According to B.L. Ochman, there are now nearly 16,000 social media “experts” on Twitter (up from 4,487 in May 2009). Peter Shankman (@skydiver) had a great post a while ago (Is Your Social Media Expert Really an Expert?) that featured a list of things to look for in a social media professional. It’s a riff Brian Solis (@briansolis) has hit on as well.
Measuring expertise is a challenge because the concept is so new, there isn’t really a way for higher education to credential experts (and even if they could – given the “glacial” pace at which degree programs are approved it would certainly be outdated by the first graduating class). It’s also not easy to parse out from job titles or an employment history. Perhaps the most universal feature of social media expertise is the unending sprint to keep up with its evolution.
Regardless of how good a social media rockstar/guru/sufi/sage is, the reality is that there’s only so much he/she can do for you. The most important part of “social media” is the “social” part – and they can’t do the heavy lifting for you there. You need to be able to represent yourself. That means you need to teach yourself through trial and error experimentation. If you want something done right . . .
Teh Interwebs is more than the sum of its memes. Beyond understanding the tools and how they work, much of social media expertise is tied up in understanding how to read the terrain, understand the trends and communicate with the tribes. I imagine it’s feels similar to be an envoy or missionary.
Communication scholars used to think that there aren’t very many nonverbal cues in computer-mediated communication (CMC), but over the years they’ve dispelled that notion. Blogs, Tweets, Chatrooms are richly textured with nonverbal elements if one knows what to look for. One of my professors, Dr. Roy Winegar, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the ability to identify the gender of a chatroom participant based on their use of grammar.
Unless you trust an outside entity to answer complaints and give media interviews on your behalf – you need to grow a keener and better-developed use of all of your senses. Just as valuable information can be gleaned by a hunter from a muddy footprint, much can be deduced online from how a profile photo is cropped or what cultural references someone reaches for in a discussion. When you’ve spent countless days and nights in chatrooms or instant messaging you become saturated with the conventions of the online world (which go well beyond emoticons, acronyms and memes). I can tell when it’s safe to jump into a conversation online, and I’m really efficient at gathering information online because I can read the cues embedded in search results. I don’t know that I can teach these things to someone else.
That’s why you need to be your own guru. Even if one could condense that wisdom into a list of instructions for someone else to follow, everything online is constantly changing and the application of the wisdom changes with it. Conversely, it’s increasingly difficult for someone outside your organization to speak for it because doing so is a 24-hour-a-day commitment that requires a content expert.
You have to live it. No better time than now to get started.