It's a tough time to be a 'social media guru'. Despite the rise of social media in general, there's a lot of skepticism when it comes to high-paid consultants who claim to have mastered it. From where I sit, that skepticism only seems to grow by the day.

That skepticism is reflected well in an amusing NSFW animation called 'The Social Media Guru', which has racked up over 100,000 views on YouTube since being posted at the end of September. It portrays a 'social media guru' as a snake oil salesman who claims to be more skilled than he is and who preys on foolish small businesses.

As you might expect, the responses to 'The Social Media Guru' have been mixed. Depending on how you earn your living, it's either "truthful" or a source of frustration. In my opinion, 'The Social Media Guru' has taken some of the inconvenient truths about the cottage industry that has built up around social media and exaggerated them a bit to create a humorous and insightful piece of entertainment. Nothing wrong with that.

But for those who count on social media to pay the bills, I think 'The Social Media Guru' is a sort of call to action, as suggested by ZDNet's Jennifer Leggio. Social media isn't going anywhere but as the hype gives way to reality, the jobs of those who can't deliver results just might be.

So if you're a social media consultant, here's some advice that will help you avoid becoming 'The Social Media Guru'.

Don't equate prolific use with prolific ability

Just because you have 10,000 followers on Twitter and were on MySpace before Tila Tequila doesn't mean you're a social media expert. Sure, it's nice to see that someone doing social media consulting is an active user of popular services, but prolific use and personal success will rarely alone translate into prolific use and success for a client. If you sell your social media prolificacy, consider selling it as evidence of your passion. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bring some experience to the table

Simple rule: if you have minimal relevant work experience, you should probably not be consulting. In most industries, individuals don't jump right into 'consulting'. They build knowledge and skill through years of experience. At some point, that knowledge and skill makes them a valuable commodity and they can credibly strike out on their own as 'hired guns'.

It shouldn't be any different with social media. In fact, given that social media usually sits at the intersection of so many crucial business functions (marketing, PR, customer service, etc.), the question becomes: why would anyone want to hire someone who hasn't spent at least a few years working in the real world in one of these areas? If you wouldn't hire a CRM consultant who had never touched a piece of CRM software, why would you pay a college student with a blog and no real world work experience to be the face of your company on Facebook?

Don't make excuses

When presented with questions about tough subjects like ROI, a lot of social media consultants seem to respond with something to the effect of "This is such a new industry and a lot of people are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't..." This might be a convenient response but serious consultants will avoid it.

The reason: you're not being hired to prove out the efficacy of social media itself. If you're doing things right, you're being hired to execute on a specific proposal that you've laid out for a prospective client. If a prospective client can't figure out how your proposal is (potentially) going to deliver value for his business, the problem is not with social media -- it's with your proposal. Everybody knows that a consultant can't guarantee ROI. What clients want to see is a plan that looks like it can realistically create value, and the means by which that value will be measured within an agreed-upon timeframe.

Avoid the abstract

Following on the above: 'The Social Media Guru' almost always focuses on the abstract (e.g. "Twitter is becoming more and more important and over time you'll gain a competitive advantage through your account"). When working with clients on social media, focus on specifics: goals, objectives, milestones, metrics. Example:

  • Goals: boost your company's social media presence, build closer relationships with customers online.
  • Objectives: set up accounts on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and train your sales and marketing team on how to use them to interact with customers.
  • Milestones: have accounts set up by February 1, conduct five trainings with staff during February, hand off full responsibility to staff on April 1, hold follow-up meetings with staff twice a month through July.
  • Metrics: followers/friends/fans, interactions between staff and customers, traffic from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace.

No promising the client the world. Just tangibles (and deliverables) that the client can either see potential value in or not.

Execute, don't pontificate

This is social media, not existential philosophy. Clients don't want to hear about 'paradigm shifts', the 'death' of [insert industry name here], etc. They want to know what you're going to do for them. Operative word: do. As Thomas Edison stated, "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration". There's a lot of inspiration in social media but if you're a consultant, you're not just being paid for the inspiration part.

Don't sell fear

I've said it before and I'll say it again: real consultants don't sell fear (e.g. "If you're not on Twitter you're going to get left behind"). They sell real solutions and opportunity. So if you're a consultant and a prospective client "just doesn't get it", figure out why the prospective client isn't seeing a solution or opportunity in your proposal. Do not resort to scaremongering and don't insult the prospective client. After all, the client is going to be writing you a check. You have to earn it.

Avoid appeal to authority

In my opinion, many social media consultants rely far too heavily on who they know, what conferences they've spoken at, the books they've published, etc. The problem with these things is that few truly speak to the capabilities of the consultant. While it may be great that you've headlined a social media conference and written a book about social media, does that really say anything more than "I can talk and write about social media"?

Bottom line: if you play up who you hang with, the conferences you've attended and the books you've written more than you play up the work you've done for real clients, you send the message that you haven't done enough work for real clients or aren't proud of the results.

Your compensation has to be aligned with the tasks you perform

A prospective client may not have accounts on Facebook, Twitter or MySpace but if your social media consulting consists of signing clients up for popular social media services, think carefully about what that's worth. Hint: it's not $10,000, or $125/hour.

As with anything, you can always find a few suckers, and there will always be opportunity take advantage of them. But the problem is that unjustifiable fees don't just seem to be the domain of social media snake oil salesmen. Well-intentioned individuals who clearly seek professional credibility as social media consultants just don't seem to be thinking about what the services they're performing are really worth. In the process, they're ignoring the long-term implications they'll face when their clients finally discover that they've been paying big bucks for services that were far more mechanical than strategic.

Bottom line: think twice before charging what the most naive client will pay. That's not pricing for sustainable success as a consultant.

Don't call yourself a social media guru

Don't call yourself a social media guru. Or expert. Or 'thought leader'. Instead, describe what it is you do. Examples:

  • I help train businesses on how to use social media tools.
  • I help companies incorporate social media into their marketing campaigns.

Note that a good description will implicitly define the skill level associated with your services. In the examples above, for instance, training businesses to use social media tools obviously requires a different skill set than working with companies to incorporate social media into their marketing campaigns. Needless to say, the former probably requires less skill, experience and strategic know-how than the latter, and the compensation sought for each should reflect that.

'The Social Media Guru' may exaggerate the worst of social media consulting but it's a good reminder that social media consulting is probably due for a shake-out. If you're a social media consultant and want to be one of those left standing, making sure you're not 'The Social Media Guru' is the best investment you can make.

Photo credit: armandoalves via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 19 November, 2009 by Patricio Robles

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

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Comments (28)

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Nigel (Qube Media)

I run a Social Media Agency - I first saw this skit a few months back and not only is it funny - to be honest, I think it's bang on. We ALL recognise that guy :-)

There are far too many so called gurus charging people a lot of money for - well, often, nothing much of value. 

Patricio, your points are really valid - just because someone blogs alot, has a lot of followers etc etc doensn't at all make them an authority on their clients' business issues or how social media could help solve them. Just using some social media tools makes you an enthusiastic amateur - or consumer. Not an expert.

The entire digital industry has jumped on the social media bandwagon in the past year or two. Search agencies, PR Agencies, Web Design agencies, build agencies.. you name it, if they work in digital, suddenly they are social media experts and can provide these services.

But why does running any one of these businesses mean you've suddenly got an insight into social media and how it can provide real business solutions?

There's a reason they were specialist agencies in the first place - why deviate from that?

I think the 'gurus' who are actually just enthusiastic 'social media consumers' give Social Media a bad name - but so do all the digital and search agencies who specialise in something else and have jumped on the 'social' bandwagon.

over 8 years ago


Mike Stenger

Great points! There are some bad ones out there but then again there are some good ones. I say let others decide about the word guru and if many think you're a guru, more power to 'em.

As with any profession or consulting, experience is great but you also must convey why and how your services can help someone or some company, in pure benefits. A lot of people make a huge mistake by talking about the features when it's benefits (how can it help me? What can it help me do? etc.) that sell the most.

over 8 years ago


Aaron Savage

Absolutely spot on post.

There is a growing debate at the moment about Digital Marketing Strategy in general and Social Media Strategy in particular and most of the people talking about strategy are not talking about strategy they are talking about Tactics. 

Tactics shouldn't be the starting point for any campaign, let alone one that includes social media.  Your focus on tangibles is exactly the right thing to start with.  If an agency or consultant can't do that then the client shouldn't listen to them anymore.

over 8 years ago


Nigel (Qube Media)

I agree with you, actually, Duncan - I think Social Media definitely does add something to the mix for other agencies etc and think search agencies, PR agencies etc should be offering social media services - I didn't mean to suggest they shouldn't.

But I think the danger is for clients thinking that they have now 'ticked the box' and have social media covered, where-as they have actually got the 'social media for search' box ticked etc... this means they aren't fully engaging with just how effective and important a comprehensive social media strategy can be for their entire operation.

Social media isn't just about marketing campaigns or measuring the ROI of a particular initiative - it's about research, audience insight, customer service... It can lead to cost-savings in your organisation by helping you to utilise your staff more efficiently, help you identify new markets, understand why you're losing customers... the opportunities are endless... it's not just about search, pr or marketing 'add ons' IMHO...

over 8 years ago


Al Williams

I have found that most "Social Media experts" are as you suggest people who have "used and collected massive amounts of experience in social media".  Of course this doesn't translate to their success in delivering profitable marketing.  For that you need to understand marketing and most don't.

The second kind of Social Media expert is those who have a wealth of marketing experience and think this enables them to quickly learn how to use the social media tools and become a great force in the next wave of marketer... wrong.

Two approaches and two methods of failure.  You must have both to qualify.

over 8 years ago



Great article. Personally, I have some experience behind me, and have been working as a Social Media analyst for my company for around 6 months. It's terrifying how often "social media experts" are chosen over those that have experience, and mainly it's because they have lots of Twitter followers (most of which are glamour model accounts) and a semi flashy website.

over 8 years ago


Duncan (Whitehatmedia)

Coming back to your second point Nigel yes I do agree with what you are saying Social Media for search and the actual full benefits of social media all in all are two very different things.

There is definitely a dange with agencies just adding Social media as an afterthought just because they feel it compliments some aspects of thier business.

There definitely is a raft of things it can offer that you have mentioned so there does need to be a certified effort in making sure agecnies are not just offering services in this area just because it sounds cool and is a buzz term.

Nice comment though Nigel

over 8 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Partner, PA Consulting Group at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Good post. The irony is, anyone claiming to be a social media guru and use language that discusses the social web as a separate channel is not a social media guru. The focus should be on people and thinking about how to encourage and enable them to engage in a dialogue about your brand in a positive way online. It just so happens that the social web plays a part in enabling this interaction and engagement. But only a part.

over 8 years ago



Good post. Thx you vry nice 

over 8 years ago


mack collier

As a social media consultant, here is what I think companies should be looking for from consultants, and this is what I give my clients:

1 - Talk strategy first BEFORE tactics.  If the first thing a consultant tells you is 'well we need to get you on Twitter and Facebook immediately!', then run screaming in the opposite direction.  You set the strategy first and THEN set the tactics to execute that strategy.  How can I tell you that you should be on Twitter without knowing what you want to accomplish on Twitter?  And make sure that strategy is consistent with your larger marketing and branding strategies.  Don't silo social media from the rest of your business.

2 - Set the strategy (We are using social media as a way to do X).  Whatever 'X' is, then you decide the tactics that will help you execute the strategy.  Some research needs to be done at this point to determine which tactics are necessary.  If you want to increase sales, then Twitter probably isn't going to work if the customers you are trying to reach aren't on Twitter.

3 - Decide how to measure the effectiveness of the tactics.  What should be happening as a result of you being on Facebook?  How much traffic should your blog send to your website?  And if at all possible, track this against what has happened in the past.  If a top goal for your blog is to send traffic to your website, it REALLY helps if you can look at your website's traffic for the year BEFORE you had a blog, then once you launch the blog, you can see how traffic changed since launching the blog.

4 - Track the effectiveness of each tactic, and if something isn't getting you the results you want, either change how you are using the tool, or dump it for something else.  Your strategy shouldn't change, but if the tactics you are using to execute that strategy aren't working (or if you don't THINK they are working), then your consultant should be able to tell you what to do about it.  Maybe you need to tweak/improve how you are using the tool, or maybe it turns out that you really didn't need to be on Twitter after all.  Or maybe it turns out that you just need to be a bit more patient with your efforts.  Social media efforts usually don't show immediate results. 

5 - If your consultant is working with you to get you up to speed on social media, then there should be a cut-off point at which they will give you the keys and let you drive.  Now this can be set in stone at the start (6 months and then it's all yours), or you can go for a shorter project, like 3 months, and then see if you need additional time and training.  But if their job is to get you to a point where you are self-sufficient when it comes to handling your social media efforts, then you don't want them stringing you along.

In general, I think the better consultants talk more about social media strategy, than they do social media tools.  And I often find that when I first talk with businesses about their social media needs, they will say something like 'Well we are using social media now, we're on Twitter and Facebook', and when I ask them why they are using those tools, the normally reply with something along the lines of 'those are just the ones we hear everyone talking about, so we assumed we needed to be using them!'

over 8 years ago


Pete Gronland

I've ranted plenty of times on the subject of the word Guru and its usage within online marketing.

There are a few real Guru's out there, however, they do not self promote as such.

I feel that there are times when some lose sight of the job they are employed to do, improve the business of your client's online offerings...that's it.

Social Media can help some but most do not need all they are "expertly" advised to adopt.

Its certain folks attitude that this is an essential must have for every business that annoys me, online strategy should be tailored to the clients needs & budgets as with any other form of promotion.

Great article thanks


over 8 years ago


Rob MacGregor

Listen to what the client business goals are, develop the appropriate social media strategy, and implement that strategy based on definitive tactics to achieve goals and reach milestones. Measure outcomes, re-assess strategy and tactics and continue the tweaking process in order to achieve the client business goals. It is imperative to fully understand the client industry, business culture and customer base in order to implement a successful social media program.  Thank you for posting the article.

over 8 years ago


Shyam Kapur

This is an excellent, timely article.  I think another ability I would rate high in a real expert is that they practice what they preach.  For example, how many of these so-called social media experts have put in some time to understand TipTop, the only real-time, semantic, social search engine? We have promoted this engine ( beta version is at ) quite widely within social media & requested folks to pass on the word.  Some have, many haven't.  Some have understood how TipTop fulfills every social media expert's dream.  Others haven't even bothered, which is a real pity.

over 8 years ago


Lee Down

I was really delighted to read this, and watch your video. Funny! Had me in stitches a few times.

I'd sort of been pushed into this direction of social media cuz it is what I do and have been doing for myself for years. It isn't a question of what I wanted to do. Then questions about sales and ROI started to show up. My guts roiled at the question and thought. This isn't what social media is, it isn't even precisely what marketing is... it's about relationship building and extending reach and/or impact via the web - engaging people, sharing info, expressing presence and brand.

So, needless to say, I've resisted the big $5K deals ;-)  and focused upon who and what a client is about, where they are best to take their first steps given their own level of skills, and stepped people into the arena of doing their social media, learning what they need to know as they go. A big piece of this, from my view working with newbies, is about process and human behavior; not just technology and the web.

Great write-up

over 8 years ago


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Nice work guys!
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over 8 years ago


Sean Goulart

How refreshing to read this commentary. Really good points made in this section as well.

I find it laughable that anyone would bill themselves as a "social media expert" when the channel is so young...I'm excited about it but even Twitter can be useless for some business models.

over 8 years ago

Adding Value

Adding Value, Director at AddingValue

Great post and even better commentary. It is refreshing to know there are acutally professionals out there that aren't shooting from the hip with just buzz words and understand the definition of Strategy.

over 8 years ago



Nice work guys and keep going.

over 8 years ago


Eric Brown

Good Morning, I like your post, and have thought for some time, that until Business Folks are talking to Business Folks, as oppossed to SM Marketers talking to SM Marketers the yak, yak babble will continue.

Bottom line is this, if yoru SM Marketing stratigy isn't producing More Sales, it is just a hobby. There are a zillion ways to NOT say SM is about selling more stuff, but as a Small Business owner/operator, that IS the Only Thing that Matters, Selling More Stuff at a Higher Margin.

The "puriest" don't care so much for that approach,

over 8 years ago


Nigel Cooper

Hi Eric - it's also true that there are short/medium and long-term sales strategies - many social media strategies form part of very successful medium to long-term aquisition programmes, but sales won't be seen within the first few weeks, or even the first couple of months. This doesn't mean that Social Media isn't driving sales and it certainly doesn't mean it's just a hobby (provided the strategy is sound and is being carried out correctly).

It means social media is part of the overall marketing mix, along with search etc... they all bring different things to the pot. Buisnesses that have a social strategy and who participate in the social web are in a better position to drive awareness of their brand/product and drive new sales that those who don't. They are also in a better position to retain maintain solid relationships with those already engaged.

over 8 years ago


Scotty More

Great article!  Fantastic view on the matter. I just posted a light primer for HR professionals that contains a nightmare of a story.  Keep up the great work!

All the best


over 8 years ago



The vid is 100% correct.

Everything I hear about social media & so-called gurus is perfectly summed up in that few minutes.

over 8 years ago


Susan Breidenbach

Amen. Social media right now reminds me a lot of the early commercial web in the mid-1990s. Companies asked the gurus of the day why they should build a web site, and the gurus said, "Build it and they will come."

over 8 years ago


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"Following on the above: 'The Social Media Guru' almost always focuses on the abstract (e.g. "Twitter is becoming more and more important and over time you'll gain a competitive advantage through your account"). When working with clients on social media, focus on specifics: goals, objectives, milestones, metrics"  I am fully agree with this. A very new and informative discussion on this post .

over 8 years ago



Good post, Patricio. However, I slightly disagree with your first point "Don't equate prolific use with prolific ability." I can tell you firsthand that learning how to run a blog via Wordpress has shown me how that platform works, and I'm also able to see what types of post generate interest and which ones do not. I use this knowledge to help counsel clients and wouldn't be able to do so had I not been engaged in the platform itself.

PR at Sunrise -

about 8 years ago



Great post, im sure i wont be a social media guru after reading that!

over 7 years ago


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In todays time social media are the most important for any organization. Every organization has their company profile in facebook and twitter these days. Your profile should talk about your goal, metrix, friends

over 7 years ago



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