Who’s An Expert?

In those early morning hours, I dream that I am an expert. That I’ve established the kind of credibility that’s made my name synonymous with whatever weirdo topic I happen to be dreaming about. I’m famous and everyone knows who I am. I have no such illusions once the alarm clock goes off, as the scales are lifted from my eyes, though. That isn’t to say that I toil in obscurity. I’m very, very lucky that I get invited to travel a bit to talk about my experiences, and literally dozens of you will read this. In the end, this is better than a sharp stick in the eye, and I’m especially grateful for that.

But as much as I enjoy (and take pride in?) my humility, I know that I’m not the only one out there with some modicum of success, and I know that my humility is rare.

A quick search on any social network or website for “branding” will direct you to an orgy of bad advice and five-minute websites with low, low prices for consulting services. They are self-described, “ninjas,” and “gurus.” They can get you thousands of followers. And, given the time constraints that many of us in government communications have, some of these folks sound pretty good. A one-day consultation to get your social networks up and running? A templated crisis communications plan, just plug and chug?

I would urge caution, though. And not just because they’re my competition. But because their advice is probably not that good. That self-described, “Twitter master,” with 87 followers, probably isn’t. The twenty-two year old crisis communications wunderkind might not have the experience you’re looking for.

The reason I bring this up is because of two blog posts I saw earlier this week on exactly this topic. Geoff Livingston posted the excellent Differentiation Requires Show, Not Tell. His point was that people who tell you how wonderful they are and give lots of advice based upon best practices probably isn’t the best for your business. Folks who’ve done the work and actually used the advice (even when failing) they espouse are the ones that can help.

The Internet and in particular social media have empowered thousands, perhaps millions, to start their own businesses. One outcome of the social media movement is how easily people become “thought leaders” or topical influencers.

As a result, we have many paper tigers running about, almost indistinguishable from the ones with real teeth with one singular exception: Results.

Then Mashable followed up with advice on how to avoid those “paper tigers”:

“Rather like achieving academic tenure,” says Lieb, regarding one way to think about the process. “Thought leadership requires a continuum of wisdom, accomplishment, and a body of published work that stands the test of a degree of time.”

Same with Seth Godin — decades of proven concepts behind the notion that he’s an authority on the subjects that he tackles. So, the test of time and accomplishment is a big part of thing. The proof in the pudding matters. We are the curators. But it’s an ongoing responsibility. And every time a so-called thought leader self-nominates, we would do well to respond not by retweeting, but by saying something like: Hey, not so fast buddy.

Listen, social media isn’t the Wild West anymore. I’ve been publishing for nearly six-and-a-half years and I still consider myself a newbie. But my length of service isn’t intended to put you off. It’s intended to demonstrate that there are people out there who’ve been doing the work you want to learn about for literally years. There are best practices. There are ways to succeed. And that’s ultimately what you want right? For your agency to succeed in social media?

You don’t need some johnny-come-lately to give you insights; instead, look around for real-world experience and people who are passionate about what they do, not the millions they hope to make (and I assure you, there are those of us out there, especially in government communications, that LOVE this, and do it every day for FREE).