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.