How to become a social media expert (besides self proclamation) | Convertiv

How to become a social media expert (besides self proclamation)

Every few months there seems to be a debate about what makes someone a social media expert. This is something that is sort of a pet peeve of mine because this seems like the only industry where you can proclaim that you are an expert without really doing anything. If I walked into a hospital and proclaimed that I was a neurosurgeon it probably wouldn’t work out well for anyone involved. I can’t name how many times I have been to a conference and had to listen to someone that had zero idea what they were talking about. Professionally I have had to mop up after people that allegedly “knew what they were doing”. Maybe that is good for me because I end up with the client but overall it is bad for the industry.

The thing is a lot of the people involved in this conversation are slightly vain and don’t realize that they embody exactly what they are criticizing. (Not the blogs cited above some of the people commenting, yes.) Some are peacocks trying to present themselves as being in a better position than they actually are and some criticize because they aren’t doing as well professionally as some of charlatans that are out there.

Instead of ripping people and calling them posers while quoting my resume I thought it would be more constructive to actually give people some suggestions on how to get into this industry and actually land jobs while gaining valuable experience. (The expert crack in the title was a joke, work in an industry for a few years before you even start to think about using the word expert anywhere near your name.)

While building your personal brand is nice, spend some time getting actual experience.

I have been working in social media for over five years doing both consulting work and working in house for agencies and companies. Over that time in interviews for jobs and in pitches to client I can count on one hand how many times the amount of followers or friends I had came up.  Yes your personal brand is important in showing that you can build and maintain a social media presence. When people start doing research on you how your personal brand is constructed can help their perception of you. However your personal brand it isn’t going to get you in the door with most companies if you don’t have some sort of experience to go with it.

This doesn’t happen:

HR Guy 1: Their last job was at the Gap and before that they worked at Best Buy for three years.
HR Guy 2: But they have 15,000 friends on Twitter!
HR Guy 1: Well shit we should hire them to run all of our social media

How do you get experience besides building your personal brand?

Craigslist… Every single day there are positions asking for part time social media assistance or help with internet marketing. You can find internships, low paying jobs, and volunteer work on a part time basis from people wanting to get in this space but don’t have the budget or know how to do it. This is a low commitment way to build your chops.

Local small businesses or charities… Depending on where you live there are small businesses that really can do well deploying social media. You might even have a friend that owns a company or a family member volunteering at a charity. Volunteer or come to a profit sharing agreement on a social media campaign. Not sure how to track your impact for profit sharing? Welcome to the world of figuring out ROI for a client. See you are learning something.

Whichever option you go with it will give you a feather in your cap for your resume plus you can cite specific examples of the impact of your work. Traffic, sales growth, community building… you will be able to find something positive to talk to future employers or clients about.

Use these opportunities to build out your skill set

Being able to set up a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account, and a LinkedIn profile does not make one a social media expert. Take these opportunities to have a better than average understanding of SEO, niche social networks, how to target certain demographics, learn how to create and edit video, how to do research, podcasts, learn about other platforms that you are unfamiliar with,  learn HTML, learn CSS, try out Photoshop, effective monitoring, edit something on Wikipedia, and the list goes on. Tie your social media outreach into their larger marketing campaigns and help whomever you are working with establish goals and be able to track them.

The point is to use technology and strategies that you wouldn’t use in your day to day usage. Get outside of your comfort zone and learn because there is going to be a time when a company or client asks your opinion of or your experience with these different technologies and strategies

Find someone that you do respect and ask them to mentor you

When you try out these programs for clients run your ideas by someone that you respect. Get involved in your local social media scene and find people that you can bounce your ideas and strategies off of. Maybe they can see the holes in what you are doing and help you round out your plan. It is great when you have the chance to take the ball and run with it but it is even better when you have someone refining your running style to make you that much more efficient.

Over a period of time you can gain experience, improve your skill set, and build a career in this space. I’d rather be listening to, conversing with, and competing against people that have actual experience than someone that knows how to take a nice picture of themselves and add a lot of people on Twitter on a daily basis. By creating an industry full of knowledgable and experienced people it only helps the reputation of what we do and who we are.

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10 thoughts on “How to become a social media expert (besides self proclamation)

  1. Kevin, this is an incredibly useful post. It can be really intimidating and confusing to figure out how to get involved in social media projects such that you can gain enough credible experience to start to think about consulting. The idea of using Craigslist and local/small businesses to get a foothold is fantastic. I’m bookmarking this one and will be back… thanks!


  2. Refreshing post – my latest recurring eye-rolling phenomena has to do with a fair amount of freaked out writers running around signing up at every social networking site conceivable hoping to gain popularity, while putting no time into providing actual content. It’s weird to get paranoid about how you’re missing the social networking phenomena if you don’t have anything to connect to people with, first.

  3. “Yes your personal brand is important in showing that you can build and maintain a social media presence. When people start doing research on you how your personal brand is constructed can help their perception of you. However your personal brand it isn’t going to get you in the door with most companies if you don’t have some sort of experience to go with it.”

    I agree, but on the other hand, many people get VERY valuable experience from simply successfully using social media sites. Twitter is getting a lot of attention now, so let’s use it as an example. Many people will see someone with 5,000 followers and dismiss it as ‘well they are just using Twitter to build their personal brand, doesn’t mean anything’.

    But many people have thousands of followers because the Twitter community views them as knowledgeable about social media. NOT because of superior networking efforts. Take Beth Harte, for example. She has about 6-7K followers, and I can tell you that she could easily have double that if she was leveraging Twitter as a tool to build her ‘personal brand’.

    Who do I hire to help my company utilize Twitter? The person that says that have helped clients get on Twitter, or someone like Beth, who can prove that she knows how to successfully use Twitter as a communications channel?

    Forget trying to build your personal brand. Use the tools as you would naturally. The people that understand how these tools work will grow their networks organically, and that demonstrates value to companies.

    • I disagree with a few things Mack. I know you are one of the experts and early adopters and it is hard for you to separate the way we think versus the average person. I promise you if you pull ten people into a room that are just starting out with Twitter and show them someone with 5,000 followers that they are going to probably think that person is an expert in their field because of “social proof”.

      You and I on the other hand would probably look over the content a little, look at how many posts they have made, check out their link and dismiss them.

      The thing is a lot of companies out there fall into that first group. Which is kind of what I think is dangerous and I have blogged about false authority before.

      Without a doubt there is experience to be gained from simply using these sites. That is how I got started. I was writing a comedy blog on MySpace and learning about these tools to leverage traffic. Five years later I am working with large corporations helping them sort out their social media strategies. But because I could build a mean MySpace page and use various social news/bookmarking sites to leverage traffic did not make me an expert. There is a process people need to go through and that was the point of this post. To tell people how to successfully gain some personal experience. I benefited from playing in this space early but now participating isn’t enough when you are going against people with knowledge and a rounded out skill set.

      Having the ability to apply the knowledge from your personal experience to a business is an entire different skill set and people need to be guided on how to do that.

      Additionally Beth is a horrible example to use. She has been doing marketing for years and teaches classes. Her credentials are going to get her into the door of most businesses even if she could barely sign into Twitter.

      The point of the post was to educate some people starting out and how to get where they want to go. As far as the answer to your Twitter questions I want someone that is a combination of both, I want someone with the experience of using a tool in a business environment and the trials and tribulations of using said tool. But I also want them to have the ability to help a company craft a voice and use it as a communication channel.

  4. Kevin,
    I commend you and your frank presentation to which the use of perceptive logic & predominant objective applicability validates (to myself) your position & proposed means of how to become a social media expert etc. What you have posted is obvious Common Sense in my viewpoint.
    I have not the intention to debase your argument in any way. I question solely for the purpose of my personal comprehension of this topic with regards to it’s prioritization of it’s necessity adherent to the ‘success’ of social media.
    By that being said, I ask,”Is it correct to assume that the original induction of modern social media (excluding the print press to some degree)to and for the public usage/benefit was to increase the amount of and more advanced(thus more interesting)forms of entertainment into society and therefore the ‘profit’ to be made were through the providing of the entertainment industry?
    My point is this. I equate entertainment with anything that isn’t based in a ‘realistic’ construct and thus I do not ‘consciously’ attach significant importance to social media as a resource for defining my personal constitution guide of behavior and decision-making process(es). And so, in my view, your proposition is not the ranking ‘priority’ of necessity to social media’s existence because it lies under ‘jurisdiction’ of the entity of entertainment. Entertainment and it’s purpose, the prime directive course of social media, supersedes all of which and that came about post tense.

    How do you perceive my statement?

    • I don’t know that we can say the induction of modern social media was meant to be a pure entertainment creation. If you read books like “The Wealth of Networks” and “Here Comes Everybody” you can see this medium as more of an organizational tool for groups to use. The deployment of and your goal for usage, be it either professional or personal, differ from person to person and relationship to relationship. You could be using social tools in a professional setting for pure collaborative purposes like a Wiki for example that has no tie to entertainment. While there is without a doubt an entertainment angle to all of this it doesn’t mean that it is the sole purpose nor should it be evaluated as such. You can’t just lump social media into the entertainment category.

      While you might not night take what you read on Twitter or a blog into your decision making process do you take a review of a product on Amazon or a rating to influence your purchasing decision? Do you use a how to video on Youtube to influence how you execute an operation? I’ll bet to some extent you do. These are all inherently social media interactions.

  5. the problem with social media is it’s so hard to keep up with it. it seems like every day there is something new making waves and it’s a pain trying to keep up with established social media trends while shifting through the hot new buzz that might or might not last more than a year.

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