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Top 10 Ways to Become a Real Social Media Expert

The headline is shared mostly in jest, but this topic is one worthy of serious attention. The question at hand is whether or not the general advice shared in popular blogs and books when designed to be snappy, shareable, and consumable, help or hinder the ability to learn critical and important lessons in social media.

I recently read a post by Alan Maites that used an article that I wrote for AdAge as the nexus for an industry-wide quest to seek answers for specific marketing challenges and ambitions. Chris Syme also continued the discussion.

There was a line in Maites’ post that resonated with me and serves as the inspiration for this discussion,

There’s nothing here that addresses the special circumstances that can make social media difficult for marketers to use.

Obviously, a guide on style and persona is not intended to address special circumstances on how to make social media easier for marketers. However, herein lies the essence of the frustration many share, including me – the ongoing need to discover useful direction, answers, how to’s, and guidance.

Advice is a commodity, but usable, not practical, instruction is scarce.

While his counsel to help marketers find solace is to “Google it,” I would like to take the opportunity to forward the discussion.

My advice? Reduce the weight you place on the social media guidance and examples that are universal, as they won’t apply to the specific circumstances or context of your challenges, opportunities, and market dynamics. Use them solely for inspiration, but not as templates for your endeavors.

It’s Time to Write Your Own Success Stories

We can’t assume that the lessons and successes we study are motivated by planning, calculation, and purpose. Many of those experimenting online today do so with more resolve than strategy. Creating a profile on Twitter, blogging, and introducing brand pages on Facebook are rudimentary. Mapping social media capabilities and corresponding objectives that contribute to the common goals of any organization require vision, creativity, and business acumen that are vastly absent from Google’s search results.

The only resolution to help you begin your path to learning lies in the questions you ask and answer yourself.

The sentiment shared by Alan and others is not at all wrong. It’s exactly right. When I started to write Engage!, I too, couldn’t find meaningful advice or instruction that I felt would apply to a majority of the organizations that face distinct challenges. And at 300 pages, it makes no apologies for the amount of information within, as there really are no shortcuts.

I spend every day experimenting with new media in marketing, advertising, communications, media, business, service, and I can assure you, that there is no “top 10 guide to do X” that will apply across the board. I answer my own questions in every case I work on and I share much of “how to get those answers” in everything I write.

Self Empowerment Leads to Self Actualization

Any program tied to templates will perform as such.

For example, I recently met with a handful of small businesses as part of a Citibank initiative to help companies get started in social media. It was very different than anything I write or read, and in each case, the steps they would take the next day shared very little in terms of execution. When you really peel back the layers of specific business objectives and how to attain them against unique market conditions, the questions and answers that surface bear little resemblance from business to business.

I’m a champion of self-empowerment and the only replicable process that I’ve discovered that consistently works in new media, is the necessity to gather, interpret and implement insight into programming that matches the dynamics and challenges of the matter at hand – one company or one objective at a time. It is the only way to evolve from where we are today to the level of expertise we so often seek from others.

The truth is that experts, whether it’s social media or any field for that matter, are inspired by possibilities, but proven through experience and the ongoing quest to transform theory into practice. The more seasoned experts will also have figured out how to establish business metrics and in turn, design campaigns that map to objectives.

It’s this process of asking and answering questions that forms the framework for how and what to measure in order to capture everything necessary for KPIs, ROI, and also action that has a pre-defined impact on any effort. But you can’t measure what you don’t know to track. You can’t start if you don’t know what questions to ask. I believe that programs inspired by insight, data, and business-caliber goals (before you start experimenting) set the foundation for a program that might share some attributes with many of the “how to’s” that are out there, but are unique in their content, context, execution, support, and measurement – and that’s the point.

Much of the information online is helpful for inspiring creativity and direction. But, it’s up to each one of us to get the answers through the hard work necessary to see how any of this applies to our unique challenges and opportunities that face us today and tomorrow. We have to become the very experts in our space that we once sought to answer our own questions.

Our works should focus on empowerment, placing the responsibility of leadership and direction directly on us. The real opportunity lies in our ability to teach individuals to become self-sufficient. As my good friend Chris Heuer says, “there is no box.”

Indeed, sometimes it’s easier to think outside the box, when there isn’t a box to begin with…

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

Please consider reading my new book, Engage!, I think you might like it…


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223 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Top 10 Ways to Become a Real Social Media Expert”

  1. Petra says:

    “Sometimes it’s easier to think outside the box, when there isn’t a box to begin with…” I would say it is the better way, but can't always be implemented.

  2. I think you are right on with this Brian. The “social media expert” bubble is alive and well, but I think this is the year that companies will find their consultants delivering results or being shown the door.

    Simply understanding some of the tools available on the web today is not enough for anyone to be a successful consultant. After working with a variety of clients from Fortune 500 companies to local non-profits I think its the consultants job to step back before they create any Twitter profiles or Facebook pages and ask, “Are you really ready for this?” and “Why do you want to do this in the first place?”

    I would rather walk away from a client who doesn't have the organizational capacity to execute a social initiative than to cash in on a surface level “me too” social strategy. I really liked how you summed it up here.

    “Mapping social media capabilities and corresponding objectives that contribute to the common goals of any organization require vision, creativity, and business acumen that are vastly absent from Google’s search results.”

    Do you think some brands and companies should stay anti-social?

  3. Joey Strawn says:

    Brian,

    Thanks for this post. I think it's so important for people to understand that there is not ONE way to do anything when it comes to marketing or communication (whether it be social media or not). It is important to understand the principles that you are working from and apply them to any situation, but as you put it: “Any program tied to template will perform as such.”

    I think because social media is the “new shiny toy” for a lot of people, we want an instruction guide to come along with it, but just like any other communication medium, the tool must be used differently in each situation.

    Keeping in mind that there is no one way to do anything, what have you found that has been effective in helping you gather and interpret the effectiveness of your social media campaigns?

    Joey

    (P.S. I just bought Engage and am very much looking forward to reading it.)

  4. Joey Strawn says:

    Brian,

    Thanks for this post. I think it's so important for people to understand that there is not ONE way to do anything when it comes to marketing or communication (whether it be social media or not). It is important to understand the principles that you are working from and apply them to any situation, but as you put it: “Any program tied to template will perform as such.”

    I think because social media is the “new shiny toy” for a lot of people, we want an instruction guide to come along with it, but just like any other communication medium, the tool must be used differently in each situation.

    Keeping in mind that there is no one way to do anything, what have you found that has been effective in helping you gather and interpret the effectiveness of your social media campaigns?

    Joey

    (P.S. I just bought Engage and am very much looking forward to reading it.)

  5. We can call this article…”The Untemplated How to”

    Organized effort, iteration and a strong understanding of what is being marketed I think is a great starting point for any aspiring experts.

    Thanks Brian!

  6. Sheila Hensley says:

    You've described where I am and given excellent direction. Thanks … I'm off now to define MY “unique challenges and opportunities”, form a plan and answer my own questions 🙂

    Very well said.

  7. Bill Cammack says:

    Agreed that it's all about the individual. You have to play to your own strengths and HOPE that something you're good at and love to do gets you traction.

    Other than that, it's gonna be a tough row to hoe and you may as well get a regular job.

  8. Bill Cammack says:

    Agreed that it's all about the individual. You have to play to your own strengths and HOPE that something you're good at and love to do gets you traction.

    Other than that, it's gonna be a tough row to hoe and you may as well get a regular job.

  9. juliacassidy says:

    Fantastic article. I've enjoyed it and I've also found it kind of encouraging. I like the comment by @Bill Cmmack and of course I agree with him when he outlines the concept covered in the article about how important it is for a person using social media sites for business purposes, to show an individual insight of the market and of one's company. As a matter of fact, I believe that it is crucial to show a different message, but one that comes from the entrepreneur as a person. That message can be modified by the media when regular advertising is used and this is not always positive. Social media sites allow us to show the message we want to give the way we want to give it.

  10. Very well said, Brian. I came across a Seth Godin quote recently: “If you are waiting for case study to review, you are too late to jump in.” In my experience,people who are searching for case studies, how-to's, and frameworks are the Gen X or older. These tools were developed by the Digital Natives, who are unafraid about technology, sharing, and don't put that much emphasis on privacy. They adapt quickly are not afraid to experiment until they get it right. They don't wait for books to be written and instructions manuals to become available. They write them by trial and error. Gen X'ers on the other hand are not comfortable with new technology, wait for specific directions to follow, and even worse, wait for permission to start. Instead, they should use their incredible experience and knowledge and plot their own course and let go of fears. Learn from the Millennials – your ego might be hurt, but your business and your customers will thank you.

  11. Adam Gray says:

    Thanks for a post which both inspires, in as much as it says one must walk one's own path in social media, and frustrates for exactly the same reasons!

    However, it was valuable as most of your work is for those who cautiously walk behind you!

    Thank you.

  12. Mike Stenger says:

    “The truth is that experts, whether it’s social media or any field for that matter, are inspired by possibilities, but proven through experience and the ongoing quest to transform theory into practice.”

    EXACTLY Brian. A lot of people think that if you have the knowledge, you can be an expert or call yourself an expert in your niche. Fact is, it's how you put that knowledge into action and the results you get. You can know the best tips, tactics, strategies, and techniques, but if you never apply any of them into real life, how will you become better?

    Simple: You can't.

  13. BrettGreene says:

    “How” used to to always trip me up until I learned that the only way to learn how to do something is to do it, failures and all. I'm sure the success you have now was built on the 15 years of social media experience you've had going back to the BBS days.

    Thanks for the reminder that reading the Top 10 lists will never provide the education and experience needed to be an expert at anything …especially something that evolves almost daily.

    • briansolis says:

      Brett, well said my friend. For some reason, it's deceptively alluring. It's easy and mostly free, but that doesn't mean it's not without strategy, cost or resources.

  14. Dara Bel says:

    Just the kind of motivation I need today. The point on Self Empowerment Leads to Self Actualization is inspired. All important as you engage with people en masse. Big fan on measurement but not on obsessing on KPIs and ROI and think the tools are good ROI to begin with.

  15. We trade in disruption. No effective social media strategy is wholly predictable or passive. How-to guides are great ways of sharing in our success, but every successful SM professional brings something to the table of his or her own–we are inherently disruptive forces.

    I suspect you are as excited as I by the fact that there quite simply is no guide out there. Instead, we are thrilled to be creators and adventurers in a space that lets us do both.

    Let's share what we learn along the way, but also share the core truths of what we do well: Our guides will never be enough.

  16. Without the benefits of creativity, adaptation, and resolve, even the best plans and advice fail. This is not a one size fits all world, but that is how I see many people treat it in marketing. As I said in a recent article:

    “The waves of popular methods of Internet marketing exposure come a lot faster than ever before. By the time you see the wave, your window of opportunity to surf it to the beach has already closed. The riders of that wave were on it way out at sea, and it is moving far too fast to jump on now. If you want to surf in today’s marketing ocean, you are better off making some waves of your own.”

    Maybe I am wrong, and maybe I am right, but one thing is certain … I will change my mind, and my plans as needed, and often without regard for what the guy next to me is doing. Following his methods also means following his failures. I can surely create plenty failures of my own, thank you. 🙂

  17. Awesome post Brian.
    I especially love the title because there are so many people out there who would like to believe there *is* a magic list they could follow if only they could find it.
    I find myself referring back to the clothing design metaphor a lot. Given a pattern, anyone can sew a skirt. The art is in being the person who knows enough about design to create the skirt in the first place… and when it comes down to it? Tailoring a skirt to fit the customer's needs – not just sewing a pattern again & again and putting a “one size fits most” label in it.
    We're in an industry where the proof is in the end results – not just in the 'sewing' skills.

  18. Karim Houdou says:

    interesting to read your post, there isn't one way for success on social media, the best way is to try and wait for unpredictable reactions….

  19. Isaac says:

    Thanks a lot for the post Brian. I agree with you, there is no one-way to success and social media use cases should be considered as examples of how tools (Facebook, Twitter, etc) can be used, not how the must be used. Cheers /Isaac

  20. Great, great post, Brian. I like the idea that we should use advice as inspiration rather than a template. It seems that the only real path to success is the keen understanding of one's own business along with common sense and good judgment. You can teach someone how to use an application, create a profile or even execute a step-by-step strategy. It's much harder to teach good judgment and how to think (intelligently) for ourselves.

  21. Jack Oatmon says:

    Ever just wanna stick your head in the toilet and flush it to see if you can get this kinda crap out of there?

    Here's an antidote:

    http://www.canada.com/technology/Social+media+g

  22. Jack Oatmon says:

    Ever just wanna stick your head in the toilet and flush it to see if you can get this kinda crap out of there?

    Here's an antidote:

    http://www.canada.com/technology/Social+media+g

  23. Derek Kaye says:

    Great post Brian! There are way too many so called 'experts' out there telling people what to do & what not to do as if everything is black and white. The reality is that we are still in the Wild West of this new media…

    Adopt a strategy, run with it, measure it, tweak it.. then decide whether to continue (Yay it's working) or move on to something else…

  24. Howard Shen says:

    hey brian! 🙂
    You caught me huh with your stingy title.. love it!

    While reading the body of your post, it does make sense after all…
    and that is, to explore…… like a child who's curious in all the things that happens around his environment, constantly asking how, why and what….

    Keep it up,
    Howard

  25. Brian, great stuff this. I have retweeted tons of '10 ways to…' and '5 ways to…' and probably written a few myself. I recently got frustrated by how quickly I realize step x doesn't work for half the brands I come into contact with. And so the list needs to be rewritten. Our new approach is to (when we can) put the business owners/decision makers in small groups after a presentation and have them decide if and how an idea/approach would work for them. Your post has helped me crystallize this approach even better.

    PS. Have ordered Engage! Waiting impatiently as it makes its way halfway around the world 🙂

  26. James says:

    There are way way too many “experts” online. Anyone in any industry can call them themselves an expert. But you are right, it's not as easy as following some list. Very inspiring post Brian.

  27. zygor guides says:

    well, How to Become a Social Media Expert? .. Social Media technologies change lightning fast and the only way you can!

  28. Phil says:

    “Top 10 lists” i have seen not worth and all the repeated stuff

  29. Kathy Klotz-Guest says:

    Good article. We're always looking for digestible top X lists. It makes sense to a degree, right? Lists helps us navigate the morass of content. I get that. However, you have to experiment and see what works. It's that simple. There is no substitute for experience.

    Social media is a lot art, and less science. There is no replicable, easy model that works across the board. It can't. But this is true of marketing in general. You have to get out there, try, fail, learn, experiment, play and in the end, you'll be much smarter than the marketers who try to play it “safe” by following the “top 10” lists of the pundits (which of course are all different, as they should be! They are based on pundits' experience which is diverse). It's like looking for the short-cuts to getting in shape. You have to put in the work to get the results.

  30. Mr.Youpele says:

    I guess success is not something that comes from just remembering formulas. Trial and error seems to coincide with what you've posted here Brain. I appreciate your content that resonates within me having a plan and being flexible when new insights appear from the errors of the trials.

  31. prosperitygal says:

    Love your perspective always. Also know that standing out is great, doing it different can be beneficial and meeting them where they are critical. We both know people respond to Top 10 titles. If you can capture their attention with what they find interesting then guide them to another perspective you have a win.

    If you speak in a way they do not look at it at all, then you are talking to the wall and no one gains anything 😉

  32. Our works should focus on empowerment,

  33. Like
    this sentence.Indeed, sometimes it’s easier to think outside the box, when there isn’t a box to begin with…

  34. Alissa says:

    Great site. A lot of helpful information here.
    I am sending it to a few friends anns additionally sharing
    in delicious. And of course, thank you in your sweat!

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