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Social Media Experts, Gurus, Consultants & Strategists

Here’s my take on the brief history of demand for social media expertise:

  • Back in late 2007, proactive organizations started frantically searching for someone to help them with all this social media “stuff”. They searched for the first thing that came to their mind, “social media expert“. “Surely, there must be an expert out there” , they though.
  • Then in early 2008, the real rush came in as the field became more legitimate and the term “social media consultant” emerged.
  • Mid-2009 saw a sharp rise in search for the term “social media guru” as certain powerful personal brands emerged that apparently knew everything at an almost enlightening level.
  • Late 2009 witnessed a demand in search for “social media strategist” , as certain people realized that the preceding three terms were often being used (with a few exceptions) by hobbyists capitalizing on this trend.

Personally, I like to use “social media strategist”, even though it’s a less popular term in terms of volume. In fact I throw in “marketing & social media strategist” for additional context and to leverage my background in traditional strategic marketing.  The problem with the other terms is that they are too broad.  What are you an expert, guru or consultant in exactly? Technical social media channel setup? Guideline creation? Overall strategy? Tactical promotion?

I’ve witnessed plenty of these “so-called” experts come into organizations (based on poorly written RFP’s asking for “experts”) armed with nothing except the knowledge of how to setup a blog, Twitter account and maybe even a Facebook page as they proudly give out their new “social media expert” business cards.

This is why I use “strategist”. Essentially, I help guide organizations on the most efficient and effective way to get from A to B using a strategic framework. I always start by asking the question, “what is B?”, followed by, “why do you want to achieve B?” You would be shocked to find out how many people don’t have a clear answer for either one. Often, my job involves determining a realistic B for them that ties into their overall organizational strategy.

If your B is flawed to begin with (e.g. if it’s a tactic instead of a strategic outcome), then you’re in trouble. Common examples of flawed social media initiative B’s include:

  • “to create a Facebook page”
  • “to start a blog”
  • “to be on Twitter”
  • “to start a YouTube channel

So what are some examples of good B’s for social media initiatives? These depend on your organizational strategy of course (they need to be in-line with it). Here are some examples:

  • “to become a more proactive organization” why? : so that we are seen as leaders, not followers – as is the current case.
  • “to build relationships with online influencers in our industry” why? : so that we have a community to help us should a crisis occur
  • “to share our existing rich media content on new channels” why? : so that content creators can easily embed and share our content so that it is seen by more people
  • “to equip online content creators within our industry with facts” why? : so that we can help reduce the amount of incorrect information floating around the social web

Only once these are in place (and you’ve completed thorough macro and micro environmental scans), can you make the appropriate tactical decisions and set corresponding specific objectives.

Long story short, just do your due diligence before selecting someone and make sure that whatever they call themselves, they understand this basic premise.

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  1. Mike, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a “You’re not an expert” blog post for a little while now. You touched on a lot of the points I’ve been thinking about.

    I can’t understand how someone can be so quick to self-identify themselves as an “expert” in such a new & evolving field. If anything, we are all still students. Some of us are just in a higher grade.

  2. I should point out that often, some of those terms are innocently used by clients to describe people like us (especially in speaking engagement intros). I try to correct these situations whenever I can. I’m more so referring to people that “self-proclaim” themselves with those terms.

  3. Yes! I’ve been thinking the same thing for so long! I, too, consider myself a “social media strategist” but lately I’ve been cringing even saying that. The strategy is what is key to success and long-term ROI in social media, and it’s where every business (and consultant) should start. I come from a business strategy background, and it was obvious to me that goals, followed by objectives and tactics were the way to structure a social media presence. Thanks for clarifying what a real goal is, and the real reason we should be focused on strategy.

    What’s the next thing we’ll be calling ourselves in this space? Personally, I’ve been thinking about going back to the good old term “communications strategy.” That seems to cover it.

  4. Debra, personally I think all the buzzwords (web 2.0, social media, etc…) will disappear as social media engagement between organizations and people simply becomes a social norm.

  5. You say potato, I say potato. Both words look the same but depending how we pronounce it depends how we hear it.

    And so it goes with experts, specialists, and everyone else. Personally, I’ve branded myself an online media strategist the past year as I felt social media this or that was overused.

    Good points all around, Mike.

  6. In order to be an expert, you need to know what you are talking about. Get information through proper study. Read blogs, sites, emails and forums to gather as much information as you need. Doing research is one of the best ways to find out things that other people don’t know. Regularly follow all the latest happenings in social media. Subscribe to blogs that mainly focuses on social media.

  7. […] Social Media [verb] :  People having conversations, building relationships and exchanging content online;  digital word of mouth and social capital building. Proposed correct term: Social Media Engagement As the social media space evolves, so should the terms used to describe it.  This definitely also applies to professionals working in the social media field such as myself. More on that in my rant on “Social media experts, gurus, consultants and strategists“. […]

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