6a00d8345169c669e20168e6947099970c-piAt last night’s IABC/Toronto Professional Independent Communicators (PIC) meeting, Anita Windisman did a terrific presentation on LinkedIn. In reviewing the tweets generated during Anita’s session, I noticed a single criticism:

Ppl under 30 aren’t all ‘kids’. Just b/c someone has their MBA doesn’t mean they’re more of a ‘SM expert’ than someone younger #pictips

Let me put this in context. Anita mentioned that she has an MBA and 18 years of marketing and business experience. She made an offhand comment that she’s not a “kid” doing social media training.

[I did not write this down verbatim, but I think I’ve captured the spirit of what she said.]

I’ve always maintained that a social media “expert” is not someone who merely can train you in the mechanics of Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or GooglePlus or Hootsuite or TweetDeck or whatever. Anyone can learn how to retweet, how to tag, etc. These are necessary skills, but they do not in and of themselves yield business results.

Plenty of my clients attend seminars on social media, then walk away saying, “OK, so now I know how to do the mechanics, but what do I tweet about? Do I have to be on Facebook? Why would I connect with someone on LinkedIn? What do I say? How is this stuff relevant?”

These are important questions about business strategy.

So, yes, one does not need an MBA or any other degree for that matter to be a social media “expert.” [You’ll note I keep putting the word in quotation marks because I’m not sure that the word “expert” is even appropriate.] But I do believe that business people want to work with a marketing specialist or a communications consultant who can help them solve problems, using social media or some other tactic.

In a field as young as social media, there are bound to be many young practitioners. Last year I attended an event where I met one such woman. She described herself as a social media trainer who’d been in business about a year. When I asked her what she’d been doing before then, she said she was a wedding photographer. In fact, she still was.

I’m sure she’d be proficient at explaining how to retweet on Twitter or tag someone on Facebook, but I doubt she’d be able to advise a senior executive on a blogging strategy or a content marketing campaign.

After a decade or so in business, one’s degree is largely immaterial. I don’t think I’ve mentioned my own Masters in Public Administration to a client, with the exception of some of those in the public sector, who like to see consultants with these particular letters after their names.

But business experience is another matter. It’s a prerequisite, in my humble opinion, before one can advise another person.

One’s age is not a prerequisite. Someone can be 40 with two years in business. But I doubt that a 25-year old, unless he’s a prodigy of some kind, could have more than a couple of years of real-life business experience.

I’d love to know what you think. Does a person need business experience to be a social media “expert”?

Please share your thoughts on this. Am I off base?

7 COMMENTS

  1. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell studied what made superstars, from the Beatles to Bill Gates and found the success didn’t come from talent or passion. In every case, it was loads of time perfecting what they do, at least 10,000 hours I recall. Being an expert may not take as much time as an outlier, but it still takes a lot of time. Young people can concentrate time to get there. But people who have been around a while are more likely to have devoted lots of time. You don’t get the expert trophy for enthusiasm.

  2. I agree about the quotes around “expert.” Social media is a catch-all phrase that gets tossed around a lot. But as these tools become part of the fabric of our business, the “wow” factor will fade and we’ll be back to where we should be.

    Our job is to make sure that we’re getting people the information they need, at the right time, in the right place, in order to do their job better. It’s the results that matter, not the tools.

    Wish I could have been there – sounds like it was a terrific presentation.

  3. I agree that age should not be the deciding factor: As a 30-year-old who’s been a professional communicator for nearly 12 years — post college graduation — I’m conscious that age-based assumptions are not always accurate.

    I think there’s still a significant knowledge gap when it comes to most organizations and social media; they think being there is the key, so the mechanics are all they are looking for. Like the business owner who gets his or her teenager to build their website. Some will realize that it takes more than waving a virtual flag to get results; others will decide social media is a waste of time.

    Much like writing in general, social media has virtually no barriers to entry; that I’m aware of, there are no set standards or principles for “experts” to be measured against, by themselves or others. I believe this will change, and hopefully in the near future — but until then, it’s all open to interpretation.

  4. I should have said many organizations – I think there is increased understanding. But I also think a recent BusinessWeek debate, “Social media sites: Employers should block them” (http://ow.ly/8Rtcv), is just one indicator that the gap still exists.

  5. Barb beat me to it by quoting Malcolm Gladwell. So thank-you!

    Amy and Dave, you bring up interesting points as well. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

    I agree with Donna in that I think it’s hard for anyone to be a de facto “expert” in social media, given the fast pace at which it progresses. I am in constant learning mode myself.

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