When is an expert not an expert?

Oct 13, 2010 by

Any one who knows me in the world of Social Media knows that I am an absolute addict when it comes to Twitter.  I have built my business on the back of a combination of hard work, and a social media presence.However, as much of an advocate as I am of Social Media, I am hugely disappointed by the number of ‘experts’ selling themselves as Social Media experts, who then fail to deliver to clients.

Connecting Young Leaders Conference -  October 2, 2010
Creative Commons License photo credit: US Embassy New Zealand

The more people I connect with on Social Media the more horror stories I hear.

So what makes an expert? I am not an expert in Social Media, I just happen to have found a way of using it that I am comfortable with, and have listened to how the people I admire and respect have used it.  So if I was looking for a Social Media expert what would I want to see? This is my own personal view, and I would be more than happy to hear your comments on how you define an expert.

  • Do they have their own Social Media accounts?
  • Do they advertise their Social Media connections with WORKING links
  • Do they USE their Social Media accounts?
  • Twitter:
    • Do they have a profile photo?
    • Have they completed their bio?
    • Do they tweet ‘personal’ information?
    • Do they engage in conversation?
    • Do they share knowledge freely?
    • Do they participate or do they just broadcast?
    • Who do they follow? Do they engage with their followers?
    • If you follow them do they respond personally or with an automated direct message?
  • LinkedIn:
    • Is their profile up to date?
    • When did they last update their status (not just a twitter stream link)?
    • Do they have recommendations in the relevant fields?
    • Which groups are they a member of and do they contribute?
  • Facebook:
    • Do they have a facebook business page or just a personal page?
    • Do they update it regularly?
    • Have they got a customised welcome page?
    • What sort of following do they have?

These are just my criteria to help me decide whether I would feel someone was practicing what they preach.  It’s no good telling you how you should do things if they don’t lead by example.  The two people who have most influenced my social media activity have both led by example, they have made a success of their existing businesses through using Social Media well, not just set up stall as an expert, and selling Social Media training as their only apparent field of business.

I read a very interesting blog the other week by Lesley Aveyard from Conversation Matters, which was about Trust Agents.  What is sad  is that on an almost weekly basis I am hearing similar stories from other sources.

If this blog is your first introduction to Social Media and you are looking for assistance I would suggest that you ask friends or colleagues for recommendations, ask the proposed supplier for references, examples of work, and ask what results have previously been achieved for other clients.   Social Media is different for everyone, we all have different ways of using it, have different expectations from it.  A good advisor will be able to help you monitor your brand or business, so that you can respond to customer feedback, they will help you identify the areas in Social Media where your clients hang out, and suggest strategies that can help you strengthen your Social Media presence.

A lot of companies feel that they don’t need to be in the Social Media arena, that’s a personal choice.  What I can say from experience is that my presence on Social Media has had a huge and positive impact on my business.  Understanding Social Media is not an overnight thing, and I would also suggest that it is a constant learning curve as well.  What I have found is that through the use of Social Media I have gained new clients, made new friends, found a new audience for my writing, learned an awful lot from the generously shared knowledge, and found some excellent suppliers of services as well.

I would be very interested to hear your impressions of Social Media, and how it has benefited you or your business, your best practice and the things that you don’t like about it.


  1. This is a really useful article for me. I am new to the world of Social Media and have been fortunate to have been introduced to people who are using social media “expertly”. By modelling their practices and devouring the information you are all providing, I am thoroughly enjoying my new learning. I find the generosity so refreshing. Thanks.

  2. Great post Helen and one that gives some practical tips on precisely what to look for.

    I’m often surprised that forums, blogs, youtube, flickr and other things get missed out so does this mean that people are really saying they are a “heavy twitter user” rather than a SM expert?

    I get approached to do lead generation for social media consultants courses and services and take a hard line with some I’m afraid and refuse to do it. There seems to be quite a lot of people jumping on the leadership and development grant bandwagon too promising SM courses for £500 a pop paid for by the government where people don’t know any different and end up using a SM supplier whose presence online is pretty grim. Shame.

  3. Helen

    That’s a really valid point Maxine, I obviously do use blogs and forums myself and still didn’t think about including them. Social Media really is the whole internet presence, and I also think that it should be supported with real networking as well where possible and where relevant.

  4. PhilippaB

    I agree with what you’ve said Helen. one of my pet hates is the peole who ask for help getting follwers & then don’t follow back, or dump them all when they get to what ever magic number they’re trying to achieve.
    I also worry if people call themselves “experts” in SM. Its an evolving tool which is new to all of us. There are those who use the tools very effectively & who I am happy to listen to & learn from. And then there are those who try to force their opinions & way of doing things onto everyone they know

  5. I hate the term social media expert and god forbid someone calling themselves a guru. Social media changes so quickly that no one can really can themselves and expert, and what works for one might not work for another, if your audience is not on Facebook why have page? if they don’t use Twitter then why waste your time. Social media is so much more than Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, so called experts seem to ignore that. I’d recommend anyone checking out what innocent smoothies are doing, not just online but in the wider world, it will give you a better understanding of what good social media is all about

  6. Right on the money.

    Maybe (more fool me) but people are selling (and expensively at that) what most people who have commented do day-in day out.

    Maybe its a bandwagon thing – maybe just maybe – such people will get bitten when folks realise that what Helen says is right – it’s the whole way you conduct yourself – not just a few badges and buttons on a site.

    (Maxine – do you really look like that ? I knew I was doing the right thing taking your calls…)


  7. Jonathan, of course I look like that but with better roots! 🙂

  8. Just off to tell my wife that the dirty blonde I met online is bogus…

  9. Here’s a good one: Is what they do with Social Media what you want to do with Social Media?
    E.g. I know for some people they focus purely on making a name for themselves and spending a lot of time doing that. That’s a great strategy, but it won’t work for you if you can’t invest that time. You need to find someone who’s strategies you can emulate and replicate. (AKA: Can I be Brad Burton and would I want to be – as amusing as he is? No!)

    And the really big toughie – and I ask this of all the experts I hire:
    How much money do you make out of using these strategies?
    And a lot of people will fluff and say “I don’t do it for the money, I do it because it’s fantastic to help people/expand my influence/build relationships/I couldn’t possibly reveal where my income comes from etc” But the fact is, they’re charging for this advice, so it has to have a monetary return for you. And if they aren’t able to be open about what they make using those strategies, it means one of two things:
    They aren’t measuring it (so they aren’t very good at marketing)
    or they aren’t making any money out of it.

  10. Helen

    I think they are two of the best questions I have heard Caroline. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Good post.

    The key is in the name of what it is Social Media, not just twitter/ facebook / youtube etc, but actually using media effectively to engage with the customers. Its about being innovative and daring using these technologies as they are all new in the grand scheme of things.

    Social Media experts that teach you how to use twitter and facebook with out the backing of a solid well thought out campaign are really falling short in my opinion.

  12. Helen, brave and good point to make. I’ve always believed that if you claim to be good at something, you’d better demonstrate that you are good at it. You see those web designers who tell you all about the importance of your web presence and then say “Our site is a bit of mess but I will get round to finishing it…”? Walk away. They don’t believe what they’re peddling.

    People can get very spiky when you point out that they’re failing to embody that which they claim to be experts in. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve given copywriters feedback about the typos, spelling mistakes or bad grammar on their home pages – only to get a snotty reply back.

    I take delight in testing people at all levels to see if they live up to what they preach. SEO ‘experts’ are great for this. They claim to be able to get your site high up in the Google search results for a particular competitive key phrase relevant to your customers. So ask them what their keywords are and test them on those. If they say ‘SEO services Oxford’ search Google for that phrase and see where they come in the search results. If you don’t see their site there or, worse, if they won’t tell you what their key phrases are (usually to avoid you testing them) steer clear of them.

    It’s not being tough or nasty; it’s ‘due diligence’ and every self-proclaimed expert in anything should expect to be tested in this way.


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