Why Would Anyone Want To Be An 'Expert'?

Yesterday I Tweeted around the idea of the Social Media expert. I thought I'd post it here because it seemed to hit a nerve. My somewhat rhetorical question was: Where did all these new social media experts come from and what justifies the use of the moniker "expert"?

There were a lot of amusing answers to this one. But what I never got around to is my other question which is: Why would anybody want to be an "expert"?

To me saying you're an expert seems to suggest you're trying to dust off past experience as something permanent and established. Pretty much everything we deal with, but especially social media, is in a space where it's better to be the student than the professor. That experimentation and ignorance is a powerful tool that shouldn't be traded away for labels like "expert."

What say you all?

25 comments about "Why Would Anyone Want To Be An 'Expert'?".
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  1. Brett Macfarlane from DDB, July 22, 2009 at 6:12 p.m.

    Once one becomes an expert, in anything, their trade often becomes a set of tools and best practices. Essentially processes to help you recreate what others have already done. Every medium fall victim to this.

    Some, the scared, need this to sleep at night. So they hire super specialized experts to do it for them. It's fascinating how quickly these experts have built a traditional and stable set of tools and processes in social media. I'm not knocking this, some people need it.

    Others, the brave, want to muck around and see what can be done that hasn't been done before. Unleash locked up potential. These sorts of people are probably already doing that in other media. To them all media is social. Do something interesting and people will talk about it. Maybe online, or maybe between two brothers at their third cousin's fourth marriage over a pitcher of Bud Lite.

    But, I have to ask, is it even possible to be a social media expert? Most of these experts come from marketing, how are they going to advise on regulatory or SEC implications? Some experts come from the accountancy, what do they know about creativity and innovation? Isn't it too broad for anyone to be a true 'expert' in it, and simply an aspect of what everyone is already doing?

  2. Ian Graham, July 22, 2009 at 8:12 p.m.

    Holy crap!

    That was the longest and most convoluted sign-up process I've ever had to endure. Alex, I think your next post should be "Why Would Anyone Want To Fill Out All This Stuff Just To Comment On Alex's Post: Why Would Anyone Want To Be An 'Expert'?".

    I'm not a Buddhist but the proverb, "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha" seems fitting here. In almost every case I've been introduced to a self-proclaimed expert, he or she wasn't. And the people I consider to be experts would rarely describe themselves as such. Same applies to people who call themselves guru, spiritual leader, or honest salesman.

    By the way, if I read one more social media expert's bio that attributes his or her expertise to "blogging since it was called journaling", I think I'm going to digitally puke. Just because I owned an HP-35 doesn't make me a trigonometry expert. (And, in case you don't know what an HP-35 is, don't worry, the geeks... er, experts that journaled will).

  3. Chris Perkins from Blitz, July 22, 2009 at 9:13 p.m.

    Let's re-frame what 'expert' means. So let's make social media expert mean someone who figures out smart ways to do things in the social media space that users truly enjoy and carry forward.

    Totally agree most experts are preying on the mass majority or late adoptors, and can't/won't innovate to save their soul.

    That said, let's reclaim 'expert' as someone able to forge new ground!

  4. Damian Royce from Clemenger BBDO, Melbourne, July 23, 2009 at 1:25 a.m.

    Wise words. Given the interactive medium changes on a daily basis (I've been creating interactive ideas for over 12 years and have learnt something new every day), how could one even be called an expert?

  5. C.t. Trivella from NAS Recruitment Communications, July 23, 2009 at 8:58 a.m.

    I think once someone calls themselves an "expert" at anything, they stop learning and trying. I think it's better to be called a "student of" which in my mind means you are constantly learning and honing your craft.

    When I think about the term social media, I do see an irony in that phrase. Haven't we as human being always been social? O.K., so because we do it through technological venues rather than traditional methods doesn't mean we've leaped into the next stage of human development. We need to remember to keep it real.

  6. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, July 23, 2009 at 9:02 a.m.

    Why be an influencer when you can be an expert? Why be an expert when you can be a guru? For anyone who wants, I would be happy to sell you white, flowing robes.

    The student is apt. Because, if you stop learning, or lose your desire to learn, it's time to get the hell out of this business.

  7. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 23, 2009 at 9:04 a.m.

    I am reminded by your provocative post of a really old SNL skit where Buck Henry plays a radio talk guy who is desperate for responses: "Old people: Why should they live? Why not let 'em die? I'm taking your calls now"

    To your point. Yes, it's better to be the student if you think anecdotal evidence and personal experience is better than systematic research and careful study. I study Twitter but I haven't yet graduated to expert status. Having just collected a large amount of data on how radio stations use Twitter, I hope my colleague and I aren't dismissed as mere professors when we publish our study.

    Part of being persuasive is attaining some degree of expert knowledge. Otherwise, we're just mucking around. Someone has to know more than most other people and some of those someones get to be called experts. Not by their self-description but by the body of their work, be it in the form of scholarly work or professional seminars conducted. Again, I lack the reputation right now, but I wouldn't mind becoming a highly-paid consultant someday.

  8. Andrew Ettinger, July 23, 2009 at 9:07 a.m.

    I worked with a self descrived Social Media expert a few years back. He was anything but. He knew lots of buzzwords and PR techniques but he had no ability to translate that into an overall marketing plan. Everything was going to mysteriously work itself out in the blogosphere but without any real proof to offer the clients. Since then I have been wary of anyone who calls themself an expert at such a new medium.

  9. Bill Combs, July 23, 2009 at 9:30 a.m.

    In my non-expert opinion, there are expert communicators that may happen to practice the art of social media, but it's the communication part that makes them an expert. Perhaps a social media expert would be a person who studies the actual impacts of social media on a culture, business, etc.

    Alex, I feel like you're an expert communicator which is what makes you a great ad maker and makes people want to hear, read, see what you have to say, write, do.

    The word "expert" sounds like you've reached the end of the line, you've made it, nowhere to go but down. I would not want to be expert at something, unless either I didn't enjoy that field and wanted to be done with it or I was hoping to become a super duper expert. Then maybe I'd wanna be an expert.

  10. Chuck Dorris from eDining, llc, July 23, 2009 at 9:44 a.m.

    The newest expression of the day? "Rich Media Tweets," (gotta tweet THAT!"

    Those of us "experts" who do this stuff... and charge other people money for it.. (and isn't that the measure of expertise?) every single day immediately but barely grasp the potential of what this term might imply, but ONLY after we've collectively watched Twitter become an accepted, no, make that an EXPECTED part of the media-stream... in less than 3 months.

    Twitter. From a curiosity Jay Leno made fun of in April with Tracey Ullman to an accepted market practice in August. How can anyone claim expertise in anything that metamorphoses right in front of your own eyes. Perhaps most annoyingly and the most "expert-nulifying' aspect of whatever this is.. this mediasturm und Drang is how little people on the other side of the digital aisle are aware of even its existence.

    I was at a pitch with a conventional PR person in January with a restaurant client and suggested a variety of "new" media approaches including ..duh... Facebook and Twitter... as part of the
    mix required to reach customers. The PR person proclaimed she would NEVER expose HER personal information on Facebook and the client related that he'd joined up, only to be bothered by "friends" he didn't want to hear from. The discussion devolved into my being a laughingstock.

    My point is simply that these people hadnt JUST missed the point, they'd hadnt even kept current with the excuses for NOT actively exploiting social networking. YIKES

  11. Oxana Pozdnyakova from Novartis, July 23, 2009 at 11:06 a.m.

    As a non-native speaker looked up the word in on-line dictionary - it does say 'somebody who has knowledge or aptitude', it DOES NOT say 'ultimate' knowledge. For me, 'expert' is a person with passion and talent and desire to learn more.....

  12. Kelly Samardak from Shortstack Photography, July 23, 2009 at 12:50 p.m.

    Reading these responses was fun. I have to smile because EVERYONE wants to be a part of this social media movement. And if they can't do it well, they knock on the people who really do have expert knowledge and do it well. Or, they can knock on the people who don't do it well, but claim expertise. In any field or function, let the actions speak for themselves, right? I think "Social Media Experts" are a really easy target talented or not because number crunchers and "this does not compute" types still don't respect the art of social communication.

    Also, lets look at some big company job postings why don't we. I do every day to gauge where community builders and social media "evangelists" etc fall in the respect bucket. You can tell by salary. But better than salary is the description of what these companies are looking for. Usually the title is "Social Media Expert." Now look at unemployment. Now look at resume writing 101 - write your resume for the position you want. Is it surprising that with all the new freelancers/consultants/self employeds out there that people are declaring them as such? And some are people who would rather not self declare.

    I'm just saying, trickle down and all that. People can poke the social media monkey in the cage, but the fact remains that it's an expertise companies want.

    There are no negative implications in the word expert unless your work tells a completely different story. I'm pretty expert at eating pizza and I have empirical proof.

  13. Miriam Weidner from, July 23, 2009 at 6:21 p.m.

    This gave me a giggle:

    Enjoyed the comments and thoughts.

  14. Tilly Pick from Development Practice 360, LLC., July 23, 2009 at 8:39 p.m.

    Few in the marketing business are willing to admit that they're students. It would mean that they'd have to give up control, stature, credibility and fame, and why in the world would anyone want to do that? Great marketers love the craft of marketing, and that includes being a voracious, ambitious and crazy student of it. I seem to recall someone reflecting similarly about good leaders. Maybe there's something to it.

  15. Jen Wright, July 23, 2009 at 9:58 p.m.

    This is my favorite Social Media goto guy. He made this video:

    "Why I Never Want to Be an Expert."

    Good stuff.


  16. Langston Richardson from Cisco, July 24, 2009 at 2:39 p.m.

    Seen as it's separate parts.. then all things design/creative/marketing/coding/branding/production become a commodity. But seen as a collective of offerings that are greater that the whole, some individuals can marketing their companies as solutions to challenges that will always command a higher price in market as they are needed by a smaller exclusive group of customers.

    Langston Richardson / VP, Digital Brand Strategy, Creative / LazBro, Inc. / / twitter: @MATSNL65 @lazbro

  17. Langston Richardson from Cisco, July 24, 2009 at 2:54 p.m.

    Our clients starve for marketing organizations to give them the "pipes" that connect ideas into action and results. Along the way, people, brands, and businesses get played into buying into ideas that aren't clearly thought out.

    When we ask, "where did all of the social media experts come from?" then let's throw into this the SEM/SEO, marketing and other more qualifiable fields within the amorphous collective that makes our industry. The difference between social media expert (SME) and others is the level of smooth articulation that's developed around it. Talk with many brand marketers about SME and you get the feeling that it's the DOT boom all over again. "You really don't understand it but it's something I know I gotta do", says the nervous brand marketer who wants to jump into the hot new marketing trendfad. I think that Alex' insights of being that student of the universe (especially with his alibaba hair do on his avatar pic) is key to guiding our clients and our industry from acting like we are so damn smart because we are good at "expert" performances in pitches and meetings to showing that intelligence in learning together and becoming wiser on how things work and continue to work better.

    Langston Richardson / VP, Digital Brand Strategy, Creative / LazBro, Inc. / / twitter: @MATSNL65 @lazbro

  18. STEVE CLIMONS from Crosssover Creative, July 24, 2009 at 5:15 p.m.

    To the author:

    If someone thought you were an expert on "quirky"
    would you be offended?

  19. Dave Allen, July 24, 2009 at 11:22 p.m.

    sexy girls still sell stuff. quirky realizations do too. nothing has changed. everyone is an art director now thanks to myspace, but they were already doing that in their heads before they went online. now the sheep just get confirmation.

  20. Eric Floresca from Freelance, July 26, 2009 at 9:19 a.m.

    So has creativity on some level become a commodity yes, but then again that is a perception to some who have are deal with logos all the time it will be a commodity at least most will with only those that rise above being considered something more the key as is to rise above the fray and play an entirely different game than everyone else.

    On being an expert:
    I don't think people should call themselves experts, you may call yourself one but the real proof of it is not what you say but what others do specifically what those in the field say.

  21. Milan Semelak from Red Monkey Group / Hello, July 27, 2009 at 7:51 p.m.

    to answer this question you must first ask another one... what is creativity? how many types of creative approach do we know? what defines a true 'creative'? (hate that word) from a copywriter who uses same schemes and methods everyday to produce some 'regular creative' work every day? In matters of advertising industry I believe creativity has already become a's a product done in the same way, same procedure, same structure and the outcome is sometimes good, sometimes better and sometimes brilliant but it's still one type of creative approach whether you wrap it into cool philosophy of Burnetts, Saatchis or whatever. They sell one type of product and that's a commodity .... however this goes much further, I personally work in the region of Central Europe and around here huge network agencies are mostly producing absolutely same types of ideas and even sell them for same price. And that's my another point - I believe that at the point when creativity becomes a commodity - it's not a creativity anymore. That's why I don't believe in advertising, or traditional agency models anymore. But that's for a much longer discussion :)

  22. Milan Semelak from Red Monkey Group / Hello, July 28, 2009 at 3:01 a.m.

    sorry that comment was for the topic above...

  23. Marc Doshay from BrandMarc Consulting, July 28, 2009 at 8:56 p.m.

    You have raised an interesting semantic paradox. Certainly, as Social Media is still in its early adolescence, anybody who is highly knowledgeable about its current vehicles and frameworks need also be a student of its continuing evolution.

    But just semantically speaking: In practice, aren't experts and academic scholars typically also lifelong students? Perhaps those aren't contradictory concepts. Less palatable, while experimentation is critical to creativity and evolution, my sense is that "ignorance" offers little power to the process. Rather, it is openness and curiosity that generate lateral thinking.

    All that said, I'm frankly in sync with you. Expertise is a relative term in Social Media, it's all too new and dynamic for any serious depth of expertise to have so far developed. And there are a bunch of folks who believe their veneer of relative perspective makes them a Social Media rock star.

  24. Stephen Byrne from DIFFUSION, August 4, 2009 at 1:35 a.m.

    One of the problems I have with the notion of commoditising creativity or any form of creative endeavour is that it ultimately removes any aesthetic judgement and ultimately any beauty in the outcome. And that to me is a little like what a local planning organisation might do in approving a building application. They apply a whole lot of rules and measures to ensure compliance but make no judgement on the aesthetics of it. In the end, it results in that dire design definition of being "fit for purpose". And we all know what that means. Ugly buildings. Ad agencies keep telling us their future are in creative like CPB, but it's only part of the story. They've reached a break boundary like many other businesses people are talking about here. No amount of great creative is going to get them out of a declining and increasingly redundant revenue base. I've worked with enough agencies to know that they do poorly in re-inventing themselves, preferring to return to the norms rather than challenge them. I've just written about these challenges in In the end, creative thinking about business may offer a remedy but agencies, like the rest of us who work in the creative industries, are going to need a strategy to do this.

  25. Fernando Bernus from Mine, August 12, 2009 at 10:25 a.m.

    what's social media?

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