I’m awfully tired of the “expert” conversation. It first popped up in early 2009 and hasn’t died since. Social media echo chamber sounding boards rant and rave about who’s qualified to help companies with social media and who isn’t. A fair amount of the conversation is ego driven with consultants and agency types puffing out their chests and client case studies trying to prove their Twitter dick is bigger.

The one group of people who don’t care about the expert conversation? Clients. They don’t hire idiots. And if they do, they learn from it and move on.

Now that those with large audiences have gotten in on the action, the conversation is having an unfortunate spill-over effect. Every time I’m introduced to a group of people as a social media expert — wording I don’t use, mind you — someone in the audience who’s saw Gary Vaynerchuk’s rant or Peter Shankman’s unfortunate “die in a fire” post looks at me through tinted lenses. While I don’t think Gary or Peter would include me in the category of people they were aiming for, mainstream clientele listen to a handful of voices in the social media echo chamber. They don’t understand the context of the accusations or labels. So even the good get lumped in with the bad.

For the record, Gary clarified his thoughts on Geoff Livingston’s blog and admitted his thoughts were a bit of a mistake, at least in context.

I told Jim Long what I thought of the expert discussion recently. He reported it on his blog:

The people who care whether or not someone calls themselves an “expert” are only afraid one of them will steal clients from them. You know who doesn’t care about this topic? Businesses who hire consultants. They hire people who can help their business, not paranoid and defensive ego-mongers who think they’re playing thought leader by minimizing someone they never heard of and know nothing about.

Please note that wasn’t directed at Gary or Peter. It was just a general statement. But it’s not too awfully far off from what I said about the matter when it first popped up in 2009:

While everyone has a perspective and reason to believe there are snake oil salesmen among us, I would like to challenge each of you to look beyond the in-fighting and back-stabbing ego trips this conversation frequently becomes. I challenge you to understand that the people who hire consultants and agencies are often a thousand times smarter about their business than you … or than you give them credit for. They are smart enough to ask a better question about social media experts:


Will this person help my business?

Expert or not, that’s the only determination they need to make.

And frankly, who they make it about is none of our business. Focus on you, not them. That, more than anything, will police our industry a bit better.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Anonymous

    Amen, it is so over played.  Clients and real people see it as inside baseball snittery, too. It simply lowers all boats.

  • nancy

    That’s a good point actually. I’ll let you know on that one!

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    Great post and well said on the “experts” . Thanks for the share.

  • http://essaywriter.org/ essay writer

    very interesting post! thanks for sharing!

  • http://tobesocial.com Jonnie Jensen

    “Social media experts – shut up and get back to work!”

    Love your video comment Jason. Spot on and brilliantly put. Love your work

  • http://twitter.com/jenn_seeley jenn seeley

    THAT made my morning/day/week. Thanks for the ever so insightful non-expert expertise.. err… your thoughts and opinions! Whatever it is, I loved every bit of it. If only “Will this person help my business” was bigger, and blinking … and with a few hypnotic swirlies behind it.. 

  • http://twitter.com/Glennengler Glenn Engler

    Great post, Jason…thank you.  I love the comment about clients (oh, yeah — them!):  they are smart.  If you’re a consultant or an agency and you do crappy work, you’ll be fired.  If you do good work, you’ll have a great relationship and a reference.  It’s the same thing if you’re a media agency, direct marketing firm, management consultant, or digital agency.  Thanks for calming the storm!

  • http://www.kevinmullett.com Kevin Mullett

    Pleased to see someone else stand up against the hyperbole that is swirling around this ridiculous subject. My point has been that it is both over vilified and overused, but the constant yammering doesn’t stop anyone from over promising and under delivering in any profession. It also doesn’t solve any issue because it isn’t impacting, as you correctly point out Jason, the clients who don’t understand the vehement disdain for a term that we have tied additional meaning to.

    I recently tweeted that I find it Ironic, in the literal usage, that a common colloquial usage of the word expert can be found frequently in daily HARO’s which Peter himself created. Something he was not pleased with me for saying as if I was indicating he had something to do with reporters using such a term. In fact one such HARO asked for a “social media expert.” I am sure that reporter could care less about our inward fighting about the usage. I had to laugh thinking that I myself might be labeled if I had the audacity to respond to such a request in that the mere response would indicate I believe myself to be an expert.

    Whew, there I go again. Thank you for a meaningful post on the subject. I doubt it will stop anyone; but I appreciate the effort.

  • http://www.kevinmullett.com Kevin Mullett

    Pleased to see someone else stand up against the hyperbole that is swirling around this ridiculous subject. My point has been that it is both over vilified and overused, but the constant yammering doesn’t stop anyone from over promising and under delivering in any profession. It also doesn’t solve any issue because it isn’t impacting, as you correctly point out Jason, the clients who don’t understand the vehement disdain for a term that we have tied additional meaning to.

    I recently tweeted that I find it Ironic, in the literal usage, that a common colloquial usage of the word expert can be found frequently in daily HARO’s which Peter himself created. Something he was not pleased with me for saying as if I was indicating he had something to do with reporters using such a term. In fact one such HARO asked for a “social media expert.” I am sure that reporter could care less about our inward fighting about the usage. I had to laugh thinking that I myself might be labeled if I had the audacity to respond to such a request in that the mere response would indicate I believe myself to be an expert.

    Whew, there I go again. Thank you for a meaningful post on the subject. I doubt it will stop anyone; but I appreciate the effort.

  • http://www.kevinmullett.com Kevin Mullett

    Pleased to see someone else stand up against the hyperbole that is swirling around this ridiculous subject. My point has been that it is both over vilified and overused, but the constant yammering doesn’t stop anyone from over promising and under delivering in any profession. It also doesn’t solve any issue because it isn’t impacting, as you correctly point out Jason, the clients who don’t understand the vehement disdain for a term that we have tied additional meaning to.

    I recently tweeted that I find it Ironic, in the literal usage, that a common colloquial usage of the word expert can be found frequently in daily HARO’s which Peter himself created. Something he was not pleased with me for saying as if I was indicating he had something to do with reporters using such a term. In fact one such HARO asked for a “social media expert.” I am sure that reporter could care less about our inward fighting about the usage. I had to laugh thinking that I myself might be labeled if I had the audacity to respond to such a request in that the mere response would indicate I believe myself to be an expert.

    Whew, there I go again. Thank you for a meaningful post on the subject. I doubt it will stop anyone; but I appreciate the effort.

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ davinabrewer

    Thanks for sharing Gary’s vid at Geoff’s, some interesting answers. I saw your video when you shared it a couple years ago… just as true today. FWIW.

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  • http://laurindashaver.com Laurinda Shaver

    This is not dissimilar to my youthful days as a Television University Student.  I was all wide eyed about TV at the time. The power to bring stories to the masses… Ohhh… Ahhh..

    In my final year, I took a television business class and I will never forget the day when the prof lost it.  “Its a business people!!  People don’t do this for the glory, the fame, the creative expression..  If you don’t make money, you have failed”

    The stars forever changed in my eyes.  I have NEVER forgotten that lesson.  Regardless of what you do, if its tied to a business…. you have to follow the money trail.

  • http://twitter.com/JGoldsborough JGoldsborough

    Too true. Clients actually often refer to someone as an expert because they know and trust that person and respect their opinion. And they don’t really care about a semantics argument around terminology. I’ve seen it die down a lot, but there was a similar conversation for a long time around use of the word social media. You know what…if you and your clients know what they are talking about when they say social media, then that should be good enough. Cheers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=703291673 Anonymous

    You do realize the topic was sleeping peacefully for the past two weeks, and you barged into the house and woke the baby, right? :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=703291673 Anonymous

    You do realize the topic was sleeping peacefully for the past two weeks, and you barged into the house and woke the baby, right? :)

  • http://www.researchgoddess.com ResearchGoddess

    Jason — the video of you above remains one of my favorite reference points when people start this conversation within the recruiting industry too :) I love the flippant airquotes you throw up and the pointed response. It’s not just in social media, unfortunately — so many industries have people who label themselves as experts and of course those who belly-ache about it. If we all simply kept our eyes on our own paper, and as you say, shut up and get back to work, the cream would naturally rise to the top. Thanks once again for tackling this topic.