Are Social Media “Experts” Worthless?

image of a toy clown

Gary Vaynerchuk, in his usual low-key, mellow way, said last month that 99.5% of social media experts are clowns.

This immediately prompted a schoolyard-style kicking of the whole idea of a social media expert, with one prominent writer saying that anyone who does it for a living should “go die in a fire.” And that was one of the nicer responses.

The name-calling and vitriol are a little hard to watch. Here’s the thing, though.

Vaynerchuk’s making a point that needs to be made. But that’s not what interests me.

What interests me is what it takes to make that last 0.5%. What do the social media experts look like who aren’t clowns?

First, let’s talk about that hated title.

Is “social media expert” a stupid thing to call yourself?

On one level, of course it is. “Social media expert” is like being an “internet expert.” It’s too broad, therefore it’s meaningless.

There’s just one problem with that. Businesses that need help with blogging strategies, content marketing, social networking presence, and real-time PR usually don’t know enough to look for those terms.

They look for “social media experts.”

You can make social media pundits happy and change your tag line to something more precise. Or you can find customers by calling yourself a social media expert, then educate your clients about what that actually means.

I’m personally in favor of making the people happy who pay me money. Just a thought.

Sturgeon’s Law of Predominant Crap

Most graphic designers are pretty bad. So are most copywriters. And most SEOs. Add in most novels, TV shows, restaurants, general contractors, PR professionals, financial advisors, real estate agents … you get the idea.

Sturgeon’s Law, coined by the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, is that 90% of everything is crap.

Sure, it’s easy to find lots of social media experts who know nothing about either business or social media. Why should social media consulting be immune?

There’s more demand for good social media advice than there are practitioners who can give it. Any time demand outpaces supply, Sturgeon’s Law comes into play.

Do businesses really need help with social media?

Some believe that businesses don’t need help with social media at all — that if their products and customer service are good enough, the social media side just takes care of itself.

This is precisely as naive as thinking that if your social media relationships are good enough, the sales side will take care of itself.

(Here’s Sonia’s Law: Nothing Takes Care of Itself.)

There are thousands of businesses that do a pretty good job at what they do, and a spectacularly terrible job of using new internet-based communication tools.

90% of websites are wretched. 90% of Facebook pages are wretched. 90% of content marketing programs are wretched. 90% of social media-based customer support is wretched.

Saying that no one needs a social media expert is like saying no one needs a direct mail expert, or a radio advertising expert. It shows a lack of experience with just how badly otherwise good, smart companies can screw up when trying to use new communication tools.

Gary Vaynerchuck didn’t, in fact, say that 99.5 percent of social media experts are clowns. He said that “99.5 percent of the people that walk around and say they are a social media expert or guru are clowns” … because they don’t think like businesspeople.

Businesses need help from actual experts — people who really get the rules of engagement in social media, and who understand how to translate that to business success.

If you’re allergic to marketing and making money, don’t consult to businesses

One of the main reasons for all the Haterade is that too many high-profile social media pundits (who were then followed by vast herds of well-intentioned lemmings) loathe business. They imagine that sales are something that magically show up when you make lots of friends.

Any good salesperson will tell you you need to be able to make friends. Cultivating relationships has always been an essential part of sales, and it always will be.

But that’s not where it stops. You still need to demonstrate value for money, your product still needs to do great things for your customers, and you still have to ask for the sale.

Social media relationships don’t replace solid marketing strategy — they amplify it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is pontificating without benefit of experience or evidence.

Sometimes the best marketing doesn’t look like marketing. That doesn’t mean there’s no solid strategy in place — it usually indicates a strategy that’s absolutely brilliant.

How to get into the 0.5%

Businesses need smart people who can help them figure social media out. That means they probably need someone who looks a lot like you.

If you’re smart about social media, then no matter what you do, your services got a whole lot more valuable in the last year.

So if helping businesses use social media is part of what you do, how do you make sure you’re in the effective, business-savvy, non-clownlike 0.5%?

  • Understand content marketing. Social media friendliness is great, but content scales, and it doesn’t depend on any one particular platform.
  • Understand direct response copywriting … in other words, writing that triggers a specific, well-defined action. Know how to write a great headline, how to make a call to action, what a landing page is, how to translate features into benefits. Learn what it takes to turn fans into customers.
  • Be specific about your tool kit. Yes, you may initially approach your clients with the title of social media expert, but you’ll quickly educate them about your own specific areas of expertise.
  • Partner with complementary experts. If you’re a Facebook and Twitter ninja, connect with a brilliant landing page and SEO copywriter, and maybe a smart PR pro who knows what a crisis plan looks like. You don’t have to know how to do it all, but you should be able to make it easy for your client to get everything they need.
  • And to that point, Know what your clients need. Fortune 500s, mom-and-pops, VC-fueled startups, and small service businesses all have different needs, and they speak different languages. Read the business blogs or magazines your clients read. Become an expert in how your clients do business. Learn what they desperately want, and give it to them.

The fastest way to get (and stay) up to speed

If you’re some variety of “social media expert,” don’t let the backlash get you down. Sulking is not a business strategy. Educating yourself is.

If any of the points above is a weak spot for you, get up to speed fast by picking up our 20-part tutorial, Internet Marketing for Smart People. It will show you how to balance what’s new and shiny with the underlying business principles that make social media marketing work.

It’s free, it’s packed with techniques and strategies you can use again and again, and it’s the most efficient way to make yourself one of the kickass 0.5%.

Sign up for the complete free course here.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Follow her on twitter and let her know what makes you one of kickass 0.5%.

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  1. The problem with social media “expertise” is that it’s completely undefined, requires no official training, certification or experience, and produces largely intangible results. So claiming expertise is an easy thing to do.

    It’s funny though: In virtually every field, the true experts rarely (actually, never) refer to themselves as experts.

    • It probably can’t be defined, certified, etc. yet, it’s too new.

      Take a look at David Meerman Scott’s work on tangible results, though — they are starting to show up.

    • There are a few social media training courses offered by various schools in South Africa. Having read this piece: I wonder if it’s worth my trouble to go for social media training?

      • That would depend entirely on who’s training you and what they’re training you to do. If it’s someone incredibly smart and business-savvy like David Meerman Scott or Amber Naslund, definitely. :)

        Otherwise I’d probably focus my education energy more on growing my business chops, and use good sense and observation to learn the ins & outs of social media.

        • I’d tend to agree about the training – most courses are a waste of cash if the individual doing the training isn’t someone really making waves themselves in the business – some trainers see it as a vocation and teach textbook stuff but I’m of the opinion you learn far more from A) Doing it yourself and learning as you go or B) observing someone who is really doing stuff you respect

          • I think you hit the nail on the head James. Something as new as utilizing social media for your company growth is not going to learned in the archaic academic style. Doing, looking for results, revising, and doing again would be the best way to understand what works best. There’s no surefire model out there yet so it’s really hard to consider anyone a social media ‘expert’.

  2. One of the most important things about social-media marketing that clients need to understand is that it’s not a quick fix. Establishing an Internet presence that translates into sales takes a long time. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Not gonna lie, as an engineer, I’ve been trained to deal in concrete, tangible things. Marketing is very fuzzy to me, and when I see something like social media expert, I roll my eyes a little. I wish you could give specific, clear case studies of how being a true “social media expert” helped a company, where someone else couldn’t.

    P.S. I was curious enough to sign up for “Internet Marketing for Smart People,” so you got me there.

    —www.awkwardengineer.com

    • Awkward Engineer-

      I’m not associated with CopyBlogger. But I wanted to say, I hope you *love* IMFSP. It’s absolutely brilliant writing, simple, and totally digestible on a “concrete, tangible” level. I (and others) would no doubt be interested in hearing what you think, if you feel so inclined to re-comment here in a week or two.

      My understanding is that social media is a conversation tool used to build relationships. It’s like Sonia says in this post: “Any good salesperson will tell you you need to be able to make friends. Cultivating relationships has always been an essential part of sales, and it always will be.”

      Most social case studies feel slimey to me. Like if I were to do a case-study on my individual friendships. “How being friends with Bill has improved the ROI of my Saturday nights!”

    • Take a look at David Meerman Scott’s work on the ROI of what he calls “real-time marketing and PR” (which is basically social media engagement with a lot of business smarts attached). He makes a compelling argument, supported with numbers, for a measurable financial return.

    • True, measuring ROI on social media seems like it would be harder than many proclaim it is.

  4. I have no problem with people owning up to their expertise, especially if they worked heard to earn that title. I have more of a problem with people dismissing the idea of someone who is an expert simply because it’s not the hip thing to do at this point in time.

    Now we can argue about what makes one an expert, or if social media has been around long enough to have true experts. However, I don’t think it matters much because it’s the trendy thing to do to write off one’s expertise anyway. I know some people who are true experts at what they do but they’re embarrassed of the reaction they’ll get if they admit to it. That’s foolish.

    If you have it, own it – but prepared to back it up with facts.

    If you don’t have it, don’t try because you’re going to get called out on it anyway.

    • Absolutely agree, thanks Deb. :)

    • I agree with this thought whole-heartedly. In fact, I happened to blog about it yesterday. Claiming expertise builds confidence not only for the person doing so, but in the prospect or customer too. Now, no one needs to go around saying “I’m an expert” exactly, but there are ways of demonstrating it, saying it in other words that express confidence and authority and isn’t that the kind of person we usually want to help us?

  5. Social Media expert can be invaluable for a business. my problem is there are too many self-proclaimed “experts” and “gurus”. The bragging gets so loud that they forget the doing is what makes/will make them an expert in the first place.

  6. “Social media relationships don’t replace solid marketing strategy — they amplify it.”

    Excellent point! Social media is not the solution to all you Internet marketing needs and Facebook (no matter how big and powerful) will never replace a well-rounded marketing campaign. You need to build some kind of relationship to make a sale, but more relationships don’t equal more sales. Social media experts have to work with the rest of that marketing team to get the most value out of their work and their colleagues.

  7. “quickly educate them about your own specific areas of expertise”

    Educating them about how social media can help their business, pointing them to your proven successes, followed up with testimonials from your existing clients along with a great website showcasing your stuff, will establish you as a media expert without you saying a word about how great you are.

    “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

    • You are the first person that I’ve seen online – and probably in the history of my life offline, for that matter – use that phrase correctly. The proof is not in the pudding. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And by god, you used it in the proper context, too! You’re my hero, Bill.

      Incidentally, I also agree with your point.

  8. We’re still talking about this?

  9. The problem isn’t with the title. The problem is with the people who self-appoint themselves with the title.

    Other than that, as you no doubt know, I’m right there with you Sonia. Businesses do need help, and if people take the time to go through that e-course, they’ll be light years ahead of the self-appointed :-).

  10. Yeah. The only issue here is that people might be totally fantastic at “social media” (which is silly, because it ‘s tremendously easy and user-friendly by definition) but not understand how their efforts are converting into revenue. Too many companies are wasting money on hiring “social media gurus” without understanding how or why it will affect their business.

  11. I agree with Derek. I don’t see a problem with the title of Social media experts… the problem is when people call them self social media expert after setting up their twitter account and facebook page…

    I really believe that many businesses need social media expert because they don’t know crap about social medias for many reasons…

  12. There are definitely a lot of hacks out there promoting themselves as social media experts. But there are some really good folks, too. Takes a lot of digging, I suspect.

    A lot of the bigger businesses, IMO, need them & it shows. They have no idea what they’re doing and they come across very rigid.

    Jennifer

  13. Sing it, sista! There’s a better word to add onto the end of social media if they’re the “expert.” That’s “consulting” or “consultant.” Just a quick peek in the Google Keyword Tool turned up more searches using those two words as compared to “expert.” I think it depends on the knowledge level of the business owner as to what keywords they’re using to search. Didn’t search for guru though.

    Amen to the best marketing doesn’t look like marketing and agree with all of your points. You all at Copyblogger taught me what I know about content marketing and how everything revolves around it, plus sales and marketing advice. After taking courses in coaching, copywriting, writing, social media and several other business topics, you guys have been the only ones who preach asking for the sale. Yeah – that’s important. :)

    So, thank you for what you do.

    • Great point, thanks Gabrielle! I think “expert” and “guru” often get used in a general way, but I agree that “consulting” has both a more grown-up vibe and clearly is the phrase with more search traffic.

  14. Great headline.

    Then you hooked me with the mention of @GaryVee … he’s a riot!

  15. Thanks for the article Sonia. Social Media is a fairly new phenomenon, and content marketing in general isn’t that mature. Every day my company runs into potential new clients who got ripped off by SEO “experts” etc., those sorts of people will always exist, regardless of how many barriers to entry/college degrees/certificates there are. I just think there is a bigger chance to exploit social media, because there aren’t a lot of best practices, and companies themselves don’t know that much, so they can’t ask the right questions of a potential “social media expert.”

    At the end of the day results will make the difference. Either you helped drive revenue, or you didn’t. And those who pull that off will continue to be employed, while the rest will melt away.

    I’m just glad I have several years under my belt at learning social and content marketing, and actual experience. We’re all learning from each other. Statement’s like Gary’s don’t move the conversation forward.

    • So true — it amazes me how bad many SEOs and web developers are, and those fields aren’t particularly new. Sturgeon’s Law again. Good social media help will probably be even harder to come by for awhile — which is why I’d love it if people who are actually good at it will step forward.

      Gary’s full statement was not unfair, but a lot of folks ran with “clowns” and didn’t take his whole statement into consideration — that the problem was a lack of business knowledge. In fact, his article (and book) on balance argue for more smart social media consultants out there.

  16. Thank you for all the great posts. I have been in business since the day of the pay phone, yellow pages, cold calls and legal pads. I spent several years in ” Marketing ” and several years in ” Telecom “. I remember alerting several of my peers and superior that the ” Internet ” was going to change everything. When the ” Net ” first began to evolve in the commercial sector, I was able to ride that waive becoming one of the early ” Experts ” ,,,, making my way as an SME. Today, the market is flooded with Experts/SME’s in this area thus making it very hard to differentiate you skill set. Part of what drove this is Telecom/Technologies have become increasingly simple to define and adapt. Today, we have a great opportunity to tap in to the power of the Internet and thus the ” Experts ” are coming to the table. I believe over the next few years, many of us will become ” Experts ” simply in the process of adapting the technology!

    Best of luck in you journey!
    :)

  17. One of the main problems I see is that practically anyone who’s been able to set-up a profile on FB, Twitter and LinkedIn calls herself a social media EXPERT. Social Media is a very new phenomenon and anyone claiming to be an expert is running the risk of making a fool of himself.

    Out of the score of experts I have looked at and listened to, I have found 2 who truly have a grasp of this 800,000 pound gorilla called social media.

  18. Perfectly penned Sonia. Agreed 100%. I have had the meta title for my personal site as “social media consultant” for 3 years now because I get consistent leads from it (google front page) that are relevant to my business. I never liked calling myself that, but it was the only title to use to get the work for a while.

    Things are changing though. People are starting to search for monitoring help, content help, community managers, training, etc.

  19. IMHO, social media marketing starts with great content.

  20. I’m in agreement with a lot of the folks who have already commented – those who speak, don’t know. Those who know don’t speak. I’ve met several of these ‘social media gurus’ and the only difference between them and someone off the street is that they play more video games. It’s entertaining to watch. You think that @garyvee’s assessment is a little bit too low on the clownage?

  21. Clearly, a trusted, 3rd-Tribe-Approved, Social Media Expert Registry is in order.

    Someone could tell me 100 times they are an expert; I might not believe them.
    If Copyblogger tells me that person is 3T approved, I’ll believe they are. :)

  22. P.S. In other words, do something for social media experts like you guys did in the “Meet the Genesis Developers” post: http://www.studiopress.com/news/genesis-developers-1.htm

  23. Very good and useful article :)
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  24. Great post! I — being a word nerd — love the semantics point. That insiders loathe terms like ‘social media experts’ that is the handle — for better or worse — that clients use to refer to the help they need. They don’t know what ‘content marketing’ is or ‘engagement strategy’, etc. Titles like ‘social media expert’ are not only useful in getting you as a consultant in the door so that you can further educate with new terms like those above but it’s also how they refer you to their colleagues. “Nick is ‘Mr. Social Media.” This has happened to me and, yes, I cringed but I was getting referred to new business! I don’t self apply titles like this but they definitely help clients grasp the general space we work in.

    Sorry to ramble. Great post , Sonia.

    • You touched on my exact thought — I cringe myself at someone introducing me as a social media guru or a blogging guru, but people do, so I try to grin and bear it. :)

      I have to meet people where they are today, and that always starts with language and labels.

  25. @Nick – well said!

    I’ve been called an expert in BPR, Knowledge Management, CRM, eBusiness, eCommerce and (my personal favourite) dot.com

    Never by me.

    But if it helps those who employ me understand what it is that I do then great, I won’t complain.

  26. My problem is with the “social media experts” or “gurus” who fill our heads with all of their false promises of what they can do for us and how destined we are to fail without them…scare tactics if you will…all in the name of making themselves money.

    There are many of us out here who are desperately trying to make more money for our families and we know the internet is the best place to do it but some of these “snake oil” salesmen make us feel like the only ones on the internet making any money are the snake oil salesmen.

    Thank you for providing such educational content for free. With all of the “programs” available for a price, its nice to find a few people willing to help others without forcing us to take another mortgage on our homes.

  27. It’s the quality of frequent content, key words, marketing and links. There, now I’m a social media expert.

  28. Haters gonna hate. If biz owners *think* they help with social media, then they do. If only to have an expert tell them they don’t need help with social media. And of course when strategy is called for, who else but an expert should be called upon? People who get their panties in a twist over semantics crack me up :)

    • A lot of the haters in this debate are very smart and not just random trolls, though. There was a lot of frustration built up by the point made several times in the comments here — people setting up consulting practices because they managed to figure out how to set up a Twitter account. The problem is real, but I saw some babies getting thrown out with the bath water there.

      Just because most practitioners are clowns doesn’t mean the practice isn’t valid. :)

      • For sure. I’d like to believe in a world where Gary V can make an off the cuff blanket statement like that and not have everyone get all silly about it. Of course this totally snowballed though. It wasn’t just him.

        I love that you’ve sought to bring a little sanity to the web, if only for a little while ;-)

        • I actually don’t think it was all that off the cuff, I think it’s something that bothers him deeply. He sees such a profound need (any of us do who are paying attention) and there aren’t enough good people to respond to that need.

          Just thought I’d give him a little help, in my own way. ;)

  29. Bravo, Sonia. As per normal.

    You know that 99.5% of social media experts are worthless and add no value.

    But 99.99% of people that work in corporate america are worse than worthless and subtract value. So, when we replace “anti work” with “non-work” smart companies still come out ahead.

  30. To be honest, I think a big part of the problem is that a lot of “Social Media Experts” spend 95.5% of their time trying to look like “Social Media Experts” in front of OTHER “Social Media Experts,” and only .5% of their time in the real world with real clients.

    Take a look at a few “experts” on Twitter and see who they follow/who follows them. It’s not their clients. It’s other folks doing the same thing they do. I think the Social Media market in general suffers from a lot of “Marketers marketing to other Marketers marketing to other Marketers marketing….” etc. etc. We’re all sharing the same Top Ten lists and “best practices” to each other, when we already KNOW this stuff, and HAVE known it for years. Where we’re failing is in educating and advocating with the folks that DON’T know how this stuff works.

    • That’s a very good point.

    • It’s a known fact that social media gurus on Twitter attract a following of other social media gurus on Twitter. And that has little to do with the target demographic social media gurus are trying to reach. It’s because the best way to get followers on Twitter is to follow other people, and knowing this, social media gurus are most likely to follow you back if you follow them. So Twitter becomes this rat king of clueless charlatans shouting loudly to other clueless charlatans, but in reality, nobody’s listening. If you’re following 1000 or more accounts on Twitter, how many of them can you really pay attention to? Most likely, social media gurus are to busy shouting to listen for once.

      This is the real problem with “social media experts/gurus” – the metrics they use don’t translate into sales. You can have a million Twitter followers, and if they’re all bots and other social media gurus, you ain’t sellin bupkis. And how exactly does being “liked” on Facebook make my company money?

    • Joe Spanarella :

      True…and I’ve seen it go well beyond marketing circles in different industries/professions. “Birds of a feather flock together” and you’re misguiding yourself if you don’t pay close attention to who follows you (not to mention target the ones who really matter). Peers don’t directly generate revenue for you, and if their network is weak or have the same folks that are in your network, you’re just preaching to the choir.

  31. Is “go die in a fire” the universal way to tell someone to go f*** themselves on Twitter? Or is just the same troll using this phrase? I had someone say the same thing via Twitter when they disagreed with a policy change at a site I was working.

  32. Great topic, great points. I would just add that clients and prospects are best served by well-rounded, experienced marketers — not just social media mavens. Given the relative infancy of social media, it also begs the question of what so-called experts were doing with their time before all this started.

  33. Hi Sonia,

    I’ve been concerned about the “Social Media Expert” I’ve seen in peoples profiles and bios for some time now.

    What are they experts at…social media platform mechanics?

    While I believe there’s a place to hire someone who knows how to “listen to the market”, we’ve got to appreciate what we’ve always known about being social to get business.

    It’s been written about by authors like Dale Carnegie (“how to win friends and influence people” ring a bell).

    I’ve seen it demonstrated here at Copyblogger in the comments.

    [ somewhere in my comment is a future post I hope to write ;-) ]

    What’s needed are people who understand intricately how to “PLACE” great content (and by great I mean insightful, enriching, entertaining and enlightening) in all media forms it comes in, before the public for consumption that will inevitably lead to followers, fans, friends and clients (possibly in that progression).

    I don’t think that’s a social media expert … I think that’s a marketer.

    • I agree — but if clients are looking for that phrase “social media expert” then it should be there.

      You and I aren’t looking to hire someone to help with social media strategy, so we don’t get a vote. ;)

  34. I think that we are tied up in knots over the “expert semantics” because the bar for performance is so vague. For example, how do you “prove” social media expertise? I’ve asked some pretty savvy folks this question I all I hear is crickets. The fascination with tools, scores, and rants cloud the issue even further.

    So I have to go back to neighborhood rules – put up or shut up. I hang on every word from Brian, Jay, Darren, and Chris because they consistently knock the ball out of the park. I can point to their results and feel good that they know what they hell they are talking about. I figure that I need to demonstrate the same type of results for my readers, students, and clients.

    You also pointed to a useful litmus test for evaluating expertise which is proven business acumen. Can the expert use Social media to solve business problems. This is much easier said then done.

  35. Articles like these can be disheartening for small business owners who do much of their own marketing activities. Mistakes will be made.

    Perfection is the enemy of the good. I’ve made countless mistakes marketing my business, BUT, I’ve made some good moves that did wonders for my business. I drop what fails and build on the few things that work. I’m not expert in any one field, but I’ve achieved results beyond my wildest expectations marketing online as a DIY small business owner.

    Could my copy be improved? You bet. Could my SEO be better? Yes. Do my social media outlets need attention? Absolutely. Could my content be better? Probably (my content is probably my strongest asset in my humble opinion). Should I stop these marketing activities because I’m not expert? No.

    I get results and that’s what matters. Sure, my results could be better; but then find a business that couldn’t improve.

    I appreciate my comment isn’t entirely on point, but I think it’s important to point out that perfection can be a dangerous expectation. Seeking perfection inhibits action. Action not taken is the death nail.

    If a person you hire doesn’t deliver results, then look elsewhere. If you’re intent on doing much of your own marketing, take action, be persistent, and hone your skills.

    • Peter,

      I thought your echoed what most small business owners feel about social media expert help and how hard it is to evaluate if the help by the expert would be any better than the results your getting.

      That’s the tough spot for this emerging profession in the Social Media Marketing space.

    • Well said, Peter. There are many of us who do things in our business for which we’d never claim to be expert but we have some skills through trial and error, and listening to those who know more than us – it applies to social media, marketing, websites, sales, customer service and more.

      Personally, anyone calling themselves an expert or guru instantly makes me wary and I’m less likely to take them seriously – and if I have 100s of possible suppliers to choose from that is a dangerous place to be. I used search terms like ‘social media monitoring’ and ‘socila media support’ when I wanted day to day help and ‘social media marketing’ for higher level services but mainly I’d find a social media “expert” but following recommendations and their online materials (ie blog posts and articles where they have shared knowledge).

      In short, I agree that experts don’t call themselves experts (nor need to) and I’m not sure the cluier clients would search under that term either – I guess it depends on the type of client you are after if you use the term deliberately because it is ‘popular’.

  36. Hi Sonia!

    Hats off to you! When you’re raking in the money because you did a smashing job as a legit “social media expert,” I guess that solidifies the fact that you are no clown. And, really, in order to make it big in the online marketing business, relationship–building and a call-to-action are must-dos.

    Thanks for separating the chaff from the grain in this great post of yours!

  37. Thanks for this post, Sonia. As a marketing consultant, I spent almost an entire year teaching people in real live classrooms how to set up (and properly use) their social media accounts and platforms. My 17 year old son couldn’t believe that people would actually PAY to learn how to use Facebook. (He doesn’t understand how our older, pre-internet brains work). But after a year of doing the classes, I stopped because 1) I was bored to tears teaching the same thing over and over again; and 2) I could see that people hadn’t done their homework first — namely, defining and researching their target market and niche. Understanding what their customers want from them. You know, the foundational stuff. Now I’m focusing on teaching online marketing strategies and tactics as a whole (not just the social media goodies)…and I always begin with having clients really and truly define their target market. Your post got me thinking about proof, tho. And I was inspired to set up a Test Kitchen (what else would a Word Chef do?) that will study the implementation of best practices and their ROI. Would love for you to tell your tribe about it…the study needs 1000 participants (it’s totally free) and we’ll be documenting everything for case studies to be published early next year.

  38. “In his usual low-key, mellow way…” Interesting. :)

    I like your point that the goal is to be part of the .5% or whatever percentage it is.

    It also slightly annoys me that everyone cares about “social media” when they should be caring about “internet marketing,” but if you want to rank for searches and for peoples’ opinions, then you need to be about social media. Since clients write the checks, they can call it whatever they want. :)

  39. About the only thing more worn out that people using the term social media experts is the number of posts about people that make money in social media talking about other people that may or may not be social media experts. I don’t know of any other industry or profession that constantly publishes meta-stories about their peers.

    What is the fascination with this?

  40. My main issue with ‘social media experts’ is how few of them have real experience.

    For example, I would be fine with someone marketing themselves as a ‘Sales Expert’ if, in addition to being a skilled sales professional, they had managed multiple successful sales teams, and then consulted as a sales trainer to more companies. They would have broad and deep experience. in multiple industries, with companies at various stages of development.

    For someone who has started a couple of successful blogs, hangs out on social media forums, and has gained a twitter following, to be called an Expert is where it gets silly. People in social media seem to attract (or self attach) the Expert tag far too quickly.

    • Completely agree which is why it’s always good to Google them, find out where they’ve worked, what sales skills they have and if they are ‘working’ to build a credible social media platform. Do not just go by their website. Try if you can to find them on LinkedIn, the profiles on LinkedIn are more detail as to where they have worked in the past.

      Mel x

  41. Yes! So worthless. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out social media. Unless you are new to it completely.

  42. Brilliant post. I’ve been hearing about social media experts a lot lately, and wondering how many of them are “experts” like they claim. I seriously love that you applied Sturgeon’s law to this and every other profession. I’d been looking for a way to explain to people that most so-called experts are really crap, but never had a law to back up my opinion before!

  43. Gary is a trip. But seriously, I am often refered to as a PR guru and social media expert. I am a 20-year communications professional and people use those terms to describe me as a compliment. I don’t describe myself as such – but it is flattering when your perceived and introduced that way.

  44. Great write up Sonia.

    I clearly can’t say if 95% are clowns but it is alarming how rapidly people are being positioned as ‘experts’ or ‘gurus’ nowadays. It seems the industry is obsessed with titles, status and impressing its peers.

  45. Its a great post with some solid advice.

    I personally feel the same with experts in all fields. If you look at doctors, very few generalize in general medicine. Most specialize in one particular area. So you need to be an expert of the niche.

    Instead of being the SEO guru, I try to be the business consultant. I know SEO, but don’t know coding. So when clients come to me, I get a website built through my partner who’s a designer. We refer clients to each other. It’s a win-win situation

  46. Fake it ’til you make it? That’s what I’ve seen quite a few ‘social media experts’ do. They come out of nowhere, hammer out a cheesy image, build up massive Twitter and Facebook followers and claim to know the secret formula for success.

    Months or a year later, it’s all gone bust.

    Personally, I like the idea of PR consultants moving into social media as a natural extension.

    (A special mention for the term ‘Haterade’. Haven’t seen that one before :) )

    • Lots of smart PR folks are moving into social media — it’s a very natural extension. Public relations is becoming truly public relations and not “mainstream media relations.”

      Unfortunately, Sturgeon’s Law is alive and well in the PR community, but there are some great folks there doing terrific work.

      • Yes I can believe Sturgeon’s Law is at work in PR too, though I personally know some PR people doing really well on the social media side of things now.

        I like the distinction you put forward between public relations and chasing the mainstream media. I’m guessing many PRs haven’t made that distinction properly yet.

        (Totally off-topic. Can we include doctors in the ‘predominant crap’ law? Surgeons Law? (Cue tongue-in-cheek)
        Sorry, I read a post on Babble the other day where someone was saying that doctors can be crap, and commenters were saying that they can’t be because they have six years or more of training.
        Kind of relates here, because training doesn’t automatically equal anti-crapness in the real world.)

  47. 75 comments and you all think you’re the .5% :)

  48. Maria Polanco :

    This is solid! Has really helped me put things into perspective and get the ball rolling. Thanks for week after week providing us with quality work.

  49. “Social media relationships don’t replace solid marketing strategy — they amplify it.”

    How true this is. Facebook is the speaker-box of your marketing campaign.

    You must have a marketing campaign that is separate from FB. Then USE FB to let the world know of your campaign.

  50. That’s because “social media” (somehow the word marketing is always left out) is fashionable right now. But it’s not much different in my field, SEO. Apparently there are hundreds of SEO experts in India alone. And while people are certainly wrong to present themselves like that, I mostly blame clients for being foolish. If they bothered to find out what an expert does and exercised their sense of judgement enough to realize that quick cheap tricks sound too good to be true and any consultant who’s halfway decent would cost more than 4$ per hour (even if living outside US and Western Europe), consultants wouldn’t be so quick to label themselves experts or gurus or whatever. This is like the Gold Rush. People flock to the web without actually having a proper goldmine (a functional business or a good strategy or simply enough workforce), then seek cheap digging equipment, secrets and treasure maps. Then they wonder why they starve while those who sell the equipment are doing fine.
    I don’t feel flattered at all if someone calls me an expert, I know I’m not so that’s just embarrassing. And occasionally insulting, if the person wants expert services but doesn’t feel they’re worth a good pay.

  51. Very nice :)

    I wouldn’t go as far as Gary but I do think that around hald of so-called social media experts I meet are so lightweight that they don’t add anything. And yes, businesses do need help – mostly.

    I think it depends on the stage the business is at tho- sometimes too much expertise can be overwhelming and it can help to just get the basics and get started – and build from there. I’m a big fan of delegating so although most business owners could easily get to grips with the basics of social media, they could also get to grips with everything in their business. That way is doomed so – business owners – do bring in the ‘experts’ when you need to but make sure they leave some of the expertise with you when they go!

    And no, I’m not a social media expert lol!

    Cathy

  52. I come from an engineering background of the 80s, where part of the justification in calling oneself an expert in any field, was the fact you at least had a qualification of some sort along with years of experience. Spending 5+ years at University with an honours degree was the starting point.

    However in the new world of internet marketing, social media and SEO, there are no such formal standards. Much of the online world is just moving too fast. Especially when you get down to the detail of implementation. Sure, marketing basics are still valid and we can provide wondrous presentations, but actually making it work is hard. By the time any formal training course is established and goes through the normal 3-5 year bureaucratic processes, content is not relevant.

    So, without a formal structure to work to, anyone can attest themselves an expert if they sound convincing to the client. An expert I think in social media is one who can not only talk with compassion and skill, but also have a long line of happy clients who can validate their worth.

    Statistically, I suspect the number of experts in any field, especially online, is around 5-10% of those with the self-given title and these are often leveraging the skills of others, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A Good online campaign is always a team effort. It needs a champion, and if the self-appointed ‘expert’ is that champion and just managing the project or inspiring others, then that’s fine by me.

  53. Backing up sturgeons law means that 90% of the brands on the planet are crap!

    That means any average/crap brand entering the social web is gearing up for a bad/negative experience aka brand graveyard.

    In the customer powered social era you have to be remarkable at what you do (10% of brand get this).

    So the big benefit of the social revolution is to make brands re-think everything they do. To stop using advertising as a plaster on mediocrity and shift those marketing bucks into creating a remarkable product, a remarkable customer experience and remarkable and engaged employees.

    Then the social web becomes a playground.

    In remarkable we trust!.

    P
    @zagology

  54. Joe Spanarella :

    What ever happened to phrases such as “word of mouth” or “brand ambassador” or “grassroots?” Social technology has buried already existing marketing strategies by offering a simplified, streamlined marketing channel. I’ve seen the mindset that companies are led to believe that if they are present on a social channel they are engaging in social media. Not true-they are just engaging in plain old marketing (by which 90% of which is crap!). Only until the moment a social network is engaged, sharing and following your content/name/campaign/message, you are then operating at a social level. Don’t get me wrong–social is a no-brainier platform (it’s fast and it can be free), but just being there doesn’t mean you are truly engaging in a social manner.

    Good brand, great product, great customers, great marketing. Still the same old recipe for success no matter what channel you are operating through. A so called Social Media Expert should firmly grasp these and know how to “amplify” your message so your audience wants to share it with the rest of the world.

  55. Thank you for this article. Great post and comments!

    It made me stop and think for a good long while. Enough so that now I’ve got writer’s block on the topic of “experts” and “social media experts”! My head is spinning.

    Cheers.

  56. Great article. I’ve really enjoyed the recent debate about the existence of social media ‘experts’. I really liked the part where you mention that claiming to be a social media expert is like claiming to be an internet expert – it’s too broad. I completely agree. I also agree that people who are successful in social media need to be people who know business. I landed my current social media specialist role because I came from a marketing background, not because I claimed to be a social media expert (in fact, I made no such claim). I think this is how businesses need to approach the hiring of social media leaders – they need to be well versed in some part of business communications, dpending on the need of the org, and they need to understand the unique factors of the social media environment.

  57. Emmett Coffey :

    I like this article, common-sensical, straight-talking and generally accurate. The basic point point about social media ‘gurus’ often have little knowledge of or interest in business is telling and, in my experience accurate. Thanks for the article.

  58. This is a great article! Thank you. I cannot call myself an expert but I do use several good business social sites. I am still new to my Facebook business page and would have to admit that if I was going to search for help it would be with Facebook and gaining Twitter followers. I know my way around a couple great business social sites tho, those are the sites I have been using for longer with great success. When people ask me questions about these sites I use, I gladly help them but for free not as an “expert” business.

    I do see a lot of “experts” out there. Some people have proved themselves to be far from an expert in the field and some people have shown me things that I never would have known without them teaching me.

  59. It’s a sinking feeling when you realize the high-priced experts you’ve hired fit smack into that clown category.

    After being burned a few times, I had to throw myself into learning the very things Sonia talked about here. And I must say, Copyblogger has been a phenomenal source for marketing strategies and insights.

    Joe :D

  60. Great post Sonia – one of those one’s I didn’t have to force myself to concentrate til the end ;)

    The label I’ve given myself is Social Media Marketing Consultant – and whenever my clients call me a Social Media Expert I’m very fast to correct them and advise that it’s not really an area you can call yourself an expert… yet. I don’t make promises about 1000’s of new clients or sky-rocketing profits due to SM – I simply pass on the best advice I can and let them decide the value when they implement it, and the response is usually positive.

    The main reason there’s so much angst toward ‘Social Media Experts’ is because of the people who are too concerned with their fancy titles and not delivering tangible results. As more and more genuine providers emerge hopefully we’ll see these pretenders squeezed out, and the title given some more respect.

    Cheers
    Dan

  61. Sonia – so very true: “Social media expert” is like being an “internet expert.” It’s too broad, therefore it’s meaningless.

  62. A really great read Sonia. There is a lot of Social Media Expert bashing and yet often it is not those of us who support clients with their Social Media understanding that are using the label. I personally cringe at being introduced as that and would be quick to correct. My knowledge and expertise are with businesses, and strategy for growth, Social Media is a fantastic ‘tool’ that I specialise in working with. That means that I may select a Social Media tool from my toolkit if it seems like the best one for the job of taking the business where it needs to go. I did at first tire of the Social Media bashing but now rise above it too and as you say – if the paying customer is delighted, then the label or dismissal from others matters not :-)

  63. What are actually “social media experts”….people who know how to operate Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms?
    Setting up social media plans and strategies require good marketing, planning and mainly COMMUNICATION skills.

    I have once written an article tackling the same topic entitled: Social Media Consultants, Abundant supply,
    you can check it here: http://www.blogtate.com/social-media-consultants-abundant-supply/

    Thank you
    Riad

  64. Sonia,

    I really appreciate what you’re emphasizing here. You’ve taken a negative situation filled with time wasters like name calling and pointless discussion and turned it into something positive that online businesses can strive for.

    If folks remember one thing about this post, I hope it’s what you said about striving to make sure you are part of the 0.5%

    Since there are so many people in the 99.5%, differentiate your business so that prospective customers automatically know you are better than the rest (part of the 0.5%)! A great way to begin differentiating your business is by communicating what others can’t: http://www.copyblogger.com/how-to-be-interesting/

  65. My take on this is a case in point. I’ve just completed the ‘Skills’ section of my LinkedIn profile where you have the option to assign yourself as a Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced or Expert for each skill listed. Even though a fair percentage of loyal followers and clients call me their social media ‘guru’ or an ‘expert’ in social media, I’ve resisted the temptation to rate myself that highly on LinkedIn.

    Sure, I’ve put in the hours (well over 10,000) researching, developing, delivering and honing my own social media model as a means to raise profiles and GROW businesses but I’m not up there with the likes of Gary. I do, however, call myself an expert when I’m talking to those who haven’t a clue where to start and need my help (why would they hire me otherwise). I believe I have the right to use this term in my marketing to differentiate myself from those who have only been doing it for a couple of years on a part time basis – there’s the rub.

    And here’s the reality, before coming to me, one of my clients had spent a lot of money ‘having someone set up her social media for her’, she didn’t know what was going on and lost a major overseas prospect because of it. She was obviously frightened about getting anyone else in to help her.

    Like Gary (and Sonia), I am passionate about nurturing the goodwill this space is built on and protecting my friends, clients and contacts from the horrendous time wasting, money draining, soul destroying impact of being on the receiving end of those who do ‘bad work’ in this regard. Like I said in my last blog post ‘Don’t take your social media investment lightly, if it’s really worth doing, its ONLY worth doing well!’

  66. Miss Displaced :

    “Most graphic designers are pretty bad”
    YIKES!

    If we’re bad, it’s usually because the Marketing Managers make us bad by refusing to listen to us or see decent design. Time and time and time again, we are forced into the “fugly” designs because some NON-Designer clown in Marketing or a CEO makes us do it.

  67. Someone please stand up and applaud Sonia on this brilliantly written article….. then sit down and and stand up again and applaud.

    If you really listen carefully…. this is not an article about how many bad social media so called experts their are out there, even though they do exist. No its something much, much better… a mirror to see where you are at, a chance to really see if you are the real deal or just hype.

    I’ve been developing websites for the last four years, I wouldn’t say i am the best, but i am constant improving.
    The end goal for me is not to design a beautiful website every time, although that’s a prerequisite. No its to make sure the website actually generates queries which turn into sales, otherwise whats the point.. Right?
    You might as well have a brand new BMW parked in an underground garage, which no one will see.

    Its pointless

    In the same vein, with social media i have been observing and learning.
    What I found is that for most part, companies learning about social media from the so called experts.. just don’t get it, its way too much information overload. Most times after the training they are just left to figure and process what they have learnt.

    And do you know what happens next?

    They start using it to dump specials and start selling on every Facebook update, tweet and blog post.

    I have been reading copy blogger
    – All eight courses above and bought premise (buy the way the education section is worth more than the product…sage advice) ,
    problogger and social triggers,
    joined the alistbloggerbootcamp.com
    and I am still learning and digesting and deepening my understanding.

    After all that, I have learnt that “social media” is just the outer fringes of marketing.

    If you don know what copy writing is,
    or building a list through permission marketing,
    or have some knowledge of marketing and understanding what the customer wants,
    “then you cant possibly educate people properly on how to use social media in their business.”

    Sonia once again excellent post, too many businesses have been taken for a ride on hype and ignorance.

  68. I recently approached a Facebook friend who is doing a content management tool for Twitter. His clients are “social media expert” types who provide consulting to their clients. I asked the ever-important leading question. “Do you know how to create a targeted audience using Facebook and Twitter?”. And “Do you provide that service?”. The answer was yes for the first question, no for the second. It takes a lot of time and effort to build the targeted audience and a substantial consulting fees budget is needed.

    I started a website about a year ago, with the aim to learn about social media, Internet marketing, SEO, etc. Initially, I got visitor traffic to my site from Facebook which was good for Google to credit my site with that. At the same time, I embarked on building backlinks. Today, 80% of my traffic comes from search engines. My social media effort is not yielding visitors to my site because I don’t have a targeted group. The search engine traffic is highly targeted because they are seeking the topic via their search keywords.

    Even if I had the budget for a social media expert, finding that 0.5% is like finding a needle in a haystack.

  69. Established and known businesses with competition must resort to advertising and social media, otherwise they lose out to their competitors. Companies typically farm out their marketing, promotional and advertising campaigns to the “experts”.

    I view Google AdWords (for an example) as an excellent and professional way to advertise my business, though it is not cheap due to competition. Having used AdWords, I know it is a reliable and trusted method. And I know the ad network (Google) is a trusted entity.

    As I try to leverage social media, not as an established company but as an upstart trying to gain traction, it is a challenge. It is hard to build a social media base of targeted people. Rather than to learn about social media from self-proclaimed experts who are eager and willing to teach you in exchange for training fees, I am thinking I need to hire a social media expert to execute the social media campaign for me.

    Finding clowns along the way is not confined to social media. I also find them in SEO and Internet Marketing circles.

    • have a read of my free advice blogs first, see if you can do it all yourself. Remember to say hello in a tweet @melaniehetfield and that you are form this blog, each tweet received will receive a reply which will help you along the way.
      Mel x

  70. Loved this – even though I stumbled on it months later! My only issue was a typo [can’t help it, I’m a copywriter!]: How to get into in the 0.5%
    Thanks for a great read – and a look at an invaluable part of marketing in the digital age!

  71. Loved the commends and blog article, what does make anyone an expert in Social Media would all come down to the results they get for you as a company. “Social media relationships don’t replace solid marketing strategy — they amplify it.” is quite right, Social Media is a tool that should be used to compliment already current marketing techniques and provide extra Customer Service support to it’s clients.

    Many ‘experts’ concentrate of mass followings, but when looking at the results, the followings do not add value. You’ll mainly find they’ve been paying for followers and 5 posts a day and nothing else, which is not advantageous.

    Keyword searches, the human interaction, Customer Service and rotational marketing adverts are some of the ways that make Social Media work for you, if you don’t have the time to do this yourself, whether because you are developing other sides of your business or your business is nice and big that you’re down the golf course, then a Social Media Management program would be a good idea. Social Media isn’t going to go away, so long term use is a must.

    Image it like a spiders web, you are the spider and you build no web… you catch no flies, you go hungry! You learn and you build a web in the corner, but you’ve kept it small because you think it’s just enough to catch ‘a fly’, but you’ve forgotten what you are going to eat tomorrow. The web needs to grow, which is what must happen with your Social Media not only for ‘today’s sales’ but for future sales also. You must think long term! Many who start in Social Media stop within the first year as they don’t see the results, or is it that they haven’t built that bigger web?

    A question I ask all my new clients, are you global yet? Social Media gives you that platform to go Global, it’s a ‘big web’ and best of all if you manage it yourself, it’s only costing you a small amount of time a day.

    Ways that have benefited my clients accounts and my own can be found ‘free’ on my blog. http://hetfieldservices.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/twitter-advertising/

  72. Social media is such a buzz word that “ordinary” folk have a hard time wrapping their heads around. I totally agree with the part about : “90% of websites are wretched. 90% of Facebook pages are wretched. 90% of content marketing programs are wretched. 90% of social media-based customer support is wretched.” It really is consumer beware and do your research before you hire that social media expert!

  73. Spot on article!

    Daily I have so called social media experts contact me in direct messages, fantastic websites; small social media sites, which speaks volumes when it comes to being an expert. The reason they private message me, is they want to know how I managed to get so many followers, picking brains to support they lack of knowledge in the business where they are calling themselves social media experts.

    I don’t like the term expert, there are too many of them, from the start of my Tweeting career I’ve called myself a Professional Tweeter and Social Media Manager as that is what I do I manage Company Social Media accounts as if I was the company, giving the human touch and drawing in sales for the companies.

    Your comment ‘I’m personally in favor of making the people happy who pay me money’ is what it should all be about, supporting the customer and using social media to draw people into where the sales take place and being there for answering customer queries.

    There are 3 things that I have always worked by which works across all social networks:

    Chat
    Interact with sharing other people’s messages
    Follow back

    Things that make social networks fail:
    Spamming
    Focus only on what you want to give
    Watching for keywords then when you see them, send them a spam message

    I disagree with all these highly priced Social Media Conferences, some tickets in London costing over £1000, to be told by ‘large companies’ how they are making social media work for them; they invest lots of money in TV and Radio advertising. For the little companies struggling to make ends meet at the end of each month, you do not need these big seminars. There is advice out there from genuine bloggers that are using social media without the cost of big conferences.

    Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and many of the social media websites are free and should be used in self promotion. Self promotion isn’t just about talking about yourself, it’s about building a credibility about you, your business and the services you provide. Just lots of adverts isn’t building credibility, the customers you build via your social media want to know that you are there for them that of they have a query, you’re going to interact.

    There is also the human side, something companies teach their sales team in trainings. I’ve worked to British Gas (Energy Center) as it was some years back, British Telecom in sales, billing and customer complaints, with each training session that was given ‘the human side’ of the trainings were always encouraged. What is the human side? It’s the saying hello, asking a random question or comment to let the person you are trying to sell to know that you are taking an interest in them. This same ‘human touch’ should be in your social media to build up your credibility as a trusted company who is there to answer queries, with a human touch!

    I hear ones say ‘But I don’t have time to be social on my social media website, I just want sales and people to come to my website’. …. the point of credibility has been missed! If you don’t take just half an hour of your time a day to support your social media, it won’t work for you. If you are a big enough company and already have a team working for you, then include the social bit just half an hour into their daily routine. It can make the difference to your social media.

    There is an account that is on my bronze package, where I just find keyword follows, they only ever send out their adverts. I started their account from zero not long after I started mine, however because they don’t take the time to interact, they have only just reached 20k followers on Twitter in 3 years, a similar package on another clients account who do interact, chat, retweet and more have nearly caught up with them in just 1 year. My account as you will see has exceeded that. @MelanieHetfield and @hetfieldservice

    I don’t buy followers, a simple process of follow first using keyword searches will build a good social media platform where you will have a growing number of clients is you apply my 3 rules, chat, interact (retweet people, they could use your help too!) and followback!

    Accounts that don’t follow back but have thousands of followers but don’t follow back are in some way paying for their following, you see them on program’s such as Twiends, youlikehits and many others that sell followers, but are they real followers or just want to get more followers for themselves by taking the points that others are paying for? Does it make you look more important to have lots of followers and only follow a handful of who you want? I would say no, it shows that they are only interesting in getting people to listen to what they have to say.

    Wikinomics is a way forward for small businesses, back to the old times when you had support of others in the community. Use your social media in this way and you will succeed not only in your social media, but also your businesses will grow.

    Free tips and advice on Tweeting and Social Media are on my wordpress blog hetfieldservices. Don’t pay unless you really haven’t got the time, if you use a social media company check them out first. Google search them make sure they are what they say they are!

    To your Success!

    Mel x

  74. Hi Sonia! I am loving the “Sonia’s Law: Nothing Takes Care of Itself” — so true. I would like to add to what you were saying about sales don’t take care of social and social doesn’t take care of sales. We are always trying to help our small businesses understand this. http://www.thinkbigonline.com.au/why-twitter-facebook-and-google-are-must-haves-in-your-seo-arsenal/ We often say, “Even though your mother loves you, she still expects you to call and make an effort.” Just because a product is liked doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t schmooze. Our small businesses have often been avoiding social media like the plague. I shall be sharing Sonia’s Law in our next client meet!