Photo by mikebaird
The term ‘social media expert’ has been the subject of a lot of talk and a lot of controversial articles lately.
People have written about the different types of social media expert, whether it’s OK to call yourself a social media expert and outlined who they believe are (and are not) experts in social media.
The term has never been more commonly used. This is probably because an entire industry has bubbled up around people creating businesses and services springing from their claimed expertise in social media.
There are a lot of good people in this industry and there is a lot of good work being done.
What I’d like to do in this post, though, is get people thinking about whether it is actually possible to be a ‘social media expert’. As the title of this post suggest, I believe it isn’t. Here’s why.
Branding yourself as a social media expert is as nebulous as branding yourself an expert on ‘Animals’ or ‘History’ or ‘Asia’ or ‘Sport’.
These areas are simply too big and too complicated to be truly mastered in any one lifetime. You can certainly be a student of these things and know more than most about them, but you cannot gain an extremely deep knowledge (which I believe is required to be an ‘expert’) on something so broad.
Social media is an umbrella topic covering hundreds of different platforms, mediums and means for producing and sharing user-generated content.
Within that, individual communities can have thousands (or millions) of members, distinct cultures, unspoken rules and unofficial leaders.
Digg is extremely different to Twitter. Twitter is extremely different to StumbleUpon. StumbleUpon is extremely different to FriendFeed. Tumblr is different to your WordPress blog.
Expertise in using one type of social media does not automatically transfer into all other types.
I see many people branding themselves as social media experts who are active on Twitter mainly, perhaps Friendfeed, but have never actively used Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, et al.
If expertise implies full and comprehensive knowledge then this scenario is actually incompatible with social media ‘expertise’. Does this mean these people are being deceptive?
Certainly not – I have no doubt they genuinely believe they are experts and may have different criteria than I do.
My point is not that you should sign-up to every social media service in existence, use them all for thousands of hours, and only then can you call yourself a social media expert.
I don’t think it’s possible to do this, or a wise use of time. Instead, my argument is that it is possible to have expertise within social media.
Spend thousands of hours studying, using and challenging yourself with Twitter and you will have well and truly earned the right to call yourself a Twitter expert. If you want to get really truthful, though, why not get more specific?
- I’m an expert in using Twitter to grow and strengthen customer loyalty.
- I’m an expert in teaching companies how to use Twitter to build relationships with customers.
- I’m an expert in collecting large amounts of Twitter followers in a short period of time.
This type of branding is both more accurate and more powerful than claiming general expertise.
It’s more accurate because you may not truly be a Twitter expert if you have only ever used Twitter in one way (for example, to generate sales leads for your business).
In matters of using Twitter to build your own personal brand or network with people in your industry, you might know only a little. When it comes to generating sales leads for your business, though, your expertise can’t be denied.
This is the take-away point right here, and I think this will help your personal branding: getting specific about your expertise is actually a better branding strategy than a sweeping statement.
Most people are looking for an expert to solve a very specific problem. Some examples from within social media:
- They want to learn how to create content that compels Digg users to vote, which will in turn bring them more pageviews and ad revenue.
- They want to use Twitter to build a bigger profile in their field.
- They want to create a blog that turns readers into customers.
Who are they going to hire, all things being equal?
- The expert in creating and marketing Diggable content for pageviews, or the ‘social media expert’?
- The expert in creating super-accounts on Twitter, or the ‘social media expert’?
- The expert in business blogging for conversions, or the ‘social media expert’?
I know who I’d hire!
The broader your expert branding, the less clear it is what exactly you do and what problems you can solve.
You are also competing with hundreds, perhaps thousands of other people who have branded themselves in the same way.
By presenting yourself as a specialist you are cutting down the amount of people you have to compete with while also providing a specific answer to a specific problem.
Most importantly, you’re acknowledging that you are not an expert in your entire field and that the thing you are passionate about – whether it’s social media or technology or politics – is too complex and multi-layered to be mastered by any one person.
In my humble opinion, it’s an enlightened and authentic approach that will benefit your business.