Social Media Experts: let me sell you some snake oil on top of that, eh?

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I want to talk about something that has been bothering me for a while, and that is so-called “Social Media Experts”.

It’s getting worse, people.

Legitimate web businesses, and real internet consultants, are up against one of the biggest scams there is: self-proclaimed “Social Media Experts” who blind people with technobabble in order to sell what is basically a free service combined with common sense. It started with Black Hat SEO (till Google penalised them), continues with the re-badging of Open Source software, and extends into the opportunistic field of self-proclaimed “Social Media Expertise”.

There is a sub-class of salesman, who were too immoral for Used Car sales, who attended the Internet Summit Spamway Conference and think they can offer consultancy services for the low low price of $97. It’s a crock.

I am writing this because I have had enough of good people being conned. I am hearing more and more of companies shelling out thousands of dollars to these “experts”, or going to their free “social media seminars” (which is code for “let me sell you internet timeshare”), and getting poor advice that is nowhere near strategic and absolutely does not justify the money spent.

I get it. You’re busy. You don’t have time for social media. I understand that there are a lot of people who really have a hard time grasping technology, and mean well, and you think that it is something you can pay someone to do. It’s not that simple. And anyone who says it is trying to steal from you.

Social Media is SOCIAL. You would not crash a party with quotes from Gandhi, interspersed with vapid self promotion — would you? I would hope not. Would you send an actor to play you at a gathering? I would hope not. Would you turn your back and walk away if someone came up to you and asked you a question? Well, that’s just rude. And would you just say nothing, and hand out a printout of your latest Press Release? That’s rude, right? And yet this is the shit that these people are telling you to do.

I am going to let you in on a secret: you are being taken advantage of.

Noone follows these people. Noone respects these people. And these people most certainly don’t have a community around them.

You know who does?

REAL PEOPLE. People who turn up to the party, have a drink, have a chat and just make friends. THAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA.

1. Everyone is a social media expert.

Every single person is already an expert in social media if you can talk to people and make friends. The online reflects the offline, and if you just be yourself, you will succeed on the internet. Sure, you may not have the 30,000 followers that the salesmen have guaranteed (read: bought) you. You might only have 1000. But 1000 quality followers is better than 50,000 crap ones. And if you are authentic, and be yourself, you’ll get 1000 quality followers in no time.

Every single person already has the tools to use social media. Twitter, Facebook, Google, Blogger, WordPress, HTML, Javascript, they’re all just words for the technologies you use to communicate the way you always have. It’s no mystery and it’s unethical to pretend it is.

2. It’s not rocket surgery.

If you are paying a consultant to advise you on social media, if they are only giving you advice on tools, then run in the opposite direction. Because if they are focused on tools, they don’t get it. 95% of the good advice on social media doesn’t actually involve which tool to use, or how to do it. If your consultant is not spending 95% of their time talking about concepts rather than tools, they are a lemon.

To really get social media takes a paradigm shift. A good consultant will help you to understand what is happening and how to adapt to it. If they are using a lot of jargon about the tools, your expert is crap. Because frankly, if you cannot figure out how to type what’s happening in 140 characters or less, you don’t need an adviser, you need a miracle of neuroscience.

It’s obvious.

3. If you are paying someone to set up your Facebook and Twitter, you don’t belong there.

As I have said, Social Media is social. I cannot emphasise this enough. If you are not prepared to be yourself, or to let your employees be themselves, then seriously, do us all a favour and get off. You annoy us. We aren’t interested in your Press Release, or your PR messaging, or your carefully crafted spin. Keep it on your website with your RSS & Email subscription forms readily visible. We know how to find you.

On social media networks, we want to engage with three dimensional people.

Every single social media success has a personality. And furthermore, they allow their employees to be themselves. If you are selling me your crap without talking to me first, don’t even bother. Because I buy from my friends.

If I have one wish, it is that people will become more savvy and learn to spot people that are trying to dupe them. They are easy to spot. They use Twitter poorly themselves. They will post Retweets, quotes, articles, but not engage or reply much. They may appear to have 10,000+ followers, but the quality of their followers is poor (and generally their fellow conmen). They focus on the tools rather than the philosophical concepts. They will tell others how to tweet more “professionally” or with an inauthentic, robotic voice. And they will ask for money in exchange for setting up a Twitter account… possibly for a figure with a 7 at the end of it (don’t you know, it’s Spamway psychology!).

If you’re going to jump into social media, do it with an open mind and an open heart. The rest will take care of itself.

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