Who is REALLY a social media expert?

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking at an organization’s conference about using social media. At the end of my talk, I received a question I didn’t expect:

“How do we find the REAL social media experts? How do we know who we can trust to help us with social media?”

Of course, I gave her my card after my talk, but I think this woman brought up a good question. And, it’s been one I’ve been pondering ever since.

The digital divide

I think we’ve got a huge divide in the social media space.

On one hand, you have traditional PR and marketing agencies that have the reputation and deep expertise on executing campaigns and strategies. They are expert communicators who know how to build relationships.

Yet, somewhat surprisingly, many traditional agencies are behind the curve when it comes to digital marketing
 and social media.

After all, one would think that strategic communicators would easily “get” how to engage on the social web. But for some strange reason, many traditional agencies are slow to adapt to new technologies.

On the other hand, you have so-called social media “gurus” and purely digital shops professing the wonders of social media and offer it as the answer to every business problem.

Yes, the “gurus” may have a keen understanding of the tools or know how to build large networks for themselves, but many don’t know how social media fits into an overall marketing strategy or how to tie their efforts to real results.

So, where does that leave us?

Where agencies should be headed

I think the firms that are best positioned to thrive in today’s marketing world are those that have a background executing traditional marketing and communications strategies, yet know how to apply those principles in the digital landscape.

Here’s what I think that means — the best agencies will:

  • Know how to integrate digital marketing (social media, content marketing, search engine optimization, pay-per-click, email, etc.) into the overall marketing mix;
  • Continue to place an emphasis on smart, strategic communication — regardless of the medium;
  • Understand that social media is just a series of tools and not a magic bullet that will guarantee success;
  • Stay on top of the trends, tools and resources needed to get the job done;
  • Partner with others or bring in outside help, when needed, to complement the skills you offer in-house;
  • Determine the best strategies and tactics that will help generate results for the business; and
  • Focus on measuring their efforts so you can easily make adjustments when needed and also tie metrics to results.

Certainly, there are exceptions to every rule. There are some traditional agencies out there that “get it”, as well as self-professed gurus whose skills go deeper than setting up Twitter accounts.

But, I think the best agencies for helping your business achieve results will bring both strategy and knowledge of the tools to the table. (That’s what we do anyway.)

Otherwise, you may end up with a lopsided approach that doesn’t move the needle for your business.

What do you think?


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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

13 replies on “Who is REALLY a social media expert?”

I get this question a lot as well. It drives me CRAZY when someone is a social media expert, but has a background in IT or technology or fundraising and is advising companies on reputation management and crisis. I’m sorry, but those are things that take communications expertise and they’re both a big problem online because they’re so visible. Sure, some of the experts get it, but you’ll notice those who do have – at the very least – marketing backgrounds.

I always tell people to see if the expert can give you case studies and references beyond their own brands. And call those references. Did they really help with crisis or reputation management or were they just paid of lot of money to come in for one day and extol their wisdom? If it’s the latter, they’re not the right person.

Totally agree. I also see a lot of people who are so-called “experts” because they have built a large network and are leaning on the rock-star status they’ve created for themselves. While that’s great, that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to do that for a company.

Love the idea to ask about case studies outside of the expert’s own work. That’s great! I told the woman to ask people for references and their own case studies, but being able to cite other work is important too.

I’m in your (and Laura’s) corner in this one: how many so-called “experts” are simply leveraging the success of their own self-created rock-star status? Excellent question!

For what it’s worth, whatever I’ve learned and enjoy sharing, I don’t think I’ve had the cojones to profess myself a “social media expert”, and thoroughly know my own limitations. Put me in the first category– I manage only my own brand. I’m an insurance marketer first, and don’t care to go into the social media guru business anyhow.

I think the idea of asking for case studies and references is stellar… but you shouldn’t have to, because *any* company worth its salt will have already posted these on its site. Right?

Yes and no. We have three clients who have expressly said we’re not allowed to post that we work with them anywhere online. They’ll serve as references for us on the phone, but not via email or on the web. One is a Fortune 10 company so I REALLY want people to call our references so they know we work with them.

Well now the cat’s out of the bag, isn’t it? : )

When we use testimonials, it’s of the sort, “We couldn’t have done it without LTCA, they were so professional and courteous!”– Jane D., Los Angeles, CA.

Would your client object to “Working with Gini was the best decision we ever made!” –Senior Marketing VP, Fortune 10 Company

On the bright side, between the two of us we’ve managed to publicize the fact that SpinSucks works with a Fortune 10 company 3 times in the last 7 hours. Not too shabby : )

GIni, you know I love ya, but who knows how to handle a crisis better than IT? Seriously though, my background is IT, but I also made sure I spent 5 years in marketing and 3 in social before I even claimed to know what I was doing. Personally I think claiming to be an expert in social media is like claiming to be an expert in building car doors–valuable skill, but there are many other parts to consider. Great post, Laura!


Such an important and excellent point. Strangely, even after interviewing almost 300 people I don’t consider myself a “social media expert.” What I do know how to do is create content and build relationships.

I think the most important poin you made however is ” to partner with or others or bring in outside help.” In the digital divide I see two different things. People who really get the business value part of how to fit into an integrated marketing strategy (but lack to the storytelling/creative component) and the the content creators who may not have the business background but are masterful at creating an experience that gets people hanging on their every word. Where I think the future lies is in connecting these two groups together. It’s part of why I think so many big brands are so boring on social media. They miss that part of the equation. But it’s also why there are so many “starving artists” bloggers.

Very thought provoking post,.

Hi Srini – You know, the whole “expert” moniker is so hard. I think that there are definitely people with expertise in the social media space – including you – but no will ever know everything there is to know about it. Somehow that term gets so abused that people shy away from it, yet there are people where it does deserve to be bestowed, you know? That’s a whole other blog post!

But, as for the agency set up, I think there is definitely a shift (or needs to be) with how agencies operate. In the olden days, many larger agencies tried to have all of the skills and expertise in house. Now, that’s much harder (and often impractical) to do. Partnering is so valuable and important. I think that allows smaller agencies and consultants to compete, yet also allows for innovation as you mentioned. I think combining storytellers and strategist is indeed a powerful combination. You need both mindsets to have a successful effort!

Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your excellent insight!


For a long time, I’ve had this idea that I understand the really essential stuff about message development and connecting with customers, and that everything else comes second. I still believe it to some degree. But these days I have a much greater respect for people who have other skills and experience. Including the tools of social media.

Your list is great. I’m glad it includes “Partner with others or bring in outside help” when you need to.

But I want to see the people who best understand the customer, as well as the client’s key strategies, leading the effort.

I’m glad I didn’t read your post before I wrote mine with an eerily similar headline. It would have intimidated me a bit because you have such a good grasp on the topic! Thanks for visiting and commenting. By the way, you should head back over and see the comment after yours. Pretty interesting…

Hi Barrett – Thanks so much for stopping by. I think the best folks know how to use the tools to craft messages and connect with customers. It has to be a balance of the two. Unfortunately, many folks (or firms) lean too far one way or the other. While that may be okay, they need to make sure someone is handling the other side.

So glad I found your post too – great discussion there. I think Erik’s comments were great. I just added to the discussion. Hope it keeps going!

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