Eric Stoller at Inside Higher Ed recently wrote an article (You Are Not a Social Media Jedi, Ninja, Sherpa, or Guru) poking fun at people who use any of the wide array of “Social Media _______” titles online. As someone who has used such titles in the past, I feel it’s up to me to write a rebuttal and defend those of us who feel we’ve earned these appellations.
To be sure, there are tens of thousands of people running around claiming credentials they don’t rightly deserve for a variety of fields. Social media is currently the most notorious for this because it’s a field in its embryonic stage and as such hasn’t had any formal rigors applied to it. Moreover, it shifts so much more quickly than other disciplines that establishing an objective rubric by which to measure one’s bona fides is virtually impossible.
The lack of objective means to quantify one’s credentials is made worse by the problem of asserting one’s expertise without being pretentious (a critically-important task ask the Internet habitually lays waste to pretension).
As a result, social media pros are left to define themselves in a way that is funny/clever and which also hints at their understanding of both business and geek culture (both of which are aimed at appealing to prospective clients/employers).
Here are what I think those who work with social media intend by their titles:
Social Media Guru: In the vernacular, gurus have come to approximate sages – people with a vast array of knowledge about a topic. The results of social media often have a quality of alchemy or mysticism to them and this title attempts to harness some of that meaning.
Social Media Expert: One can be an expert at social media, and though the term is over-used by too many people with lacking qualifications, that doesn’t undo the fact that it can accurately describe a particular group of social media pros seeking to plainly state what it is that they do.
Social Media Ninja: The term “ninja” long ago escaped the confines of being a practitioner of the art of ninjitsu to refer to someone who is an expert with awe-inspiring precision (particularly at working without being seen). Social media pros like this term for the stealthy quality it implies because the best marketing is the kind that is invisible; part of the everyday landscape.
Social Media Maven: A maven is one who relishes the study of a topic only slightly less than they enjoy sharing that expertise with others. If I didn’t like how the word “maven” rolls off the tongue, I would use this term more to describe myself. From its inception, culture on the Internet has prized openness and sharing above all – and social media pros are no different. I’ve found the majority of them at their most gleeful when they can instill in others the joy they get from discovering new ways to engage others online.
Social Media Sherpa: Sherpas are understood by the average person to be experts at navigating a particular terrain who are brought along to assist others at traveling that same ground. What could be more apropos for social media practitioners – they have found their way to the top of digital mountains and now are compensated to bring others to those same heights.
Social Media Jedi: The Jedi Order is a monastic collective committed to using The Force for the side of the light (the pursuit of power to protect the weak), contrasted by the Sith who use The Force for the side of the dark (the pursuit of power for personal gain). Star Wars is a good geek metaphor to tap into for social media professionals as it hints at their geek credibility with an allusion that the average person can grasp (they would likely prefer a geekier reference like “Social Media Browncoat,” but few would get the reference).
The understanding of the Jedi fostered by the Star Wars trilogies is one of lone individuals, scattered to the galaxy by the Empire, using powers (that favor the mind, intelligence and knowledge) others don’t understand to uphold justice and rightness in a cruel universe. To wit, the Jedi Code:
Emotion, yet peace.
Ignorance, yet knowledge.
Passion, yet serenity.
Chaos, yet harmony.
Death, yet the Force.
Social Media Scientist: This title aims to apply the quality of quantifiability to a field many feel is bereft of measurement. Sure, you could call yourself a Communications Researcher, but “social media” is the catch phrase of the day and you’ll be excluded from innumerable Google searches as a result. Something all social media professionals know to be true is that we must speak of ourselves as others speak of us in order to be relevant.
Social Media Scholar: Though this term does border on pretension, it implies a variety of qualities that social media professionals ascribe to themselves and the medium. It implies a quest for knowledge that is never-ending (fitting the ever-evolving world of digital technology). It implies rigorous study within an educational and scientific context. It also implies a connection to an informal group of colleagues pursuing the same truth.
Social Media Champion: As mentioned previously, most social media pros are committed above all to advancing social media engagement by sharing the wealth with all. They have discovered a benefit and have a promethean wish to share that fire with others. They also understand Metcalfe’s Law; that the value of a network is proportional to the number of nodes in that network. We benefit when more are engaged and active participants.
Social Media Rock Star: One can hardly fault social media pros from using this title – they’re hardly the first to describe their elite status in terms that allude to backstage access, globe-trotting travel, worshipping fans, and enviable creative prowess.
So yes, I am a Social Media Jedi, Ninja, Sherpa, and Guru – paradoxically I am also none of these.
I am also things that have yet to be named – and that’s why I love what I do.