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

May 6, 2009 | @Kevin

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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