Sorry, but you aren’t a Social Media Expert until you fail!

Sorry, but you aren’t a Social Media Expert until you fail!

and you can’t fail until you measure;  and you can’t measure until you execute; and you can’t execute until you plan; and you can’t plan until you have a strategy.  And when you do fail because you will at some point; it’s a great opportunity to learn, iterate, adapt, change and you might even lose your job. And even then, you are probably not an expert because the market changes, people change and the tools change every single day.

I have to admit that I was slightly irritated when @socialmediagod started to follow me on twitter. His profile is linked to the Google home page and states, “Social Media extraordinaire! I update you on the latest news in social media! The best social media advisor on the web is right here!”  No name … no face … no blog … and no idea of the type of work he has done.  I have exchanged messages with him in the past and he seemed to be decent; but the fact that he isn’t even disclosing his true identity leads me to believe that he is probably very new to this space since he doesn’t embrace the simple characteristic of transparency.

I would argue that most people who label themselves as social media experts aren’t really social media experts. In my humble opinion, a social media expert isn’t just someone who:

  • blogs, twitters, facebooks all day long
  • walks into a conference room, advises a company to start a blog, change the culture, integrate across the organization, get the employees to start using twitter; and then makes their way to the bank to cash in
  • repeatedly says “social media is all about the conversation” and then quotes chapter after chapter from the Cluetrain Manifesto (And yes, I have done this before)
  • talks about “transparency & disclosure” all day long; and then plays Monday morning quarterback by criticizing other companies when they screw up
  • has thousands of twitter followers, RSS subscribers and blog comments; or someone who produces funny videos and link bait all day long
  • who writes it in their profile(s)

I am sure there are more examples, too many to list. Geoff Livingston wrote a post that examines characteristics that a “good” social media consultant/agency should follow and they are quite awesome.  As examples, he links to a few friends of mine, some of who I have worked on direct projects with (Lee Odden and Razorfish – current Intel agency) and others who I know personally and admire for their leadership in this space (Chris Brogan , Rohit Bhargava and Paul Cheney). The problem is that anyone can follow these “25 steps”, write about it in their blogs; twitter it all day long, add it to their list of marketing services and their pitch decks – and then … well a new social media expert blossoms.  Until you actually do it, fail or succeed, do it again, learn, share, iterate, etc., you are not an expert. I am sorry.  I echo my friend Brian Chappell in this video.

In case anyone is reading this, please don’t misinterpret my point.

I don’t consider myself an expert.  I do have a lot of experience in this space and have executed multiple social media campaigns for two of my previous employers (Hewlett Packard and Yahoo! Communities) and now currently with Intel.  I still have a lot to learn.

And by no means am I insinuating that “in-house” marketers are experts while consultants/agencies aren’t. In fact, we hired Ignite Social Media for two projects; outreach and social media support for Digital Drag Race and also for the creation of a CES aggregation site.  Jim Tobin and his team “get it”. They understand the value of “conversations” – yes, I said it – but they also know how to execute and use social media to drive and influence web traffic.  Rohit and the Ogilvy team continue to do awesome work for Intel as well.

I personally know a true social media expert and he works for Intel. His name is Bob Duffy.  No, he doesn’t blog very often, use twitter that much or speak at every conference under the sun; but he does understand the tools, he can execute programs, he is VERY strategic, understands how to integrate various elements of social media; and more importantly, he can map social media back to the overall marketing goals and objectives set forth by Intel executive management. 

He was influential in launching the Intel “Open Port” community and was also a part of the team that created the social media guidelines and training. He is a man that I often seek advice from. 

And quite honestly, I am really getting sick of the term “social media”.  Today, I tried counting how many times I heard or read it in one day. I stopped at 29 and it was only 9 am.  I even tweeted this for the heck of it … just in case anyone was counting.

If you liked this post or disagree with my point of view about this matter, please follow me on Twitter and let’s hash it out. 

About Michael Brito

Michael Brito has been making things happen online since 1996 with a legit hustle. He gets mad when the 49ers lose, really mad. Feel free to follow him on Twitter.

  • Daniel Riveong


    I definitely share your frustration. To borrow a phrase from Chris Heuer, “there are no social media experts, only practitioners”.

    Furthermore, Social Media is a vague term which is growing to be as ambiguous as the term “internet marketer”. As you said, it’s about insight, strategy and linking it all back to the main goals – not how active you are on Twitter or talks endlessly about “the conversation”.

    Indeed, I only want to hear about Social Media in the context of how it directly supports an overall goal or supports a campaign. Otherwise, I just think it is junk.

    That said, I will be speaking about Social Media – but on how it can help out with SEO. :)

  • Claire

    I agree with most of the stuff that you said. But I also know that the people who are out there experimenting, doing and trying have a lot more opportunities to fail (and by your definition reach social media paradise as a martyr). So I’d rather take the advice of those folks than the highly paid “strategists” in their ivory towers.

  • Don Schindler

    Love this article. Why do we have to call ourselves experts at anything at all?

    Am I an expert at being a husband or father? On some days, I’m pretty good but most of the time I’m just trying to learn and not doing a great job of it. I’m sure my kids and my wife would have differing opinions depending on the day.

    Other co-workers call me an expert in meetings like it would give me creditability or something.

    Do you trust experts in other fields? Or is it because our field is so new and changes so quickly? I don’t know.

    But I do know that this article caused me to think about the “experts” I know and trust.

  • Shelley Ellis

    I am an Internet evolutionist and I continue to evolve as the Internet does – especially in Internet marketing. I don’t consider myself a social media expert either. As a matter of fact, I know a lot of people that get irked that I am getting exposure under the “social media” space. I have the knowledge for using content targeting to tap into social spaces with paid search ads and its FAST – something people want social strategies to be (and building social media strategies is not fast).

    One of the reasons I love this industry (Internet marketing) is because it continues to change and I have to keep changing to keep up. Social Media is just the latest hot topic. Tomorrow it will be something else and new “experts” will pop up again. I think the real experts are people who just really understand that companies have to change the way they think about the Internet, advertising and communicating with their clients as the Internet changes and then they can figure out how to utilize the new tools and technology to do that.

  • Andy Beedle

    This is spot on. And next time, I encourage you not to apologize at the end — but to maybe even be more forceful. Maybe something like this: “Social Media is now adding to the same soup of mediocrity and mutual self-congratulation that started when folks in Silicon Alley gave up their sweater knitting businesses and became “usability experts” or “web designers”. So please oh please, do something significant that we can talk about rather than talk about what everyone is talking about talking about.”

    Or something like that. 😉

    Anyway — thanks for this. It needs to be said more often. And BTW — Chris Brogan sent me via Twitter (but he and I don’t actually know each other — I just follow him.)

  • Howard Moorey

    Thanks Michael – great points, and I checked out your links too!

    Do you feel there is an important place here for the “Social Media Teacher” – he who is not an “expert” yet, but is passionate about it and about taking the message out to a wider audience, who are all still “Learners”?

    The “Guru’s” and true “Experts” do not all work on broadcasting, face-to-face, with small & medium enterprise owners, as I do, through Networking Meetings, and personal interviews, because they are who they are, and they have Conferences and Seminars to speak at, and blogs to write – thank you again to YOU, and @chrisbrogan and @jimconnolly – but there is still a need for the “little workers” (like me!) to go out and speak to smaller audiences to get the message into the wider domain, and answer live, immediate, questions on the spot! This helps the Learners to understand better & use SocMed better and more responsibly – good for all of don’t you think?

    To requote Geof Livingston: “Social media communications is still a really new industry”, and as such, we ALL have our part to play.

    Thanks again Michael, keep it coming!

  • Tiffany Monhollon

    The popular use of the term Expert has always given me some pause.

    It used to be that this term was parsed out by the legacy media – they found and vetted experts as a part of the newsgathering process.

    But now that the gatekeeper is dead and everyone has access to their own printing press, the way we define truth is radically different. It’s a collaborative process and a conversation. So to me, just because someone calls themself an expert (and can convince others to call them by that moniker, too) doesn’t mean they are.

    So, what do you think about the idea of authority in naming expertise? If someone has more knowledge than me and I call them an expert, does that make them one? Is the term now entirely relative, relational, and contextual? Or… has it really always been that way?

  • Henie


    As a novice social media participant and blogger, I want to thank you for illuminating the overwhelming path of learning for me.

    It’s been very difficult to sort out “egos” versus “authentic transparency.”

    I claim no expertise as well but this I have absorbed thus far: Listen, Learn, Share – A very good springboard for impending “failure.” :0)

    Thank you for your insight and I look forward to following you on Twitter!

    Henie Reisinger

  • Kiran

    Good post. Agrees seriously. However, I would be thrilled to know any REAL cases of Social Media for the win. Places where Social Media actually kicked ass and got real numbers to speak for itself (like the SEM / SEO cases).

    People do talk about using Twitter for this, Facebook app for that and a few blogs (mostly for small businesses), get a conversation happening and so on.

    Has there been a case of money generation anywhere?

  • Richard Bagnall

    Love it! Great points here which I have picked up in Metrica’s blog Measurement Matters ( but focussing on the PR perspective.

    One confession, I do say social media in my post – sorry! :-)

    Cheers, Richard

  • Kevin

    Failures tend to make us humble and we’re not so quick to say we’re an expert at anything. I’m almost an expert at tying my shoes… :)

  • Lady_VoIP

    You make excellent points to be sure. I think anyone claiming to be an expert of any kind is rather annoying. And the term “social media” is the new “synergy.” I play a similar counting game in our branding meetings, seeing how many times my boss will say the word “organic.”

    Trouble is I have read blogs/tweets like this before. There is a good deal of people explaining whats wrong with social media or what not to do. What I don’t see is any direction, any suggestion. This leaves us all bumping around in a communications trail and error. Its only natural that many of us will make similar mistakes.

  • Janet Fouts

    I agree whole-heartedly that unless you’ve seen the trenches you can say you get social media. You can watch it, even participate in it, but until you get your hands dirty you don’t know it.

    I’d like to add that you can’t learn this in a book or take a few courses and workshops and understand how to make things work. You have to try and fail and try and succeed to understand how it works and know that it works differently every single time.

  • Ben

    I agree with what you see. There is so much generic advice around but very little on the nuts and bolts of it or, enacting a viable strategy using the various elements of social media correctly.

  • Ad Hustler

    Failures ultimately lead to success in any undertaking :)

  • brent donaldson

    failure can also lead to more failure :)

  • Marketing consultant

    Brilliant. Congratulations, I couldn’t have explained it better.
    Well done!

  • Bold Endeavours

    failure can leads to learning. It is the same as little children learn to walk and then fall and then stand up go and again fall. but this is how experience and knowledge comes.

  • Jack Zufelt

    Funny tweet to end your post. If it were only that easy to become an expert in social media.

  • james

    good article

  • http://Website(optional) Nestor Roman

    I followed your publications closely for a good time, and your articles always are interesting…
    And you have reason, there are persons who feel expert simply for speaking about the Social Media…

    jEjEjEje.. Good Article…

    In Spanish:
    He seguido tus publicaciones de cerca desde hace un buen tiempo, y tus artículos siempre son interesantes…
    Y tienes razón, hay personas que se sienten expertos simplemente por hablar de el tema.

  • The Sharper Image Review

    i'm thinkin' of taking your post, printing it off and sending it to my boss. Hopefully, it will feel like 'deja vu' when he goes to hire another Social Media “consultant.”