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We have moved to Wordpress! Posted by Jason Links to this post The Recruiting Front Lines has evolved. At the beginning of the year, I changed jobs within my company, moving away from Outreach and Education, and into my new role as Director of Business Development. While I remain closely involved with our field activity, I am now more focused on strategic partnerships, social media, and the world of internet recruitment resources. As I have made this change, the focus of my blog content has also changed. Recently, I began to feel that many of the ideas I had for blog posts would not fit within the framework of The Recruiting Front Lines. This was a cause of some frustration, as I felt that I was either misrepresenting my content with the title of my blog, or that I was stifling my writing because I felt it didn't fit. To rectify this situation, I have created a new blog home, now on WordPress. I am still ironing out the wrinkles, but feel that it is far enough along that I can move all my past content, and begin posting all new content, at the new address. I would like to formally welcome everyone to come check out my new home at I can't wait to hear what you think! Best Regards, and Thank you for your time and attention over the past 18 months. Jason

Jun 8, 2009

The Social Media Expert: Modern American Carpetbagger

I have been bombarded over the past few months by email solicitations to attend presentations or webinars, buy books, and contract consulting services from "leading social media experts". As someone who regularly spends time in the Social Media world, I've learned just enough to know when people are selling me snake oil. I've also gained just enough insight to know which questions to ask, and to identify very questionable proclamations made by these s0-called experts.

With such a new resource, can there truly be any EXPERTS in this area? I would say the answer is absolutely not. There are many who have more experience than others, but even the most experienced "social media expert" has less than a decade under their belt, and for the first half of that time, the landscape was completely different. In truth, what we're seeing is people with expertise or experience in related fields quickly assigning themselves the title of Undisputed Heavyweight Social Media Champions of the World (boxing fans, you know how to read that aloud)!

At it's essence, this is the same model of carpetbaggers in America at the end of the 19th century. Before we move on, here's a quick definition from Wikipedia (bold and italics added by author for emphasis) :

The term carpetbaggers was used to describe the northern Republican politicians who came South, arriving with their travel carpetbags. Southerners considered them ready to loot and plunder the defeated South.[1] Although the term is still an insult in common usage, in histories and reference works it is now used without derogatory intent.

In modern usage in the United States, the term is sometimes used derisively to refer to a politician who runs for public office in an area in which he or she is not originally from and/or has only lived for a very short time.

This seems to hit the nail on the head. As people move into the new social media space, particularly when they're focused on business development, they are coming from somewhere else, bringing their past expertise, morals, and life lessons with them. This is critical to understand, as you encounter or explore working with an outside vendor to help develop your social media strategy.

Where did they come from?

What preconceptions are they bringing with them?

What do they know about YOUR business environment/market?

Are they truly more qualified than your internal resources?

Before attending workshops, purchasing white papers, or paying a consultant with social media expertise, be sure to execute your due diligence. Here's a few ideas to consider BEFORE you enter a relationship with a "social media expert":

  1. Identify your own 30,000 foot view of what a social media strategy should be.
  2. Include a list of results of this activity you expect to realize- 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years out.
  3. Define internally your WHY- why are you doing this, why is it worth your time and money?.
  4. Determine who your internal auditors will be- who will be reviewing the strategy to ensure it's the right plan for your company.
  5. What are 2 or 3 or 4 absolute MUST HAVE's for an outside consultant? (3 plus years industry experience, proven results of 3 or more successes with different businesses, 3 plus years experience with using a specific platform such as facebook, experience with online video, web design, etc, for example)
  6. How much autonomy and control are you willing to give over to an outside consultant. That is, will they lead and you follow, or will you work collaboratively to build a strategy.
I've included these only as a starter to get your think tank juices flowing. The list of due diligence questions you'll assemble will be specific to your company, your internal resources, and your goals. By starting out with this self exploration, you'll be better equipped to wade through the bog of experts to find your Bacopa amplexicaulis!

To get an idea of just how overwhelmed the social media landscape has become with so called experts, I include the following link:
GOOGLE Search Results for "Social Media Networking Expert"


Scott Social Media Allen said...

I respectfully disagree.

For one thing, it doesn't take 10 years to become an expert in something. In the face of rapidly changing technology, there are very few fields in the tech industry in which 10 years of experience is relevant. Can someone be a "Ruby on Rails" expert, when the technology hasn't even existed 10 years? I think so.

There certainly are some carpetbaggers - people billing themselves as social media experts who probably shouldn't be. But there's a pretty long list of people who have earned the moniker too.

I won't go into all the details here, but I make my own case at Social Media Is My Middle Name. Decide for yourself.

Social media didn't appear out of nowhere. And just like people with a strong software development background, regardless of language, has a leg up on being a Ruby on Rails expert, so too does anyone with a business communication, PR, marketing, online community, journalism, or any of several other fields, have a leg up on learning social media.

Of course, some people come in thinking they can simply port what they do in those other fields over to social media, and the results are often disastrous. That doesn't mean they have to throw out everything they know.

Good communication is still good communication. Good networking is still good networking. Good copywriting is still good copywriting. Good community leadership is still good community leadership.

The fundamental skills that help people excel at social media are timeless.

Jason said...

Scott- thank you for the very thoughtful opposing view point. I agree that there are tremendous resources, and as you say, many more traditional fields of expertise have relevant skills that are applicable to the world of social media. I do still believe that businesses must carefully vet potential resources.

Pauly Singh said...

Jason, you're definitely right about their being a huge increase in the number of people out there claiming to be social media experts. But I guess it's like any other industry where there's a mix of good and bad. There are probably more snake oil salesmen in the Search Engine Optimization industry and that's over 10 years old!

The best medicine is what you recommended: read up on the basics of social media and then create some measurable guidelines and questions which you can use in the evaluation process of working with a "social media expert".

Scott Social Media Allen said...

No question that businesses should be careful about vetting potential resources. How do you suggest they do so if they're not social media savvy themselves?

Traditional methods of credential checking kind of fall apart in social media. No one has a degree in it. There's no certification board. There's not even a well-established professional society.
And everyone has a blog, and published authors in the field are a dime a dozen.

Also, I know a lot of people take issue with "self-proclaimed" social media experts. I have to wonder about a social media expert who doesn't self-proclaim it. Part of the benefit of social media marketing is improved search engine rankings. How do you think people hire social media experts? A *lot* of people search on Google for them. If you don't self-proclaim as a "social media expert", what do you think the odds are of being found on Google as one?

And furthermore, shouldn't you be demonstrating to potential clients that you understand the SEO impact of social media?

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