November 2, 2009

Is Everyone A Social Networking Expert?

Posted in Best practices, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter, Web 2.0 tagged , at 2:54 pm by bizlawblog

This morning, I received some comments on articles I posted. Not an unusual thing, and something any blogger longs for, presuming it is constructive. In this case, I think the comment strings rise to the level of warranting a new post here. In the inimitable word of Yogi Berra, “It’s like deja-vu, all over again.”

I’m going to risk being placed in Google’s duplicate content sandbox by cutting and pasting some of the verbiage from the comment strings described above, because I think the topic is of relatively broad concern to those involved in the social media business and to those who are wavering on whether they should likewise become so engaged.

The initial issue relates to who is or is not a social media/networking “expert,” presuming there actually is such a thing at this point. The following is a string between me and a couple of readers who already knew each other. I have redacted the name in this post, but the whole string is available in the comments to the original post. The first comment related to my post here, When Thought Becomes Reality. In particular, the comment mentioned this passage, which seemed to “tickle” the reader:

One other side of the shift seems to be in the area of instant experts on use of social media as a business tool. I can’t recall any profession, including Web optimization experts, growing as quickly as the number of self-proclaimed social Web experts. Perhaps this is because of my own foray into this area. They say, “if you want to shoot a moose, you have to go where the moose are.”

Frankly, I seem to be surrounded by moose, but can’t remember how I got here. Social media experts seem to surround me wherever I go. No matter what I search for online, I run into “experts” in this area.

My response to the comments from the reader was:

Thanks Xxxx. If you liked finding a few moose, I wonder what the impact will be of incoming applications like Twitter’s new “Lists” feature and potential geotagging by default, mentioned in my latest post, Has Twitter Become Frightening for Halloween?

The next comment in the string was:

… I’m one of those self-anointed social media experts who just recently began offering to help organizations figure out their social media strategy. Within a couple of months, I’m nearly fully allocated to that pursuit even though I’m very open with my clients and prospects that I’m nothing more than an smart guy who knows enough about social media to steer them through the basics. I also just started setting up my first Twitter “list” right after getting my Google Voice set-up. In many ways, my life feels very much like I live it aboard the Star Trek Enterprise. Twit me up, Scotty!

My response:

Thanks for your comments.

Last Friday, I met with a new client who was starting a business (my “day job”). We went over the basics and then started to touch on the marketing plan. I asked if his plan included any “social networking” or other forms of viral marketing, either as a lead-in to the start-up, or to try to build market anticipation for his products.

When I mentioned social marketing, his eyes lit up and he said “do you know anything about that? I need that” He next asked if I knew any “experts” in that field, having just spent several weeks trying to find a real Web developer with the ability to develop a relatively large and sophisticated Web site. I went through some of what I described in this blog post.

There are certainly relatively huge opportunities for real “experts” in the social networking field and, at the same time, just as big an opportunity for business owners who are unsophisticated in their knowledge of social media but hungry for it to be taken in by scam artists who really don’t know what they are doing.

To me, this is largely an extension of the “everybody is a Web expert” era we’ve been going through for the last decade. Seems like every PR and marketing firm added SEO to their meta tags and declared themselves to be the leading Web optimization firm in the region, even if they really didn’t have a clue. I’m afraid the social networking “expert” era is just unfolding, but unfolding into a field which is continuously morphing into new forms at nearly the rate Captain Kirk’s tribbles grew in the storage areas of his “Enterprise.”

The reply:

Very good points — I guess we need to develop Caveat Emptor 2.0! However, I believe it’s worth pointing out that this is just sort of how new fields of expertise work — an area of opportunity that previously didn’t exist emerges in an unproven arena sparking an influx of players into a market which sorts itself out over time. Let’s not lose sight that the folks who eventually become “proven experts” have to start somewhere. So long as a person says, “Listen, this is what I can help you do and this is what we’ll need to figure out together…” then I think that’s the right prescription. Also, “experts-in-training” are willing to step into these emerging fields using a much different compensation model than, let’s say, a standard billing rate of $X per hour. I’d say more than a few attorneys will take cases today in areas where they know little-to-nothing about the area of law applicable to the case. The question is all in how that conversation goes with the client. The client may very well trust the general competence and integrity of the attorney to move forward knowing the attorney isn’t an expert — but is willing to become enough of an expert to be an effective advocate for the client in this particular case. If so, that attorney emerges on the back-end of the process as something much closer to an “expert” than before and the market has gained another competent competitor. How expertise emerges in new fields is a rich study, for sure, and in an interesting way, faux experts are an unavoidable part of the process.

Finally, my last response (for now):

I think you are absolutely right. Lawyers like Abraham Lincoln became “expert” lawyers by “reading the law” and working in a law office. There was no certification program on the order of what we have in this country now, with a bar exam typically divided into one segment for national certification plus a state-based familiarity segment for local jurisdictional expertise.

I actually started, to some extent, on the reading the law program, when I was admitted to law school, but had to defer my enrollment due to a stint in the military. I went to Yale’s book store and bought a few Yale Law School books on torts, criminal law, and civil procedure, and read them during the period I was in the military, just so I could try to get my mind accustomed to thinking like a lawyer. When I entered law school, I took a job with the local prosecutor’s office, and got much of the rest of what I learned during my informal educational period leading up to the formal bar exam after graduating from law school.

The social media era has dropped in on us like some of the folks Captain Kirk dealt with on Star Trek. At the risk of over working that theme, the newer version of the series and the recent movie addition comes to mind, where the human race is really first starting to explore beyond their traditional earth-bound existence. There were no real experts. Essentially everything was an experiment and performing any mundane task had the risk of turning into an adventure.

Social networking expertise seems to be something like that. We have discovered we can navigate in and around some parts of it without getting hurt too badly. It is intriguing and we want to know more. We must start to figure out the boundaries of what it can do for us and to us, and we’re currently not too sure of either. We don’t have a handy supply of well-seasoned expert guides to call upon yet, but we do have some folks who are gaining experience day-by-day. Some have and will prove better than others, so much of what consumers must do is vet the experts based upon what they have done.

I feel another blog post coming on. [One reason for the Yogi Berra comment at the beginning of this post]

Thanks for your comments.

To come full circle, the very next thing which happens to me is that I run into Andrew Ballenthin’s recent article, 5 Criteria For Qualifying Social Media Consultants. OMG!

Ballenthin says:

Finding experts in this arena should be easy right?

Without a doubt there are some very talented people that have forged their way ahead and can deliver credible business results. It’s worth asking the question though, “how do you separate professionals from self-proclaimed experts or opportunist?”

Ballenthin then goes on to list five potential criteria for qualifying social media consultants, just as the title of his article suggests he will:

1.  How many years have you applied social media in business in a results oriented manner? Note: most industries consider a novice to have less than 3 years experience.

2.  Over your years of experience, how many years were focused on your needs versus clients? Note: personal experience is an asset but often not as rigorous as a business that expects ROI (Return On Investment).

3. What have you accomplished in monetization, PR, database building? Note: follow-up with how were these results accomplished and look for clear answers.

4. What is your past business experience in the communications industry? Note: a solid business background is a good indicator of business sense for your needs.

5. What is your specialism and how has that lead to your greatest achievement in social media?  Note: social media is a broad discipline and one size does not fit all or every business.

These criteria are certainly a good start and, hopefully, something we can build on in your comments to this blog, but one thing keeps sticking in my mind:

Frankly, I seem to be surrounded by moose, but can’t remember how I got here. Social media experts seem to surround me wherever I go. No matter what I search for online, I run into “experts” in this area.

It’s like deja-vu, all over again.”

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.



  1. bizlawblog said,

    I ran across an article by Robert Strohmeyer, on PC, which helps answer the question I posed in the title to this post:

    Beware the Social Media Charlatans

  2. […] an expert, however, creates its own set of issues, to some of which I alluded in a previous post, Is Everyone A Social Networking Expert? Robert Strohmeyer came to similar conclusions in his article, Beware the Social Media Charlatans: […]

  3. […] Because of some interesting comments on that post, I followed up in slightly more depth in Is Everyone A Social Networking Expert? This post starts a series, which will explain why this is important to both me and my clients, and […]

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