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Sound Off: What Makes a Social Media Expert?

social-mediaYesterday, I watched my Twitter stream transform into a spirited conversation, complete with hurt feelings, wounded pride, and genuine attempts to put forward logical and eloquent arguments. Online friendships were torn asunder, and strong new allegiances formed. The culprit was a deceptively simple question: What makes someone a social media expert?

The question seems to have arisen because a certain print and online publication hired someone to fill that particular role, and another party felt the chosen person’s follower count was insufficient for the task. Implying, you see, that someone’s Twitter follower count is an important (if not the sole) indicator of social media success, and therefore a strong contributor to achieving “expert” status in that particular field.

Many, many people took umbrage with said view, and responded essentially that quality, not quantity, accounted for true “expert” abilities in social media. More specifically, many pointed to the quality of interaction, which defines the “social” aspect. As such, people like celebrities — who might have high follower counts but primarily broadcast more than they engage in back-and-forth conversations — don’t really count as social media experts.

So what is it that makes a true expert? It’s a question that is no doubt on the minds of hiring managers everywhere as social media becomes more and more important to the everyday business of all kinds of companies. Without established metrics (despite some great ways to measure ROI) and hiring criteria to fall back on, what should HR departments and individuals looking to hire or contract social media experts be looking for? Should Twitter be considered first and foremost among social networks when weighing expertise? What should we validate social media expertise with, and what should we maybe not put so much stock in?

Add your comment on this debate below.

10 Responses to “Sound Off: What Makes a Social Media Expert?”

  1. I agree with Richard. I get hives when peoples’ titles are “Social Media Guru,” and “Social Media Maven.”

    Who decides the criteria that shapes social media mastery?

    Being in PR/Marketing, I find social media most useful in building relationships and exchanging useful information.

    But that’s just my take– I am curious whether others feel the same way.

    And how many leads do you think are actually driven by Twitter? By LinkedIn? It’s still a mystery to me…

    -Kate (@kategreenough)

  2. I started out in online news/new media in 1999 as a journalist/sub-editor, and I find the number of self-proclaimed social media experts in the PR world in which I now work highly amusing.

    For me, it’s just something I do and have done for a long time and it’s certainly not the bedrock of my business.

    As do what makes an expert, it’s certainly not a bandwagonjumper that’s read a few books and I’d say avoid anyone that sounds off about what an expert they are.

  3. I agree, Christine. I also think it depends greatly on the company, and their goals and objectives for implementing social media into their marketing.

    Hopefully anyone claiming to be an “expert” will have a strong grasp of the impact a well-designed social media marketing campaign can create. From my perspective, it all starts with a lengthy questionnaire to establish a thorough understanding of the client and their customer/target market.

    From there, it’s critical to have a strong grasp of the tools available, how to interpret analysis and data, how to implement strategy based on analysis, a general understanding of business, branding, marketing, and the ability to train (or outsource) the “fine art” of utilizing social media effectively.

    I don’t think a person’s following on twitter is a good indicator of whether or not they are qualified. I have a decent following on Twitter, and I LOVE being on Twitter; yet there are many days that I simply don’t have time to tweet because of my work, deadlines, and commitment to my clients.

    I also don’t have the desire to criticize or judge anyone else’s qualifications relative to this. I work with the clients that are right for me, and visa versa. Live and let live, I say! =)

  4. This is a debate that will continue for a long time, I’m afraid. And here’s the thing – all experts aren’t created equal.

    I’m inclined to agree, it’s not the quantity of Twitter followers that make an expert – to even imply that is ignorant. Anyone can buy Twitter followers with the silly pyramid-like schemes out there. So who cares?

    Quality is important: fans, followers, brand advocates… But here’s the thing everyone keeps forgetting – from a business standpoint, that quality is in interacting with YOUR constituents- where they are. If you hire a social media manager who has 25k followers – but none of them would ever do business with your company or buy your services – then where’s the expertise?

    You asked, “What should HR departments and individuals looking to hire or contract social media experts be looking for?” I suppose it depends on their goals and the type of company they are. So many businesses are coming at this with “social media” first, when what should be first is “our business goals.” Those are ultimately what every employee is helping to support and should be the driving factor for any new position.

    That being said, knowing how to use social media tools is obviously a given. Understanding how to reach, communicate, listen, engage and build community with your customers, prospects and other important constituents is crucial.

    People are putting too much stock – partly due to the need for better understanding – in numbers and buzzwords. Quality communication with the RIGHT audience is what matters. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    Christine Perkett
    PerkettPR
    http://www.twitter.com/missusP
    http://www.twitter.com/PerkettPR
    http://www.perkettprsuasion.com
    http://www.facebook.com/PerkettPR

  5. Hello… I think a couple of hours, a cup of tea and an intelligent approach to researching emerging trends will give most communications professionals sufficient grounding in social media to support a business to take their first steps into the arena.

    The number of followers, iGeek ratings, and or your digital shoesize may or may not give an indication of a person’s ability to translate their grasp of social media platforms into commerically astute communications strategies, but proven abilities in internal/external communications roles most certainly are.

    Integrating communications strategies has been the whispered dream of many comms professionals for a long time – social media and emerging media channels are new and exciting tools to play with, and facilitate that dream – so we’re well placed to leap in and exploit them, whether we’ve been twittering, blogging or facebooking for ever or not.

    Expertise, skill, knowledge and experience from a number of disciplines are all relevant when you’re filling a role (any role). Just having a ‘long tail’ is simply not enough to persuade an organisation to hand over their communication strategy.

    There does seem to be a lot of foot-stamping and hair pulling when it comes to establishing expertise in this particular area – but for many of us, really the expertise has already been established, elsewhere – either in the IT sector for the infrastructure or the marcoms/integrated comms profession for the strategic, commercial opportunities.

  6. agree with all them.

    on the first one i’ll add: correct choosing of best platform and tool (or tools) for each scenario/field. There are lot of platforms out there, but some are not workin or givin any related content for what you really lookin for, so you need a way to filter. Just my opinion

    Time and resources: not same 1 guy workin, or a team

    Finally: what makes everyone think they’re social media experts? everyone is one nowadays!

  7. None of the above, the current landscape is unstable. Believing that the future will look just like today will get you the wrong guy. The candidate who says he can “save” “enliven” “promote” or any other promise would in my opinion be a type of svengali and be avoided. These are times of transition, and as such the understanding of how to keep navigating in a forward direction, with innovation and experimentation, should be rewarded. The individual must be the best of class, and a proven out of the box thinker. I would lean more on a Myers Briggs personality profile than any sort of Twitter based following. Social Media is replacing Publishing for the distribution of Communication and Journalism.

    Feel free to read this very interesting analysis about just this type of thing.

    http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/

  8. What makes a social media expert?

    1. Intimate knowledge of social media platforms and their tools (not just an account or two on them).
    2. Proven success within social media. If the expert can’t help their own career take off via social media — how could they help you? Plus, the big follower counts could lead to easy cross-promotion of your SMM content through their “personally branded” channel. Echo Chamber..!
    3. Analytical Mindset (a.k.a. the entrepreneurial mindset). Experts don’t think they’re right. They know they are, and have current research to prove it.
    4. Friends. Cool people have them, usually.