The Social Media Expert’s New Clothes

3 min read

My partner Scott Woolgar and I were in a meeting with a new business prospect the other day when the prospect mentioned he’d had a presentation from a competitor. “Of course, he doesn’t really do what you guys do,” said our prospect. “He’s a social media expert.”

I almost bit through my tongue to keep from laughing. The competitor in question was an old advertising guy who, having seen the writing on the paywall, had abandoned the advertising business and rebranded himself as a social media maven. In actual fact, he had far less experience developing and executing social media campaigns than we did.

We’re running into this phenomenon with increasing frequency these days. After two decades of pretending e-mail was the only useful thing on the Internet, ad agencies have finally decided it’s time to wake up and smell the HTML. All the excuses we used to hear from agency types–“It’s not my core business, it’s easier to do television, it’s not right for my clients”–are evaporating. Advertising professionals finally have to admit that the world the way it used to be is never coming back.

Today, everybody is a social media expert. Which makes it more difficult for marketers to decide whom to hire. Now that everybody’s in the Internet business, whom do you trust?

We have ideas. Of course.

First, consider the fact that “new media” are no longer new. We were working on CD-ROM content and websites in the mid-’90s–while many of today’s self-proclaimed interactive gurus were still in grammar school. That’s not a knock on young people in our business, btw. They’ve brought a lot of vitality and an incredible amount of creativity to the communications business. It’s just to say that anyone branding him- or herself a social media expert should be able to show you the goods.

Second, be suspicious of social media experts who don’t practice what they preach. Social media aren’t limited to Facebook and Twitter and the occasional YouTube video. Are your self-proclaimed experts blogging? How often? Are they connecting with other blogs? Are they actively creating content? Are they actually good writers? Can they string together more than 140 coherent characters?

Third, beware of micro-experts–the people who are super-specialized in one aspect of Internet communications. You probably don’t need a web designer and a web developer and a content producer and a blogger and an SEO company and a Facebooker–any more than you need to hire a producer and a director and an audio engineer and a gaffer when you produce a television commercial. You leave those details to your ad agency. Your ad agency–or whatever you call your marketing parter these days–should be able to deliver integrated expertise. If they need more support, they–not you–should hire it.

Finally, there’s the issue of integrating marketing and media strategy beyond the Internet. The Internet is powerful, but it’s not all-powerful. There’s still a place for advertising on television and radio, print and outdoor and direct mail. If you engage a partner who can’t help you in other media, you’re limiting your options. Even if you have no intention of advertising in other media today, a marketing partner’s ability to think outside the monitor will give you a more well-rounded perspective on how people behave and why they might do business with you.

Don’t get us wrong–we’re happy for the competition. We’re not right for every client, and every client is certainly not right for us. Just don’t be bamboozled by self-proclaimed experts who don’t have the experience to back up their claims–or the wherewithal to execute the integrated marketing program you really need. It’s all marketing. Caveat emptor!