Who’s afraid of social media gurus?

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.

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • http://womeninbusinessradio.com Michele Price

    Thank you Jim, this diminishing conversation has long bothered me. Seeing a crowd of people all shouting each other down in the name or one-upmenship. It also made it easier for me to see how and where I can stand out from the crowd.

    One of the things that the pervasive content available via our inter-webs has created, are a bunch of copy cats who can “look and somewhat talk the game.” Yet the typical business consumer is not educated to the extent needed, allowing them the ability to quickly identify who is full of gooseberries.

    Time is a factor that can reveal a lot, yet who can or wants to wait a year to see how you handle yourself? Does this mean the responsibility is on the buyer? Does that require them to learn to ask tougher questions? How can this opportunity reveal a better answer? It will be interesting.

    • http://womeninbusinessradio.com Michele Price

      hahhaha just was reminded by @JohnBoyle to make sure we add Divas to that list.

      • jimdougherty

        I might categorize myself a social media diva…. 😉

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks so much Michele! You make great points all, and bring up trust issues valid for any vendors. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • http://www.arielmarketinggroup.com/ Amy McCloskey Tobin

    Were you talking to @Samfiorella last night? Check out his blog. Great post. Down with all gurus!

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks for pointing out Sam’s post – I hadn’t talked to him but it seems like we of similar opinion on this. Appreciate you reading and your comment!

  • http://profiles.google.com/gagasgarden Gaga’s Garden

    Dear Jim,

    I am positive you are at least the 12th most influential blogger I know. That statistic has street Kred. David Hasselhoff, hmmmm, that makes about as much sense as Klout saying at one point my influential topic was Lady Gaga. I was able to have them reconsider. Great post.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks! I consider it all in good fun – if what I write is useful to someone then I’m very happy. As for Lady gaga influence…. you had better watch your review mirror for my three year old. If her music preferences are any indication she is gaining by the day! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/gonzogonzo Frederic Gonzalo

    Well said, Jim.
    I believe it’s somewhat pompous to call oneself a maven, guru, ninja, mogul, jedi or whatever else out there seems to be a couple of notches higher than an “expert”. But do we really need all this finger pointing and highschool playground behavior?

    Yes, social media is a fairly recent field, so there are so-called “experts” that have little hands-on knowledge and may hurt the credibility of this nascent speciality with mistakes. But that’s surely no different than when we had to deal with web experts back in 1995, is it?

    The cream usually rises to the top, and there are ways to validate the claims of experts and ninjas, either through recommendations, case studies or through reading their blog contents over the past years. But in any case, no need to lose blood over this fruitless debate.

    Cheers from Quebec City,

    • jimdougherty

      Great points all Frederic! In any profession in the public realm there is some bombast, I don’t think of it as any more than that. And most of the people who call themselves that take a lot of pride and ownership in their public persona and skill set. Definitely agree about the cream rising to the top and appreciate you reading and commenting!

    • tomdebaere

      Amen to that. I think it also depend on your own expertise level who you judge to be a guru, expert or beginner.

      But as with many things, blowing your own horn is not the way to do it. When you get praised by other people, only then you are becoming a guru.

      Warm regards from Rainy Belgium,


      • jimdougherty

        Thanks Tom,

        Agree with your points – there is a fine line between marketing yourself and self-promotion. Cheers from chilly Cincinnati!

  • http://www.cendrinemarrouat.com/ Cendrine Marrouat

    As I always say: “Stop talking and show us what you are made of instead.” 😉

    • jimdougherty

      Indeed! Actions speak louder than words! Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/kimgarst Kim Garst ツ

    I totally agree with this ““a guru is something someone else calls you, not something you call yourself.”! Great article, Jim!

    • jimdougherty

      Spoken by one of the few people who might be deemed a guru by a consensus of peers! Thanks so much for your comment and for reading, Kim!

  • Christer Edman

    Thanks Jim for an insightful article!

    • jimdougherty

      Appreciate your kind words, Christer! Cheers!

  • http://twitter.com/uponacloud Alessia

    I so love your bio. Anyway, as a young woman trying to find her way out in a field where I can actually make good use of what I learnt at the philosophy faculty I can’t help but thank you wholeheartedly. I always feel the childish need for a rant when I stumble across such people or discussions.
    Self-proclaimed gurus and detractors alike are killing the next generation’s chances to build credibility, and to learn because you need a lot of time to get to find people to actually trust in their suggestions.
    I believe in social media marketing because I see customers more and more want to be active in their choices, but it can’t survive without any basic marketing knowledge. I don’t work exclusively with SM but help out with them and have some good intuitions, and I follow my boss around like a dog asking questions all the time because no matter how many nights I spent reading on my own I never trust my knowledge enough. Some people actually do their best to know their thing and this should be respected. Whether they call themselves experts or not.