Everyone Should Hire ‘Social Media Experts’
I caught a post this week from Peter Shankman entitled “I Will Never Hire a Social Media Expert and Neither Should You.” It’s not the first of its kind, nor was it the best argued, but it struck a nerve and has made a number of waves around the web. Needless to say, as someone who employs multiple team members with a great deal of social media expertise, I strongly disagree with the substance and sentiment of the piece.
Here’s Peter’s argument in his own words:
No business in the world should want a “Social Media Expert” on their team. They shouldn’t want a guru, rock-star, or savant, either. If you have a “Social Media Expert” on your payroll, you’re wasting your money.
Being an expert in Social Media is like being an expert at taking the bread out of the refrigerator. You might be the best bread-taker-outer in the world, but you know what? The goal is to make an amazing sandwich, and you can’t do that if all you’ve done in your life is taken the bread out of the fridge.
The full piece makes a passionate case, but an entirely false one. There’s no evidence, only opinion; no examples, just speculation; no data, but loads of stereotyping. The author is certainly one of the premier benefactors of social traffic and of a new, more socially-connected web (Mr. Shankman founded and sold HARO, the service that connects journalists to subject-matter experts), yet he somehow manages to ignore the benefits social media has brought him (and his clients/company) to write a scathing dressing-down of anyone who dares claim expertise in this marketing discipline.
As with my arguments against Mr. Roadruck last month, I’m worried that I’m falling for trollbait again. But, the people who do great social media marketing deserve a strong defense, and I believe the evidence is almost entirely in their favor. Besides that, as an SEO, I’ve long felt the brunt of baseless attacks by ignorant skeptics. I feel both a kinship and a duty to stand up for those who’ve had their profession ridiculed.
Let’s start by exploring the popularity of social media experts in comparison to another job role Mr. Shankman pointed out, traffic planners:
As you can see, there’s a dramatic rise in interest and demand for social media folks. I don’t think this is because companies are “wasting their money.” In the current economic climate, corporate profits are at record levels and companies are hiring with a much greater eye to the bottom line than any other time in the past 20 years. These businesses are investing in high ROI projects + people, and social media is part of that.
The primary point Mr. Shankman appears to make is that social media skills and expertise are merely “common sense” that every marketing professional/department already has. Thus, there’s no need to specialists or experts to assist in understanding the tools, opportunities or nuances of the field.
I beg to differ.
Product, marketing, engineering and customer service departments can all benefit from greater knowledge and understanding of social media, and very little of it is common sense. From knowing the difference between an original tweet and a retweet (on the basic end of the spectrum) to crafting lifecycle attribution by melding tools like Bit.ly PRO and Facebook Insights with analytics packages (on the advanced end), social media expertise more than just useful, but often critical to improving overall performance.
Facebook has 600 million users; Twitter’s at nearly 200 million; LinkedIn is over 100 million; Blogs have hundreds of millions of readers and tens of millions of publishers; Tumblr alone has 250 million pageviews in a day and Disqus reaches 500 million visitors each month. Social’s driving an increasing proportion of the web’s traffic, conversions and value. How can anyone logically proclaim that experts are worthless?
As a thought exercise, I created the following chart highlighting some of the critical knowledge areas in social media:
NOTE: As I am not a social media expert, these are likely more illustrative than they are accurate
I don’t see how Mr. Shankman can believe A) that these pieces of knowledge won’t help organizations improve B) that such knowledge is innate and requires no specialization, research or study.
As further evidence, I’ll call to the witness stand some exemplary individuals and companies that I’ve seen have a massive impact on improving KPIs, processes and internal use of social media. While I’m a passionate supporter of social media marketing, these are the true experts:
- Marty Weintraub of AimClear is one of the industry’s shining stars. His research, clients and results speak for themselves. No one has ever seen Marty speak and not come away in awe of the passion, dedication and deep expertise he shines.
- Dan Zarrella of Hubspot has put together some of the most respectable and useful research in the field of social media and helped to turn HubSpot into a shining beacon of knowledge dissementation across the web. His presentations, webinars and data have made him the web’s pre-eminent social media scientist, and someone whose expertise is backed by more data than nearly anyone else in the marketing field.
- Ciarán Norris of Mindshare Digital, whom I’ve known for years and who grew from a talented search marketer into an even more talented social and brand marketer. He now runs digital media marketing for Mindshare in Ireland and has helped dozens of big brands build remarkable, revenue-generating social strategies.
- Thomas Høgenhaven is currently engaged in a unique project to study and make recommendations around SEOmoz’s internal social community, analyzing how users interact with each other, when high vs. low quality behavior emerges and how to encourage the former while minimizing the latter. I fully expect Thomas’ expertise and his work will be invaluable to our community and to the long-term prospects of this part of our business.
- Jen Lopez of SEOmoz runs community management here at Moz. She’s helped to scale our social presences, stayed in touch with events, questions and engagement across multiple networks and is directly responsible for a substantive portion of our traffic, conversions, retention and brand-building efforts. Her expertise spans tools, platforms, branding concepts, social launches and more. See, for example, the recent Mozcation program she’s turned into an amazing outpouring of community effort and attention.
- Kristy Bolsinger of Ant’s Eye View has consulted with dozens of local and national firms to help devise successful social media + web marketing programs. I’ve personally heard great feedback from folks who’ve worked with her, which is why I continue to refer those seeking consultants her way.
There are remarkable people with social media expertise. Some of them even use the highly appropriate title “social media expert” or “social media specialist.” They provide a ton of value to the organizations they work with and neither Mr. Shankman, nor anyone else, should belittle their profession.
In fact, I recommend the opposite. Do as we’ve done, and hire folks with social media knowledge and expertise. It will open opportunities that wouldn’t be otherwise available, and if your other processes around monetization and customer acquisition scale, social is a phenomenal compliment to whatever channels you’re currently pursuing.
On a final note:Mr. Shankman, if you despise social media expertise and those who earn a living from sharing that knowledge with others, might I suggest that you remove your “featured” listing from this directory of social media consultants? Also, let’s get a beer sometime. I bet you’ve got a ton of social expertise that could help my company (totally serious – I’ll even buy).