My Name is Gavin Heaton and I am a Social Media Charlatan

oddgh Much is made of “expertise”. Take a look at various TV shows, websites, blogs, and even LinkedIn profiles and you will see the word “expert” bandied about. When you pre-fix this with the words “social media” and you can end up with a potent mix. LinkedIn, alone, ponies up over 50 pages of “social media experts” within my own network — so it would appear that social media expertise is far from a rare skill.

The reality is, in my view, somewhat different.

We are living in a time where the acquisition of knowledge is occurring at ever increasing speed. Thanks to search engines like Google and to personal knowledge networks like Twitter, we can all find, relatively quickly a preliminary answer to the trickiest of problems. For example, if I want to know how to write a social media release, I will find good quality links to Todd Defren, Lee Hopkins, a case study by Geoff Livingston and even a webinar by Des Walsh. I could also comb back through my own bookmarks (or those of others), or I could reach out to my personal knowledge network (aka Twitter) — or just enlist the charming Connie Reece.

None of this makes me an expert.

I could repeat the same process with a different challenge — say managing an online community. There would be new names, great insight and plenty of links. But again, this does not an expert make.

Because while I have searched through all these links, spent hours reading and analysing and determining a plan for action, the world has changed. There are new services, new offerings and new approaches being launched. There are new web applications unveiling themselves. And it all happens in what seems like a matter of hours. Sites come and go, find favour and fail … within incredibly short time frames. The flux seems never ending.

How then can I, in all honesty, advise clients/companies/anyone about “social media”?

What I do have is experience, access to people who are way smarter than me, an openness to learning new things and an ability to bear a certain amount of risk. I try before I buy. Oh, and I have failed, and even embarrassed myself.

I claim no expertise in social media … I am continually learning too much (and working on shifting ground) to consider myself anything other than a charlatan. And I have taken the words of Connie Reece to heart — “If someone tells you they are a social media expert, run”.

13 thoughts on “My Name is Gavin Heaton and I am a Social Media Charlatan

  1. How could I say that anyone who calls me “charming” is a charlatan? 🙂 But I still stand by my admonition to run when pursued by those claiming to be social media experts.

  2. Wise words on a too-ready appropriation of the “expert” tag in this fast-changing game. I like to think of myself as a social media guide. But then I think of the apocryphal story of the scout leader saying “Don’t be afraid children, we’re not lost and someone will find us soon.” Thanks for the link.

  3. good post dude. There’s far too many of these tossers walking around, giving so-called keynotes, blogging, etc, calling themselves social media experts, even teaching at university, and I just wonder how they became experts? More likely they’re basically just hobbyists, geeks, who can’t get real jobs. A few of these folks even teach something like “marketing in web 2.0”, but they wouldn’t know what marketing is, let alone actually practiced it!!

  4. Interesting post – it made me think about what is an ‘expert’ and what is a ‘wannabe expert’ 😛
    Testimonials are good. Let others speak for you.
    Do the experts talk about their own real life experiences? Explain things they’ve tried and failed, and then tried a different way and succeeded? An expert should have their own stories to tell. Not a mashup. 🙂
    Longevity helps but is not critical. I don’t expect fellow travellers to also have 20 years experience in this business – but some experience is important…
    Hmmm what else? Are they inspiring without being fanatical? I find newbies are too pushy, too demanding of change – all yelling and excitement without being aware of the pitfalls of what can go wrong. Baby steps are ok, no need to rush like a bull at a gate. We can start with blog comments and work out way up to branded communities later. 🙂
    I think that the “non-experts” do a lot of damage. I heard one say that there were no established revenue streams for social media sites (huh?) and another say that it was new and unproven (since 1969?). I want to smack them! *smack*

  5. Sorry, this got dropped off – the tools change but the way it’s used doesn’t. I mean synchronous communication for testimonials, out-linking and open communication have been around since IRC. Twitter may offer that today, Plurk tomorrow, but the tool of offering quick open instant messaging has been around for 20 odd years. We don’t need to know all the variants, but a few are simply tools in a social media toolbox.

  6. Thanks all for your comments!
    One of the key points around “expertise” is that it is based on trust. You have to trust in what the “expert” is telling you.
    So when someone tells you, as happened to @SilkCharm that there are no established revenue streams for social media, it is believed because the listeners trust the speaker. Unfortunately that trust comes from another domain (eg advertising) and it is being used to parley their credentials in a completely different field. Hmmm … sounds like a follow-up post 😉

  7. Gav – I have been called an expert on “social media”, “blogging”, etc. Sometimes I have agreed with that label. And sometimes I have felt deeply uncomfortable. Because I’m not really an expert. Then I look at some of the people who are calling themselves “experts” and feel less guilty. Although on occasion I have talked s*** myself (shoot me).
    I actually think calling yourself a “social media expert” will have a short life. I know a bit about knowledge management – having done it for a decade (well and not so well) – and I know a bit about other stuff as well. So I talk mostly about how social software can help with those things.
    I’d use social software to enrich your current field of expertise – unless you don’t have one – in which case you play that “social media” sucker for all it’s worth.

  8. Gavin Heaton is a social media charlatan (and I thoroughly approve)

    I agree that the word expert can be bandied about with complete abandon and recklessness of ethic. If someone comes to you proclaiming expertise in anything, please please please do your homework. Read their blog (assuming t…

  9. Gavin – nice post.
    Expert for me is a little less offensive than “guru” – expert is offensive non-the-less, but I always find the gurus (normally self-professed) are worse! Every ‘guru’ I have worked with has been a flake – no expertise, no real rungs on the board, but they have a lot of hot air and opinions and charisma; lots of charisma – and they suck a lot of people in. Whereas people who should rightfully bear the ‘guru’ moniker, but avoid it like the plague, are the people I love to work with. They know their stuff – they work on good,solid projects and get outstanding results. It’s just what they do – no hoopla, no fan fare – and no expectations of worship from others.

  10. Thanks for the learnings with laughter. Ever notice how so many “experts” are too busy keeping the peeps from finding out them out that the laughter and joy gets lost?

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