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I Declare Open Season On Social Media Experts: Closed.

expertOk, enough already.

Isn’t it about time we stop ragging on “social media experts?” I understand the origin of the ridicule; there are marketers, authors and “professional” speakers who seek to leverage “first-to-market” advantage when new technologies, methodologies or processes are introduced, even when little is known about that in which they’re professing to be experts. When social media as a marketing discipline first emerged, many marketers were quick to add social media to their job titles and business cards. Others restructured their advertising businesses to focus on the practice and still others wrote articles, started blogs or published books to establish themselves as subject-matter experts.

The Social Media “Expert” title – along with all its derivatives: guru, ninja, chief people talker, ant colony foreman, etc. – was quickly called out as smoke and mirrors and scorned by most in the profession. How could anyone be an expert in something that’s still evolving, still undefined? Yet, there were many who believed these snake oil salesmen and hired the self-proclaimed experts, read their blogs and bought their books. To be fair, in many cases, expert status (and ridicule) was imposed on some individuals because they dared to be early adopters and share their initial insights and beliefs, even though they never claimed the status. Unfortunately, criticism was levied against those who claimed to be an expert and those who were called experts by others with equal disdain.  It’s become a national pastime and fodder for many blogs.

I agree that the notion of a social media expert – at that time – was ridiculous. If the definition of an expert is someone who has more knowledge or experience than another person on a particular subject, then I guess the criticisms were off-base and we’re all an expert in something. However, that’s not the definition of expert.

Expert [ex*pert]

Noun: A person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.
Adjective: Having or involving such knowledge or skill.

Fast forward to today and criticisms of Social Media Experts are still hurled fast and furious across the socialsphere. Those deemed experts are still the butt of jokes whispered at marketing conferences across the country.  Given the true definition of an expert, isn’t it time we gave up our routine of scorning those who have real expertise? How long does someone have to be involved in the medium before he or she can be considered an expert? Certainly, there are individuals today who have the requisite experience and results to be classified experts.  I can name a handful of marketing and PR professionals who I believe are truly experts in social media. Experts like Danny Brown, Gini Dietrich or Ric Dragon are just a few that come to mind; they’re people that I would hire without hesitation based on what I classify an expert to be.

Let’s give credit where credit is due and not, as the saying goes, “throw the baby out with the bath water.”  It may not yet be acceptable to call oneself a social media expert but they certainly exist today.

Who do you believe is a true social media expert? Share your thoughts below or, if you believe there’s truly no such thing let us know why.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego

Join the Conversation

ginidietrich 5pts

I'm finally here for my real comment instead of egging people on via their comments. Hi Sam! Thank you for the nice compliment! Although I do think Shelly should be your sun and moon instead of it being Danny. All that said... I think it was Malcolm Gladwell who said you become an expert after you have 10,000 hours of time doing the work. The problem that creates the whispers at marketing conferences is a lot of the "experts" are great at the theory, but have never done the work. And, when they're hired to come in and do the work, they fail because what worked for them to build their personal brands doesn't work for organizations. So I think the conversation should present the divide: There are some people who ARE really good at talking about the theory and getting people riled up and motivated to execute. Those people should be paid to speak and write books. And then there are people who are great at taking that theory and making it work inside an organization. Those people should be paid to work with companies. Sometimes those people can cross theory and execution, but not always. But, are they both experts? I'd venture to say yes.

leaderswest 5pts

Hi Sam!  @AmyMccTobin pinged me about this post and I totally agree.  There is such a rich and dynamic body of knowledge around social media, and many people are so skillful about navigating and making inroads in these channels that it shocks me when people are summarily dismissive of a lot of people's expertise.  I used to have a sergeant in the army that loved to share that there are "many ways to skin a rabbit," and though I don't know that first hand, I try to keep my critiques of rabbit skinning to a minimum!  Great post.

SandyAppleyard 5pts

I guess I'm lucky.  So far I've seen nothing but good content from social media marketers.  While all the posts aren't to die for, most of them have really decent tips and topics to discuss.  If I had to complain, I would only say that some material is redundant, otherwise most posts touch on a slightly different angle than the last.  

marksalke 5pts

Hey Sam,


I'm with you. I am reminded of an analogy from my own experience. As a young man, I spent several years in Colorado, working and skiing. Ok, mostly skiing. I became a pretty good skier by hanging with guys that were much better skiers than me. I even came to consider myself somewhat of an 'expert' skier. But skiing expert runs badly does not make one an expert skier. And seeing true experts negotiate those runs, and making it look easy, really drove home the point. So, objectively, I was, all along, probably a 'strong intermediate' skier. Coming to that realization led to this: I began skiing runs that matched my true level of ability and had more fun. And managing my choices of runs to my realistic ability actually made me a better skier.

KyleAkerman 5pts

And I don't think any of the high quality individuals you mentioned refer to themselves as "experts".  


They just prove it every day by teaching and sharing with those that are eager to learn.  


I think many of us can figure out who in the Marketing/PR space have EARNED the title of "expert" even if they don't find it necessary to claim it  publicly.

profkrg 5pts



I'm glad that you wrote about this. I certainly am not a social media expert, however, I am an expert. I am a college professor (for nearly a decade) and am writing my dissertation. I am damn close to being a media expert now, but I won't officially claim the title until I have Dr. before my name (I promise). Still, I dislike the attack on the word "expert." There certainly are people out there in the socialsphere who are experts on various topics. Real, live experts, not Twitter-crowned experts. It seems the only way to tell the difference is to judge their content for yourself, but I really dislike the bashing that goes along with the word. If you're an expert, prove it, but don't be ashamed of it.


Thanks again for writing this.



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jsncruz 5pts

Unfortunately, I witness this too often in my country. Social media is a relatively young industry here - heck, I've been deeply immersed in it for barely a year - but what I have found separates the ones who WILL be experts from those who are currently pretending to be is how much more is one willing to learn compared with the other.


I disdain being called a 'guru' in an atmosphere where there isn't THAT much competition BUT I can say with hard-earned pride that knowledge and 'expertise' are well-deserved prizes for the price of late nights studying, hours and days searching out and bothering experts, as well as continuously learning from clients and managed social assets. I'm certainly no expert, but nothing will stop me from learning from those who are.


The social media geeks I look up to are Ruhani Rabin (Friendster), Jeff Bullas (jeffbullas.com), Dave Kerpen (Likable), and Darren Rowse (Problogger) to name my favorite ones.


Cheers Sam, good insights.

Liz 5pts

Sam, perhaps if some of the individuals who have become 'game' for the game stopped talking and started 'doing,' there would be no need for an endless open season. I like to observe; it's the way that I learn and it allows my creative channels to open up. In social media in particular, I observe a lot of posturing, a lot of self involvement, a lot of ego. I observe claims that are not warranted and titles that have not been earned. And I am not referring to you or Gini or Danny but to many others who spend most of their time making proclamations and less time 'doing.' So long as individuals perpetuate their own myths, open season will continue. 

AmyMccTobin 5pts

I don't know too many fields where people write the word 'expert' out in the descriptions of themselves, but I hear you.  Can we keep the season open on Gurus and Rock Stars?  Or, if these 'Experts' have 123 Twitter followers, can we still ridicule them.And I'm with KRL - what good is Social Media Expertise if you have no business acumen?  It's just a tool - an every changing tool - are people experts in using the phone?   I know a guy who is an 'expert' social media guy... owns a social management company - has zero marketing expertise... guess how well he's doing?Sorry, I just can't stop. 

SocialGamePlan 5pts

I see where you're coming from, but it's hard not to still consider the title mostly a joke when, for every legitimate expert, there are a dozen people who don't have the slightest clue what they're doing yet still call themselves experts.

Social Media Sass
Social Media Sass 5pts

I love this and completely agree! I think what people are attacking out there is when someone who is inexperienced goes around declaring they are a social media expert. Unless you give someone a test or really observe their actions or have worked with them before then you have no idea if they are good at what they do or not. I work with a lot of social media professionals, that is the word I like to use when dealing with people in the field and when referring to myself as well. I think each professional does something exceptionally well over the other, each person has that area that they are the strongest at even though they can all do every aspect of social media. Let the critics talk, the rest of us are busy working and keeping up with the ever changing world that is technology. PS what are you supposed to do when a client asks if you are an expert, say no? Yet that person who is not as good is going to darn well say they are, so think about that.

KRLRose 5pts

Expertise is earned. When we analyse what is happening in social media we can put the critics into two camps. The first are the ones who don't want to put in the work to gain expertise but yet provide a second rate service and basically alleviate people of their hard earned money. They provide social media templates but have no real business expertise or credentials. The use the template as a catch all and for the most part this does not work because the basic level of business analysis has not been completed and they have not developed and understanding of their clients enterprise. They have a couple of wrenches in the tool box and one is broken. There expertise in these situations is baseless. Rightly so they are called to account. 


The second camp are those who do not understand the importance of social media or how specialisms develop within a particular sector, industry or indeed how new tacit knowledge and technological development delivers a paradigm shift that turns competitive markets on there head. The comments we see regularly develop from a lack of knowledge and in some cases ignorance, jealousy and envy. All industries evolve over time, new systems develop and innovation occurs. Sometimes in an incremental fashion but in social media case we see a completely new industry and cultural shift developing that changes the enterprise game completely across all sectors and markets. 


The people you name in this post understand business. They know what is required to build a business and they have deep knowledge of marketing and how it has an impact across all aspects of a business. They have built there expertise on sound foundations and as a result they are able to grasp the impact of these changes and build new skills sets that are complementary. And indeed create completely new business models and services. Simply they deserve the title expert. 


I could go on but don't want to clog up this blog with any more words. The last point however needs to be made. You left one person out his name is Sam Fiorella. I have massive respect for you Sam, Gini, Danny and Ric you have deep expertise and understanding. It shows through in everything you write and do. And you deserve to be called Experts. 


Best to you all. 




RicDragon 5pts

Thanks, Sam, for including me among the good-guys.  I subscribe to the notion that we're all students, and some of us even possess expertise. And even if we've done our 10,000 hours, in a field that is so liquid, we're STILL going to be students. For me, it's a dream job :-)

jvmedia 5pts

I think because there's no set industry standards for social media marketing that it's easier for this to happen. I have a number of clients who go to conferences in their respective field (or go to a local business group and hear a speaker) and inevitably there will be a "social media guru" there who fills them up with a ton of, basically, misinformation (or old information) that I then have to try to undo the damage of. For instance, I had a client come to me saying that they heard a "social media expert" say to, "automate all of your social media!" and tell people that it will, "run itself". It's easy for someone to write an ebook, put up a website and get speaking jobs at small industry conferences or local business groups by claiming "expert" status, so how do we tell the charlatans from the legit, experienced people right off the bat? It's hard even for me to tell, unless I take the time to explore what they're actually saying, and this overlaps into my industry (design). I know who the major players are but my clients don't. I imagine it's even harder for the client to discern the real, experienced marketing people from the people just trying to make a quick buck simply by looking at their website or reading an ebook, because to someone without prior knowledge, something like, "automating your social marketing" sounds like a fantastic idea. 


I do believe you're right in that the people that have worked to establish themselves in this field, have proven track records, etc. should not be subject to this. And it's doubtful if anything can actually be done about the self-proclaimers proliferating the internet, but I'm a believer that client (and potential client) education can be very helpful. Writing blogs about the types of things to look for in a social marketer, what actually is out-dated information and what's current, etc. could go a long way to establish some standards and help people interested in the services to hire more qualified people.  

Danny Brown
Danny Brown 5pts

Good points, Samwise. I'll be one of the first to admit, I've been as guilty as anyone on questioning people - but I think that was more from frustration that people were buying into faux knowledge as opposed to the actual action. But, you know, it's true what they say - do what you do, do it well, and mostly good stuff will follow regardless of what's happening elsewhere and with who.


And for the record, I'd agree with your choices (and thank you for the nod, sir) and add the likes of @shellykramer , @maddiegrant , @davefleet , @geofflivingston , @adamsinger and you to that list, amongst a few. Because that's the kicker - it's the people doing real work and just getting on with it that are the true business experts, and the tag of being called a SM expert probably wouldn't appeal to them anyhoo. :)


  1. […] As it’s sharply highlighted in this article ¹: ”How could anyone be an expert in something that’s still evolving, still […]

  2. […] Ok, enough already.Isn’t it about time we stopragging on “social media experts?” I understand the origin of the ridicule; there are marketers, authors and “professional” speakers who seek to leverage “first-to-market” advantage when new technologies, methodologies or processes are introduced, even when little is known about that in which they’re professing to be experts. When social media as a marketing discipline first emerged, many marketers were quick to add social media to their job titles and business cards. Others restructured their advertising businesses to focus on the practice and still others wrote articles, started blogs or published books to establish themselves as subject-matter experts.  […]