Today, I was reading through the usual batch of SEO, social media and small business news when I happened across a rather intriguing response on SEOmoz to the allegation that hiring a social media expert was a waste of time. Both the unintentional instigator of the debate and the individual who responded had a number of valid points. The instigator, one Peter Shankman, claimed that claiming someone was a ‘social media expert’ was akin to claiming they were able to remove bread from the fridge, but minus the ability to actually make the sandwich.
The individual refuting the statements made by Shankman was Rand Fishkin, SEOmoz CEO and co-founder. Interestingly, he went to the length of creating a chart detailing the expertise of social media specialists (a far more legitimate term, in my opinion), which I’ll post here for you (all credit goes to him, of course):
As you may be able to tell, it’s fairly comprehensive. However, I’ve got a few issues with his categorisation of certain slices of ‘web-knowledge,’ especially given that some of the skills he categorises as advanced are actually what he states social media expertise is not – ‘common sense.’ I believe in offering somebody the best service they can get, and I think it’s important to analyse his competent summary, given that the few flaws within it do point to an overall problem with the image of the ‘social media guru.’
First of all, the basic and intermediate skills are literally common sense, and are actions that people perform in their daily lives – people who don’t touch social media professionally. Shortening tweets, Google Analytics, Wikipedia, competitions with few requirements to enter – this isn’t anything new, and contesting that this is somehow specific to social media is awkward, especially given that some of it has nothing to do with social media. SEO, I can understand, but to purport something as vague as someone’s display picture as relevant solely to that sphere of expertise is a flawed argument, at best.
It’s all about what you’re willing to classify yourself as. No web expert wants to be a Jack-of-all-trades, and this is because you’re not actually seen as skilled at anything, only competent. But herding in a bunch of skills from disciplines separate to your own highlights that ‘competent’ characterisation of social media experts.
By no means am I contesting the relevance of social media experts – if I myself ran a company that worked with SEO, or even any business entity with an online presence, there’d be a full-time social media specialist on staff, because to ignore the importance of social media to marketing is ludicrous. However, the first commenter on Fishkin’s article made the most valid point of all: that most ‘experts’ on the web are usually self-proclaimed as such. ‘Ninjas’ is a personal pet peeve. You are not a ninja. Ninjas assassinate people and live by a code of honour. You actively seek to make friends, and employ no code of honour whatsoever, given that the most common phrase you’ll utter within any given online situation is ‘follow me and I’ll follow you back!’
Fishkin sells his expertise well – the advanced skills are really something to consider, but I feel he sells himself short by including basic knowledge in that chart. When defending any discipline, it is paramount that you state only what separates you from all the would-be experts, because giving the ‘common sense’ qualifications for the title in addition will inextricably mesh your field of expertise with theirs and make that distinction infinitely more difficult.
He then reveals his master-stroke; that Shankman himself is listed as a social media consultant in a featured listing on InvestinSocial. Priceless, and proof that if there’s one group of people you shouldn’t criticise unfairly on the web, it’s the people who’ve made it their stomping ground. Nothing is hidden, everything’s fair game. Now, where is my ‘social media ninja-pirate-alien-robot’ badge?