What is a 'social media expert'? What qualifications does one reasonably need before being paid to assist businesses with social media campaigns?

Despite the fact that there are plenty of self-proclaimed 'social media experts' out there, these are two questions for which we don't have good answers.

According to a survey conducted by MarketingSherpa, it doesn't take much to be an expert, at least if you're a marketer working at an organization that isn't using social media:

Two-thirds of marketers who work for organizations that have not used any form of social media marketing or PR consider themselves “very knowledgeable” or “somewhat knowledgeable” about this emerging strategy. Their overconfidence in unproven ability can doom social media initiatives to failure.

According to MarketingSherpa, "lack of knowledgeable staff" was cited as the biggest barrier to social media adoption by organizations. Since many organizations "start by delegating responsibility to the first staff person they find with a profile on Facebook or LinkedIn since very few people have any level of practical experience in this new strategy", the results they see are often disappointing.

MarketingSherpa believes that the better approach is to bring in outside expertise when someone with "proven experience" isn't available internally.

And this is where I start to disagree a bit.

While it is true that organizations shouldn't rely on the staff member who is an avid user of social media but has no practical experience in social media marketing, the reality, as I see it at least, is that no matter where you go there are few people with "proven experience".

Yes, there are plenty of interesting social media marketing case studies but there are few tried and true techniques that can be applied consistently by practitioners. Everybody is still trying to figure this stuff out.

Oftentimes, the outside consultants who promote their expertise are no more proven than the staff marketer who believes he knows social media because he was on Friendster before it was hot.

This is why, in my opinion, a shakeout is in order.

Right now, many of the people being put in charge of social media marketing campaigns don't have any formal training or experience in marketing. This is not an insult; these people are often smart, practical and well-intentioned. But that doesn't make them good marketers.

From the employee who considers himself a social media expert because he has a Facebook profile to the college student who is trying to cash in because he has thousands of followers on Twitter, there are plenty of practitioners out there who are basing their confidence on the flawed belief that social media prolificacy equates to marketing knowledge.

When it comes to putting together viable marketing strategies, executing them successfully, integrating them with multi-channel efforts and tracking ROI, the skills of a professional marketer are must-haves. Without these skills, otherwise creative and potentially successful campaigns will most often fail because marketing is as much about implementation and execution as it is about passion and creativity.

This is true with social media marketing and as far as I'm concerned, you aren't likely to find social media success with a person who knows the social media landscape inside and out but doesn't have real-world marketing experience, just as you aren't likely to find social media success with a person who has 20 years of experience on Madison Avenue but doesn't know what a 'tweet' is.

Currently, the number of self-proclaimed experts who have 'some of the above' but not 'all of the above' far outnumber those who do have 'all of the above'.

Over time, that will change. Professionals will dominate social media simply because today's professional marketers will figure out social media and the most passionate 'amateur' social media practitioners will invest in acquiring the knowledge and skills required to become well-rounded, professional marketers.

Photo credit: alancleaver_2000 via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 28 April, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (14)

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David Edmundson-Bird

David Edmundson-Bird, Principal Lecturer in Digital Marketing & Course Leader MSc Digital Marketing Communications at MMU Business School

Be interesting to see how many come forward and say mea culpa? A key thing I say before I talk to anyone is, "I am not an expert, I can only show you what other people have done."

about 9 years ago


Sally Falkow

How true!  We're all learning.  Social media changes so fast you might think you're an expert today and tomorrow there are a bunch of new tools you know nothing about.

A head hunter recently told me that her biggest challenge right now is finding people who can fill a CMO post - companies are looking for the requisite marketing experience and the social media savvy.  A rare bird indeed.

about 9 years ago


Kate Robins

What are all of the above? I only see "the skills of a professional marketer are must haves" in this article. If we're looking for expert qualifications, we need to list those qualifications clearly. If we're looking for measures of success, we first need concensus on what success looks like. If we want to deconstruct success, we can then look at the social media work behind the examples of what everyone agrees to be successes. The beauty of social media is that the evidence -- the work -- is forever archived on line.

Full disclosure: I am not an expert.

about 9 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


'All of the above' simply means that you have the skills of a marketer and some working knowledge of/experience with social media. The purpose of this post isn't to provide a list of all the qualifications of a professional marketer; a survey of job listings, for instance, can provide a good overview of the type of skills that one would be expected to possess when applying for professional marketing positions.

When you say "we first need concensus on what success looks like", that's exactly why the skills of a professional marketer are needed. Success is not measured by appearance. It's measured by numbers that correlate results with goals.

That's why professional skills are needed. If you don't know how to develop tangible campaign goals whose achievement can be quantified or you don't know which metrics to track, an otherwise good campaign idea will not deliver the results a paying client expects. Professional skills don't guarantee the type of creativity and forward-thinking that is in abundance in social media circles but they do provide for the sort of execution that is necessary when managing a paying client's brand.

There are plenty of examples of campaigns that received a lot of attention in the social media world that were of questionable 'success'. Take Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice or the Skittles experiment. A lot of the social media 'experts' made a big deal about these and you'll find plenty of people who would agree that these were 'successes' but very few actually explained what the campaigns accomplished for the brand.

So in short, success is not measured by a public poll. It is measured by setting clear goals and objectives that will benefit the client, achieving them and proving that they've been achieved by measuring the right metrics. It's no different than building a car: somebody with professional experience is needed to get a final product out of the entire process.

about 9 years ago


Matt Wier

Important to remember that many of us digital marketers have considerable portfolios built upon A/B testing in the 10-15 or so years that e-commerce has been in existence. As an industry, this discipline has resulted in maturing e-commerce to where it is today, which is still young. Social Media will require incubation time to find prevalent objectives, models, and ROI's required to find its place in the media mix.


about 9 years ago


Kevin Kute

Patricio, I must say you were spot on with your analysis. The very same thing is happening with my organization right now. I work at a non-profit that just embraced Social Media and created a Facebook fan page. We have a fundraiser coming up and I've been studying how other non-profits use Social Media.

To echo your points, we don't have a marketing department. For profit or not for profit, all businesses need that exposure. I end up finding myself and other knowlegeable employees doing the Social Media portion. The one thing to note is that, it is not our job description, rather us providing our knowledge in a way that is beneficial to the company. I think it would totally be awesome to be assigned to do something like that full-time.

Also true is the marketing education part. My initial degree was in Info Systems and working on my second one in Business Admin, Marketying classes included. Do I think this helps at all? DEFINITELY. I think that is a wonderful combination that is necessary to become successful in Social Media Marketing.

about 9 years ago


Laurel Papworth

Agree to a certain extent. And I'm too old. I wrote about Saab user generated content campaigns in Compuserve and AOL forums in the 1980s. Now it's all new again. And we're not allowed to be experts - those of us who have been running virtual worlds, forums, managing 'citizen journalists and editors', running virtual community campaigns, #ops on chat channels (yes just oh, 20 years before Twitter), cobranding in communities since Usenet and Applelink, event marketing using distributed tools since Prodigy and Genie decades ago.  Cos we have to be quiet and listen to the new 'experts' say that no one has figured out this stuff yet. 

The problem with your analysis is that it was Marketing that allowed the web to devolve from community engagement to beautiful passive brochures. So if you want real experience in social media engagement combined with business savvy, look to customer service NOT marketing or PR. Over the years, it's customer service in the back office that has run events, campaigns, conversed and developed brand loyalty online in communities, not the banner ad statisticians in the front office. Marketing abdicated their responsibilities when they allowed their brand to be hijacked online by SEO, Flash and web development teams. 

Fire away! :) 

about 9 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


I take a different perspective. I don't think the web has devolved. A heavy dose of community engagement is right for some businesses, a heavy dose of 'brochure' is right for others. Usually the best result is some sort of middle ground.

My biggest pet peeve with so many of the marketing discussions that exist today is their black and white nature. So many of us have forgotten what matters most: what's right for the client/brand.

What are the goals and objectives? Are they the right ones? What's the broader strategy?

Most marketers are not 'banner ad statisticians in the front office'. A good marketer is holistic and recognizes that before you can come up with an idea for a campaign or commit a significant amount of resource to a particular path (eg. social media), you have to understand what the brands needs, what its goals are, how their achievement will be measured, which stakeholders need to be involved, what the true costs are, what the impact on the bottom line is, etc. etc. etc.

Most often, today's marketing strategies (at least for big brands) are increasingly complex. They span multiple channels and require the involvement of different stakeholders within the business (management, PR, customer service, sales, IT, etc.). This isn't a competition between stakeholders as you seem to imply; it's a jigsaw puzzle that we're all trying to solve.

about 9 years ago


Doel Sengupta, Corporate communicator at Teekays interior Solutions Pvt Ltd

So very true......

I work as a corporate communicator and I am suddenly loaded with the responsibility of social media marketing on behalf of the company, when suggested by some outsider. Though I had been on facebook for long and is completely for personal purpose....am very new to linkedin and twitter. Though I do have formal training in marketing and thats helping me a lot, yet am very new to social media marketing. Have experience in the the traditional ways of marketing  - Advt, PR and stuff.

But being lead to do this I have gained a lot. Though it will take me much more time to make it beneficial for my company.

about 9 years ago


Kelly Feller - Intel Social Media Center of Excellence

I couldn't agree more with your assessment on outsiders. Understanding social media theory is very different than living social media practice, and by that I don't mean writing blogs & twittering. Social media at a corporate level is hard but fun work; figuring out how to do the right things right & measure them so that management finds them valuable. I've found very few "consultants" who have any depth of experience in this area. (One that comes to mind who does is Dawn Foster who consults on communities after managing communities for Jive and having practiced SM at Intel).

It's really not enough for a company or brand to have a Facebook page. You have to answer the fundamental question of WHY have a FB page and what does that community experience provide that a traditional web presence doesn't? Just like it's not enough to have blogs without asking yourself WHY do you have blogs & what do you hope they bring to your strategy? Or WHY Twitter and how do you measure whether your efforts have had any affect on your objectives.

about 9 years ago


Liz Moise


I couldn't agree with you more on the importance of metrics and setting goals. I often work with clients who have been forced into social media with very little support from their companies or their bosses. Even though best practices for marketing are well known, they are often thrown out the window when it comes to social media. Often the topic of measurement hasn't even been discussed yet. Employees are being encouraged to "try" social media out but have not set clear goals in mind. Just last week I was on a call with a global company who had enlisted a junior staffer to implement a social media strategy for an upcoming event their are sponsoring. The staffer had put forth a very sound effort with very little guidance. She had made the event presentations available on Slideshare. She had also started Facebook and Linked In groups for the event. She was also becoming active on Twitter. However she admittedly had no bandwidth to continue managing any of these efforts after the fact, and had not been asked to define how she would measure success. X number of page views or friends may sound nice, but what do they translate to?

She unfortuantely had no time left to define goals for this outreach she had begun. We were also on the phone with 4 of her superiors, none of whom had insights into how to better do this. I advised her, given the short time-frame, that she should use this as an experiment of sorts and spend time listening to see where her audience might be, among these various networks she was joining. If her goal with the next event was to drive additional traffic to the booth, or drive awareness of a new product or partnership, then she would need to think about where each audience was and how to best reach them in the future.

There are no simple answers here, because more often than not in the next few years, I think marketing professionals will find themselves entering a conversation or situation like this where they must mend what they can and help a client move forward. Strategy needs to be a big part of the skill set that we employ. But a good dose of empathy and a firm grasp of reality are also very important!

Liz Moise
Marketing, PR, and Design

about 9 years ago


Alasdair Munn

Any marketing campaign does need to start at the beginning. Only then can the right and relevant strategy be put in place.

You may decide, once the strategy is put in place that separate people will run your social media campaign and your traditional marketing campaign, but how can you even know you will have a social media campaign before you have developed your strategy? 

Go back to the basics, go through the steps you need to figure out your marketing plan. Do not follow the hype. Learn the rules. Spend your resources against objectives. 

Social media is not a bolt on, it is part of an integrated plan. It needs to be relevant and it needs whole system buy in and participation. 

about 9 years ago


Jon Knight

With all due respect

"A good marketer is holistic and recognizes that before you can come up with an idea for a campaign or commit a significant amount of resource to a particular path (eg. social media), you have to understand what the brands needs, what its goals are, how their achievement will be measured, which stakeholders need to be involved, ... etc. etc. etc."

Don't most of you get that Social is about relationships with the customer? Where is the customer mentioned in that rant above? To 'marketers' it's all about what the company gets out of a campaign. That's why you guys are being replaced by folks who, whether you like it or not, are redefining your field.By the very ones you are sneering at with your noses held high.

Social Media is a tool. Social Marketing is about relating (really) with your customer, finding out what that customer wants, and then doing whatever you can to provide the solution.This stuff isn't rocket science, most of it's just common sense.

How many of you have heard this: 'The only reason any company ever exists is because of repeat business.'  That extraordinarily old saying is an expression of the results of social marketing. If you buy used cars, will you buy again from some shallow guy with a good pitch and the right price, or from the guy who takes the time to get to know you, finds out what you want and why, and gives you a reasonable price? That guy won't be selling used cars for very long...

Gee, that sounds like good old salesmanship. Or do you guys still want to keep hawking used cars?

about 9 years ago



Social Media and Web 2.0 is among the most widely used terms in the technology circles of today. There is a valid rational behind its popularity. Just a bit earlier, a business without a website presence was considered a near extinct entity. Today, same can be said about websites without Web 2.0 persona. On the other hand, web 2.0 means different things to different people. As a matter of fact, all of them are right, because it is indeed a new paradigm rather than just a technology wonder. Need of the hour is for an expert who can understand this New paradigm entirely and suggest solutions best suited for a business.

over 8 years ago

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