Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 10, 2012 1:51 PM

Drunk On The Social Media Kool-Aid

It's hard not to hit a like button and come across a Social Expert, Guru on Ninja.

Even the discourse around the value of job descriptions like that has taken over the Social Media conversation over the years. I've been called one (if not all) of those titles many times over the years, and it has always baffled me. In 2003, I started a Blog, Six Pixels of Separation, because my marketing agency needed some clients and my background as a journalist/writer fit in very comfortably with the  emerging popularity of Blogging. My company, Twist Image, sells marketing and communications services (with a focus on the digital/online channels). The Blog's content covers Social Media simply because I'm fascinated by what this New Media has brought into the marketing mix. If I could self-define myself (and, wouldn't it be grand if we all could?), I'd simply call myself a "marketing professional" and/or an "entrepreneur." If I could define my Blog, I say that it's about "business, marketing and new media." Ultimately, I use Social Media as a publishing and engagement platform to create attention, awareness and interest in my company. It also fits the values of our business (open, collaborative, experimental, strategic and creative).

Where the Social Media Guru thing comes from.

In the past short while, I've come across some very smart, clever and strategic entrepreneurs and business professionals who have leveraged Social Media to circumvent some of the more traditional advertising channels to not only get their brand message out, but to become celebrities in whatever niche industry they serve. It's a true marvel of marketing evolution when you think about it: suddenly, by the sheer prowess of talent and a commitment to create content and engage with those with consume it, a select few can become the Donald Trump's of their industry. These micro-celebrities are racking up hundreds of thousands of friends and followers in places like Facebook and Twitter and they're generating millions of views in places like YouTube and Vimeo. It's come to a point, where even traditional media calls upon them as subject matter experts. Last year, I was attending a pharmaceutical marketing conference and one of the organizers asked if I had met a specific individual. When I said that I hadn't, they shot back, "you should... they are the Seth Godin of the pharmaceutical marketing industry." As much as I am a Seth Godin fanboy, that comment made me realize that because of Social Media, it has become increasingly difficult to even define who is a guru, expert or black belt master (it's not like Social Media is regulated by the federal government or anything... yet). It's also indicative that Social Media has created many new layers of experts or gurus through the simple power that comes from the push of a publishing button.

The Social Media pivot.

What makes these entrepreneurs and business professionals even more interesting is how they take these titles and positions of power (self-anointed or otherwise) and pivot them into the business of selling their Social Media skills and abilities to others. One second, the entrepreneur is the Social Media Gordon Ramsey of dishwashers and the next day, they're running a Social Media consultancy agency. I know what you're thinking: "Mitch is worried about the competition." Not at all... there is room enough for many more marketing agencies, I'm just fascinated with why so many of these people give up the amazing opportunity and position they're in to start a completely different business. Prior to Social Media, how many business people who were featured on TV suddenly quit their jobs to show other business people how to be great on TV? Beyond that, I'm fascinated with how a brand can scale, so just because an individual can get many people to follow them on Twitter or comment on their Blog, it doesn't mean that they have any ability in helping a brand to get the same result.

Bash. Bash. Bash.

What usually happens next is the discourse around who, exactly, should be called an expert and who is a fraud. You can have that debate if you like, but the real value is in figuring out how we move media forward in a world where many of us (and I am raising my hand here, too) are so fascinated by this new media channel that all we want to do is help other people see how great it is. Perhaps, we need to think about that a whole lot more in the context of the history of media and how we move the needle forward? The bigger idea here is that while it's nice to get drunk on the Social Media Kool-Aid and point fingers at those who have gained exposure and popularity through it (both positive and negative), all of that pales in comparison to the fact that we still don't even really know just how powerful this new media is. We also don't really know how much more it is going to evolve in the coming years... and, consequently, how much that is going to change us.

Let's just hope that it's for the better. 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Robin Whalen
    Mitch Joel

    Well said; as always.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ryan Holota
    Mitch Joel

    The big irony of all of this is that the 'gurus' who teach others to use social media don't use it the way that they preach. It's true that many of them have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers, but they follow very few of them back. If the entire point of social media is to be social, to listen, then they fail. What they have done is taken advantage of a new technology to broadcast their own message.

    Sadly, they can take advantage of a lot of people who simply don't know any better.

    Reply
    • Two thoughts on this:

      1. I think there are many ways to use Social Media. To me, it's just a platform. If people connect with a broadcasting message and it works, I'm fine with it. I'd prefer a more engaged opportunity, but such is life.

      2. I'm with you on this line of thinking and it's something that I often Blog about. It's summed up best to me by Bloggers who build a massive audience then sign a lucrative book deal and stop Blogging while they write the book. Huh? Isn't the Blog how you got the deal in the first place?

      Reply
  • Posted by Jennifer Kane
    Mitch Joel

    Well said. This is a tough question and one that I spend a lot of time thinking about. Like you, I’ve worked in marketing for a long time, but am mostly called a “social media person” by others because that’s what I specialize in and I use it a lot. And I’m also confounded by the multitudes of gurus and black belts and whatevers that pop out of the woodwork -- many of which have a higher profile than I do because they spend an amazing amount of time promoting themselves and barfing out content each day (while, I, very un-glamorously, am toiling on client work and the basics of running a business). I kind of was hoping a few years ago that, by now, the social space would have self-corrected and culled some of the guru-osity, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. So that leaves people like me in a weird spot…I’m a social media expert, who’s almost ashamed to say that out loud, and I do social media for a living, but get less recognition for that than some people who do it as a hobby and can spend more time beefing up their “street cred.” Maybe blog posts like this one can contribute to helping change that.

    Reply
    • It's also not a zero sum game. I spend my days toiling around in the client work too... I just happen to spend some time (at some point in my day) using these channels to helps spread some good cheer about marketing as well. Furthering the point: just because I use it to share, it doesn't make me an expert, either ;)

      Reply
  • Posted by Bas
    Mitch Joel

    hi Mitch,

    I'm wondering how you propose we eliminate the wrongly reputated experts? The people that might stumbled upon success for themselves, but have just that one trick, or the people that only copy/paste the "real" experts without having any feeling for the mechanisms we deal with in social media (or online marketing).

    Thanks!
    Bas

    Reply
    • It's pretty easy:

      - meet the people.
      - ask for their portfolio.
      - speak to their clients.
      - ask for a commitment of time and effort.

      You can Blog and tweet and have all of the followers in the world, but if you don't have work (in-market) that is delivering results for your client, then it really is all hot air.

      Reply
  • Posted by Christine
    Mitch Joel

    We need to talk about this stuff more, it's important particularly in an industry where there are so many people non-communications people looking for quality and trustworthy advice.

    Reply
  • Posted by @samfiorella
    Mitch Joel

    Interesting perspective Mitch. I've often pondered and/or complained about social media job titles and the apparent lack of correlation between social media celebrity & real marketing experience.

    At the end of the day however, isn't being an entrepreneur about building a following for the purposes of monetization? With my "marketing professional" hat on I'll publicly call out SM "celebrities", gurus and authors with little real-life marketing experience yet with my entrepreneur cap on, I think: Crap, wish I'd have done that first...could have saved myself years of sweat. (I'm only 1/2 joking)

    Reply
    • It's like the old saying that you can't define porn, but you know it when you see it. Postering, Blog posts or whatever are one thing. Tangible results with happy clients and a successful business is another. You can't fake that.

      Reply
  • Posted by Karl Sylvester
    Mitch Joel

    In your last podcast, Gini Dietrich made a bold point on a common fallacy brands make when hiring internet celebrities to communicate their business brands. The assumption is, if these celebrities were able to do it for themselves they can transition those talents into business sense. Unfortunately, in most cases they cannot.

    My thoughts on gurus and ninjas: the hoards of them flooding the social media marketing space only provide more reason, and purpose for those with a true passion for this industry to continue walking on the edge.

    Reply
    • Ultimately, the names that we have come to know, love and trust in the Marketing industry will also have the competency in house. Alternately, we'll know the names of the newer shops who can deliver more than a resume of how many followers they, themselves, have.

      Reply
  • Posted by Mark W Schaefer
    Mitch Joel

    As you know, this is a subject near and dear to my heart! I think what you are struggling with is that accomplishment no longer matters in the online world. It just doesn't and the sooner you come to grips with that less anxiety you will suffer through : ) Anybody can fake their way to guru-dom. Yes, it's icky, but it's real and there is no going back I'm afraid. Today, the pentultimate achievement is becoming KNOWN, not doing stuff.

    Reply
  • Posted by elissapr
    Mitch Joel

    Great post! What I've noticed lately is how these gurus and ninjas are now becoming targets of derision by the very people who elevated them to this status. We all know that fame is fleeting and many of these social media celebs are now in the process of trying to extend their popularity by entering the next phase: overtly selling their wares/brains. I remember when Chris Brogan came early out of the gate with a course about Google+. The twittersphere was flooded with anti-Brogan sentiment. So I guess the question is: are you only a revered ninja when you don't cash in on your fame?

    Reply
  • Posted by Karen
    Mitch Joel

    It gets a little nerve-wracking - as someone who is trying to build proof of expertise in this area - to see some of the derision for the self-proclaimed guru/expert/ninjas out there. Others have applied those labels to me and I cringe when I hear it. I know I still have much to learn. At the same time, I do have some expertise that allows me to help others.

    So, I practice the old writing adage to show, not tell. I tend to be suspicious of those who are quick to shout out their expertise from the rooftops, whereas those who show the result of their expertise have more credibility in my eyes.

    Reply
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