It’s not uncommon to discover sheer loathing and distrust for so-called “social media gurus”. A whole leviathan of social media style agencies and marketing types are often appalled that a qualification-less individual can self title him or herself a role and earn money through it. The social media industry is a piece of string that isn’t only difficult to define (which campaign doesn’t use social media today?) but also has no standards. In the past the journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos, has seen fit to attack these self-gratifying creatures in a Telegraph blog entitled, “Time to ditch the blood-sucking social media gurus”.
It’s a dated post, expressing a similar sentiment of my own, yet it requires a question.
How have times changed since the post’s publication in 2010?
Providing advice as a freelance social media consultant does not warrant the title of “expert” of any variant thereof. To provide social media advice became a free-for-all industry a few years ago and only now are we starting to witness real change.
Social media is now unable to act effectively as a standalone. With many of the larger brands stepping up to the social media mark it is increasingly clear that individual freelance “gurus” are unable to tackle the workload set by many of large organisations. Advice may have been provided in the past but now with many agencies boasting social media divisions, budgets can be easily registered to existing 3rd parties. These 3rd parties are often PR agencies.
It could be time to ditch the blood sucking social media gurus but not necessarily because of their worth but rather because of the media landscape itself. Social media (aka Digital PR) needs to be considered as part of a wider campaign which also uses traditional communication methods. The age of the press office is not dead, in my experience it is still very much effective and social media should always be considered as part of any strategy.
I’ve hunted social media gurus before. It was during the winter of 2010 that @holpols and I decided to descend upon a social media guru gathering in the centre of London. It was a chilly night aboard a boat on the Southbank.
That night I met a whole range of social media experts; none of which could show a qualification in their honour but instead could only boast about their own online activity. Some attempted to inspire interest by claiming to be “members of an organisation who infiltrate governments using social media” when realistically, this probably just met simple online searches, logging and ranting. Don’t overestimate the complexity of social media. Anyone can use it and these platforms can certainly not be used for illegal activities (unless referring to the type of content being posted).
Some people have religion, others have social media.
One lady boasted to me that she has been using social media since the early 90’s, claiming to be the ‘first social media professional’. According to her she spent most of her days simply using social media in fancy bars and restaurants. An ideal job but she was rather thin so I doubted her claims (I’m currently paying the heavy price of this lifestyle). Fair enough, she may have counted IRC chat or bulletin boards as “social media” but with such a vague term to describe a whole industry it’s difficult to evaluate her claims.
As the night went on it soon became clear that being a social media guru would be an easy job. Just self title yourself on an online profile and you’re set to make your thousands. However some gurus did have professional backgrounds.
In particular, one of the individuals I met that fateful but eventful evening was @Mazi. An incredibly open individual who invited my friend and I without second thought. He was well known among his friends/colleagues for his past at Sky and for his expertise. I felt like I should have recognised this celebrity being a keen Twitter user myself but the noise fell rather deafly. Thanks to Milo Yiannopoulos’ link on the Telegraph article heading this now rather lengthy post, it seems @Mazi had a secret past.
In a 2009 Telegraph article entitled, “Sky TV’s Head of Social Media and the sexing up of Twitter accounts”, @Mazi is targeted rather avidly by a journalist called Will Heaven. I’m not sure why @Mazi received the beating but he did. Primarily for his social media methods which included rapid following and unfollowing to artificially increase numbers (this was in the days before Twitter put blocks in place which is why most hard-core older users will boast higher follower numbers). Despite being cosher at the time, gaming, as it is called, is no longer acceptable.
Often outsiders to Twitter are far too quick to credit follower counts for influence, engagement is the true key. A voiceless conversation has no value and social media is designed for one-to-one discussion. It is just a shame so many attempt to use it purely as a broadcast only platform.
I can’t say the social media gurus I met are “blood sucking” but I would certainly be interested to meet some of them again to see how their methods have changed in 2012. We now live in the era of intergrated campaigns – the merging of traditional and digital communication methods to create whole campaigns. Have most social media gurus been left by the wayside or have they simply focused their attention on smaller fry; namely SMBs and NGOs?
Who knows? One thing is for certain, I hold a distrust for a social media freelancers who don’t have a background in PR.