Justin Kownacki, creator and producer of the hit web sitcom, Something to be Desired, friend, PodCamp Pittsburgh organizer, and many other things, had a great post questioning what qualifies one to be a social media expert. Rightly so, he questioned me and my application of the term â€œexpertâ€ to my experiences and understanding of the space. In this community, it’s important to question and be critical and keep our motives and our expression of these things clear and transparent. This led me to consider the label â€œexpertâ€ and to understand what it might mean to people seeking information in the social media space.
Expert or Advisor
Hours after reading that post by Justin, I was re-reading a part of David Maister’s STRATEGY AND THE FAT SMOKER, an excellent book on how to get people to do the things they know they should be doing. David points out that labeling one’s self an â€œexpertâ€ is sending the signal that the expert is in control, that they are to be heeded above all else, and that the client needs the expert to complete the transaction.
Maister goes on to say that an Advisor, on the other hand, is someone in a relationship with the client, who wants to offer opinions based on their experience, but with an added level of give and take and conversation into the mix. An expert, in Maister’s parlance, was someone seeking a one night stand, where an advisor was someone looking for romance. ( I highly recommend STRATEGY AND THE FAT SMOKER for anyone interested in leadership and/or service relationships, and will review the book in full shortly on this site).
I knew at once that I would change my branding on the sidebar of my website to say â€œadvisor.â€ My reason is that I agree with Maister’s assessment. I believe my interest is in a relationship with an organization or an individual, where we talk about opinions and experience, and where I help with potential outcomes. I agree because I am an advisor to a few software companies and to The Conversation Group, a â€œnew marketingâ€ company that seeks to rework the strategy and tactics of marketing.
Social Media as a Buzzword
Every bit as overused as â€œweb 2.0,â€ the term â€œsocial mediaâ€ is bandied around all the time. I tend to use it to mean the aggregate of blogging, podcasting, videoblogging, photo sharing, participatory music, and the technologies that enable such experiences. The buzzword has slightly different meanings to different folks.
Some larger media companies make the term synonymous with â€œuser generated content,â€ which they further view as amateurish, free, and in many ways a lesser product to â€œprofessionally generated content.â€ I don’t equate social media with â€œuser generated content.â€ (Further, I don’t use the term â€œuser generated contentâ€ much, as I find it often used as a derogatory term).
Is there a common ground to the term? I think it’s one of those areas where we’re still all feeling our way through the experience, and as such, be ready to question someone when they are discussing their knowledge of social media.
Metrics and Fairy Tales
One place where social media is still on shaky ground is in the application of metrics to various aspects of what we’re doing. Podcasters, marketers, PR types, and others struggle with this all the time. Sponsors, clients, and customers of all types want to understand what they’re buying.
Podcasters can’t accurately report numbers that have concrete meanings. Do we count downloads? Do we count hits on a web page? Do we accept and adjust for the caching of our media such that we can’t completely count or aggregate the impact of media we’ve made? Or do we find ways to make the action/response of the media felt? Christopher S. Penn doesn’t exactly care how many people listen to the Financial Aid Podcast. He cares how many people sign up for (and ultimately secure) a student loan, driven by his podcast. That’s the purpose of his show: to educate, inform, build a level of trust and leadership, but ultimately, to drive people to purchase a loan through his organization. More metrics like this are needed for podcasters and videobloggers.
Empirical data is often the coin of the realm in business conversations. People rightly feel that they want to understand the impact of their choices, the return on their investment. They feel comfortable that they understand how traditional marketing campaigns are measured. They believe they understand advertising purchases. So when shifting into social media and social networks, even as online spending revenue is going up, we are faced with having to talk about the uncertainties and unknowns of how we measure impact.
Be ready to probe when people offer you empirical measurements of results. There are ways to derive what Julien Smith and others have called â€œreturn on influence,â€ and there are means by which people are seeking to understand â€œcost per actionâ€ based pricing instead of the more traditional online model of â€œcost per click.â€ So be wary of what you hear in this space.
Who Are the Experts?
If we just press â€œpauseâ€ on the use of the word expert, but go into the question of who understands social media in a way that you should consider learning from their experience or seeking their advice and recommendations, there are a few things to look for in a good social media practitioner, and some things to discount.
- We don’t know every social network that ever was built, or every podcast currently or formerly in production, but we’d better know more than a few.
- Social media types probably should be making media of some kind themselves. (I often get criticized for not having a podcast. I counter by saying that I make media like AttentionUPGRADE and Small Boxes, and other projects.) And I blog every day and then some. So there!
- We probably should have some length of experience under our belt, in some form or another. I’ve been blogging since 1998 or so, when it was called journaling. Im much more recent to podcasting and videoblogging (and I have Justin Kownacki and Steve Garfield to thank as two strong influencers and guiding lights in that space, not to mention folks like Daniel Steinberg and others, but don’t let me digress here).
- We should be relatively somewhat â€œknown.â€ I’m not suggesting that popularity in and of itself be an important trait, but I do believe that if you’re in SOCIAL media and not many people know you yet, you might want to socialize some more (this point is VERY open to your criticism, so please dig in, if you disagree).
- We should be able to make something happen by way of the media we create, or in other words, our efforts should be at least somewhat impactful. I believe PodCamp has been impactful, and that other things I’ve done have made little differences here and there.
- We shouldn’t be afraid of transparency, and definitely should welcome criticism and debate. If we’re always right, we’re probably not very open to ideas and new things. And at this point in the game, social media is heavily ensconced in understanding all kinds of new technologies and their application.
Beyond that, what would YOU say qualifies someone to be spouting off about social media? Why do you bother coming to my site? What is your bar for accepting someone an authority in this space? And do you need to learn ONLY from â€œan authority,â€ when plenty of people are experimenting and discovering advances every day?
Beware the snake oil experts in any new technology, and question authority. It’s worked as a good test since the 1960s. Why stop now?
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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