How to: Demystify the Social Media Expert Myth

Much has been said about social media “experts” ranging from Hallelujah, they exist! to “(they) are the cancer..and must be stopped.

These diverse responses are perfectly understandable in an age where every other person (and her nanny) is an “expert”, “guru”, “pundit” or other. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, companies still rely on these darn “experts” to help navigate the uncharted and often turbulent social media waters.

The key to demystifying the social media “expert” myth and finding the real deal is to take a hard look at what a social media “expert” actually does. Based on their role, the experts can be classified into 3 major categories – “Do”ers, Planners, and Talkers.

The most popular and generic “Social Media Manager” roles typically belong to the “Do”ers category, which includes folks who “do” social media and typically are the public face of the brand on social networking sites. These are the folks who manage communities, tweet, blog, and engage on sites like Facebook on behalf of the brand. “Do”ers tend to be individual contributors who spend a great deal of time on the social networking sites and/or have roles that require them to be highly visible brand ambassadors. Having strong online communication skills is a must-have for this role. Folks with engaging personalities and community background (forums, chat, etc.) shine in these types of roles. While this is often an after-thought, this role is best suited for folks with calm temperaments who are less likely to go off the deep end in a crisis. Case in point is the Nestle crisis, where the company rep snapped under pressure on Facebook and had to apologize at the end.

Planners are typically folks who have decent social media expertise and presence but their focus is primarily on planning/managing social media activities. The typical role in this category is social media strategist, who is responsible for pulling together all disparate social media activities into a cohesive strategy/plan. Actively engaging on social media sites is a time-consuming activity, it’s rare to find someone who can balance both roles (planning and engaging) without getting overwhelmed. Folks with solid marketing and/or community management backgrounds seem to do well in these roles. You’ll probably see these types of roles filled by people managers who typically work behind-the-scenes vs. on the front-lines. There aren’t many folks who have the skill set/experience required for these types of roles so increasingly, companies are relying on external social media agencies and consultants to meet their planning needs.

Talkers are your blogbertis or twitteratis who are well-known for talking/writing about social media and may or may not actually engage in social media on behalf of any specific cause for your company (other than social media). Folks in this category typically have a large following on social networks, but may lack the experience in applying social media in a business context. This is a great category for hiring your spokespeople especially if your company is trying to build brand-recognition and wants to get more visibility in the social media space. Many major brands seem to have at least one social media celebrity on their roster, who is not strategically aligned to any specific business function or objective but is rather focused on promoting the company’s overall brand and related messaging.

So there you have it, not everyone is an expert but even among the real experts, different folks excel at different roles. That being said, knowing what you want to achieve is key to deciding the type of expert you need and to avoid getting sucked into the expert myth.

Would love to hear your thoughts on other categories/roles that should be added here.

Are the Social Media Experts Helping or Hurting Twitter?

Recently, I’ve noticed that there is more onus on Twitter users to deliver “value” than users on other social networks. This could be attributed to the fact that Twitter started off as the playground (and still has some remnants) of the early adopter crowd. Other social networks like Facebook don’t have the same history (or baggage) and the closed nature of these sites probably promotes more non-judgmental sharing because of the perception that “you’re among friends”. Originally, the most frequently cited argument against Twitter was that it’s for folks who want to ”tweet about what they had for lunch” although, the same type of sharing was and is still perfectly acceptable on Facebook.

Twitter has evolved since its early days and so has the criticism. Now the popular opinion is that it’s become a propaganda channel for media, celebrities, and social media “experts”, which isn’t surprising when you consider that the Top 100 Twitter Users are mainly from the first two groups. According to Mashable, there’s also been a surge in the social media “experts” population on Twitter over the last year and they counted over 15,000 social media “experts” on Twitter, increase of 250% in appx. 7 months.

I have to confess that I am in biased in favor of Twitter, mainly because I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some very amazing and talented folks who are now part of my professional network. However, I also have to admit that the micro-blogging site is rife with self-professed gurus who are extremely opinionated and not afraid to vocalize their thoughts.

Here’s an example from my recent experience: I had started sending FourSquare updates to my Twitter stream, when out of the blue, one of the “experts” contacted me and asked me stop the updates as they “added no value”. Needless to say, I was baffled as I hadn’t realized that some folks think that the purpose of my tweets is to provide them with some “value”. What I also found most perplexing is this – if you wouldn’t go up to someone in the offline world and say, “Can you please stop talking about your cat because it’s annoying?!”, then why do some folks think it’s acceptable to do that on Twitter?

Nielsen reported its findings last year on Twitter’s high churn rate where they said,

“about 60 percent of people on Twitter end up abandoning the service after a month.”

This news wasn’t received very well by the vocal users but regardless how you slice the data, the reality is that Twitter is intimidating for new users. I’ve heard many (geeks, nerds, tech entrepreneurs included) confess that they just don’t get it.  I’ve been on Twitter for a while, so unsolicited feedback doesn’t bother me but one can’t help but wonder how damaging this self-righteous attitude can be for new users. The site is daunting enough for them, without having to worry about some “expert” policing and critiquing their every tweet.