When it comes to social media, probably 4 in 5 people you meet these days are experts. A quick Internet search reveals there are 310 million “social media” experts with 166 million grabbing the “social selling” expert moniker. That’s a lot of experts.
The problem, as I see it, is that “social media” is so big, so broad and so misunderstood that it is tough to pinpoint what expert really means. How do you really know if you are talking to one? Are you talking to someone who leads, follows or just copycat’s the work of others?
It takes 10,000 Hours (or close to it)
Just yesterday I was interviewed for an edition of Top Sales World’s HardTalk podcast series. While talking to Jonathan Farrington about what it means to be an expert, for grins, I had looked up the definition before we got started with the interview. With so much noise being created by self-proclaimed experts, potential customers need a way to determine who’s got the goods and who does not, which might be tough if they aren’t even sure of the questions to ask or what skills to vet.
As defined on Wikipedia, “Experts have a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field.”
While some will argue that you don’t need the 10,000 hours of experience that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers, I happen to believe that demonstrable experience actually matters. Do you think someone with no athletic experience can take up figure skating and within a year be competing in the Olympics? Anything is possible, but I’ve NEVER heard of it happening.
Gladwell said in his book that “the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” If you did nothing else but study, work with clients and practice your craft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you could get there in just over a year. Of course, we all know that isn’t realistic at all. More likely, we are talking in the neighborhood of five years at least. Expert status, I believe, takes time, it takes hard work and especially where social media is concerned, you must be constantly learning and adapting.
Tactics and One Trick Ponies
When it gets right down to it, you know you are talking to someone with social media chops when they demonstrate breadth and depth of knowledge of the various platforms and how they fit together. You may be a really good LinkedIn trainer, but that does not make you a social media (or social selling) expert. Someone who understands social media strategy and how it impacts Sales, Marketing and Service will have a clear sense of best practices, and they will also know where the potential for disaster or failure lies. They will be able to show you the strategic work that they’ve done.
Be wary of one proven process or one way of approaching things. What works for one customer won’t necessarily work for another one. A truly experienced social media player knows that it all begins with strategy and that strategy is crafted after you invest the time to understand the core of a customers business. Tactics come after strategy and not the other way around.
At the end of the day, I suppose it is the way of the world. People latch onto hot ideas and hot terms and want to ride the wave without learning how to surf. But trusting your reputation, your sales and your business to “experts” could be dangerous. You may find out that all they are expert in is taking taking your money.