The trouble with new media is that it's hard to tell the pretenders from the professionals.
If an individual with no followers on Twitter has decades of real-life work experience and the individual with hundreds of thousands of followers only pontificates, plagiarizes and hasn't proven themselves in-market, what is the consumer supposed to do? It's not all that hard to establish some kind of Social Media beachfront and - with a few tactical moves - quickly gain notoriety and respect in a digital kind of way, but you can't fake a portfolio.
You can't fake a track record, either.
If you're not sure if you're getting expert advice, ask to see a portfolio, ask to see results and ask to speak to past clients. Social Media goes both ways. If you think someone is a fraud, why not leverage Social Media to figure it out. This past week, Media Hacks co-host, friend and Social Media darling, Chris Brogan (co author of Trust Agents with Julien Smith), took flack (which, for some reason, he is a lightning rod for) over a webinar he created on showing people how to use Google + (more on that here: Selling Information). The argument goes that no one can claim to be an expert on something that is so new. Brogan was also called "very opportunistic," according to Gini Dietrich over at Spin Sucks in her Blog post, Beware The Google + Experts (I'd recommend reading the comments too, but there are close to 450 of them, so pack a lunch), and the debate has raged on all week (yes, I realize how very "high school" most of this is).
Ask. Just ask.
I readily admit that Google + has been a challenge for me. Not in understanding what it does and how it works, but in getting my circles organized and really spending some time, neck-deep in it, to figure out the value proposition (for me and my clients at Twist Image). When I saw that Chris was offering a webinar on it, I seriously considered attending and paying for it. Yes, I'm sure there are a lot of free tutorials online via YouTube or great Blog posts that explain how to make it work, but none of those are Chris Brogan's perspective on it. When it comes to explaining these online tools and platforms, I always learn something new from Chris (and I'm not just saying that because I consider him a friend). He's smart, he sees the business implications and - if I'm going to be very raw here - I often disagree with him, so watching him explain something (especially when I disagree) helps me to formulate my own perspective. If I didn't know Chris and I was skeptical about someone giving a webinar on Google +, I'd simply hop over to Twitter and tweet: "I'm considering taking @chrisbrogan's webinar on Google +. Has anyone ever taken one of his webinars before? Worth it?" The feedback I receive could then be parsed by both the content and the person writing it (and my relationship to them). If you don't know an individual, a business or a brand, It's not all that hard anymore to find out if Brogan (or any other brand) offers value on the dollar.
You can't run. You can't hide.
Chris and I are very different people who run in very similar circles. I don't have any plans to monetize the people who read this Blog (or listen to my Podcast or read my articles). My endgame is the client work we're doing at Twist Image and every piece of content that you see out of me (free or paid) is either me thinking things through in public and/or me creating awareness and attention about the agency. Chris is monetizing his leaderboard. He works hard to create tons of content for free in the hopes that people click links and buy something (a book, a speaking event, a webinar, a company consultation). That's his business and he's been successful at it... and he seems happy about it. The truth is that whether or not he positions himself as an expert is irrelevant: the market will decide. If the free content doesn't strike a chord, the audience leaves. If the paid content doesn't strike a chord, his family goes hungry. To me, that's the amazing thing about Social Media: the market is live, in real-time and it's speaking with their hearts, minds and wallets for all to see and hear.
Sounds like good business to me.