Social Media Experts: May Not Be Rocket Science But What We Have Here Is a Failure to Launch… a Strong Argument

Expert. It’s one of those words that can get tossed around. Unlike MBA, PhD, CPA, DDS or any other kind of certification, degree or declaration, an “expert” can be self-declared without any test, without any study and without any independent verification.

Such has been the debate over the term, especially when associated with social media. I’ve gone after all the modifiers that have been appended to social media including “expert.” After my share of debate, I’ve decided the social media expert does not exist. A few others have come to similar conclusions on their own including Peter Shankman and Gary Vaynerchuk (who actually declared most experts and gurus as clowns).

Shel Holtz writes, however, that indeed social media experts exist and should be hired in a June 2 piece on Social Media Today. Why this is particularly compelling is Mr. Holtz and I actually use the same reference as a definition of “[wiki]expert[/wiki].”

“An expert is a person who has prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field,” Mr Holtz writes, but fails to attribute this particular line comes almost word-for-word from Wikipedia.org’s entry for expert.

Then Mr. Holtz goes on to argue his point (which you can read) but ends up discussing the attributes of an “expert in solid rocket boosters.”

To become such an expert, you’d be a rocket scientist and have a few of those three letter acronyms after your name. Even more so, rocket boosters are and ever shall be scientific in nature.

Social media, not so much.

This is a parallel that I just can’t seem to bring myself to grasp. But we’ll give Mr. Holtz a little more rope. Rockets and the space race began more than half a century ago and solid rocket boosters came into play in the early 1980s. To give a rocket scientist the “prolonged or intense experience through practice and education,” an expert in solid rocket boosters earned that here 30 years later.

Social media as we know it in business is, at most, three years old. Unless you do something extraordinary, you cannot earn a bachelor’s degree in that time.

Mr. Holtz goes on to name many people — some luminaries in marketing and communication. Others are, frankly, fauxperts (a term coined by Robert Caruso on his blog) who took advantage of the changing tides and adjusted their bios to include a few social media buzzwords to make themselves sound more relevant.

Mr. Holtz will argue — perhaps rightly so — that blogging is a part of social media. So be it. And blogging does extend beyond the three-year mark, making it the granddaddy of social media. But blogs are more public relations and earn a spot on the journalism side of the equation. It’s not like a corporate Facebook or Twitter account, where strategy must be completely different.

No, none earns the right to be an expert. I don’t. Mr. Holtz can’t. He can list every human being on the planet up to [wiki]Mark Zuckerberg[/wiki], the creator of Facebook and the unlikely father of social media. Not one gets to be a social media expert.

We are becoming experts. We are working at that intense knowledge to be experts. We are learning and experiencing social media. We are applying the aspects of communication and marketing effective in other parts of business to make social media effectively work for business.

That said, this is a new frontier and we have a lot to learn.

Mr. Holtz forgets that for journalism, marketing and communication as a whole, this social media thing is incredibly scary and new. Know why?

For the first time ever, the consumer, reader and viewer is talking back. Not just voting based on ratings or readership. The consumer, reader and viewer is now a friend, fan and follower. TV, writers and advertisers are accustomed to one-way conversations where the audience is told what to do — buy, vote, watch, read, believe, consume.

The power is now shifting. The conversation is two-way. If Mr. Holtz wants to pretend to be an expert and “in control” of the conversation still, he can be. But if there’s not acknowledgement that someday, the audience is going to wise up and figure out they’ve got equal power, then those companies who purchased those “experts” will soon discover a catastrophic failure. The ignition thought to launch them into the stratosphere of social media won’t lift them farther and orbit won’t be achieved.

All of the experts right now know one-way and have begun to dabble in two-way. We need a few more years to understand social media.

It took years before a solid rocket booster got a shuttle off the ground and even when we did, we still had failures — some catastrophic. Time needs to pass and we need more to get our expertise off the ground. I’m satisfied being a social media professional — knowledgeable in the strategy and workings of social media. I’m happy to be a student. I’m glad to test theories in the world laboratory and figure out ways to deliver a strong ROI.

I shall not put a company or client into danger of catastrophe because I’m somehow convinced that I have knowledge that doesn’t yet exist because we haven’t been to the moon or even orbited the planet. To pretend to be something I am not and to claim a prize that does not exist yet, I shall not let it stand.

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Michael Cheek

With more than 20 years of communication experience, Michael Cheek offers solid marketing expertise, especially in the digital frontier. He currently resides in Georgia but he's open to relocate anywhere the opportunities take him. Learn more at http://MichaelCheek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/MichaelCheek and see more about his professional experience at http://LinkedIn.com/in/MichaelCheek. Reach him via e-mail at mcheek@gmail.com.

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