The 3 Essential Qualities of a TRUE Social Media Expert

by Marcus Sheridan

No, really, I'm awesome with this social media stuff...

Right now, there are literally thousands of businesses out there in the world looking for social media help, advice, and guidance. And like any other industry, the social media realm is full of “legit experts,” “not-so-legit experts,” and “please-call-me-a-guru-even-though-I’m-not experts.”

Personally, over the last 3 years, I’ve seen many “experts” in this industry come and go. I’ve also seen many companies hire smart people and get huge results while at the same time there have been handfuls of others hire supposed “experts” that have done nothing but put a hurt on the company’s P & L statement with their false promises and frankly stupid social media strategies.

Throughout this process, I’ve seen definitive trends and qualities that dictate the most successful social media (including content marketing here) experts and the ones that might talk big but have very little to back it up.

3 Essential Qualities of a True Social Media Expert

1. They understand that “rules” are always changing, and every industry is different: I unabashedly admit that I love Mitch Joel. I feel he has the best podcast on the web and absolutely enjoy listening/reading his musings on all things social, digital, and marketing. In a recent article entitled The Old(Revolving) Rules, Mitch says:

If I explained to you how I managed to join with my business partners here at Twist Image and how we built the business to be successful, do you think it’s a model that you could replicate? Look at Instagram. Do you think that’s a model you can replicate? Here’s the thing: in a world where you can now do almost anything in these digital channels, what makes you think that any kind of best practice is actually going to provide a semblance of success for your brand? Show me a successful story and I’ll show you many exceptions with very few rules….

A friend recently decided to get more active on Twitter. Because they have some visibility in the marketplace (they’re a known entity in media), they asked whether or not they should follow everyone back on Twitter who is following them. Had you asked me this question when Twitter first started out, I would have said “yes!” Had you asked me this question two years ago, I would have said “no, follow back only those people that you find interesting.” Being asked that question the other day, I was stumped. Why? Because the answer is yes, you should and no, you shouldn’t and/or be very selective.

The bottom line is EVERYTHING is different. Every company is unique. Every industry is unique. Every platform is unique. And because of this, every marketing plan has to be unique and tailored to that individual company and its needs.

This is also why when someone preaches the exact same strategy for every single business and every single industry, then you know they’re likely a fool, and certainly no “expert.”

2. They freely admit they’re NOT for everyone:

The thought that every social media expert is the right “fit” for every single company is ridiculous. And the thought that every single blog is the right fit for every single reader is also foolish. This is exactly why a true “expert” will freely admit when they’re simply not a good option for a company.

As a small example of what I’m talking about, read this post from Chris Brogan. In it, as he is talking about his blog, he says:

Do you read the top tech and marketing blogs? Why? Why do you read this blog? Because you’re subscribed? Are you getting something from it? If no, then why are you still doing it?

That, my friends, is called honesty and transparency, and it’s an essential element of a true social media expert and thought-leader.

3. They can put their money where their mouth is:

This one is huge for me. Putting your money where your mouth is, in my opinion, is demonstrated in two ways:

                1. Performance-Based Contracts: Recently, I took on a 12-month content marketing consulting project with a company of about 150 employees. The strategies I’m implementing with this organization have never been done before in their industry, but I’m also fully confident the plan will work, assuming they do their part and allow me to do mine. But because the concepts I’m bringing in are so novel, and because they’re taking on a decent financial risk (at least in their minds), my compensation is heavy on performance-based incentives. In other words, because we’ll be tracking the ROI (as I always do) of the campaign, we’ll have certain benchmarks laid out that will equate to further compensation on my part. In other words, if the strategy works, I get paid well. If the strategy fails, I don’t get paid much.

                2. Been there, done that: A lot of people in this world can sound smart. Heck, a lot of people in this world can even write a book, get it published, and keynote an event. But the real sign of “experience” and “expertise” is when an individual has gone into a company, implemented a strategy, and gotten results—results that can, in fact, be shown. For example, if a social media “expert” makes consistent references to success stories of their clients in their blog/writings, there is a good chance they actually “get it” and aren’t just yapping about it. To see two folks that do this very well, read Jay Baer or Jason Falls—two guys I see living it, doing it, then talking about their observations on a daily basis.

In fact, just after I published this post Jaer Baer quickly jumped in with this excellent and thoughtful comment, really putting it much better than I did:

Your Turn

Are there other qualities that dictate a true social media expert? Yep, there sure are, which is why I have a comment section below—one that is just waiting for your thoughts on this subject. So here are my questions for you:

1. How do you (and your company) gauge a “true” social media expert?

2. If you’ve worked with a SM consultant before, what was your experience like?

Jump in folks, tell us what’s on your mind.

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