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The Real Social Media Expert is the Experimenter

13 Comments 07 October 2010

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If you are looking to hire a consultant, or an employee, you don’t want a self-appointed “social media expert” or “guru” or “kingmaker.” You want an Experimenter. Let’s explore a few reasons:

It is a problem of attitude.

Certainly many social media “experts” have special skills and knowledge in the field, but most self-titled experts mean “I am an authority.” The field of social media changes almost daily. There is just too much to know, too much new, and too much changing on a daily basis to be an authority in the overall sector. (For example: How many social media practitioners are still figuring out the best way to use location-based social media platforms for their organizations?)  As Beth Kanter, one of the most knowledgeable social media practitioners out there said Monday night at an event for the Networked Nonprofit, “social media changes all the time. I’m always experimenting.” An Authority must also decide to be an Experimenter.

It is also a problem of hierarchy.

The expert sets him/herself above others as an authority, which in social media is…problematic. You don’t want a self-appointed anything, as that person has already created hierarchical levels of expertise that no one else can match. Or feel equal to when talking with online!

Social media is about engagement – real interactions, creating trust, creating social capital, creating relationships, and using the social capital from those relationships to move stakeholders to action when needed. That could be voting for a nonprofit in an online contest, creating an event as part of a worldwide movement, or giving money online to a cause. You want a consultant or employee who is willing to sit down on the playground and listen, engage with people who aren’t also “experts” in the field, and create real and trusting relationships with all your stakeholders.

Experts often set themselves apart. Experimenters do not.

It is the problem of keeping one’s expertise.

How many “experts” are willing to fail? When working in social media, we often must first fail in order to understand the tools and platforms. I have created campaigns that have failed miserably, but offered a great deal of insight. A real expert is willing to try, fail, and if necessary, hold joyful funerals.

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I believe that anyone can acquire a very good grasp of how to use social media, create and apply strategic thinking, experiment and fail with the tools, and use it successfully. But to be an expert in this field is honestly, almost unbelievable. I don’t think that you want a “social media guru” for your organization, but rather someone who truly understands and has experimented with social media in real-life applications. Someone who is willing to continue to do so, knowing that every day another tool will come along to topple another expert.

Don’t hire an authority, hire a sharp experimenter who can apply theory in both innovative and practical ways to move the goals of your organization forward.

The real social media “expert” is the Experimenter.

Hat tip to Jessica Gottlieb for inspiring this blog post with her own, Doing More Good Than Harm.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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