I first became aware of this debate on an episode of C.C. Chapman’s podcast Managing the Gray. C.C. expressed his reservation about being called a social media “expert.” I can’t remember all the details, but I believe one of the points C.C. made was that the field of social media was so new, nobody could lay claim to the title of expert.
Shel Holtz subsequently chimed in with a different opinion. He asked why anyone would want to hire you if you weren’t an expert? The title didn’t necessarily mean that you knew everything about a particular topic, merely that you had acquired a good deal of knowledge to the extent that others could benefit from your “expertise.” Through continued study, thought and action you deepened your knowledge and experience further and in so doing advanced the discipline. On that basis, Shel concluded, C.C. absolutely deserved to call himself a social media expert and should wear that badge proudly.
Despite Shel’s logical argument, there was still something about that word that made C.C. feel uncomfortable. Recently, another podcaster, I think it was Mitch Joel (Six Pixels of Separation) or Heidi Miller (Diary of a Shameless Self-Promoter) — sorry guys, I honestly can’t remember which one of you it was — also expressed reluctance to use the term to describe bloggers and podcasters who advise and comment on social media, saying that generally we don’t like to call ourselves that.
But why not? Is this false modesty? Or is there something more to it? I’m not sure, but I gave it some thought and came up with a few reasons why some of us might still shirk at being called social media experts.
- Social media is indeed new. There isn’t a whole lot of best (or worst) practice upon which we can base our opinions and recommendations. What we normally think of as “expert opinion” derives from a depth and breadth of experience on a subject that in the case of social media simply isn’t there yet.
- Related to this is the ROI question. If we’re talking about social media in the marketing and communications context, a basic component of expertise will be defined by clients as the ability to advise them on what kind of social media initiatives will bring the best return on investment. The parameters of social media ROI and tools for measuring have yet to be adequately defined. Until they are, we will lack a key pillar upon which we can claim expertise.
- The landscape changes so fast. Of course, all fields of knowledge continually develop and change, but that doesn’t stop them from having their experts. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that there are few things that evolve as quickly, as dramatically, and within such short time frames, as social media. It’s hard just to keep up and understand the implications of these changes, much less build a foundation of knowledge and experience that one would traditionally need in order to be considered an expert.
- You can’t be an expert in something as broad and complex as social media. In a previous life, I studied musicology. A musicologist might be an expert on renaissance music, or ethnic music, or jazz, but he or she can’t be an expert on all aspects of music. Social media comprises everything from communities, to corporate blogs, to consumer rating sites — and a whole lot more. Perhaps there’s just too much to social media to say you’re an expert on the entire spectrum of it.
- When the wisdom is in the crowd, who’s an expert? The phenomenon of the wiki and the power of the community is based on the notion that true understanding comes by listening to a range of opinions, interpretations and experiences from different individuals, rather than through the filter of expert opinion . The wisdom of the crowd is at the heart of what makes so much of social media so potent. What is the role of the expert in an online, interconnected world where we can learn so much that is meaningful from the experiences of many different people in situations like ours rather than from traditional experts?
What’s your take on this? Are you comfortable being called a social media expert? Whom do you consider to be today’s true social media experts?