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Attention Social Media Experts: Time to Get Real

July 14, 2009

Peter Shankman comes down hard on potentially fraudulent social media practitioners in his blog titled, “Is Your Social Media Expert Really an Expert?” With the help of Sara Evans, he compiled a list 25 qualities/attributes to watch out for when selecting a firm or individual for social media consulting. I saw considerable number of tweets and blogs from communications types that liked the blog.

I found the list interesting, bold, accurate and humorous at times. Shankman sets a high standard for the integrity and experience of a social media expert, which is a good thing. I don’t recall that the standard was quite as high for PR experts, especially in height of the dot-com boom days when everyone was jumping on the PR bandwagon. Although PR practitioners were expected to demonstrate results and press coverage for their clients, but they generally weren’t expected to show press clips promoting themselves and have “fans” or an extensive body of published works. Social media experts, on the other hand, are expected to have a strong online presence. They are expected to blog regularly, be transparent about their background and experience, share their opinions freely and have allies and followers. This is good thing—it is just more stringent than was applied 10 years ago.

Shankman’s list is a reminder to avoid violating some basic rules of business and marketing when promoting yourself or your firm:

  • Don’t be a copycat—differentiate your brand
  • Don’t over-promise and under-deliver on your brand
  • Actions speak louder than words
  • Know your competition
  • “Pay it forward” (Provide free advice, mentor others and share your secrets)

Authenticity, transparency and altruism are three of the core principles of social media (and the original green business movement). Anyone calling themselves a social media expert should authentically embody these qualities or expect criticism from their peers.

This year I had the opportunity to work with with two genuine social media gurus (by my definition): Jeanette Gibson and Brian Johnson. These two individuals are passionate about social media and readily share their expertise with others as mentors and speakers. I am impressed with the dedication to their profession, integrity, work ethic and insatiable curiosity.

Moving forward, I would venture to say the same high standards that Shankman attaches to social media experts applies more than ever to ALL workers that provide a product or service, including doctors, auto mechanics, executives, administrative assistants, programmers, and so on.—whether  self-employed or working for an organization. (Those who are retired or work for an institution that offers lifetime tenure, may be exempt, at least professionally.) Google is the new reputation engine. Your performance, good or bad, will be tracked, stored and discussed online whether you like it or not. So it behooves all of us to recognize, cultivate and monitor our digital persona…or ignore it at our peril.

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Ways to tell your Social Media “Expert” Might Not Be An “Expert” After All

Co-written by Peter Shankman and Sarah Evans

1. They call themselves an evangelist, guru or expert, and no one else does.

2. They use “expert” or “evangelist” or “guru” or our personal favorite, “influencer” as any of their user names.

3. They “discovered” social media in the last six to 16 months, and there’s nothing online from them in the social media space prior to that. (Remember – Google is your friend.)

4. All of a firm or agency’s “social media strategists” come from traditional PR or Marketing agencies.

5. Everything they learned about social media they learned by reading blog posts (i.e. no application). You can learn a ton about sex from reading Kinsey’s manuals, but I’d still rather be with someone who has some practical experience.

6. They haven’t done anything of significance using social media (i.e. demonstrating they know how to apply the tools). Again, see point on Kinsey.

7. They keep shouting about “widgets.” (Or worse, they’re still talking about push marketing.)

8. Their resume doesn’t include anything that has to do with social media (i.e. no results using social media). And no, having a Twitter account doesn’t cut it.

9. Their sound bites eerily resemble what you just heard from Chris Brogan and Brian Solis. And quite frankly, following them and a few others (including Sarah) can usually answer 95% of your social media questions to begin with.

10. Their firm has added social media as an additional service (as opposed to integrating it into a comprehensive PR approach). If they say “And we’ll do Facebook and Twitter!” beware.

11. Any use of the term “MySpace” unless you’re only targeting 14-year-old males, or independent bands.

12. Their networks don’t reflect that they are connected. (You should probably research them before hiring them. If their blog hasn’t been updated since 2004 yet they tweet every time they take a slurp of Yogurt, something’s up.)

13. When you Google them, it’s difficult to find them. If they don’t show up on the first page of Google, how are they going to get you up there?

14. They never talk to you about free ways to monitor your online presence (like Google alerts and Twitter search). Perhaps they’re afraid you can do it yourself?

15. They don’t maintain an active blog (at least two posts every month).

16. Any case studies they present only involve very big companies with very big budgets

17. Their lead social media strategist is “this kid we picked up after his internship ended.”

18. When they talk strategy, there is no approach that encompasses a discussion about: communications, marketing, advertising, business development, internal communications and/or customer service.

19. They see “Social Media” as a replacement for customer service, when in fact, only good customer service propels positive social media.

20. They want to charge you to get you signed up on social media sites (yuck).

21. There’s a pay structure that includes a pay-per-post model. Run very far away, very fast.

22. The strategy they provide you primarily includes a Twitter profile and a Facebook fan page.

23. Measurement to them means building up lots of followers and fans.

24. After you work with them you’re just as confused as when you started.

25. They’ve never used Help a Reporter Out (added by Sarah, not Peter). To Sarah’s point, they’ve also not suggested any of the wonderful free services out there before they recommend paying.

One Comment leave one →
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