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Why I Get Over Myself and Hire Experts (re-examining the stories we attach to names)

Blog, Business strategy, Change, Communications, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Marketing, Social Media, Storytelling

At first glance, Peter Shankman’s recent post “Why I’d Never, Ever Hire a ‘Social Media Expert’” hadTrust Me, I'm an Expert me a little baffled. I usually like his marketing commentary – but likening a social media expert as no different than someone skilled at “taking bread out of a refrigerator?” Whoa, that caught my attention. I think that’s what he intended, since the analogy plays into a knee jerk reaction to warn about a particular type of “guru/expert” character.  This doesn’t really accurately reflect the bigger picture he proceeds to paint for the role of social media or the one that actually exists in many cases.  Unfortunately, the cautionary “label” potentially risks undermining the great value that someone experienced in the discipline can bring to your business, with plenty of “experts” that actually do fit the bill appropriately.

Shankman argues to forego hiring the social media expert and, instead, focus on “generating revenue through solid marketing and stellar customer service.” He outlines how a key to utilizing social media is, indeed, to incorporate it as part of a complete marketing/customer service strategy. So why does “social media expert” seem to conjure up something to the contrary? What’s the big beef? It seems to me, the real rub is with a few simple words and the stories we attach to them – of which “expert” is just one. I also think it would be valuable to look squarely in the mirror and  ask ourselves about the story we attach and project upon “social media” too.

Let me elaborate, as I see it, to serve up a few lessons about the power of story and how it plays out in our lives and work:

Are We Jumping To Judgment?

I admit it: I sometimes find myself wincing at self-proclaimed “experts” and “gurus.”  What the terms bring to mind are associated stereotypes, played out as familiar narrative. I immediately think of the overbearing, far from transparent “Sweetie, Baby, Cookie, Honey Have I Got A Deal For You” varieties that seem like they just might be right at home selling me swampland in Florida. Or perhaps heading up an overzealous congregation as fire-and-brimstone preacher proclaiming, “Social Media is the singular Way, The Truth, The Light.”  I know quite a few leaders who are personally unfamiliar with social media and have heard the resentment in their voices just talking about it. So it only seems natural that anyone who approaches them to talk passionately (heard as: obsessively) about the subject (and in a “strange, insider” language of the medium, no less) would be met with glazed over if not rolling eyes. The result: both sides thinking the other “doesn’t’ get it.” Sound familiar? I think what we’re really reacting to here has to do with our own loaded personal perceptions, with all sorts of issues at play. We project our own stories (and their meaning) onto the specific title provided:  the self-important, egotistical “expert” vs. the seemingly more team-friendly, collaborative “specialist,” for example. In the process we may be losing out. The lesson: I vow not to dismiss “experts” and “gurus” based on my own predisposition to the titles and, instead, will take time to learn more about their approach, values and beliefs. It also makes me wonder: where else am I doing this and potentially shortcutting my work, business and life?


Looking for Clues: Does The Expert Value Storysharing?

Shankman explains what social media can do by highlighting, “it’s about using the tools to market to an audience that wants to help tell your story.”  Hip, hip, hurray!  So, I’d take that a step further and add: social media gives you the opportunity to share a story, not just tell it, by actively engaging people in it. A key point: it provides another way to create shared narrative and common bond with others. Giving them another reason to care. Don’t believe me? Just look at how Old Spice reinvented their brand by executing a campaign that included a major play for co-creating narrative with the audience via social media. The story played out together – hand-in-hand, with the audience as co-author.  Which leads me to a perceived problem with “experts:” they seem more intent on telling and not sharing. Makes me ponder (wink, wink): where else can I utilize co-creation of story to create impact for my business?  And, asking questions to understand how the so-called expert perceives these distinctions can be a clue into just what kind of person you’re dealing with….


Good Business: What We’re All Here For

Any good social media specialist (or brand storyteller!) worth their salt will start a discussion on tactics by backpedaling to examine the Holy Grail of all business questions: what are you trying to achieve? I like to think of that as “What’s the future story you desire?” Notice I did not say my favorite MBA all-purpose question, “how are you going to monetize that?”  Social Media, like every activity you do, should reflect and support your overall business goals. Isn’t that what we’re here for? The answer is not just limited to the “show me the money” variety. Good business can provide value of a sort that is reflected beyond economics. Say, for example: social value.

So while I’m still not enamored with self-proclaimed labels that feel full of puffery for both the discipline and self — I’m trying to have an open mind. I’m considering: that bread’s still an important part of the overall sandwich and it’s got to get out of the fridge somehow. I hope everyone I work with strives for excellence in whatever they do, no matter how I perceive the skill level or importance assigned to the task. If they do an awesome job and want to take the title “expert” – what do I care?  More power to ‘em. And, by the way, as a good entrepreneur (leader, manager) shouldn’t I be looking toward others to fill in gaps in my own expertise? If I throw out the social media expert, do I get rid of my business coach, my personal trainer, web development expert, graphic designer or sales expert?

I’m going to challenge myself toward greater self awareness by examining ways I engage and project story in my business and in my life.  I’d encourage you to think about it too.  And, I might even stick my neck out to demonstrate my commitment by having dinner at the “World Famous” diner near my home. OK, maybe not. The nutrition expert I’ve hired would probably frown upon it.






3 Responses to Why I Get Over Myself and Hire Experts (re-examining the stories we attach to names)

Ryan Critchett says: June 10, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Wow. Solid post, Sharlene!

There certainly is a connotation with the word “expert” these days, and it’s definitely tied into the word “guru,” which definitely turns people off in 2011.

With the space (social media) being so different (one solution, strategy or philosophy will not always work for someone else in the same situation), I think a lot of people are experts.

I’ll add that because a huge part of the social revolution is authenticity, and being REAL, I think it benefits social media strategists to openly admit they’re not experts (who would want to know everything?) but rather, they understand the space, can get results and continue to learn. Nothing wrong with being human!!

Awesome post.

Sharlene says: June 14, 2011 at 12:39 am

Thanks for the kind comments and for adding your thoughts, Ryan. I think you make a really great point about authenticity! And, I also think that it only takes a few minutes to figure out if people are really “social” and giving toward others. If they aren’t, it sort of doesn’t matter what they call themselves, I kind of veer away from them.

I also think that “expert” has become sort of a marketing term these days. I don’t really take it too seriously (for better or worse)!

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