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The Problem I Have with Social Media Experts
Last week I was introduced to a room of networkers, right before I gave a talk about social media. I was introduced like this:
“… Thanks for joining us this morning. Our talk this morning is not from a ‘social media expert’ – our talk is from Todd …”
I wasn’t expecting such an honest welcome but I knew exactly where Ian, my introducer and fellow networker, was coming from.
Here’s the thing…
Everyone can be called an expert in anything… if they say they are.
You can be an expert in baking if you make a cake. You can be expert on cars if you’ve changed the oil in your car. You can be a social media expert if you can update Facebook and you know what a hashtag is.
It’s fine. We all do it.
But there’s a problem I have with social media ‘experts’.
Social media ‘experts’ are like locusts.
They’re like those annoying wasps on the first day of summer.
They turn up, unannounced and unpractised, and start telling people how to use social media and what they should be doing.
They share blogs from social media examiner, Buffer and other social media bloggers – but they don’t read them themselves (you can tell from their own social output).
They rock up and start telling anyone who will listen that they know how to help social media improve your business and make you loads of money…
Social media ‘experts’ are two-a-penny, and there’s a very simple reason why:
The entry level for a social media ‘expert’ or ‘guru’ (which is a higher rank of tosser on the scale) is very VERY low.
In fact the kids I spoke to in a school last week are probably more qualified than most ‘experts’.
Basically it seems if you have the brains to sign up to Twitter and follow someone then you’re an ‘expert’.
If you got more than 10 likes on your Instagrammed breakfast then you’re a ‘guru’.
If you have more than 100 likes on Facebook then you’re basically the same as Jon Loomer and you can save us all from running our social media train into the ground.
No. No you can’t.
And the reason I know this is because your own social media sucks.
It’s really bad output.
You have no followers talking to you on Twitter.
No one likes your awful Facebook memes.
I know that you signed up to Google+ because you read about it somewhere (no one circled you because you got bored).
Just because you can log in to social media doesn’t mean you know how to make it work for business and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can charge people, people that other social media agencies could really help.
Oh… by the way. That’s not why they annoy me.
They’re not a threat.
They’re more like a wasp in my pint!
They’re the bluebottle in my office.
They’re simply people that will unfortunately network when I’m not there, go on Twitter when I’m busy, and share other people’s content when I’m busy working.
They will undoubtedly be doing that right now while you’re reading this.
But I feel sorry… no, I feel irritated for the companies who trust them. I feel like I should tell them that these people are like a mechanic with a broken car or a plumber with a dripping tap.
Their own output is so awful they probably need other social media professionals to help fix it.
I’ve been using social media since 2009 (I’m by no means an early adopter) but I do know how to use it
I went on the accelerated growth train for social media. I used it for a small business for years. I’ve taught businesses how to use it for more than four years and those businesses HAVE had better business thanks to me. They told me so. The stats told me too.
The reason I loved that introduction to my talk last week was that the guy who introduced me hit the nail right on the head.
He said this:
“… Todd is not an ‘expert’ – he knows everything you need to know about social media as he actually uses it!”
Social media is like training for a sport, you see.
You have to do it to be good at it.
You can’t do a bit and win the race.
You can’t read a book about it and then run the fastest time or score all the goals.
You have to fail.
You have to cock up.
You have to constantly test what works and what doesn’t to stay on top of your game.
I do that.
I use it constantly.
(And yes, I cock up too.)
Throw the social media ‘expert’ to the lions
I was at a conference once and there was a social media ‘expert’ there.
I had seen from the event’s marketing email he was going to give a talk so I looked him up.
Yup… he was crap.
By crap I mean he had no fans, followers or anything interesting going on. His blog wasn’t updated much and his Twitter stream had tumbleweed all over it. To me, that’s a bit crap.
I was going anyway so I decided listen to him. Jo told me I had to stay quiet. She told me I shouldn’t say anything.
I listened (for once) and I stayed quiet.
I listened to the drivel that came out of his uneducated gob and I corrected him in my own thoughts when he told everyone that tweets were 160 characters long (they’re 140) whilst he read every word from his trusty PowerPoint.
(That’s another interesting point, actually. So before I tell you about his talk I’ll explain it…)
The great thing about PowerPoint for any speaker is that you can spend hours researching the topic and put all the answers on the screen. Then all you need to do is read the slides – Boom! – you’re an expert (… thanks to Google).
Of course that’s all well and good until it comes to the best part of a presentation. For me, my favourite part of any talk that I give is the questions at the end.
I love this part because I get to hear what the people I’m talking to really want to know about (not what I want them to know from my talk).
So back to that talk. We got to the Q&A part of the presentation.
The social media expert didn’t have all the answers to the random question as they’re weren’t on his slides.
Oh dear… the lions are coming!
Someone from the audience asked:
“How many people have to retweet you for you to trend on Twitter?”
A valid but ‘how long is a piece of string’ question, but a question you can answer with some knowledge and insights or even an opinion based on experience.
Unfortunately this speaker froze and admitted they had no idea.
I couldn’t contain my silence anymore and explained (to the person who asked the question) that trending on Twitter is all relative to what else is happening on Twitter at that time. You can trend locally more easily than nationally and that although there’s not an actual number, I did once trend on Twitter for an hour nationally thanks to 100s of retweets in a very short space of time. (I was lucky though. Usually it takes huge traction and interest.)
Jo was a bit cross I butted in, but I had done so well to stay quiet during the LinkedIn false statements and poor talk about Facebook. It just kinda came out.
This situation doesn’t happen often though.
You don’t get the chance to catch them out often.
You might not be so lucky.
Your time is so valuable – don’t waste it on self-professed experts
Social media experts are a closely-guarded beast and they keep their lack of knowledge hidden well.
That’s a shame for anyone who decides to hire them or trust them.
It’s a shame for me and my social media peers (yes, there are some great people locally who know what they’re doing!) who actually know how to help.
And it’s obviously a waste of the businesses time too.
I changed a tap once. I felt the achievement of success and I’ve offered help to my family since when they also had a leaking tap. But I don’t profess to be a plumber.
I’ve been running a business for around two years now and it’s going really well. But I’m not about to become a business mentor or coach… they train for years to be accredited.
“It takes 1000 hours of practice before you can be really good at anything.”
I feel that it’s too easy to think you’re an expert and it seems very easy to get into positions where people will listen to you based on your self-professed expertise.
No one needs to say:
“Hey, they’re an expert.”
I guess that’s the same for me too. I just started using it. I have no qualifications. I just “know everything (well not everything) you need to know about social media” like Ian said, and yes – I actually use it!
So what do you need to do?
Who do you choose to run your social media? Who do you ask to speak at your event? Who do you recommend in your networking groups and online conversations?
Well here’s a simple tick sheet to spot a social media faker a mile off.
- Check their own social media. It really is that simple. If they’re an expert (or actually know a thing or two) then they’ll have a good account that’s constantly updated and has a good following or fan base. You can’t fake what you can Google. Check Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram and the other main or relevant sites to the area that you’re in. Numbers don’t matter but if they’ve tweeted less than 100 times in a year it might be an indication that they’re not that bothered.
- Read their blog. In social media, blogging is highly regarded as one of the most important parts of online marketing. If your expert doesn’t update their blog or doesn’t have one then tread carefully.
- Ask for recommendations. Who have they made big things happen for? Who have they worked with and what have they done in the past that was brilliant and ground-breaking thanks to social media? Tip: don’t ask their Mum or best mate – ask someone who’s paid them with actual hard-earned money!
- Message them on their favourite channel. If they tweet, reply or comment back in a timely fashion then you’ll know that they believe in the tools they teach and they’re on the ball.
- Ask them something. Test them on something you know the answer to or ask them their opinion on an issue you have with social media. What they say should give you a good idea of their knowledge. Ask them about the Facebook algorithm or the new Twitter cards. Get them to explain Google+… actually don’t do that… not even serious social media experts know that! 😉
Don’t take anything for granted though is my only ask.
Question who you work with… and I’m not saying that so you work with me.
I don’t mind if you don’t choose me.
I really don’t mind if you choose someone else over me as long as they’re good at it.
I want what I’ve always wanted – a fair deal for businesses with social media.
I’ll tell you a short story to finish…
Years ago I was working for a small business and running their social media.
(I say running – I created it from scratch as I knew they needed it.)
Whilst I was ‘running’ Twitter for this company I came across many accounts that were run by marketing companies.
I hated them.
I thought it was so fake and insincere and I used to rant about it on Twitter all the time.
I’ve obviously become one of those companies now, but I’ve always made sure I don’t become a robotic 9am-5pm operation like the ones I hated so much back then.
Anyway, I started training small businesses to use social media. I wanted the small businesses to use it themselves. I was trying to stop them falling into the hands of businesses who ran boring, dry and cold social media accounts.
I charged £20 a head for a morning’s workshop and it was really just to give it some merit… I would’ve happily done them for free (I still love training now).
The reason I set up those workshops was the same reason that I’m writing this post. There were very poor quality workshops and services being offered or worse, some dodgy seminars with price tags of over £500 a head for a day.
I didn’t want (and still don’t want) businesses to waste their time and money on them.
Your time and money is important.
Your time even more so.
A day in a business is so valuable and I even thank people for reading our emails as I know how valuable time is.
Your time reading this is valuable too, so thank you.
Fast forward four years and I’m still running workshops but they’re bigger and better and packed full of way more information. I’m now being invited into boardrooms across the country to help businesses make the most of their online voice and presence.
I still have that core focus on offering value to the people who come to my workshops. The price went up (I have an accountant, a bookkeeper and VAT to pay) but I still love running them and engaging businesses in social media.
It’s the same with talks, webinars, blogs and even tweets. I just want you to be good at social. Yes, you!
I worry that too many people just see it as a way to make easy money out of you because it’s the ‘latest thing’. We prefer to educate our clients so they understand why we do what we do.
So don’t pick me because I suggested it.
Check me out.
Hear me talk.
Google me or ask other people (I won’t mind).
You should never assume anything because that makes an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me’, remember?
All I ask is that you don’t make a rash decision based on someone else’s opinion of themselves.
Hire a speaker that knows their tweets from their +1s and get someone to run your Facebook who really knows what makes people click, like and share… but ultimately buy from the business who updates the status (that kinda matters, too).
The problem I have with social media experts should not be the problem you have with them, ok?
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