Why are people so hung up on labels? Ever since social media began its rise to mainstream popularity back in 2006 or so, I’ve seen it time and time again – everyone clamouring to become the next big “expert” on the subject. “I can teach you to Twitter in just 1 hour!”, “I’m a LinkedIN GURU and you can be, too!”! Still today, I see even more and more cringe-worthy iterations on the term “social media expert”. It seems like everyone has jumped on the bandwagon these days in one form or another. Everyone wants to be an expert…but why?

I think much of it stems from a desire to be like the “big players”. We see guys and gals who have had immense success with social media. People like Gary Vaynerchuk, a guy who, a few short years ago, worked in a wine store. Now he’s a bestselling author many times over, a world-renowned speaker, and an immensely successful businessperson working with Fortune 500 companies on a daily basis. People like Chris Brogan and Gini Dietrich fit into that category too – they have built immensely successful businesses and careers and have leveraged social media tools in the process. I get why people would want the same kind of success.

The thing is, most of the people on the A-List probably wouldn’t call themselves “social media experts” (they probably wouldn’t call themselves “A Listers” either). Nope – they are entrepreneurs, communicators, marketers, writers and teachers (Chris even refers to himself as simply “a typist”).

Yet I see it time and time again – people who are expending so much effort to position themselves as the next big “social media guru”. They are making a play to reach expert status, so maybe they can launch the next bestseller or get on the TED circuit. The problem is, they are trying to do this by making a million dollars teaching people how to set up Facebook pages.

You don’t want to be a social media expert.

Instead, how about spending some time figuring out what makes you unique? Gary Vaynerchuk is unique because of his personality. He understood that his outgoingness and loud, rambunctious spirit would play well in front of a camera (or maybe he didn’t, but he soon discovered it). He also understood that he knew a lot about a subject (wine), something that a lot of people didn’t know about. He put two and two together and was able to present wine in a way nobody else had done before.

Ultimately, Gary came up with an idea, leveraged his strengths and his knowledge of a subject and then acted upon it. He didn’t know for sure it was going to work, and he sure as Shiraz didn’t know that it would launch his career in a whole new direction.

Figuring out your uniqueness is really important, and it’s not easy to do. When I see someone describing themselves as a “social media expert” I often think, “big deal!”. There are a million people out there who can put that badge on, but does it really mean anything?

The ones who stand out are the ones who are unique. And the ones who are most unique are that way because a) they are exceptional at what they do and b) they allow their personality to be prominent in everything they do.

Knowing a lot about social media is great, but it’s got to go deeper than that. You have to be able to look at all of your experience, and everything you know, and piece it together in a way that is going to be compelling and ultimately help other people. But you have to do it from that place, and not a place of “positioning”.

In the end, if you want to be successful in this world, this is what you need to do:

1) Figure out what makes you unique (hint: often it’s some aspect of your personality)
2) Figure out your strengths
3) Figure out what you know how to do really really well.
4) Figure out how you can combine these things to be helpful to other people
5) Go DO it.

(Note: the last step is often the most difficult.)

So go, be you, and do.


13 Responses

  1. I should be doing something else but you’ve thrown down the gauntlet. In my bones I feel like a data mercenary and have called myself a data mercenary.

    There’s crap data in the world and I am on a mission to eradicate it from sea to shining sea. But something tells me that “Excel Expert” may show up on searches and sounds more friendly than “Data Mercenary.” But when I show up at a client’s place in my custom made hat and Lucchese cowboy boots, they’re getting the Mercenary.

    Maybe I should go back to LinkedIn and change my title back to Data Mercenary.

    Thanks for this challenge. I hear you loud and frikken clear!

  2. First, thank you for such a nice compliment! I respect you immensely, so this means a ton to me. Thank you!

    I feel about social media experts like I feel about the person who has to tell you how smart they are. If they have to tell you, they clearly are not so. I’m a big believer in working hard and letting your work speak for itself. If you have to put a label on it yourself, no one will take you as such. It may take longer to do it my way, but it works…and it lasts.

  3. Suze, Love, love, love this post. You’ve pretty much shared the secret sauce for life and given people a blueprint to follow regardless of which channels they choose or what they call themselves. At the end of the day, passion, sharing and helping others leads to success. It takes a lot of hard work, determination and focus. This even transcends marketing strategy in my humble opinion.

  4. Chris Brogan is a personal brand. Not sure he has ever done any of the hard work that Brands have to do. Gini Dietrich is not a personal brand because she has an Agency that does a lot of the hard work for clients. It is one thing to say ‘You should do this’ (Brogan) vs ‘You should do this and we will set it up and get you going’ (Dietrich).

    But I love your post because if you are just in social media then you are no different than a day trader or a real estate agent in 2004-2008 riding a bubble until the next fad comes.

    1. Henri I can assure you that Chris has done just as much work not only for his own brand but for his clients. He walks the talk just as Gini and many of the others I’ve mentioned here do. You only have to look at the content he produces to know that.

      Whether one is part of an agency or an individual, there’s a lot that goes into defining what makes you unique online and there is tremendous work that needs to go into being successful.

      1. Fair enough Suze

        Does he have some case studies? Has he ever built a brand community which is so different than doing your own? The smartest minds in marketing aren’t personal brands. Normally those folks are CMO’s. Shouldn’t he be a CMO at a big company? Or does he only know social media?

        There is a reason marketers are trusted less than used car salesman. And social media has made it worse since social isn’t scalable for major brands.

        1. I’m sure if you asked Chris he’d be able to produce many examples of work he has done for a number of Fortune 500 companies. I can’t speak for him, I only know from what I have witnessed myself.

          I beg to differ. There are many examples of smart marketing folks who are not CMO’s at big companies.

          Mitch Joel is one of the smartest marketing minds in the world and he is president of a medium sized agency. As are folks like Gini Dietrich, Geoff Livingston, Gary Vaynerchuk, and the list goes on. All of the people I’m referring to have much more than social media going on, I assure you. They are also very strong personal brands in their own right. None of them are CMO’s for large companies.

          Also, I beg to differ that social isn’t scalable to big brands, as we see much evidence, in brands like Target, Zappos, JetBlue and more.

          You may wish to do some further research on you own, but there are a lot of great things happening in marketing these days at all levels and in all areas, social media and otherwise. And a LOT of smart minds working on it too.

  5. Social media tools are important to do any job well today. Being a social media expert is more than being able to log into Facebook and set up a page. The examples you share are people with business success, not just social media activity. There are many others that spend all day on social, but never accomplish much. 
    When we get past of the fad of “social media” and accept it like we do cars, phones and breathing, we’ll find it’s silly to hire anyone to do it for us. However, the skill set and network you build using social media today will benefit you in your career… provided your career is more than social media expert.

  6. Look out Suze,
    because the Crowdfunding “experts” are next. I’m starting to see a lot of them as well.

  7. While I do agree that people would benefit greatly from combining their social media skills with another passion, I  think you’re dumbing down social media. To be a successful social media manager it takes  content creation, branding, and writing skills. It’s about timing and metrics too.
    It’s funny that you question  the “social media expert” label yet mention 8 labels in your About Me. What makes one label more legitimate than the other?

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