RIP Social Media Expert, c. 2010

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: 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.

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No Responses

  1. Lynnelle says:

    The rise of the Social Media Expert seems to mirror that of the Life and then Executive Coach a decade + ago.

  2. BURN LIST says:

    Ohh that is pretty sweeet. Thanks for sharing. Nice to see a cool site again in this industry.


  3. Jack says:

    The space is occupied by a lot of amateurs who don't understand metrics and or how to use them.

    Brands share some of the blame because they were quick to kick over incremental dollars with little to no oversight.

    There are still solid opportunities to make money within social media but those are more limited. And the reality is that only a few earn enough to be considered significant and or noteworthy.

  4. […] I realize it’s easy to say you’re a social media expert. Expert. That word gives you complete and total authority. You know everything about everything. But, you don’t. Now, we’re nice people so we’ll let you think what you want to think. But we know otherwise. And we’re not the only ones who think it’s time to say good-bye to the term Social Media Expert. […]

  5. […] RIP Social Media Expert, c. 2010 « David – Interesting. Nice if it were true. […]

  6. Mike Rowland says:

    In the end, it's always about accountability and results, isn't it? Fluff appears to work up to a point, but then if you cannot provide real business results you have not accomplished what you were hired for. That is a point that most Social Media Gurus, Experts, etc. seem to miss. What are 5,000 Twitter followers worth on the open market anyway? Nothing unless they are your target audience and your tactics (not strategy) actually helps them to unmask themselves to your client and take an action that results in a measurable event. We've been preaching that since the days of the first online communities, through the blog evolution, through the social network introductions, the video channel hype, and the microblogging craze. Glad to read someone with similar thoughts.

  7. Ben says:

    Great post David. It does seem like market forces are pushing the pendulum away from hype and toward basic business fundamentals and accountability. We love that. It is a lot more fun to do work with our customers and partners that is about how earned media can propel their business forward rather than about how one can acquire 100,000 Twitter followers in a week. It's the difference between companies and firms that are oriented toward addressing strategic issues (eg. gaining market share, increasing top-line revenues) before diving into tactics (eg. Facebook Fan Page) and the individuals and groups that mistook the former for the latter.

  8. Rich Becker says:


    While I usually shrug off something is dead posts, this one rings true enough. Most social media folks have shifted to get beyond the business of being the guru of all things online. Most had too.

    Years ago, I always told several of them that when public relations and advertising agencies began to populate the Web, they would eventually be asked to integrate social media into everything else they do.

    Since, it seems much like you said. The social media 'experts" have shifted toward being motivational speakers and personal branding coaches. In many cases, it is what drives their popularity.

    All my best,

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