Expert is a Dirty Word

If there’s one word that’s derided – nay, spat on – by the social media community, it’s the term “social media expert”.

I guess I have to yell at the outset here, that this is not a blog about my own capacities or some search for approval. I’m just amused by the massive backlash against the term, such an obligatory backlash that one now feels obliged to loudly state at every meeting or every online encounter “I’m not an expert” or “don’t shoot me please .. I really really don’t know anything and besides, social media experts are the scum of the earth”.

And they call her a social media expert!
And they call her a social media expert!

[But if I’m not an expert, then why the hell should organisations pay me for advice? More on that in a future blog …]

“Social media expert” has a bad brand image, perhaps soiled through overuse by the entrepreneurial-yet-seedy-crowd. Here’s some reasons for why this may be:

  1. Social media is constantly evolving and it’s impossible for one individual to keep up with all the possibilities, emerging platforms and latest trends (nor should one be expected to, incidentally)
  2. The ‘social media craft’ is something that, realistically, anyone could learn from their laptop kitchen bench. (I mean, Zuckerberg created Facebook in his college dorm, for chrissakes, and Pete Cashmore started Mashable in his basement … we’re used to “non professionals” creating social media phenomenon that grow into monstrous organisations).
  3. Social media is still seen as frivolous by some, a fad for people “who don’t have a life” or the haunt of pimply teenagers. How could someone possibly be an expert in the field?

So, all over Twitter, you’ll see the bios of people vehemently denying they’re a “social media expert”. Or blogs pointing out how to avoid these outrageous charlatans.

But what does “expert” really mean? According to the Macquarie Dictionary, an expert is “a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field”. Wikipedia elaborates (as it does) by stating that “An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain”. 

Maybe people in the social media realm are wary of the mantle because they simply don’t want to wear it. It’s a lot of responsibility. If you’re at a party, and you admit you’re an electrician: you know you’re going to be asked to fit someone’s ceiling fan. Or if you announce you’re a doctor: someone will show you their skin rash.

But if you say you’re a social media expert, it’ll be even more excruciating, because your party crowd will be sure to say the following:

a)      I don’t get Twitter
b)       Why don’t you turn off the computer and get a real life?
c)       People on Facebook get stalked and killed
d)      Has anyone really made any money out of it?

Just console yourself that you can snap open your iPhone and tweet to the people who really get you … your fellow social media experts.

15 Comments Add yours

  1. well we certainly know a heck of a lot more about the subject than a heck of a lot of others do – so i say we are. in humble moderation and tone. i recently got titled a “social media guru” in an adelaide newspaper article. i laughed at the time over the embarrassment that would cause and the ripple effect it would start. im over it.

    1. gamtch says:

      Anyone who calls themselves an expert in social media is probably a victim of an over-inflated ego, but to be called an expert by others should not cause embarrassment. It is recognition that you know how to use Twitter or Facebook or Chiffle better than most.
      Unlike fellow commentator Charlie, I like the term “guru” as it suits the mysterious realm of social media, where reality distorts in some interesting ways. So I’ve decided to grow my beard and don the robes I’ve had in mothballs since one fateful night in 1993.
      Soon I’ll be called a guru, just wait and see.

      1. dont get me wrong i like the term “guru”… im just not sure i want to grow the beard? i prefer taking a bit of fun – so i actually like “social media queen” or “media tart” or “camera whore” but it doesnt really conjur up a very professional outlook!! at the end of the day anyone can call me whatever they like and i’ll just call myself a charlie 🙂 xc

  2. Chris Foster says:

    Is Adelaide a ‘LunchBox’ ?

    ‘Legend in a LunchBox’ was a term relayed towards me, by an excellent sportsman who had just arrived in my hometown of Woomera. At the time, I was excelling in the local Football and Cricket competitions and it didn’t dawn on me for years what his comment was in reference to.

    If I am considerably more proficient at something than others in a small group or community, I’m not too embarrassed with being labelled an expert, it’s a nice confirmation of one’s position within the group….”Chris is an expert in IT”

    As the pond gets bigger and I know there are far better exponents than me swimming around, can I still be considered an expert? maybe I’m a ‘Legend in a Luchbox’


    1. bad sportsmanship to walk into another town and say “legend in a lunchbox” to you. pooey to that person!!

      ive been told for years adelaide is one of the toughest markets to crack. if you can succeed here you can succeed anywhere yadda yadda but it is still small i agree.

      THAT SAID… social media is global. i have friends all over the world now from the networking and friendships i have developed over these past few years through twitter, plurk, facebook etc – new york, texas, london, paris, canada, europe, blah blah blah… lets not forget that impact. my “work” is here in adelaide but because of social media i can drop in and have a cuppa pretty much just about anywhere in the world!! and i like that 🙂

      so… perspective – the pond is big already in reality.

  3. oli says:

    It’s absolutely a backlash against some of “snake oil” salesman who’ve jumped on a bandwagon and self-labelled themselves as experts.

    It so easy to claim to be an “expert” especially with a barrier to entry so low, say anything with enough confidence and you tend to get some traction and it’s amplified in an environment so young; yet when you start attending social media training where the lead doesn’t have a twitter account the facade doesn’t last long and the label starts to tarnish.

    In the end experts aren’t self-appointed, experts emerge from the respect of their peers and the success of their deeds.

    (I also have an issue with the “social media” part of it, I really don’t think the medium changes the message, it’s still the same skill-set just the way you’re doing it is different)

    1. i would walk out if the person who was giving the social media training didnt have a twitter account – didnt have over 1000 people on facebook (personal or professional profile) – didnt blog and couldnt list off about 50 other social media sites they have personally tried!!

      sorry – but that’s the “social media snob” coming out in me!!! another label. ooops.

  4. Ric says:

    Oli has it, I think – too many people have overnight labeled themselves as “experts” in social media et al (unfortunately, many seem to have come from the PR/marcomms world), and we have no formal “certification” or “qualification” to judge the claim against (and I’m not saying we should have, but the case is that we DON’T have any “official” third party validation of claims to expertise) – which is why calling *yourself* an expert is wrong, but others calling you an expert is a form of third-party validation.
    This validation is particularly powerful if it comes from those who are also considered experts by THEIR peers … although it can become a bit self-referential within a small “lunchbox” 🙂

    1. Prakky says:

      Thanks Ric – but ooh, ouch – why the “unfortunately many seem to have come from the PR/marcomms world”?
      I’ve studied PR and the use of social media fits well with the PR discipline: two-way communication, meeting your target audience where they are, finding the right communication channels for organisations and so on. (Social media definitely isn’t the only communication channel PR consultants focus on, but the PR industry would certainly get howled down for ignoring it). So I see it as a somewhat natural progression that, around the world, some people that started their careers in public relations, have followed a passion for social media and started to ‘specialise’ in providing advice in that realm. (And that’s not me, by the way: I did it the other way around, working in digital comms first and taking on my first PR role last November).

    2. and there in lies the problem – social media hasnt been overnite and isnt overnite. i have been online since 1999, facebook has been around for years. twitter as well … most of us actually left twitter and went off and plurked for a while, now we all twitter again…

      its good that people get the concepts and they want to add value for their clients – i understand. the explanation of how to update a fb status and how to tweet something is pretty easy. anyone CAN do that i agree. where i see more value from long termers is understanding the trends, understanding the moods, being able to start the conversation and keep it going, and a host of other traits that many just simply get bored with. and in that – there is no overnite success – it is relationship building and strengthening…

  5. Ben Moroney says:

    Understand what everyone is saying, but there are plenty of people calling themselves social media experts who don’t even understand or even have access to tools like Buzz Metrics and Radian 6. Add to this there is still no industry standard for demonstrating genuine and measurable ROI for social media. Sure Twitter and Facebook have been around for some time but even those who invented these platforms will freely admit that they are immature. Calling yourself an expert may be a premature call, do we even have enough case studies, research journal articles and data analysis to ensure the advice we are providing will guarantee a specific, measurable and realistic outcome. To my mind, until the research data and analytical tools have critical mass and the platforms matured to a certain point, we are social media advisor’s and not experts. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    1. Prakky says:

      Thanks Ben, understand completely. I think you’ll find there’s a good body of case studies and data analysis out there though. Also, a lot of case studies and results are not publicised – unfortunate from a learning point of view, but that’s just how companies operate.

      I don’t think you can provide guarantees on outcomes within social media – a bit like a lawyer can’t provide a guarantee they’ll win a case, a PR consultant can’t guarantee they’ll get you coverage, an AFL coach can’t guarantee the team will win the game. But there are sound “winning” principles to follow that will give you a greater chance of reaching outcomes, as opposed to flying by the seat of your pants for example – and that’s where social media consultants can come in.

      1. 100% agree. and it isnt all about the tools. online is a conversation. have one. the results will prove themselves far quicker than any software measuring tool they will. they have their place – like media monitoring services do.. but i actually think in essence the fact that we now have “tools” and we expect ROI’s means these services and the concept of social media has matured.

        what happened to the good old days of just have a chat and sharing fotos? ah – business stepped in and wanted to measure what i say.

        i reckon that bloke who invented electricity was an expert on the day he invented it. hey and I reckon the good old PC creator was an expert too. they thought back then that the good ol PC wouldnt last a year. look how people have developed and grown this concept over the years.

        amazing what us humans can do with a bit of conversation and nouse 🙂

      2. Ben Moroney says:

        Cheers Prakky, agree that guarantee is probably the wrong word. There are many tools available that allow a greater level of assurance around sound “winning” principles. As someone working in this field it does get frustrating dealing with social media “experts” that:

        a) Have little or no knowledge of marketing and/or PR.
        b) Feel that having ‘X’ amount of followers gives them the right to advise others.
        c) Utilise only free tools/trials of software. Especially silly when excellent tools are available for small subscription fees.
        d) Fail to give clients basics, like how to utilise Twitter clients and how to curate a engaging social media for their followers/customers.
        e) Preach that social media can directly lead to sales and success, neglecting the fact that it is merely another valuable tool to be used in conjunction with more traditional forms of marketing and comms.

        These are the “experts” that make it so much harder for consultants to convince the social media sceptics that there is true value in engaging in this field. My dream (ok I may have already commenced knock offs so may be getting a little flowery here!) is that one day the title of social media expert is bestowed upon those that genuinely have the knowledge, passion and creativity that is required to warrant such a title. This would provide assurance to those wishing to engage in this field that their outlay is backed with expertise. Over time the question, “Why should I bother with that stuff?” would become, “Why wasn’t I doing this before?”

      3. Prakky says:

        Thanks Ben, I agree x million. Also, I think you need to be working with me more often than these vexing “social media gurus”.

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