apr 6

Social Media Experts

So let's see if this starts any debate.... my pal Matt Haughey recently wrote a little ditty called This Is How Social Media Really Works where he essentially argues that this new marketing force is completely unnecessary:

So maybe instead of getting your company on twitter, paying marketers to mention you are on twitter, and paying people to blog about your company, forget all that and just make awesome stuff that gets people excited about your products, hire people that represent the company well, and when your stuff is so awesome that friends share it with other friends, you may not even need "social media marketing" after all.
I've been known to rant about this new breed of internet expertise too, but that's probably because NYC seems to have more social media experts than rats. But for the sake of argument, a counter-example of Matt's attempts to find a swingset, here's a story from Ad Age about buying an air conditioner. It makes a compelling case for a more subtle presence for brands to exist in online social spaces. Thoughts?


Footnote: I noticed recently that the most-subscribed-to fan page on Facebook was Coke. It struck me as immediately strange that a brand would win this, but it also suggests that brand loyalty still exists, even if a lot of us are impervious to marketing messages.

posted by Rex at 5:11 PM on April 6, 2009

the funny thing is that Coke doesn't even "own" that page ; http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2009/03/31/cokefans0331.html

posted by marrina at 5:28 PM on April 6, 2009

Shoot for the first one and if you can do the second one, go nuts.

Also, if you self-identify as a "Social Media Expert" it means you are 1. a douchebag, 2. probably not that interesting, and 3. soonishly to be unemployed as people come to realize that you are a douchebag who isn't very interesting.

Oddly enough, I'd say the entire "social media expert" industry is the best real-life fimoculous metaphor you could find. They pay to go to conferences to watch each other speak, then blog about each other speaking while linking to each other's books and blog posts. If Valleywag go one thing right (and it could be that Valleywag only got one thing right), it's the concept of The 250.

posted by Tyler at 5:40 PM on April 6, 2009

I think there's definitely advantages to utilizing social media--promoting start-ups, local organizations, etc--but it sure as hell doesn't take an "expert" to utilize it.

The social media "gurus" (I like that more than experts, in a mocking sort of way) falsely think that they are the leaders in a technological niche that everyone has equal access to.

posted by jon_hansen at 5:48 PM on April 6, 2009

Tyler: I agree with most of that, except maybe the "unemployed" part. At least not in the short-term (1-2 years), as social media companies are the only thing still making increasingly larger amounts of money every quarter. In the long term (3-5 years), I agree -- the industry implodes as everyone else figures out how to make their own Facebook page. And I know a lot of "social media experts" who suspect this is probably true.

I hate the social media types who clog up Twitter as much as everyone else, but I guess there's one marginally good thing about them: they keep to themselves. I'm thankfully not forced to read Mashable.

posted by Rex at 5:53 PM on April 6, 2009

Lots of brands are, sadly, out of touch with the culture that they both surround and propagate on the web. If more took a back seat and invested time, curation, direction and some authority for the people that do the same for them - we'd have more who realize the power behind conversations vs. scraping at the walls to shine the light on me 100% of the time.

posted by John Ratcliffe-Lee at 6:00 PM on April 6, 2009

@rex: Even 1-2 years seems like a stretch to me. On the agency side, a lot more emphasis is being put on designer, writers, planners and such to own social media knowledge as well.

On the client side, it makes more sense to hire a dedicated Community Manager and fold social media under their job description.

@jon: I'm all for the mocking tone of "guru."

posted by Tyler at 6:51 PM on April 6, 2009

The "social media" thing is kind of like the "shoegaze" scene. It's the scene that celebrates itself.

posted by JayCruz at 7:12 PM on April 6, 2009

So, I work at a small non-profit arts organization. I set up our Twitter account last June, and we started using it more regularly around December. Followship has grown pretty fast, and the feedback has been positive.

It seems to me that a "Social Media Expert" is someone with a PhD doing serious research on the effect of SM on our culture. Someone who goes around renting themselves out to companies and helping them set up facebook and twitter accounts and showing them what to do with them is a Social Media "Expert".

posted by alesh at 7:40 PM on April 6, 2009

Good re-post and enjoyable commentary by all. I am dangerously close to this SM thing in my day-to-day job but I will refrain from naming names to protect the not-so-innocent. The whole thing reminds me of lemmings running for the breakers. Nobody can stop them and most will end up washed back up on the shore. So sad. Sigh.

posted by Hagz at 11:31 PM on April 6, 2009

I'll give you my salaried advice to summarize:

Don't be a fucking douche, and make good shit people will like.

You'd be surprised how many big companies need this advice on an hourly basis.

posted by taulpaul at 12:20 AM on April 7, 2009

I actually have this in a powerpoint deck. It comprises two slides, each with one bullet point, black background, and eggshell white text. I'm particular about my fonts, so I used a post-post modern font called Silkscreen. I crank it up to 120 points, because I know Kottke faints when he sees that, so I plaster it all over slideshare to make a point, and put him in the hospital for post-post traumatic font disorder.

posted by taulpaul at 12:34 AM on April 7, 2009

I'm also coining a new mental disorder called Pied Piper Syndrome.

posted by taulpaul at 1:18 AM on April 7, 2009

I don't think social media experts, especially self-proclaimed ones, are of much use to very many people - though, I for one, could use the insights of certain people with deep, deep knowledge in social habits, such as Cameron Marlow over at Facebook.

I DO think, however, that social media PIMPS are very valuable. Say what you want about just making great creative and getting it out there, but unless a enough people see it to get the ball rolling, a great campaign can die. Getting some dude or dudette with 100,000 twitter followers to post a link radically increases the likelihood the campaign can work. Those people have value.

posted by Rick Webb at 4:05 AM on April 7, 2009

oh, this is a favorite topic of mine.

posted by ryan at 4:01 PM on April 7, 2009

had a long comment ready to go, but tyler got there first with his thoughts. planners and designers are taking the lead, as they should, and clients need to be a lot better at building this internally.

posted by Dino at 7:04 PM on April 7, 2009

oh, i do weekly "next one to say social media gets unfollowed" tweets. i recommend it. it's fun, and since they're all so competitive i think it works for an hour or so.

posted by brian ries at 7:14 PM on April 7, 2009

Social media has value. People who don't know how to use it need help. The people who help them have value. Not every social media consultant is a douchebag. Some are just...helpful. But yes, being awesome helps. Sometimes, it's even enough.

posted by Rachel Sklar at 7:54 PM on April 7, 2009

Oh, I had Matt's post open in a tab all this time and finally got around to reading it.

Seems to me that what's going on here is something quite different from what he describes. The secret to having a successful product is to get a celebrity (yep, the president would be ideal) to conspicuously buy your product.

Everyone else will follow suit. Some out of sheer copycatness, others to whom the knowledge trickles down indirectly.

posted by alesh at 9:49 PM on April 7, 2009

social media? meh. wait for the data web...interoperability, bitches. then marketing and brands and enterprise will really be in a headspin.

posted by alisa leonard-hansen at 10:29 AM on April 8, 2009

"don't suck" is tenet #4 ha ha

posted by alisa leonard-hansen at 10:38 AM on April 8, 2009

I think we can all agree that social media has value, especially in terms of building relationships and gathering data. So, do we have a problem with the term "expert"? 'cause that's what I'm getting from this and bunch of other threads I read this week. Clearly, not everybody can be an expert. I work at and ad agency and I help our clients with social media- but I don't claim to be an expert. Also, I got the impression that when it comes to this field, you can basically call yourself whatever you want. Strategist, consultant, expert.. If you update Obama's blog, you're a "blog director". it's all good. So, if you can call your self whatever you want , then maybe NY really has a ton of "experts":)

posted by marrina at 10:46 AM on April 8, 2009

meh...after reading some more of the comments i'm not sure if i want to respond...but there are so many things wrong with this premise.

1) yes, most would be 'social media experts' are douchebags who rather than innovate, exploit

2) also, most 'social media experts' aren't actually marketers or strategists or even really understand the whole kool aid of "markets are conversations" (which has far more reaching implications than being simply a passing hype in the late 90's...again, data Web, data Web, data Web...changes everything) social media? Nay...social context

3) no, spamming social networks and using it purely for self-indulgent promotion and spam is ridiculous and so-called "experts" will die off

4) what's wrong with this premise is the idea that social media is somehow some separate from the Web itself. Its not, its a prelude to the next iterative states of the Web (dare i mention Semantic Web?)...we've moved from linked documents to linked RIAs and we will be moving on to linked data...and the most important data? social data...your information and profile data will provide social context to just about any site or service (even the search engines)...and that's what's exciting. interoperability. and intuitive, socially contextual Web experiences based on your behaviorial, personal and relatioship data. scary? nah...AWESOME

but yes, "social media experts" are douches.

posted by alisa leonard-hansen at 10:56 AM on April 8, 2009

Most people who self-define as an "expert" are douches. "Social media expert" is no different. There are people who are great at social media, who need to evangelize to corporations who don't get it, and who deserve to make a living at it.

Aren't social media experts about the same as drug reps, other than the drug reps don't spend time on Twitter sharing inspirational quotes?

posted by Jason DeRusha at 11:20 AM on April 8, 2009

i think one of the biggest problems with the title of social media 'expert' is that it's hard for anyone to really be an expert on something that is so constantly evolving.

doing awesome, fun shit on the internet is always good - but it seems to me there is also value in jet blue tweeting (they are helpful with flight changes, have been known to give discounts/upgrades, etc) even though it isn't a stream of cool or funny videos. and maybe there are other companies that could provide value but that just 'don't get it' and need some help. so maybe social media consultants can be valuable when they think of themselves as students of the ever-evolving technology and not as an expert?

posted by rosie at 11:41 AM on April 8, 2009

@alesh I'm sympathetic to the academic idea of social media expert, though we ivory tower academics rarely consider ourselves experts. The difference seems to be an interest in understanding (which to me is what expert/guru really means) as opposed to an interest in exploiting the technology. That's what I see most of these people doing. (It's certainly an interesting meta-phenomenon in its own right.)

posted by katrina at 12:56 PM on April 8, 2009

This made me laugh.

posted by Tyler at 11:09 AM on April 9, 2009

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