You’re Not a Social Media Expert

That’s right, you’re not a Social Media Expert. No one is. I know this contradicts most online marketers’ resumés, but it’s the truth. I don’t deny that there are Social Media analysts, gurus, and students of the field, but I think calling yourself an expert is a bit over-the-top.

You can’t be an expert in a field until someone can retire from that field

An expert is someone with experience, there’s no way around it.  Experience is the most valuable thing anyone can put on a resumé and it’s the one thing you can’t get with a degree. Theoretical knowledge, like what you get from an educational institution, is a foundation, but someone who knows the behaviors of the industry is king.  Employers especially  favor the experienced for those positions with the greatest decision-making power.  The most knowledgeable individuals in any industry are the retirees. They have a minimum of 20 years experience.

Why is a retiree an expert?

Most scientists are in agreement now that mastery of a task comes with 10, 000 hours of experience. This applies to chess masters, soccer players, musicians, and even bands like The Beatles.  It is a scientifically established fact that the brain becomes rewired after 10,000 hours of practice. Mozart wasn’t actually performing music at age four. It was somewhere around age eight, after 10,000 hours of practice that he became an expert musician.

Someone who has worked 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year,  for 20 years has 40,000 hours of experience. That’s an expert 4 times over. Not only is that expert’s brain completely rewired, it’s actually had the time to rewire itself three more times.  Consider then that the bare minimum of expert status is 5 years – where you reach 10,000 hours.  That’s a good way to determine how good your developer or designer really is.

HTML is a teenager that can’t even buy cigarrettes

The world wide web was born in April of 1993. That puts the web at a young 17 years old. Someone who started coding and designing for the web on day 1 as a full time job would have been an HTML expert by 1998. That same person, who started coding on day one, still hasn’t done it long enough to retire!  However, I think it’s still entirely plausible that someone coding since 1993 has logged well over 40,000 hours of coding; I’m sure there’s a graph tying the Starbucks explosion to that.

Social Media is a Tween

Let’s consider then that the first modern social media website was started in 1997. Livejournal takes off in 1999 with Friendster following in 2002, Myspace in ’03 and Facebook in 04.  YouTube is only five years old, and Twitter is still in pre-school. If you follow the definition of an expert as one with 10,000 hours or practice – I see it as highly unlikely that anyone can call himself an expert in a field that hasn’t seen an original episode of Full House.

Consider in addition to this that the scientific definition of an expert may not even apply. After all, how could it? It’s not one or even a group of specific, definable tasks. It’s not like the piano, building a shed, or kicking a soccer ball.  The brain can’t rewire to social media.

So if they aren’t experts, what are they?

Let’s go with guru. The social media “guru” should be someone who has knowledge, wisdom, authority, and the ability to teach others.  Social Media is an ever-changing thing. Considering the youth of the world wide web and the speed with which it changes, by the time you’re an expert, you’re obsolete.

So how do I hire a social media expert?

Quit calling them experts. Challenge them if that’s what they call themselves.  Look for people that just do Social Media. Don’t look for it on a resumé, look for them in Social Media. Ian Lurie has an excellent post on how to evaluate your  “expert”.  Use that as your check list.


  1. //

    Loving the line that you can’t be an expert in a field until someone can retire from that field.

    So, can’t expertise be relative? Can’t my 5,000 hours in a field be considered expertise to someone with only 50 hours? I agree with you on social media specifically – it’s way too young. But expertise is in the eye of the beholder, methinks. That’s how consultants make money ….

  2. //

    Brett, I agree that expertise is relative. I’ve often said than an average man in a room of idiots is a genius; expertise is relative to the non-expert. I think that’s the problem with social media; people can claim expertise in front of someone incapable of challenging them.

    So you’re right, the guy with 5,000 hours in a field definitely knows more than the guy with 50. That means he is *more* of an expert, but that doesn’t mean he IS an expert. This is where I think the more appropriate term is “guru”. The man at 5k hours can educate the man at 50.

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