Who Are The Experts?

by Jason Falls |

Sitting in on the Marketing Technology Show Friday with Doug Karr and the folks at The Marketing Technology Blog, my friend Erik Deckers offered up a discussion question around the subject of “experts.” An off-shoot of the social media douchebags discussion, which I loathe (and said as much about several years ago), but one that is certainly worth having from time to time.

As Erik pointed out, most people get Malcolm Gladwell‘s 10,000 hour rule wrong. The general assumption is that he wrote in Outliers that you need 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert. That is not what Gladwell wrote. His assertion was based on research by Anders Ericsson that says you need around 10,000 hours of work to be “great” at something. We’re not talking “expert,” we’re talking Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods/The Beatles/Yo-Yo Ma greatness.

Erik’s point was, thus, there are plenty of experts. Outliers (exceptional, freak of nature talents) are rare.

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In the podcast, we have a lively discussion (bandwidth issues at the studio causes the audio to break up a bit, but you can listen in the embed here) about experts and part of my opinion of the whole expert discussion is represented there, but I thought more about the topic a bit and wanted to offer a couple additional insights for the discussion.

I don’t agree with Erik’s assessment, as finely argued as it might be. There are still no social media experts, in my opinion. Even if you wanted to base the argument on 10,000 hours of work in the field, that’s five years of 40-hours-per-week doing nothing but social media. But expertise doesn’t just come from experience or trial and error. It comes from instruction and advice from others. It’s not just practice, but also theory. And there just aren’t that many mentors to go around.

Plus, the fact the world of social media just three years ago … 2008 … was incredibly different than the world of social media today and, well, there just simply has not been enough time for anyone to accrue what I would consider an expert level of knowledge of the field. Are there folks with some degree of expertise? Sure. Are there those who are closer to being an expert than others? Yes.

But this is not a competition.

If you’re making your clients or company happy, who gives a damn if you’re better than the next guy or gal? If that’s something in your mindset, you have some growing up to do and some priorities to realign. Is Jay Baer a better consultant than me? CK Kerley? Dean Holmes? Not to the clients that pay my bills. And those are the only people who should matter.

But my opinion of “experts” has never been about experience or hours of tutelage. The bottom line on the experts argument for me is but one point: If other people say you are an expert, you are. If you say you are an expert, you’re an ass.

It harkens back to one of the core philosophies of social media in the first place: March in the room trumpeting your own message and no one will listen to you. Take your own advice. Leave the labeling to others. Do your job. Do it well. That will bring you all the work, accolades and titles you could ever want.

A penny for your thoughts? The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).