AdAge Digital ran an opinion piece recently entitled, “There Are 181,000 Social Media ‘Gurus,’ ‘Ninjas,’ ‘Masters,’ and ‘Mavens’ on Twitter.” In it, the author writes: “a guru is something someone else calls you, not something you call yourself.” Which is serendipitous only because a publisher called the author a “guru” and she included the quote in her biography.
The comments on the post also reflect a hostile, know-it-all attitude towards social media. How dare ANYONE call themselves an expert? Most “experts” will simply put up a Facebook page and a Twitter page. I would put up a Facebook page and Twitter page, but also stick some really great content on the website. There’s a contingent of the community managers / consultants that are quite nasty with each other. And ironically, many tell you that every business needs a personalized strategy while sharing a blanket strategy as evidence.
So I wonder: what is so threatening about social media gurus?
Social media has rendered conventional wisdom irrelevant
In their classic book Positioning, Al Ries and Jack Trout write that people misunderstand advertising and marketing. People believe that either is a “silver bullet” when they are simply a “fog.” They discuss the amount of money investing into advertising and the number of advertising messages that people see in any given year. That was published in 1980.
Thirty-five years later, after the mainstream integration of cable television, personal computers, email, the internet, mobile, smartphones and social media – everyone talks as if that insight is irrelevant. There is definitive return-on-investment to advertising, and if you don’t get return on your social media investment you shouldn’t have hired a self-identified guru. Nevermind that there is far more distraction than Ries and Trout could imagine back in 1980, everyone promises a silver bullet for social media marketing.
Despite the fact that the majority of businesses aren’t using ROI metrics to measure their marketing effectiveness, and despite studies showing email and AdWords to be more effective means to promote sales than social media, social media aspirants continue to promote a flawed value proposition and continue to cannibalize each other. Google “social media consultant” and see how many posts have been dedicated to specific criteria you should use to determine someone to work with (my personal favorites are “must have a Klout score greater than 50” and “must know Polyvore”).
My concern with catty posturing by social media experts is that they’re not perpetuating a realistic expectation of social media and what it can accomplish. Gary Vaynerchuk didn’t talk about ROI or platform-specific outreach in his book The Thank You Economy, he compared the opportunities of social media to the interactions between local businesses and their community. It seems to me that understanding how to fulfill business needs may go beyond having a comprehensive knowledge of social tools: an expert should be able to integrate them with email, AdWords and inbound marketing campaigns. At least, that’s what actual research has shown.
Social media expert smackdowns are quite entertaining. Gurus versus experts versus ninjas in a battle for Pinterest supremacy. Ironically, all of the false posturing and oneupsmanship by community managers may be creating unrealistic expectations that hurt their entire community.
Post-script: I thought back to Rand Fishkin’s great post “Everyone should hire a social media expert” as I wrote this. It is definitely worth another read if you’re prone to diminish the skillset of people who aspire to work in social media.