Calling all Social Media experts …. oh wait there aren’t any

social media specialist Okay maybe the headline is a little over blown, but for the larger part of Social Media I think that it holds pretty well. I have stressed here many times how I think that the majority of marketing and PR people who have jumped on the Social Media bandwagon and now proclaim themselves as experts and gurus are full of shit. In fact they can be the most dangerous type of person a company can hire.

Think not?

Then just look at the furor over HabitatUK and their totally fucked up entrance into the world of Social Media via Twitter. Whoever they hired to bring the company into the Social Media world decided that it was cool to blast Twitterland with special deals as a way to get more followers, and customers presumably.

The only problem was that they had very few followers so they decided to utilize the hashtags being use to tags tweets relevant to what is going on in Iran. In the fallout of a Twittersphere that literally blew up over this we have a company who’s created such a black mark around their brand in the social media world that they may not be able to rescue it.

As Alan Patrick over at Broadstuff said in a post about this incredible blunder

Don’t know who Habitat’s "Social Media Experts" were, but if I were Habitat I’d habitatUKbe sorely tempted to sue for damages on the grounds of total incompetence – though its interesting whether one could prove it or not (and sadly, people who do know what they are doing with Social Media get caught in the collateral damage). A public flogging* of the flackers may also assuage some of the people who feel this sort of spamming is outrageous. If the plan was to "go viral by being outrageous", it has probably misfired – big time! (Wilde’s "only one thing worse than being talked about" nostrum has its limits….)

Unfortunately this kind of jumping in without having a damn clue as to how things really work in a social media world has the potential to hurt Social Media. It does this by giving companies trying to understand how it works the wrong idea. Rather than examples of how things can work, and work well, all they hear is scare stories of HabitatUK-like experiences.

It isn’t the so-called social media experts who cause the problem that gets the flack – chances are they are long gone – but rather a confused and unsure company trying to figure out how clean up the mess that was made.

Interesting enough Brian Solis had a lengthy post (does he write any other kind?) that relates to this type of headlong rush into the land of so-called Social Media experts. In it he writes

This isn’t new. Many of us have documented the rise of the new gold rush for years. To this day, you have experts who tell you everything except what to do specifically. I recently was referred to a post from Focus Research that insinuated that businesses needed to engage in 50 social networks in order to stay in business, “50 Social Sites That Every Business Needs a Presence on.”

This is simply foolish and irresponsible. Articles such as this demonstrate the lack of social mastery or expertise that is so critical to truly helping businesses connect with customers on the social web.

Will the real social media expert please stand up?

Truthfully, my inbox is riddled with promises of riches, fame, glory, bevies of new customers, and greater profits if I attend the next big hands-on training, workshop, webinar or conference that reveals the untold secrets and proven techniques of today’s leading social networkers and social media gurus.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some ‘experts’ but you know something – as far as they are concerned expert is the last work they would use to describe themselves. A great example of this type of person is Chris Brogan and Brian Solis, even though he tends to be a little too wordy for me. If either of those two gentlemen were to recommend someone to me I would heed their advice long before I would 99% of the marketing and PR people desperately tacking Social Media Expert onto their LinkedIn profiles and online CVs.

It is people like whoever HabitatUK hired, and the vast majority of wannabe experts, that are polluting the Social Media waters so badly that it is getting hard to see the bottom. Right now companies are smart to take whatever the hot social media guru that they hired says with a grain of salt. Just because some-one calls themselves an expert doesn’t make them one and you could do more damage to your company than you might think by heeding their great viral idea.

Just ask HabitatUK.

cartoon courtesy of Hugh MacLeod


  1. 22/06/09 at 23:41

    Anyone who is calling themselves an expert… isn't.

    Expert is a term used by other people to describe someone…. it's not a job title.

  2. TM_Washington
    23/06/09 at 4:49

    I've felt, if not shared, this sentiment for some time. Chris Brogan wrote in one of his recent blogs that no one can be a social media expert because the term “social media” refers to a “tool”–which is employed for any one person or group to solve a task. I think Social Media is the Zeitgeist term of our generation, and similar to the “Where's the Beef?” slogan from 20 years ago, it will soon because a catchphrase, a moniker, and then a parting shot. Everyone who employs a search engine, responds to a query via Twitter, or posts commentary on FriendFeed, is a social enthusiasts, and wields the “tools” that social media affords them.

  3. 23/06/09 at 7:56

    I think you're being a little harsh here Steven. I agree there are some total idiots out there claiming to know how to promote via social media, and obviously HabitatUK didn't do their homework, and so ended up with one of those. But there are a great many online who do know what they're doing. It's like any field I suppose: buyer beware. You can even end up with a quack doctor if you don't do your homework first. I do agree that most experts don't brand themselves as such though. My point mainly is that there's too much aggressive commentary going on–it's spoiling the social media milieu I'd say.

  4. 23/06/09 at 12:00

    This makes it really hard to be a consultant these days. Companies always seem to come for us AFTER they've screwed up and have no money.

    Dammit, social media is about having a two-way conversation, period.

  5. 23/06/09 at 12:17

    While I agree with your post, you mention Chris Brogan and Brian Solis and then proclaim *them* experts – two of perhaps the most overrated voices in SM.

    The other really annoying trend is for people to call themselves “social media strategists” in lieu of the expert word.

    There ARE experts out there, but many of them are people you've never heard of because they are busy working behind the scenes (not talking about themselves and rehashing the same no brainer “how-tos” out in the open every day x infinity) making their clients look good.

    So you get an A for calling out the fallacy of the title of social media expert, but a C for then falling into the SM echo chamber that is currently occupied by a few really loud, outspoken folks who talk more in theory than practice.

  6. 23/06/09 at 16:47

    The good news for HabitatUK is that I hadn't heard of them before reading this post.

    Obviously this is nothing new. The same people who are urging you to get on 50 social networks today are the same ones who urged you to get on 200 search engines ten years ago, set up 50 800 telephone numbers 20 years ago, and set up 500 post office boxes 50 years ago.

    As with any service you purchase, the first thing that you need to do is to look at your situation and define your underlying need. As the people who read your blog know, “social media” is not an underlying need. Do you need to influence purchasing decisions of teenagers? Do you need to provide travel information to Blackberry-wielding business travelers? If you define your true need in your own mind, then you'll be better equipped to deal with any “social media expert” that comes knocking at your door. Or with any other consultant – perhaps your underlying need can be handled with post cards. (No, this Disqus comment is NOT sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service.)