“How to become a social media expert” is one of the most asked questions by communications professionals today; just Google it, you’ll see. I’ve come across it in Linkedin’s “Answers” section quite a few times myself, and so I figured I’d take the time to write up a real answer…
It’s a Question Worth Considering
We’re a full decade into the 21st century, and the social media craze is changing the world as public relations professionals know it, day by day. Once-traditional full-service agencies and independent consulting firms are now beginning to dive in headfirst, fully embracing technology to develop strategic campaigns of a strangely new breed, based upon social dynamics and user interaction.
Maybe ten years ago most account executives would have snickered at the mention of a “tweet,” for example, but not in 2010. Now, this somewhat silly word represents an integral piece of some very real marketing strategies that can get results. Twitter, Digg, Youtube, Facebook… there is potential out there.
As of two weeks ago, Facebook‘s very own “Like” button is on more than 350,000 sites across the web, up 200,000 from only two months before. Public relations executives and clients alike are beginning to realize that the ROI potential from a good social media PR and marketing campaign is virtually limitless.
And with that realization, an entire generation of young, “new-breed” PR professionals is emerging. Their aim: to become as well-versed in social media as possible, to offer agencies and clients what they need to succeed using this new technology. And they’re smart to develop their skills here; their careers possibly will eventually depend on it. And so, the question inevitably comes about…
“How do I become a Social Media Expert?”
First things first: let’s get rid of that term, unless you’ve got an MBA in “new media,” or the like.
Right off the bat, I must confess upfront: I’m not really a fan of using the term “expert,” especially in reference to anything having to do with social media. Perhaps I’ve run into more than my fair share of so-called “SM experts” on Twitter…
You know the type: those consultants that seem to supply an endless barrage of direct messages, eagerly encouraging you (read: spamming you) to purchase their “services”, which all too often consist of not much more than a basic Facebook page set-up.
Hear me out, fellow PR professionals: very few SM users are really experts.
According to Pete Cashmore, CEO and Founder of tech icon Mashable.com, as of January 2010, there are 15,000+ “social media experts” parading around ‘Twitterville’. Now sure, some of them really know their stuff. But 15,000? Come on. The social media industry is very young, and evolving too fast for any of us to have guru-like knowledge.
Need an example? Myspace, one of the first social networks to reign supreme for a few years, but then fall into relative obscurity (at least in the eyes of most “serious” and “professional” social media marketers, with the exception being musicians.) Sure, you might think you know everything about Myspace, and the site’s interface has been outdated for some time now… but could you really call yourself an Myspace “expert,” when they just recently drastically overhauled the site? There are new things to learn there now. Food for thought.
Social media changes on a minute-by-minute, hourly basis. What you might know today could be totally irrelevant tomorrow; Facebook’s constant changes have proven that much. You need to be up on the latest info, for your client’s sake.
In other words…
Terms like “guru” and “expert” are very strong words, and are most likely not suggestive of your true abilities. If you’re going to call yourself a “Social Media Expert,” at least have an advanced degree or professional certification in it.
And if you’re a “Social Media Consultant”, and Facebook and Twitter is all you know, think again as well: you’re most likely lying to your clients and to yourself. That might’ve worked three years ago, but it’s 2010 now, and there are hundreds of social media websites out there. It’s great to know about the big ones, but you need to be at least ‘on speaking terms’ with a good number of them before you take anyone’s money.
Think about it: how else are you going to explain to your clients why one site is better for their needs than another similar one? You gotta know your stuff, for your client’s sake, and yours.
To be a real public relations professional, you must realize that serving your client’s needs and upholding your professional reputation trumps making a quick buck. Always.
Word to the wise? Give up the “expert” personal branding puffery, and worry about what’s really important: helping your client succeed. Remember, you owe it to yourself. Your reputation as a PR professional depends on it, and that should be worth more than a few dollars under an arguable title.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Join the discussion and share your thoughts below.