Beware of the Social Media Expert

Even though social media pervades our lives, and has done so for about the last ten years, I remember when my physical address book was the connection between me and the outside world. You know, that thing that you wrote in with a pencil (if you were smart) because penning through an old telephone number or address was a waste of space. That’s also what highly organized individuals consulted if they wanted to recall a birthday. The advent of LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook quickly changed the landscape of networking and organization and, as a side effect, the way that we market ourselves and our businesses. Obviously, social media is new and it’s changing and evolving every minute. So, how are there so many social media experts, given that we all (ok, all of us that were born before 1990) remember a time in the not so distant past when social media didn’t exist? Or, at least, it didn’t exist in this pervasive sort of way. Given that so many of the social media platforms have only been around for a few years (and sometimes less), if we follow Malcolm Gladwell’s approach to how it is that one might develop expertise, then we buy into the notion that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice, or 10 years, to develop the level of proficiency required to be deemed an “expert” and that’s with diligent practice toward a goal of mastering a subject. Even if we assume that the so-called social media “experts” spend more than the average person on social networking sites–where the average person spends about 15 hours a month on Facebook (, 2012), let’s say “experts” spend 15 hours a week–it would take them over 11 years to master, and in the early years of social networking, very few people spent close to that number of hours on social media. In addition, how could they possibly master nuances of the websites that have only been introduced in the last several months, such as promoting a post on Facebook? So, I’m here to break down the third wall and tell you: there are no (or very few) true social media experts when it comes to business. Social media is still about trial and error. There are a few rules of thumb that are generally agreed upon (e.g. be present, conversational, positive and reflective of your brand), but outside of that, there are no sure-fire statistics because every industry and market varies. So beware of the social media “expert.” Look for companies that ask thoughtful questions about your industry and your brand, invest in education so they can stay on top of the newest features of social networking, would respond to criticism in a way with which you feel comfortable, and know with what features of social media marketing to stay consistent and where to try new things.