Make your own social media expert

Gibbs doesn't believe self-styled social media experts are.


Social media is, to say the least, overhyped and I swear I will hunt down the next idiot who tells me they can use their social media expertise to solve my branding problems by teaching me how to use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. When I find them I will... well, I don't know what I might do... perhaps make them sit through their own stupid training.

Just consider how many people market themselves these days as social media gurus. Browse your Twitter followers or your LinkedIn connections, these people are everywhere. Turn over any social media stone and there they are by the score, like bugs, touting their "expertise."

I've sat in on a few of these "expert" sessions and it's like having a really bad manual read to you, slowly, by someone who is probably filing their nails or playing solitaire. Either that or they are all hyped up and overexcited as if to convince you that they have found the secret of life, the universe and everything.

They will walk you through, for example, the LinkedIn interface at some level of detail which no matter how shallow, is always excruciatingly pointless! For the gods' sake, if your audience can't figure out how to connect with someone on LinkedIn or Facebook, I'm guessing their education needs are more on the "This is a mouse" level than anything else.

Look, let's face it, the basic use of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace or any other social network service isn't hard.

What's hard is how you use those services effectively. But other than reciting generalities, can the effective use of social media actually be taught? I'm starting to think getting anything significant out of social media isn't really teachable but rather, once you understand the mechanisms of the media (with social media this is always far easier than, say, learning Photoshop or even Excel), it's a continuous process.

It goes like this: You try something (hopefully sensible), measure the results, look for what works and what doesn't, try something slightly different, then rinse and repeat.

Here's the thing most social media experts don't tell you: How to really analyse your social media performance. Yep, metrics, the art and science of instrumentation and measurement, is what will put you on the road to social success. That done, it's really the analysis that will seal the deal and get you where you hope you might go (though be warned, that may be somewhere other than you initially thought).

What you're trying to establish is cause and effect and, like any marketing program, much of it will be about feel, about those small insights into your audience's motivations and behaviors that you then build into a picture that gives you targets and goals.

But what if you're not marketing but rather using social media for other business purposes? You might consider yourself or your staff to be above marketing because you're in some other group like IT. Guess what? When it comes to social media, you're also in marketing.

Every time you post anything and your affiliation with your company is explicit, you are representing, baby. What you say, how you say it, who you say it to, when you say it, who you respond to... all of those things reflect on the organisation.

Now, if you're in an organisation like many out there, corporate standards for social media either don't exist or aren't particularly helpful. The reason they aren't helpful is that social media is a moving target. Like a river, you never step into the same social context twice.

For example, you've been tweeting for some time and it's become obvious to your followers and anyone who can search Twitter (which couldn't be easier) that you work for company X and that you know a thing or two about product Y. You've been answering questions, solving problems, and generally being a good corporate type. Then a problem appears and you start getting angry tweets.

You respond flippantly or fire back at someone who is being obnoxious and wham! Suddenly the whole mess is spilling out on to blogs, the press is covering it, Oprah wants to interview you, and you are way out of your depth. You know what the cause of all of this was? The organisation you work for is letting you down by not monitoring what you're doing. Would sales allow you to go and sell unsupervised? Of course not!

So, here's my advice to you: If your organization hasn't got a centralised social media group that you work with, be very, very careful. What you say and do on social media can have major effects on your organisation's business (and your career) and no matter how shiny that social media "expert" who wants to sell you their services may look, they don't know your business.

As for all of those social media gurus who keep pitching me: Watch out.

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