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Social media consultants: A call to action

Guest post by Jennifer Leggio, Read her blog | Follow her on Twitter

Source: Shutterstock

If you’re dubbed a social media expert these days it’s almost like getting marked for professional death. It’s become even more popular to deny social media expertise as it has to claim faux expertise. Which means that the snake oiliest of the social media expert types have tried to give themselves a bit more oomph: they use the term consultant.

Social media expertise in general has become a joke, sadly, as there really are people out there who understand social media and how it relates to business. Unfortunately they get buried by the noise of the fakers. So I’m here to pick on those fakers, those consultants who make it harder on the good guys. Not all consultants are bad. Some of them actually do good work – Maggie Fox and Olivier Blanchard are two folks who do good stuff. But there are thousands of others who are simply… online.

The best quote I’ve heard came from the host of this blog, Brian Solis, at a Girls In Tech event I participated in this summer. He told Kara Swisher that the way some consultants talk, “you’d think they invented the conversation.” It’s true. Many consultants these days are making a fortune telling companies that they need to (gasp) talk to their customers. And because these consultants have a strong social media presence of their own these poor schmucks (aka companies) are listening.

You know the types. They call themselves innovators because they created a Twitter hashtag or have thousands of followers. They throw around buzzwords like “authenticity” and “transparency” and “presence.” They think that all social behavior occurs on popular social networks. They’ve never lead a business.

What separates the good from the bad? A few simple things:

  • Proof of experience and demonstrated results. This comes in the form of a case study that shows how social media tied into the larger business strategy. It is not a discussion around tools. It’s not just a marketing discussion, either.
  • Business leadership, not necessarily thought leadership. The latter is wonderful but it is abstract and not always completely applicable. How does it apply to your business?
  • Dig deep into a consultant’s background and social media presence. Is he or she simply good at promoting him- or herself?

It’s overwhelming, isn’t it? You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to find a consultant with those three things, but it is. And those are the only ones to which companies should give their money.

So I’d like to issue a challenge to you, good consultants. I would like each one of you who claim to be savvy and really helping businesses with their social programs, to tell us here in the comments why you’re a viable option for businesses. Either link a case study or talk about your proven results or your business acumen. If you read this and think, “I have nothing to prove,” well, you’re wrong. You need to prove everything in order to be a bona fide, non snake-oily consultant. What’s stopping you?

Jennifer Leggio aka Mediaphyter claims only to be an expert at causing a ruckus at hockey games. She writes ZDNet’s social business blog and is an active member of the network security community. She can be found on both Twitter and Facebook.

103 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Social media consultants: A call to action”

  1. 40deuce says:

    This is a fantastic post.
    I look at a lot of the people who are claiming to be social media experts or “gurus” and sometimes laugh. While there are some people who I think are in the forefront of understanding how to link social media with business, most people aren't. I think that the medium is too new to have so many people as experts. People on both the business and consumer ends are still figuring out how to use social media, there are no for-sures yet, yet everyone claims to have the for sure answer.
    I do not claim to be one of these people. I would consider myself to be a social media enthusiast and hope to one day be an expert. I'm currently getting my masters in professional communication and I'm hoping to combine that with my enthusiasm for social media in a couple of months when I'm done.
    I will however, not claim to be an expert off the bat just to get work, but hopefully one day I will be.

  2. Great article. Tweeting this now. A Call to Action – Social Media

  3. Unless they've spent 10,000 hours doing something? I'm not inclined to call them an expert.

    Social media isn't so much about how you understand how to use the tools as much as it is being able to effectively integrate those tools into pre-existing marketing/public relations problems (and solve them).

  4. hjortursmarason says:

    Your post and the video is spot on. There's so much talk and so few cases.

    The thing about social media is that we're replacing volume with value. So it's the value of the connections and relationships, whether of the social media “expert” or the company that matters, not the number of followers or views generated.

    A lot of my work is confidential so as a proof of value I created “” with two of my friends where we managed to get over 800.000 people from 213 countries world wide to vote the next president of the United States in only a few weeks, without spending a single penny. We only used social media for promotion and PR.

    For me (and my clients) social media has proven to be very effective for PR and customer support. Viral marketing can be very good for awareness and branding. The SU or digg buzz can generate some nice looking traffic stats, but more often than not, it's of very little value.

    Oh, and if a client has a crappy product, there's absolutely nothing I can do for them. The quality has be on that side too 😉 There has to be pull in both the product and the way it is communicated.

    • I found the video through my Twitter friend David Oro on Friday. I kindly asked Brian to include it here… he obliged. I thought it was funny, albeit a little vulgar.

    • Markham says:

      I may have to track all the threads of commentary that have included my video – considering it was whipped up in an idle half hour on Thursday, the response and counter-response to it has been absolutely astonishing.

      And it's vulgar, can't deny it. But so, some would say, is the proliferation of those whom it lampoons, particularly when those rotten apples ruin the whole basket.

  5. sherryheyl says:

    I have spent 4 years focused ONLY on social media. Not PR, not marketing, not SEO but social media and how it impacts ALL areas of business. Here is my capabilities packet

    I have worked with over 30 companies of various sizes and from various industries. I have spoken at over 50 events and have put together 3 un-conferences.

    Most importantly I dive in head first to experiment and learn for myself before making recommendations or providing consultation to my clients.

    Personally I try to avoid the us vs them conversation re: people who have been active in social media consulting for a long time and those who are just starting to talk about it. I remember when I was new to the industry and trying to get business and was shunned by those who have been in it for a couple of years, but at the same time…I agree there is a lot of snake oil being sold.

    • I think you make a good point, Sherry. It's not necessarily “new” versus “old.” I know brand new PR people who are more savvy than those in the biz for 20 years. I think it's a matter of a mix of business understanding, communication savvy, and a willingness to learn. Add that to some business experience and you have capability on your hands.

    • sherryheyl says:

      That is a GREAT way to put it Jennifer. I am personally tired of hearing people talk about “listening” (although I have it as part of our tag line :P). Listening for what? What are you going to do with what you learn? What experience and knowledge do you have to apply social media strategies to REAL business needs? People with thousands of followers may know how to promote themselves, but do you know how to translate those skills to helping your clients sell more, serve more, and attract and retain top talent?

  6. Miguel says:

    Great post. I actually had someone on Twitter follow me that had “Social Media Expert” on their profile background. I blocked them…is that wrong? haha.

    • Haha, no comment. 😉

    • LauraH says:

      What gets me are the social media experts who talk about how your Twitter content, your online interactions will get you followers. Then they go ahead and game for autofollowers by following several thousand people, not answering DMs, and unfollowing those shleps who don't follow them back. (Which is done to keep their ratio look good.)

      So yeah. I don't see a problem with what you did. 😉

  7. mikepascucci says:

    Love the video and have actually heard that exact conversation before and had to laugh. There are so many posers out there that it is very frustrating for the actual “experts”. And I am not talking about those “self proclaimed” experts, I am talking about those that have been recognized by their peers. Looking at an individuals background and experience when companies are trying to find some assistance is so very important. As someone that has been building and managing online communities for the last 11 years, hearing someone that has been doing it for 6 months and thinks that they know everything is extremely frustrating. Thanks for the post.

  8. tomob says:


    I like your call to action – and I am here to share our (not my) creds.

    Company: MotiveQuest LLC

    We have been in business for over 6 years and have completed hundreds of SM research projects for a who's who of F1000 brand and agencies. You can see some of our work on SlideShare here:

    We are a marketing strategy research/consulting firm that uses SM as the raw material for the work. We gather and analyze millions of online conversations to understand core human motivations, drivers and issues in a category, across categories or around a brand. We provide clients not only with understanding, ideas and insight – but also specific actionable recommendations.

    I wish we had more I could share publicly, but the output of our works feeds into business strategy, and is generally kept confidential. We have helped our clients understand some of the following questions – and also provided specific recommendations with how to leverage this understanding. A few examples

    – How to position my brand vs. the category leader? SWOT analysis of us vs. competition.
    – What matters most in digital entertainment, then by category, TV, MP3, etc.? How is my brand doing against what matters most?
    – What is the meaning of value today? How are we doing on what matters vs. the competition?
    – Where are the advocates for my brand? What to they care about? How can I increase advocacy?
    – What is the relationship between advocacy and sales?
    – Is our brand advocacy rising or falling and why? How about or competitors?
    – What is the meaning of service? What should we do to improve on the Business Week service rankings?
    – What new product opportunities are there in the dairy category? How can my brand take advantage of this?
    – How have consumer food purchase behaviors changed since the recession? Hpw can we leverage this understanding?
    – What motivational positioning does our truck own? what about our competitors
    – What do methamphetamine users talk to each other about? How can we use this knowledge in our anti-methamphetamine use campaign?
    – What are the choice drivers for Hospital choice? How can we incorporate into our marketing plans?

    While many of the recommendations for our clients are not SM media specific, we do know that online brand advocacy is a metric that is strongly co-related with sales.

    So there you have it. We (MotiveQuest) are experts in USMRTOB&CS (Using Social Media Research To Optimize Brand & Communication Strategy) but I would not call us Social Media Experts!

    Tom O'Brien
    MotiveQuest LLC

    • Rich Harris says:

      Excellent as always Jen!

    • Tom, thanks for the well thought-out answer. I think you run into a lot of issues that other people run into — most are afraid to talk about the nitty gritty of their programs publicly due to a) proprietary info or b) fear of competitors getting closer to what they are doing. Some might think that all social programs are public, but many are internal facing or channel facing and aren't as easily found just by searching the web.

  9. chsu21 says:

    This post is spot on. I've never claimed to be a social media expert or claim to have any expertise, nor do I expect to any time soon. I see myself more as a viewer and enthusiast and hope that social media will become a more respected media.

    To those who claim to be “experts” prove it and show your results. I would love to learn and see what you're doing.

  10. Hilarious and so true! Far from an expert, but I hope to get there someday. I don't think a person can be qualified to represent your business or brand through social media if they lack the ability to connect the dots with other ongoing business objectives. It cannot stand on its own.

  11. {Karla} says:

    fantastic post. lots of so-called social media experts out there. I can call myself whatever I want. Doesn't make it so.

  12. jdheit says:

    Where I get confused/frustrated/disappointed is is this concept that there is some delineation between “traditional PR” and “social media.” As if the difference in how people take in information through various forms of media requires some unique set of principles and guidelines. Development skills, yes. Communication skills, well, that is a different story.

    If you are focused on “social programs” and not looking at the broader business objectives (which you smartly call out) either as an in-house corporate marketer or as an agency person or consultant, well then you've already lost…

    I'm often dismayed by how many companies are still keeping these elements separate. What's worse, they often don't even communicate with each other, causing redundancy and inefficiencies that cost the business real dollars in the long run. This is the counterpoint to your concern above, whereby companies are not realizing actual performance gains through social media. Oftentimes, their ineffectiveness in communicating internally is costing them more than is conscionable. A good example are those using different monitoring systems for PR, Marketing and Sales, when all could be housed under one roof and shared industry-wide.

    I have been involved in social media since before it had a name. From working with the guys at eUniverse as they were set to spin off yet another website, this one set to unseat Friendster by allowing fake profiles (that was MySpace) to a meeting in the server room of an overstuffed San Mateo office space above a pizza place that resulted in a three-year engagement and helping to manage communications leading up to and beyond the ultimate sale of that company to Google (that was YouTube), I do think I have enough experience to speak knowledgeably about the subject. I'm also old enough to know I don't know half of what I think I know.

    We recommend comprehensive programs that include social media implementations (or don't, if the audience isn't right) but what I'm most proud of is one of our smallest current engagements. When PF Chang's wanted to reach the “mommy bloggers” with its new kid meals, we knew that approach, while important, just wouldn't be enough.

    Our team's (like most experienced social media experts I, of course, don't have to do any of the actual work — as my clients who work with me most closely will attest) ability to diversify the message to work not just for the most influential culinary and regional bloggers, mommy or otherwise, led to a direct bump in traffic — actual traffic, not web traffic — to the restaurants. We have worked closely with the client (as someone else mentioned, without a client who is truly engaged and on-board, the entire effort is a waste of time) to maximize our results across a variety of social media platforms, new and old, and have extended to bloggers who happen to be Dad's as well.

    Some of this might seem obvious, and most often the devil is in the details and the execution, so spending $5K on a team to manage and maintain, provided they've provided mutually-agreed upon benchmarks for success and achieved or surpassed these goals, is actually quite a bargain…

    Good general rule of thumb — NEVER, and I mean never, just give money away to an animated British avatar. Especially one with a goatee.

    Thanks for writing the blog post I've wasted months trying to spit out but never have! For more of our work, visit

    Full disclosure — we work with Futureworks (Brian's agency) currently to help launch GOOM Radio, an exciting new online radio company that smartly is turning over every stone in their own social media efforts.

    Keep up the great work!

    Jonathan Heit
    SVP, Digital Media & Technology
    Allison & Partners

  13. bloqhead says:

    I'm SO glad people are discussing this more openly and more up front. I'm tired of being bombarded by followers on Twitter that claim to be a social media “guru”. It's such a scapegoat “profession” for the person that wants to make the most money and gain the largest following with the smallest amount of overhead and hard work. Meanwhile there are teenagers that are probably more talented in “social media” than they are.

    I wrote a post about this in May but it was more in regard to the “gurus” that inhabit Twitter. It's a bit vulgar and more of a rant than anything else:

  14. joeciarallo says:

    Brian Solis, in a PRNewser interview from last week, “I am on a big anti-case study crusade in the new media landscape. I think it is confusing and polluting what they [case studies] do.”

    Jennifer Leggio, in a guest post on PR 2.0 (this blog) today, “Either link a case study or talk about your proven results or your business acumen.”

    Just sayin' : )

  15. Couldn't agree more, Brian. It's a difficult ask but an important one. I've just embraced the same thinking on the new version of my site (as an ad guy) breaking out social media proof point and case studies. Here's what I did in case its useful to anyone:
    I agree that we can't represent ourselves as leaders in this space or serve our clients responsibly unless we challenge ourselves to articulate our credentials so clients can have confidence in our direction. It's in all our interests to do so.

    Thanks for keeping us honest, Simon Mainwaring

  16. Dave Kerpen says:

    Good post. We have 12 case studies posted @

  17. jonathanstreeter says:

    My strategy is to nail down with the client who they expect to be reaching with this media. As great as these networks are, not everyone's ideal customers are involved. But for those who are, my goal is to help my client become an information provider, a trusted source, and someone who “delights” with interesting ideas/facts/links/etc. There also has to be a tie-in to increasing sales, or else there's really no point.

    Just my two cents.

  18. Sam Eder says:

    Can't there just be some sort of tattoo or secret pass word (I thinking like the Mason's here)? 😉

  19. Dave Jones says:

    I have a feeling variations on this post will be written on a regular basis. “Show me your work!” is a whole lot better of a rant than the “how to tell you're dealing with a social media snake oil salesman”. Your thought that the below the radar folks are doing the best work is more than likely true. In Canada, I've tried to unearth these folks by creating a wiki to capture local social media examples. It's there for those to share their work with their peers so we have good Canadian examples.

    Check it out at I even put in a section for consultants to link themselves to their work. It's not exhaustive but it's a start.

  20. LauraH says:

    Thanks for this post. I've had several conversations lately with people about how there many social media folks out there who talk a good game but very few actually provide information on what they have done, case studies which demonstrate a return on investment, provide real numbers to show why social media and other online interactions are important for companies to know. Where people do provide numbers, they often provide examples where the company is not an equivalent match for industry and size. (Sorry. Dell is not relevant for a small candy store in the suburbs of a major city.) Or they will say “Facebook can get you more traffic than Google. I get 10,000 visitors a month from Facebook.” (That's awesome… but how much time do you comparatively spend on both? What type of engagement are you doing on Facebook?)

    I would love to get in to this area (and the area of market research) and my acquaintances were very much of the mind that I need to demonstrate some skill and knowledge related to that. I can talk an awesome game but it doesn't really matter to businesses unless I can show them what this means. Tried to do that at . The problem is that getting attention for some niche market research and related social media is that the audience you write in, that you do research in is often the group most interested in your topic. It doesn't necessarily translate into automatic attention by potential clients and employers. At least, coming from popular culture and fan communities, that is my problem. I can do the research. It is taking it to that next level that is the problem. (Or put more simply, I can do the research or I can do the marketing of myself. Finding the balance is a bitch.)

    • LauraH says:

      Badly replying to myself. What have I done?

      Market Research / Reputation Management

      * Documented the history of fan communities across fandom including different social networks, cliques, relationship pairings, fansites, television shows, music groups.
      * Advised company on using fandom friendly wording for a marketing campaign for a contest they were running.
      * Developed lists of key influencers and influential sites and groups in specific fan communities. Detailed which members of those lists were worth contacting and which ones could lead to potential public relations problems as a result of different philosophies in the fan community in how they deal with commercial interests in their fan specific spaces.
      * Generated data sets for activities taking place in the fan community. This included number of new stories posted to several fan fiction archives, and activity levels LiveJournal communities, LiveJournal clones and mailing lists.
      * Explained what analytic data generated in fandom meant in the context of a company’s business interests.
      * Monitored what the fan community said about a company. Analysed what this meant for the company, their public relations and advised the company on how to respond.
      * Researched privacy issues in fandom and what conflicting ideas regarding privacy mean for people and companies operating in the space.
      * Advised fan fiction archives on strategies to increase their traffic and what sort of content they should be seeking in order to grow their market share in the fan fiction community. Advised on making fandom friendly policy decisions and how to handle the issues of advertising on fansites.


      * Assisted in organizing RecentChangesCamp.
      * Created privacy policies for Fan History Wiki.
      * Created organizational principles for a wiki with over 750,000 articles.
      * Advised other wikis on how to do Search Engine Optimization and use social media to increase the number of contributors.
      * Assisted Police Wiki in choosing the appropriate copyright policy.

      Social Media / Community Outreach

      * Implemented Twitter and strategy to increase Fan History’s visibility. Have over 4,000 followers and 17,500 updates on Twitter. Have over 1,100 updates on
      * Consulted with an entertainment wiki regarding developing a Twitter strategy.
      * Contacted members of the fan community on blogs, LiveJournal, Quizilla, FanFiction.Net, Xanga, orkut, bebo, MySpace, FaceBook, Yahoo!Groups to ask them how we can better help serve the fan community and to solicit their help in improving content on Fan History in order to work on Fan History’s mission of documenting the history of fandom.
      * Reached out to the fan wiki community to inform them about events going on that would be of interest to them and solicit their help with Fan History.
      * Used Yahoo!Answers as part of being a good neighbour, increase our visibility, develop good will towards Fan History.
      * Created a blog which offers advice to the fan community on how to increase traffic to sites, provide news about what may impact their fannish experience, report on fandom news and inform members of Fan History’s community about plans for the site.

      Search Engine Optimisation

      * Implemented link building plan for Fan History Wiki increased traffic from 600 search engine related visits a day to 1,700 to the site in the period between June 2008 and February 2009. Focus was on using social bookmarking sites and entertainment related sites such as AnimeNewsNetwork, IMDB, FanPop, LiveJournal, InsaneJournal, Chickipedia, Wikia, Quizilla, etc.
      * Targeted for specific keywords on Fan History when fandom news broke which resulted in increase in traffic to those pages. Examples of fandom news optimised for included the Open Source Boob Project, Twilight movie release, Barack Obama fan fiction, FaerieCon, and Jorja Fox pregnancy rumors.
      * Implemented plan to improve content to increase traffic. Articles included Sakura Lemon Archive, Galbadia Hotel, Bandom, Quizilla and FanLib.

  21. LauraH says:

    Can you link to them? I'm looking at… which I THINK is a case study… but it seems like three paragraphs of we did some stuff. It was successful. Because it was so successful and kicked major ass, WE EXPANDED! YAY! AWESOMENESS. Do you have links to direct PDFs or word docs or blog posts which go into more depth? Because I'm looking around and I can't find them. 🙁

  22. LauraH says:

    What gets me is that people act like getting a few thousand followers is difficult. It isn't. I think, with a little work, I could probably get in 2,000 followers in 24 hours at this point.

    1. Get a new twitter account besides your main one. (In case you get suspended for this and because you need your primary one.)
    2. On your primary account, wait until a spam follower follows you. Spam followers will have 1,000 + people they are following but only 5 to 150 followers in return.
    3. Follow everyone who follows the spam follower. Those are likely to be people who autofollow or who are following in return in order to boost their follow count.
    4. Unfollow people who haven't followed you back when you reach a point with 300 more people you're following than are following you back.
    5. Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 until you get 2,000 followers. Continue to step 6 when you're bored.
    6. Go to Twitterholic.
    7. Pick major cities, states, countries like Chicago or India and follow anyone with 1,500 plus people who are following where there is more than a 200 follower gap between the people they are following the the people they are following back. (More follows than followers.)
    8. Unfollow people who haven't followed you back when you reach a point with 300 more people you're following than are following you back. Consider using FriendOrFollow to do that.
    9. Repeat steps 6, 7 and 8. Mix it up with steps 3, 5 and 5 when you get bored.
    10. Follow everyone on the list at SocialNewsWatch in order to get an easy 237 new followers.
    11. Find other lists of people who autofollow and follow all the people on those lists.
    12. Join SocialToo.
    13. Set your SocialToo account to autofollow anyone who autofollows you.

    People who make out like this is a hard process, or that the number of Twitter followers has real meaning, are people who you should avoid as they really don't know what is going on.

  23. Jennifer, thanks so much for the shout-out, and of course we are always happy to share our case studies, in fact our new site is built around them!

  24. Aerocles says:

    Steve Baker Also Just Covered This Topic On His BusinessWeek Blog and my response was that, yes this sucks – for both brands and those who actually DO know what they're talking about and are watching helplessly as this strain on their/our industry's reputation quickly grows.

    This is clearly an important issue – Social Media is increasingly important for almost all brands. Whether it should be used merely as an extension of their customer service or leveraged for a multi-channel marketing/advertising/pr blitz, almost all brands do have some place or can employ some facet of the online social realm.

    Having someone who understands 'standard practices,' what consumers expect, what services, tools, and platforms exist, and which of those is best suited for that particular organization and what strategy accurately reflects the brand's identity and function – is essential.

    Yes, there are plenty of people who will read a few blogs and spit back the popular sentiments to companies in hopes to pass themselves off as experts and secure themselves a valued position though deception and BS. And that makes things a lot harder for those of us who are truly passionate about this space, those of us who dedicate HOURS EVERY DAY to keeping up on the latest websites, services, and tools…the success and failures of other brands experimenting in the field, and with who are legitimately trying to establish themselves as an authority, for lack of a better term, in this field.

    That said, the fact that Social Media is a buzz phrase lends itself to this type of ruse, but is essentially no different than any other specialty in any other industry. There will ALWAYS be people who try to get ahead without doing any real work, using the thoughts and accomplishments of others to support their own malicious climb up the corporate ladder. But they will fail for the same simple reason that they always do: When push comes to shove – they'll freeze, they will always be one step behind those who actually know what they're doing.

    So yes, the “Snake Oil is Spreading.” But organizations looking to hire someone to spearhead their social media initiative should be as meticulous and suspect as they would be when hiring a new C-Level exec. It's in their hands to weed out the Crocks and Quacks from those select few who actively struggle to understand and effectively utilize the power of the social web.

  25. Nile Flores says:

    I have said this over and over for months on Twitter (and I believe my own blog too… have to dig through 350 plus posts to see) about social media experts and gurus – no such thing. The acts of sharing content over the net and even outside the net is an old technique. Might as well put it in with basic marketing as that is really what it is. Just another synonym.

    Rather than call yourself a guru or expert, let your employers and your followers say it for you as they are the ones who decide if you really qualify. Those are the real resume along with the proof in statistics – if you are one to promote content of certain websites.

  26. To freely interpret a famous quote 'Expertise lies in the eyes of the beholder', i.e. perception is reality. I spent over 20 years in the marketing management of a Fortune 500 company. In that time I've seen many charlatans come and go. Today's consumer is smarter, more powerful and less 'obedient' than ever. The real challenge for companies is to integrate these consumers in their architecture of value creation, which is a very complex task. Consistency across all channels is a must. A fan page in FB with thousands of friends won't do. As a matter of fact, that is nothing more than a modern interpretation of the 'eyeball' system cultivated by old media companies over decades, which is is not working anymore, as we all know.

  27. nommo says:

    Social media experts?

    Companies and brands need someone who believes in the company and the brand more than they believe in them selves.

    Don't even outsource it to an agency. Give the job to your most trusted & passionate & articulate net-savvy staffer.

  28. jonnybgood says:

    EConsultancy covered this topic in an excellent post and subsequent discussion “How to spot a social media snake oil salesman” – well worth checking out, especially for the key things to check:

    Here at ASOMO we're more about the perception part of social media than the participation but five years of working with a wide range of organizations from different sectors and across multiple geographies means that we can tick all the boxes raised in the above post (in a postive sense).
    Jon Moody

  29. Brian Reich says:

    Jennifer – terrific post, and terrific challenge. My thoughts:

    1) Case studies don't prove anything. The world is changing so quickly and so significantly – online and offline – that looking to case studies as a metric of someone's capability and expertise is a flawed exercise. I have lots of successes, and I am happy to talk about them. I've created videos that garnered over 1.4 million views for a client. I've organized vibrant discussions where the audience contributed ideas that led to business success. I've launched campaigns that motivated people to vote, volunteer, or become deeply engaged in a social issue. And the lessons that I have learned from those efforts are invaluable in my work every day as a strategist. I will talk about all of them (I don't believe in, and don't allow clients I work with to keep me from talking about them — the only way I can learn, and share my lessons, is by engaging in discussion). But my ability to generate any of those successes for one client, or one project, does not mean they translate to another situation. The case studies are interesting, but they aren't transferable. There are no models for success any more. There is no way to emulate what you have done in the past and get the same results. Good strategy and support will be defined in each situation, by each professional, and similar.

    2) The definition(s) of expertise are ever-changing. I wrote a book, entitled Media Rules! (Wiley 2007) and talked about how expertise was being redefined in this connected age. I wrote “Knowledge makes you an expert. Your experience makes you an expert. Your network makes you an expert. Your notoriety makes you an expert. Truly expertise in the current media environment is in the eye’s of the beholder. But to be an expert for the long-term, it takes a couple of things. Expertise comes from the skills and knowledge that someone possesses, distinguishing them from a novice or less experienced person. People become experts as a result of their membership in a community of practice – a group or partnership around a specific issue or service. You can become an expert simply by being the only one who has experienced something.” My point was that expertise has to be considered in context. Am I an expert in social media because I work in and around the internet and technology every day? Perhaps. I wouldn't use that term, because I know I am always learning. I know there are people with capabilities that exceed mine. Moreover, my expertise, as far as I am concerned, is put to the test every time I have a client, a new project, a new opportunity to engage. If I can't prove that I have some expertise, when needed, it doesn't matter what I call myself, or how I define it.

    3) How do I answer your challenge? A few months ago I quit the agency I was working with because I wanted to take a different approach and play a different role in helping people to understand and use the technology and other tools that are having such a broad impact on our society. What is my focus, and why do I believe I have something to offer to clients? Here is what I wrote in the post outlining what I would be doing:

    “My focus is on helping organizations to recognize what is changing about our society – how technology and the internet have dramatically changed the way people get and share information. Those changes impact everything – what we buy, how we spend our time, what (and how) we read, watch television, listen to the radio, talk to each other, and certainly our expectations of the organizations that we support and engage.

    When it comes to organizations, I am just not that impressed – at least not when it comes to communications, education, advocacy, and more. The groups we hold up as models, because of their size or the level of awareness of their cause, aren’t breaking much new ground. Even those who have successfully establish their brand or built an audience aren’t necessarily in a position to take what they do and adapt it to meet the new challenges that we will face in the (near) future.

    There continues to be far too much focus on activity (how big your email list is, or how much money you give to charity) and not enough on impact (whether you are really serving a need, or changing things for the better). There is too much emphasis placed on brand (i.e. what groups call themselves, or say they are doing) and not enough on experience (what is really happening, whether expectatinos are being met). There is too much energy put into growth (how big can we be, how many people can we reach) and not enough commitment to sustainability (can we maintain the quality of what we do no matter how many things are choose to do) or impact (are we achieving our goals).

    I am focused on helping organizations do at least the following two things well:

    First, organizations must develop and execute high quality, effective communications efforts – for marketing, development, advocacy or anything else. To do that, especially in today’s highly fragmented world, you need to have a clear set of goals and be able to articulate your core message and focus. From there, you need to generate attention. With attention, you can raise money, or begin to shape thinking, influence the media, build loyalty and support for yourself and the projects you support. Once you have attention, you can begin to convert your supporters’ energy into real, meaningful, measurable action — by educating, engaging, mobilizing, and ultimately changing the behavior of the people who are looking to you for guidance. The organizations that figure that process out will dominate. I think I can help.

    Second, groups must look ahead, and position themselves for long-term communications and oragnizational success — which increasingly means online and through new technology, but certainly doesn’t mean anything else has to be eliminated from the mix. Organizations will need to experiment with different ways of educating and engaging audiences about issues. They will need to re-organize the way their teams operate, so that technology and the intenret are central to everything they do, not just a tactical consideration or campaign add-on. Organizations will need to look at what tools might power future online efforts – and think especially hard about the ones that don’t yet exist (so they can begin to build them). And of course, organization should be bringing their audience more closely into their work, not just to satisfy some set of public expectations, but because truly embracing the community will yield better innovation and more measurable results.

    If organizations are going to embrace these two big areas of focus, their metrics for success will need to shift from dollars raised and email list performance to how online tools can be used to help advance what an organization is doing in terms of advocacy, and providing services, raising money, talking to the media, helping shape policy, etc. Creating sustainable, measurable action means giving up control, distributing both power and responsibility out to the community, and inviting the audience into the process more fully. In short, there needs to be a larger, broader focus on how to shift people’s behavior and drive real results.

    I have high expectations of what organizations can achieve, and how they should be committing their resources and focusing their energy. I’m not saying any of these commitments will be easy to fulfill, or happen quickly — but I also don’t believe my expectations are unreasonable. I quit my job and started my new venture because I know there are organizations out there who are committed to using technology and the internet to their fullest potential, and I knew that I could help.”

    If you want to read a little bit more about my work and why I made the big leap from agency life to something out, you can read the full post(s) here:
    Part I:
    Part II:

    Anyway, great question and great challenge. Thank you for asking.

  30. Mondi says:

    I must be the only person out there who is so terrified of claiming herself as an expert accidentally, that I'm on the other side of this spectrum. That being said, thank you for stating some points that we can use in the future to try to establish more credibility to what we want to do.

    I'm a big fan of being traditionally trained and then learning to be innovative, as well. I don't know a lot about social media (like I said, I'm still very much learning) but I'd like to think that knowing what you are doing is an honest skill, a craft, just like any other gig.

    Are people so inclined to call themselves experts because it's instant access, instant transparency? I wouldn't go on a field trip to the hospital and declare myself a surgeon. Just because I showed up on Twitter, doesn't make me a master.

    Quality, not quantity, I guess…*shrugs*

  31. Brian Block says:

    I didn't realize “authenticity” and “transparency” had become buzzwords? But just because the fakes out there use them, that means we can't? Following that model, our vocabulary will become pretty limited only to lead our clients to believe the only things we can say are “me work good and honest for you. can't elaborate or others think me am fake.”

    And I assume everyone's now fallen in to the trap of “if I don't have the experience, I won't get the work. If I don't have the work, I won't get the experience.” That's sort of leaves out the possibility for new talent to grow.

    Also, I ask people not to call me guru or expert. I don't like giving anyone the idea that they can't learn what I've learned or become more proficient than I am. But, kick and scream all I want, people will still refer to me as an expert or guru. All I can do is remind of them why I don't prefer those terms.

    I'm not trying to fuss at you because you are taking on those who actually are fake. I just don't like having SM faithfuls like most of us having to tip toe around these jerks who ruin it for the rest of us. ARRRRRG

  32. My business partner and I have been working with the Roxy Theatre on the Sunset Strip for three years developing their Social Media presence. The results are real and measurable both in terms of reputation management and actual $$. For a more detailed look, please visit our case study deck.

    Marjorie Kase
    MarKyr Media

  33. I think the debate over “social media experts” is fascinating… so last night I came up with a list of 5 signs that you're probably not (yet) a social media expert:

    What's stopping me from 'proving' myself in a blog comment? um, I'm kinda too busy with social media work projects right now.

  34. gerardmclean says:

    Sadly, the best case studies that I can point to is also a competitive advantage for some clients. So, posting them in a public space would be counter-productive. And yes, I am very aware of the irony. 🙂 But, with a little poking around and some social media smarts, the real “social media expert” will be able to piece it together. Since it is not very obvious or a “social media cliche,” the poser will not get it.

  35. HighTouch says:

    That was awesome! Great Article… I know a few of those “Guru's” I learned awhile back that just because I know how to do it, does not make me an expert by any means. I can attribute Social Media (online Marketing, Blogging, Tweeting, Facebook, Linked In, and email marketing) to a 300% increase in leads for our business. We have closed more deals because of marketing to our current prospect list and because they deem us as a company that knows what we are talking about and because we in fact do the very things that we recommend them to do. I love social media and the whole aspect of doing better and getting better. It is like a rush to get moved up on the google ranking. We are getting our clients to adapt social media into their business and I am excited to see how they react to their increased leads and closed deals.

  36. spikejones says:

    To Brian Reich and to further the case study discussion…

    Dear god man, you used your case studies to talk about how you don't like to talk about case studies! Who the hell would hire someone with no proof of success? Sure, one case study can't apply to everyone's situation, but showing 2, 3 or 10 case studies of DIFFERENT situations proves that you know how to adapt and that your approach works.

    I don't think it's a matter of identifying the experts and fakes. It's a matter of identifying the preachers and the practitioners. If you haven't gotten your hands dirty and done something, then I don't give a crap what you say or preach from the mountaintops. This whole SM marketing community is one big pat on the back fest. Even those that are seen as leaders in this space are usually the ones who spew crap on Twitter all day long. They sound smart and so other SM marketers assume they know what they are talking about…even though they don't have anything to show for it.

    Case studies are proof that your theories translate into the REAL world – and not the pseudo-world that lies behind a glass screen.

    BTW – not a SM person here. A word of mouth person.

    • Brian Reich says:

      Case studies show that you were able to perform in that situation, at that time. Its not a reflection on your ability or your understanding of current times. If you are a car company looking to hire some outside help – whether its for online, advertising, WOM, anything – knowing that the group you are considering successfully sold soap last year isn't help. Just because you don't have a case study that shows you have a creative way of tackling a problem doesn't mean you don't bring something to the table that someone needs. The case study is just a snapshot in time, and since the world is moving and changing so fast these days, that snapshot is quickly outdated and no longer relevant.

      Case studies may be a qualifier — as in, you are building a list and looking for people who have worked in a certain space (though I would argue that a lot of the best work I have seen is when people who are coming in with an outside perspective, a different set of experiences, take on a new challenge). Beyond that, the lessons that someone wrote up from a year ago (or longer) simply don't apply. You can't re-create the situation that produced the case study… the same team, the same opportunities, the same client, etc. So, the case study only shows that in that situation everything clicked.

      My approach, instead of using case studies to demonstrate (or consider) anything, is to test the people who you are considering hiring. When I worked in the White House, we put prospective speechwriters through a series of real-life scenarios, asked them to write up some speeches, on real subjects, in real time, and they were judged accordingly. Sure, the list we started with had been qualified – we took people with good writing experience, or a record of being published, but all that did was get them the initial conversation. The rest they had to prove in real time.

      On the strategist side, when I am talking with a prospective client, I map out the strategy that I think they should use — give away a lot of the details. I know that if I can put strong ideas across, demonstrate my understanding such that it resonates with them, show how I would respond to a situation or address a particular need, I will be fine. After all, the work that I will do, if hired (or whatever) will be in real-time, so if I can't perform that way during the interview, what's to say I can when the fur begins to fly?

      If you let case studies define expertise, you end up with a group who is living in the past, not in the present, and certainly not looking ahead to see how things are changing and what to do. Expertise is fleeting. With everything moving so quickly, I'm not sure anyone KNOWS what to do, but the experience we have, the time we have been working around the tools, the perspective we have gained, etc. — all that can be applied. If you start picking based on case studies, maybe you can weed out the folks who are, as some say “all hat and no cattle” in the interview/proposal process, but my experience suggests otherwise. I can't tell you how many times I have worked with groups who hired so-called 'experts' because their case studies suggested they were capable, and the clients get all googly eyed about the prospects of achieving what the last guy achieved, only to find ourselves deep into a project and not getting the kind of performance we had hoped for. The case studies only suggested the groups HAD been successful, not that they possessed the talent or understanding or capacity to do a good job now.

      And just as a closing though, this is particularly challenging in the technology space. There are all sorts of wonderful tools out there, being developed and sold by very talented people. But, the tool is not what makes a campaign successful. Take the Obama campaign… since the President was elected, I have been asked at least a hundred times to help achieve what Obama achieved (I spent a lot of time growing up/working in politics, and still provide guidance to political groups and campaigns). My response was — if you spend what the Obama campaign spent online ($100+ million), built a team like the campaign built (65+ staff, just for online), and get the kind of coverage and attention the campaign did (top news every day for almost two years)… then I can get you close to those kinds of results. But anything short of that kind of foundation from which to work and we'll have to figure out a new way to do it. The fact that people worked for the President's campaign, on staff or as consultants, doesn't automatically qualify them for something else. That case study is one of the best in the history of politics, and the internet, to date… but all it demonstrates that someone is qualified to do is run Barack Obama's internet strategy during the 2008 election. Make sense?

      I just think its more complicated today to demonstrate real expertise because the rules are changing, the tools are different, etc. I don't think I am qualified to run a campaign because I wrote a book or have a lot of Facebook friends. Maybe that gets me the initial conversation, because it suggests I have been around for a while doing this stuff. But after that, I have to prove every time, every day, all the time, in every conversation that I have what a client wants. As long as I continue to do that, I am fine, no matter what ranking I have on Twitter or how many case studies I can produce (and note: I don't produce any – as you can tell, I don't think they mean a lot. If you don't want to hire me because I can't give you a listing of things I have done for other people, then that's just fine with me).

    • spikejones says:

      That's a lot of words, Brian.

      Case studies aren't living in the past if you frame them the right way. We create sustainable word of mouth movements, so our case studies show that we can do that. That the movements we created 8, 4 or 2 years ago are still going strong. Our big clients WANT TO SEE WHAT WE'VE DONE. And if we go in there with nothing to show, we're done. They know the solution we provided for another client isn't the one we will suggest to them, but it's proof that we are successful over and over and over and over and over again.

      As you have seen with your own eyes, there are a crap-ton of people just talking, telling you they've done things, telling you they've been around for a while. It's complete noise with nothing to show for it. Do photographers not have to show their portfolio or architects not show their buildings to get more work? Or do they just sit down and tell the prospective client that they've taken pictures for 25 years, so they know what they are doing.

      I'm not saying that case studies are the end-all-be-all. I'm just saying that we wouldn't have gotten the vast majority of our clients if we just talked and had no proof to back up our words.

    • Brian Reich says:

      I'm not disagreeing with you – demonstrating expertise is important when separating those who can from those who can't. And the system is set up now to reward case studies. I think the system is broken. In addition to a lot of people who spew crazy ideas and can't back it up being hired (and ruining it for the rest of us), there are lots of groups out there, with good case studies, that can't keep up or can't cut it in the fast-changing times. Its a problem on the client side, valuing the wrong things. Its a problem on the agency/consultant side, resting on their past successes. We can do better. That's my point – there are better ways to demonstrate expertise than case studies, so rather than have a debate about whether case studies have value, we should be looking at other methods for determining who can help you achieve your goals.

  37. Dan says:

    Social media experts are about as real as unicorns.

  38. mahendrapenumathsa says:

    A more simpler approach to using social media could be launching quick prototypes off some close to ready web 2.0 platforms. I know of a few smart social media consultants who work with launching sub $ 15K prototypes that shows what is possible. These prototypes are released in a closer user group for feedback before everyone (including the social media consultants) agree that there is a clear path for opening the purse strings and understand ROI.

    Keep looking…….

  39. I like the idea, but I think even consultant is being overused…

    Personally, I think we should just all become marketing consultants with a background in social media.

    Brian Schuster

  40. I like the idea, but I think even consultant is being overused…

    Personally, I think we should just all become marketing consultants with a background in social media.

    Brian Schuster

  41. Hashim says:

    This post isn't fair. Should your business card maker be responsible for your networking success?

    Should your web designer be responsible for your site conversions?

    Should your plumber be responsible for you being regular?

    It's up to a business to have a clear business strategy. From there they can tell a social media consultant what the goal is, and entertain pitches that will help them meet that goal.

    Here's the reality – most businesses just want the traffic bump, a few nice mentions of their brand on Twitter, and the ego boost that comes with it. The call to action should be on businesses to clarify their own sales cycle so they can take advantage of social media properly.

  42. Alice Fuller says:

    I'm is also @hollywoodlvwork. Why am I a viable option for a business? Unlike that ass in the video I DO NOT throw words at my clients. I work diligently to explain to them how the tools of social media work so that even in my absence the company can continue in its efforts. Last year I worked with a professional hair care company in Beverly Hills. The marketing guy wanted to promote the launch of a new dryer to it's customer base which was only professional stylists and salon owners. Through evaluation, trial and effort, and really gauging what was important to their market we launched a successful campaign.

    But what was key was knowing the client, knowing the business, and getting to know its target market. I'm no hairstylists nor salon owner but you can bet your ass I got to know them and talked to them face to face to get a strong understanding of who I was trying to reach out to online. Then I combined that research with the proper tools.

    Gurus and experts like that in the funny video don't take the time to get to know the company. Not every company needs a profile on every social network. Figuring out what works and then how to work it has been key to my success.

    With my tv background, I think like a producer. What's the story? What's your message? How does this impact your audience? How can you better reach the audience through video, online chat, or email? I generate ideas to help them see the various resources that are available and that it will take some work to get customers in the door or to actually buy products. Success isn't overnight.

    Fourth what makes me a viable social media individual, is that I STUDY. Fake ass gurus follow a few real social marketing experts but can't apply it to a real world situation. As long as they are getting a check and make a couple of status updates and tweets it's all good. But soon they are fired because there is no results.

    Lastly, I'm not about getting mass followers/friends that don't give a shit about your message, your product, nor your company. I set out to match companies with their audiences online, make the introductions or re-introductions, then help guide the conversation. Numbers don't mean anything if none of the fans, friends, followers are willing to buy the product, come into the store, or even share opinions on new products. If you just want numbers or a mere head count at an event, then you're not my client.

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