I have a hunch that this headline will solicit more than a few defensive guffaws. You see, I’m friendly (both on Twitter and IRL) with several intelligent, passionate people who make their living as social media experts. And if I have the audacity to claim their job titles — if not expertise as a whole — is non-existent, then what am I really saying about them?
Slow down, cowboy. Without question, there are a number of people whose knowledge of social media concepts far exceeds that of the average user…and certainly a fair amount whose comprehension dwarfs my own. I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s intelligence, research abilities nor his or her means of making a living; I’m just wary of self-proclaimed experts. And here’s why…
According to the Harvard Business Review, the phrase “social media” is used three ways in modern communications:
- As an umbrella term that covers all uses of the new social technologies — aka social collaboration, community collaboration and social computing.
- As a term for environments on the Web — aka social Web, collaborative Web, ReadWrite Web and Web 2.0 — referring to social sites open to the general public.
- As a term for environments created by non-Web organizations to enhance collaboration between employees or between a business and its customers, prospects, suppliers, etc. — aka Enterprise 2.0, social business, social enterprise and social organization.
No matter which definition resonates with you, what do they all have in common? I’ll tell you: they all agree that social media is about new and evolving technology. I submit that if a concept is still evolving, who amongst us can be so arrogant as to suggest we are an expert?
Let me put it another (potentially offensive) way: calling oneself a “social media expert” in October 2011 is akin to calling oneself an expert on Christianity in 33 AD. Sure, Jesus’ disciples knew the man and his teachings better than anyone, but the Christian religion would not become something anyone could fully understand and appreciate for years – perhaps decades or centuries – later.
My premise, then, is that social networking is so new that no one has accumulated enough experience and information to be a true expert. Much like Jesus’ disciples had insights that dwarfed those of their peers, so do many of today’s “social media experts” understand methodology, ROI and more better than the masses. But relative expertise does not an expert make, just like proximity to Jesus did not a Christian leader make.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe one’s “expertise” can and should only be evaluated in the context of his or her peers. But I believe that as long as there’s more to learn, none of us should brand ourselves as experts – in social media, religion, sports, politics or a thousand other subjects. And I believe that we should always be wary of anyone’s expertise if their knowledge of the past or present represents as small a sample size as what’s currently available about social media.
Call me a skeptic. I’ve been called worse…and if you make a living as a social media expert, I’ve likely just called you something much more hurtful.