Six Words That Make Social Media Experts Disappear

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

You may not know this, but there are six magic words that make phony social media experts disappear.  As with all such incantations, you have to get the words exactly right.  Here's how it goes:


"Show me five things you've done."


If your expert is still there, feel free to explain what you mean.   You can explain that you'd like to see examples of social media efforts they have completed for five different companies.   You can explain that the companies sponsoring these efforts don't need to be in your industry, but they should be comparable to yours or better in terms of size and brand recognition.  You can explain that these efforts should not be in development, or coming soon: they should be ongoing or completed.   You can explain that these efforts must be successful by at least one measure -- they engaged thousands or hundreds of thousands or (preferably) millions of users.   


If they are still there, and they still can't answer the question, you may need to ask them to leave.  Even magic spells don't work on some of these folks.


But seriously:  it's important to know whether an individual or firm has experience in what works, or just ideas about what might work. 


Just to be clear -- there's certainly nothing wrong with being a pioneer.  And in new disciplines like social media,  experimentation can be good, even necessary.  But you should approach a project very differently -- and invest very differently -- if the project is a wild guess or a sure thing. 


If you don't know the difference just say, "Show me!"

New Commentator



Love the post. As someone who has been in the space for 10 years, it is pretty overwhelming to see people come into the space claiming to be an expert. As I commented on a blog a while back, you can not consider yourself an "Expert" unless others within the space sees you as such. There are too many people self-appointing themselves as an "Expert". If/When these people enter into the space and can not reflect on their experiences or display their success stories, I agree, they should disappear or be forced to leave. 


In this space, you can only learn by Doing, and everyday is an experience. Each one of us has to have the flexibility within our jobs to do the right thing day and day out, and have the ability to draw on our past in order to guide any company forward.


Mike Pascucci


Trusted Contributor

great post and agree!


a few other things to look at:

-if they just create strategy or can do the tactical work

-ask if they've dealt with implementing strategy within a company the size of yours. dealing on the inside with politics and culture that isn't familiar with social media is very tough

-can they advocate internally the technology and metrics of success 

Occasional Commentator

All proof of expertise is useless until it applies to a situation at hand.  For the communities that I'm engaged in or responsible for, I ask a social media expert to tell me what it is about these communities that needs to be done differently and why.   If they don't know the subject matter communities well enough to speak knowledgeably and convincingly, any five things that they have done elsewhere will be irrelevant.


With all due respect, why waste everyone's time asking?  Life is too short.


Rich Reader



Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Mike, thanks for the good words.   I don't care whether people call themselves "experts," frankly.   And lots of neophytes in a particular business segment can just mean it's a healthy segment.    But I do think companies can work more effectively with their consultants if they ask the right questions from the start.  


Randy, those are good additions to the list.  I think managers need to know three things in order to make a decision on social media:  why should we do it, what should we do, and how should we do it.   So often the "how" part is treated as TBD -- but without it you can't really assess effort, cost, risks, and likelihood of success.   You'll get into things like culture if you look at "how" properly.


Rich, gotta disagree with the contention that you have to be a subject matter expert in a particular industry in order to provide advice.  Does it help?  Sure.   But you'll look long and hard in most industries to find a social media expert with deep experience in that industry.  Someday communities and social media may go seriously "vertical," but that has not happened yet.  


But I have to close by agreeing with you:  I've seen few successful social media efforts that didn't have some deep industry and company knowledge at the heart.  It's just that this knowledge usually doesn't come from a consultant.  

Esteemed Contributor

Great post, Joe.  I love being involved with the strategic side but also on the frontline of actually figuring out how to take an idea and translate it in's usually messy and way harder than you think when you're brainstorming at the whiteboard.


Also reminds me of one of my favorites quotes:


"Ideas are a commodity.  Execution of them is not."  -Michael Dell

Not applicable

Of course that makes it difficult to market your services during Projects 1-5, but never mind, that's just the way it goes in sales and marketing. You have to start somewhere, and your hurdle is always higher at the beginning. I wouldn't say that just because a business is starting out that they should be dismissed out of hand. You just need to be more careful about spelling out exactly what's going to be done, when and for how much. For companies in this position, some sort of guarantee goes a long way towards establishing trust and bringing in new customers.

Not applicable

Couldn't agree more - If I were interviewing, I'd also ask the flip question - "list five things you've screwed up"

Not applicable

How can you be a Social Media Expert in a medium that is so young and is still evolving?

Having a Blog, Twitter account and Facebook account does not make you a Social Media Expert.

IMO, Social Media Experts tend to prey on the unknowledgeable and provide little value.


Not applicable

Bingo - Finally a terse summary of what is really going on.  I have been watching many fumble with social media all while claiming expertise and knowhow.  The elephant in the room just has been called out by you.  Nice


I think that you could take it one step further to really separate out the class of talent by asking the following (if they pass your 5 word test):  "what is your vision and roadmap of how social media might evolve".   This is a trick question but will clearly identify if the person has a true understanding of the mulitiude of elements of social media and how it translates into bus or customer value.  How they answer it will speak volumes.


My angle on all of this reminds me of how the early days of interactive played out in 95-98.  Earlier in the year I wrote about the four stages of social media.


We are seeing the four stages of social media evolution in action:

Stage 1: The Pioneer: 2004-2005

Stage 2: The Early Adopter: 2006-2008

Stage 3: The Practitioner: 2009 – 2011

Stage 4: The Mainstream: >2011

Not applicable

Hi Joe,


This thread proves the power of social media to resurrect the old and make it shiny and new again... thanks to Jeremiah's tweet!


Missed this the first time around, but you are dead on about real experience. Consulting sales 101 is all about demonstrating your experience and how it applies to the situation at hand. The best way to do that is to have 4-5 examples in your presentation/proposal. That goes for the execution of your ideas as well.


I do like the "What have you tried and failed at" approach as well because it gives us the opportunity to explain that not everything goes as planned. It helps set the expectations but also shows that we've learned and can apply that knowledge to this project in order to help this client avoid making a mistake that is similar.


And personally, I love the "you don't have domain expertise" question. In our ten years of experience, we've covered almost every vertical at some stage. While my team cannot be your sole technical support channel or your top salesmen for your product, we can tell you how to best promote your product to get people discussing them. We provide process expertise and that is what is generally missing. Because it's not about how the technology works or specific industry knowledge independent of people's behavior. And what we know is people's behavior online and how to capture and captivate them using social media. (We know how to measure the results too!)


For John above, I think the Pioneer stage for Social Media was more like 1998 to 2003 when we still were explaining to customers what a community was and why the interactive media was going to be a must have for all major brands. 2003-2005 were really when the early adopters started to get interested (the publicity around the blog craze helped here). 2005 to 2009 is a period where the ideas are still being planted in many organizations who have shunned social media up to now. So I'm not sure that we're really in a practitioner stage yet. But I do like the way that you are trying to categorize this.


Lastly, most people have to realize that what we call social media today is an evolution of the first internet interactive tools like list servs, chat rooms, etc. It evolved to the first message board & chat room based internet communities that we worked on at It evolved again to incorporate blogs and wikis, then again to include social networks, then again to include social bookmarking, then on to twitter and digg style third party sites to extend the community. What so many folks forget is that for every Facebook there was a GeoCities or even an ATT Worldnet Personal Page. In looking for expertise, you have to look for people who understand that and who learned from it in order to keep their clients ahead of their competition while also helping them to avoid the same mistakes that so many companies are making in the market today.



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