Today I searched for a “Social Media Expert” on Google. The results? 84 million. The same staggering numbers surfaced while searching on Twitter or Facebook. Lately, anyone that has a profile on Social Media seems to call themselves a Social Media Expert.
The phenomenon of social networks has officially begun the free fall from their Tipping Point. Talk about mass market appeal – Twitter was even featured on The Today Show last week. Millions of new users are wandering aimlessly on-line trying to uncover: what can social media do for me? And social media experts, or those that claim they are, are ready to sell them.
It brings to mind images of the snake oil peddler from old Western movies – the traveling salesman who claims to hold the remedy for all one’s ails. Is today’s economy producing a legion of PT Barnums looking for the suckers who weren’t early adopters of social media? How can marketers interested in entering the social media world protect themselves from fast-talking wanna-bes and instead find a trusted consultant?
In full disclosure, I am teaching a social networking workshop in a small Detroit suburb soon. Which is exactly what got me started thinking about this whole “expert” business. As a recruiter, I’ve been using social networks like LinkedIn for over four years now. In fact, I can’t imagine doing my job without them. As the unemployment rate continues to rise, more friends and family have been calling to ask: can you show me how to use “FILL-IN-THE-BLANK-SOCIAL-NETWORK”? Initially, the inquiries resulted in a few kitchen table workshops. But, when the number of calls got to be too much to keep up with, I opted to set up in our city’s community center one evening a week to teach more users in a group setting.
Which brings me back to: how do I identify myself to these students? Social Media Expert? Working at a place like Organic, I’m surrounded by brilliant people that advise Fortune 500 companies on how to market their companies – and track the results – using social media. In comparsion, I’m an everyday user of social media and coach a team of recruiters on how to best use it to find talent. I subscribe to lots of social media blog RSS feeds and sign up for every webinar I can find. But expert? Me thinks not.
In the end, I opted to describe myself as a social networking “coach” – and specified that students of this workshop should be beginners. I’m assuming most attendees will be 45+ and just learning about social media. And, for this demographic, I think I have a lot to share. But, I’m still learning every day and nothing would make me feel more like a, um, like a snake oil salesman, if someone walked in expecting me to advise them on their corporate social media platform.
Something tells me (those 84 million Google results perhaps?) there are those out there that might not put much integrity behind their self-appointed titles and may mislead those new to social media. If guided in the wrong direction, marketers run the dangerous risk of bad-vocacy – an entire population of consumers ready to publicly dis’ their product. Blogger Jeremiah Owyang chronicles a list of brands that got punked on social media – including the Motrin Twittering Moms and the latest – Belkin products under suspicion of paying users for positive reviews.
So, in the spirit of buyer beware, how can the unsuspecting client know the difference between a true social media expert – or a fake? Same way the snake oil buyer knew whether the product was legit. Did it ease someone else’s aches and pains? Did it have results?
Just this week, Organic was publicly applauded for the astounding accuracy in which they predicted how many vehicles Chrysler would sell. Our agency gathered a large set of data from social-media and search engines – and used it to predict sales. Our team came within 1% of the actual sales model. (Typically, automakers can predict sales by 10-15%.) It’s case studies with results such as this that enables a client to feel confident that, yes, these people really are experts.
What else besides results driven case studies should a potential client look for in a social media expert? Dave Fleet has a nice blog entry on this. Some of the questions he suggests to ask a person or company posing as a social media expert are:
* Where can I find you or your company on-line?
* How do you measure results?
* How would you define social media?
The original snake oil salesmen appeared on the scene during the US’s great western expansion and at the height of the Great Depression. Ironic parallels, as we observe the harrowing speed of digital expansion along with a down economy. Studies show entrepreneurism often spikes during recessions – fertile ground for exploiters and exploitees, perhaps. When the dust settles though, I have a feeling the true pioneers of social media left standing will be those with measurable results – proving they were the experts all along.
Social Networking Coach