What is a Social Networking/Media Expert?

I recently was asked to speak at a workshop on LinkedIn by a connection of mine.  A week or so prior to the event I received an email from her to use to promote the event.  The description headline stopped me in my tracks…”Sean Nelson the King of LinkedIn”

It took me about two seconds to fire off an email telling her to ditch the royal reference ASAP.  A lot of people would call me an expert on LinkedIn, its their opinion so they can think or say what they like.  I have a different different way of describing what I am.  “I’m simply a small business owner that learned how to use LinkedIn and Social networking / media in order to network more efficiently and to drive new business.”

The word “expert” is thrown around way too often these days with little to back up the claim.  What does a LinkedIn expert look like?  How do you determine that they are an expert?  The same goes for “social networking/media expert”.

I was looking at my home page the other day and noticed an updated profile for a connection of mine and someone I’ve known for the last couple of years.  Curious about what changed I took a look at his profile and immediately noticed that after years in another field he was now a social media expert.

Now anyone can learn a lot about social media and be seen as an expert or extremely knowledgeable even if they’re not in the marketing or advertising field.  I’m a prime example of that.  I learned LinkedIn and social networking/media through trial and error trying to drive business for my insurance agency.

In this case the person had attended a couple of my LinkedIn workshops, a few other social media workshops, and was partnering with a company jumping from Google Adwords to social media.  It takes more than attending a couple of workshops and working in the industry to be an expert.

So what is an expert and how do you determine if you’re one?  Is it valid to claim that you are an expert or does that title have to be conferred upon you by another person?  I’m not certain what the official definition is but here are some thoughts about what I think it takes to potentially be considered an expert:

Without knowledge we’re not even having this discussion.  You have to know the subject to claim expertise.  But there’s a difference between knowing something and knowing how to use it effectively.

To be an expert you have to know both the strategies of your subject and the tactics to accomplish them.  There are many people out there teaching others what LinkedIn is, not as many teaching people how to specifically use it to accomplish specific goals.

Be a Teacher:
Some might disagree with this one, but if you want to be an expert you have to not only know your subject but be able to communicate it to others so that they understand it.  One of the interesting parts of conducting workshops is there is often a range of different experience levels in terms of using LinkedIn or social networking/media.  Making sure each walks away with value is a challenge that requires understanding the subject from multiple perspectives.

Create not Regurgitate:
An expert is someone who takes the current discussion and advances it a couple of steps further down the road.  They don’t simply repeat what they have heard or read.  I think if you want to be considered an expert you have to bring a new perspective or approach to the table.

There are many people who are experts at conducting workshops on LinkedIn or social networking/media but they are not necessarily a LinkedIn or social networking / media expert.  You can still learn a lot from these people.  Not being an expert isn’t a black mark, it may simply be that you know a lot about the subject.  There are many people who could benefit from the knowledge of a non-expert.

Put a Target on Your Back:
The final piece of the puzzle is that a LinkedIn or social networking/media expert needs to publish their thoughts, ideas, strategies, etc. for review, discussion, and disagreement.  This might be done through a book, a blog, or other media.  The key is that they are staking a claim and giving others an opportunity to dissect their ideas.

Wrap Up

So back to the original question…”What is a LinkedIn or Social Networking/Media expert?”  Who cares.  It’s not about what you say you are it’s about what those who have relied upon your information and expertise say.

To some I might be an expert.  To others not.   My perspective is that I’m simply a small business person that began learning to use social networking/media to make money.  What I’ve been able to learn simply now is a knowledge base to help other’s do the same.

In boxing, Ali was an expert and one of, if not the greatest.  How would you define a Social Networking/Media expert?


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Published by

Sean Nelson

Sean has been a Keynote speaker at Norvax University, conducts social media workshops and webinars, and has released three books on LinkedIn and written several social media guides. Sean currently runs Social Media Sonar, which in addition to providing free resources, manages social media strategies and tactics for companies. He is also a partner in Surge Labs, a conversion rate optimization company, helping companies improve conversions and profitability through scientific testing of Landing Pages, Websites, Email communications, and Shopping Carts.

31 thoughts on “What is a Social Networking/Media Expert?”

  1. Excellent article! I have read a lot of information on so-called experts but this is the best presentation of useful facts and sensible thoughts I have seen yet on this subject.

    Whether or not you consider yourself an expert, you are a gifted and interesting writer.

    Jan 🙂

  2. Jsn,

    Thanks for the comments. I’d love to be able to say I’m an expert but in regards to social media the word has been so watered down that its almost perceived as a negative.

    Keep joining the conversations.


  3. Very informative article. I too have attended seminars with “Experts” who tell me about social media, but very few talk about – what my goals are from using social media, nor do they talk about how they acomplished their goals on social media. The article made me think a little more about how my business will use social media.

  4. I think it’s a stretch to be called an “expert” in a field that is constantly evolving. No matter how much experience you have, there is always something new, not just on the horizon, but hitting our computer monitors on a daily basis. Better to say you’re a consultant with extensive experience in social media. And then back it up.

    Good article!

  5. Sean,

    Although I admire Ali as likely the greatest boxer of all time calling him an “expert” might not fit with the dialogue above. He combined such a wide variety of innovative and unorthodox strategies in the ring (and outside of it) to confuse, wear down and bewilder opponents while marketing himself to crowds. It might be more applicable to call Angelo Dundee the boxing “expert” as he trained some of the most heralded athletes in boxing including Ali. While Ali was a great boxer – Mr. Dundee made (a few) boxers great.

  6. Matthew,

    I can agree that Angelo Dundee was a great trainer, but Ali is the one who had to get into the ring and take the punches. I guess an added point of an expert from this conversation would be that if you want to be an expert you have be able to implement it for yourself.

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

  7. Hey Sean,

    I like the post a lot. I recently wrote an article that got a fair amount of attention called Social Media is Not a Strategy: http://www.newmediacampaigns.com/page/social-media-is-not-a-strategy.

    It explores exactly what you’re talking about when people who don’t really know what they’re talking about try to pass themselves off as experts.

    I think your points are spot on, especially to “put a target on your back” and expect/aim for disagreement and discussion.

    Thanks for sharing!


  8. Clay,

    Thanks for the comments. I took a look at your blog and thought you hit the nail on the head as well.

    ****Be sure to check out Clay’s post…the link is in his comment.


  9. Sean,

    Nice article- buyer beware is always true. I remember my 1st CRM system and their expert it was so new that they had to redesign a ton of stuff just to synch our legacy data, today it is no problem for any system.( it was Microsoft too not an unknown).I date myself here.

    I have also taken the position that a lot of companies are not ready to put Social into their business they are boring, or suck at customer service.They are not handling their leads from their established channel very well- let alone have the skill to build an online relationship. Executive endorsement has to happen too or you are just an add on as a marketing channel. There are so many businesses that want in that I sometimes wonder if there are enough experts in this emerging field.

    It is impossible to be a Social Media expert- you can be a thought leader in areas, but if everyone engaged here now was honest and did a personal SWOT on their abilities – most would see that they are weak in areas and the folks that can really help are those that are able and willing to say ” here is my expert for BLANK and he can help you with this. An expert in the future is going to the value of his network and what he can get them to help him and his clients with.

  10. Sean,

    You appropriately point out an issue that extends well beyond the current social media activity. Terms like “Expert,” “Rainmaker,” “Catalyst,” are quickly and easily adopted by some individuals in a self proclaimed fashion. I have always found this questionable.

    These terms should be “granted” by the community at-large. Additionally, I know that when I see someone with a term such as this on their business card or in their Linkedin profile, my first tendency is skepticism, probably the opposite effect than the person was trying to achieve.


  11. Ray,

    Thanks for the comments. I feel the same way in regards to terms that have come to be more sales oriented than valid statements. Most people that would be considered “Experts” by others, are expert enough to avoid using the term to describe themselves.

    There are definitely negatives associated with the use.


  12. I don’t know about the 10,000 hour limit, but definitely time involved is a key component. I think there are people that are aspects in parts of social media and maybe some in all, yet most of this has only been around for a couple of years.


  13. Great article Sean! I really agree with most of your points.

    I find it so obnoxious that there is suddenly an influx of “experts” in every social media circle. Some of the networks haven’t even existed long enough to allow anyone to actually BE an expert. Especially in terms of the internet, expertise will include consistently staying on top of the latest and greatest. What one learned last week may not affect anything the next week.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  14. Sean,

    Nice post. I find it interesting, though, that only Barbara Bailey (with whom I agree completely) uses the word “experience” in her comments. I’ve been complaining for a while about self-styled social media experts who have never created and executed a social media strategy on behalf of a business, big or small. What these “experts” lack is experience, which shares the same French and Latin roots with the word expert. The ever-trusty Oxford English Dictionary, in fact, defines an expert as someone with experience. I side with the OED and Barbara on this one.

    Like Barbara, we counsel our clients that they should throw out of their offices anyone who shows up claiming to know everything about social media. There’s no such animal. Rather, we suggest, just ask the expert for a couple of detailed case studies that produced actual results. Inquire, in other words, into their experience.

    It also helps to have a vision based on experience. Here’s ours, from our blog: http://postadvertising.com/post/2009/10/12/Social-media-overpowers-NBC-A-vision.aspx

    Again, thanks for your post.


    Kirk Cheyfitz

  15. Kirk,

    I agree experience is a key ingredient to being able to possibly claim expertise. I didn’t include it because I assumed it was implied. If you have everything else I mentioned but have not actually done it you might be a social media scholar but would be far from an expert. Thanks for emphasizing this and making it part of the conversation.

    Now lets hope that its positive experience where a client actually benefited.


  16. Brilliant article & you caught my attention.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    I am very much interested to speaking with you, what I am doing within the new media & next generation secured multimedia communication sector.


  17. Interesting, robust discussion. Personally I don’t think there is enuf “collective” experience in “social media / networking” domain for anyone to lay claim to being an expert; at least not in its full EXPERT status.

    Someone mentioned Social Networking or social media/networking is still developing, and I believe that is true to a point. I think the pervasive use of technology (devices, platforms, networking…etc) has taken inter- and intra- personal communication to a whole different level. It has effectively shrunk the world and expanded our sphere of community. Business are hell bent to leverage / use / monitize / optimize every tool or technology available to advance their business. Do individual consumers (not networking professionals) use their social networks to advance themselves or to connect with similar type? I would LOVE to see a sociologist participating in these discussions on what are the cultural and social drivers behind the growth, use and pitfalls of this electonic social connection.

    I think using “forums” to collect user / consumer feedback is a great use / application of social medium to improve ones services and to better service their customers.

  18. Until the industry (the tool providers) begin to certify a training path no one, myself included, is truly an expert. I’ve spoken with dozens of vendors about this and the reality is that everyone is so busy building they’ve neglected to regulate the community. I liken it to the early Microsoft days. Once upon a time you were able to call yourself a Microsoft expert simply by knowing how to use the technology. Imagine that today, no IT department in the world would trust a systems engineer without a least an MCSE. Social computing will go the same route. Certification protects the vendor from liable and provides the community a common language to advance the industry.

  19. This is a repeat of my comments to Sean in our LinkedIn Group but I felt it might find different readers here.

    Sean’s discussion on the subject hit the mark so well that I felt compelled to comment. As a someone who speaks at all the related conferences and subscribes to far more feeds, groups, etc than I have hours in the day; I see way too much of this; everyone jumping on the social bandwagon without truly being an expert. Before I go on, I want to make one comment here, social media marketing is a very specialized field and like SEO and others, you really need to do it full time to be good at it; at the consultancy level.

    I myself speak regularly at search and other internet-related conferences on the subject (especially of late on YouTube) however I always pre-fixed it by 1) naming those around me who truly are experts and 2) in the case of YouTube acknowledging that besides the experts, my 14 year old son is my YouTube “Mentor”

    In fact, I am quickly suggesting that YouTube (& other video channels) are the next disrupter…that they are the next YouTube Generation and if businesses do not quickly grasp this, they will be left behind. It is definitely becoming the next big “Change or Die” disrupters.

    I laughed about the “target on your back” comment because it is true. Social does rock people’s boat, especially those looking for instant gratification – read: ROI; they especially are having a hard time with it. I just finished speaking at the last big Affiliate conference on how it is time to quit focusing on SEO & PPC in Google (especially) because everyone is doing it and in that extremely dog eat dog world, you need to do something different.

    Anyways I stood in front of all these Affiliates and suggested that Social is not just a good idea; it is a must do idea. Anyways I came under huge attack about how they can justify it (ROI it) and while I was holding my own; my salvation came from the audience. A gentleman stood up at the back and said I have 6 affiliate sites, all making high 6 figures several 7 figures and I have shifted over 50% of my online marketing to social. Talk about hearing a pin drop after that.

    Anyways, great discussion. I would like to give street creds to the guy who is my single largest Social Media sensei, Jordan Kastelar of Search&Social and Search Engine Journal…if you are not following Jordan you are missing out on someone who knows his “sh#t”


  20. Great article! Well put. As a person who works with SEO and social media on a daily basis I still don’t like to throw the term, “expert”, around. And I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. I guess with the mavericks in the field out there like Matt Cuts, Darren Rowe , Stephen Spencer, etc. It doesn’t feel right to to take it so lightly. Social media is a constant learning process as the media is always evolving.

    An expert is someone who can stay on top of it as well.

  21. Nate I’m with you. I’m also starting to move away from social media being great by itself to it needing to be part of an overal content marketing strategy.

    Thanks for the comments.


  22. Marisa,

    While their might be some certifications that are valid, I doubt any would be able to convey expertise. After 2 years of graduate school with an MBA degree in my hand I was far from a business expert.


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