the way around, they helped a lot of people understand how to get into a web business of selling companies the obvious. Yet most of their followers haven't made more than a few nickels off of it.
Um, Aren't You An Expert?
I think I need to address the expert issue another way as well, because it mildly boils my blood when I'm introduced as one. I spend every day with clients at senior levels (and sometimes at junior) talking about their business and ideas I have for their business. I have to justify these ideas by not only making a business case but also demonstrating how it aligns with their current marketing and business objectives and can work by creating internal alignment, typically across departments and budgets. Seems like a lot more advanced than telling them that they need to be on Twitter or Facebook, right? I know. Just because a lot of companies want to know about social media that happens to be the topic du jour, but it's not what I'm selling.
Social media is also not where I've made my career or name. I don't spend my time faking it as an online journalist, and I don't engage in social media in calculated ways to attract friends or followers. I call it "being myself" and "when I can", because ultimately I'm not paid for my reach or how much "brilliance" I can fit into 140 characters. I use social media the way ordinary people use it. It's the combination of New York business with Silicon Valley innovation balanced by Midwest common sense that clients love me, not because I spoke at a conference in 140 characters or amass large followings of unemployed people who hang on my every word.
With that being said, the folks who've become web celebrities for notoriously "being seen" were never really experts at social media. It explains why they have no case studies or clients to show for their work (but have tons of pictures of them speaking and throwing parties). And yes, I've seen a hand full (ok, one) campaign-based initiatives where some were considered the catalyst behind a volume of conversations online, but I'm talking about cases where you successfully helped companies measure and utilize social media across departments. See, that takes having a client relationship that isn't based on being a vendor to generate immediate, one time buzz, but being a true business partner to these companies - something the experts never were (nor claimed to be).
The Secret of My Success
Every once in a while I get sucked in to the social media hype, too. It's hard not to when you're following the stream on Twitter of these non-stop self promoters. My urge is to start questioning why I don't pump out content like this, how come I don't have six figure followers or why hasn't my book been published yet? And then it hits me - that's not what success should look like to me.
I had a wonderful discussion with my CMO client the other day after our lunch meeting, where social media was not even on the agenda or discussed. I was hailing a cab for her and the team when she made a point of ending our conversation with why she loved having me on their business. I'm not going to share all of the details here but ultimately it was because I treated their account as if I was a part of their company, understood their business, created smart marketing programs that were ROI driven and looked out for them constantly. Ah, success.