Never Hire a “Social Media Expert”


Social Media Ninja

Photo by: scion_cho

By: Tim Baker

One of my biggest pet peeves is the “social media guru.” You know the type, the person that  spends all their time on Twitter retweeting Mashable articles and Chris Brogan’s blog posts and thinks that having 40,000 followers makes them an instant expert in marketing. These people are bad news for many reasons, but what makes them most dangerous is the damage they are doing to the term “social media.”

You see, as hard as it may be for you to believe, there are still many companies that don’t see value in social media. Whether it’s the fear of giving up control or the mentality that it’s just a fad, key decision makers in many corporations have cold feet. As time goes on and more of these companies begin to get more adventurous, they may make the mistake of hiring one of these “ninjas” only to see their biggest fears realized.

Before you hire your first (or next) social media employee, here are some things to be on the look out when attempting to filter out the true experts versus the snake oil salesmen.

1. There are no “experts” in social media. If your candidate is claiming to be an expert, chances are they have never worked in a meaningful social media job. You see, the people that are widely regarded as “experts” in the field will be the first to tell you that they’re always learning. The rate at which technology continues to grow and people find new ways to connect, it’s unrealistic to think one can ever truly be a social media expert/guru/ninja/maven.

2. If your candidate is using their Twitter followers or Facebook fans as a testament to their knowledge, chances are you’re dealing with a fraud. Rather than rehash the same diatribe that follower count does not equal influence, just know this: a Twitter account that posts nothing but facts about Justin Bieber (@OMGJDBFACTS) has over 4,000 followers. If that doesn’t convince you that Twitter follower count has nothing to do with one’s social media marketing knowledge, I don’t know what will.

3. Social media is nothing new. If your candidate thinks social media started with Friendster and MySpace, there’s a good chance they’re not as versed in the space as they’d have you believe. You see, before social media became the buzzword it is today, it was referred to as “new media.” Before “new media” – well, we just referred to it as BBSes, Usenet and chat rooms. The point is, the communication that occurs on the modern social networking sites has been happening since the minute people started connecting to networks via modems, it’s just become a lot easier for the non tech savvy to “join the conversation.”

4. This next point may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised. Before you hire someone to run your social media initiatives, make sure they themselves are engaged. Ask them what social networks they use outside of Facebook and Twitter and verify that they are in fact using them. You see, anyone can say they’re blogging and using sites like Digg, Stumbleupon, Flickr, Reddit, Tumblr and so on, but take the time to check out their profiles. Are they active? How long have they been so? Social media is not unlike any other career path in that in order to be successful, one must know what is going on in the world around them. I’m not suggesting that one must be engaged in every social network out there, but if their only presence is Facebook, Twitter and a blog on social media, be very skeptical. (Note: for a very comprehensive list of the different social networks out there, Wikipedia has a great resource.)

5. Be on the lookout for “The Constant Marketer.” Maybe you’ve seen them in action, where everything they contribute to their community is related to social media marketing.One sure-fire way to spot one of these folks is to follow them on Twitter. If you receive an auto-response via direct message promoting their blog or telling you how excited they are to connect with you and look forward to your tweets, move on! These people obviously don’t get it.

6. Ask your candidate how they measure social media success. If they look at you with a blank stare or tell you that success in social media can’t be measured, move on. While organizations may have different reasons for using social media, every one of them can and should be measuring it.

7. With so many creative uses of social media out there, it’s a good idea to ask your prospective employee to name a few of their favorite case studies. Many companies have done some really great things, such as Ikea’s use of Facebook photo tagging and VisitPA’s partnership with Foursquare, two of my personal favorites. (Bonus points should be awarded if they can name something other than the Old Spice campaign!)

There are some really brilliant people that truly understand how to use social media, it just takes some effort to cut through the weeds to find the flowers. Hopefully these tips will help you find your true “rock star” and prevent the phonies from tarnishing the term social media any more than they’re already doing. Have any other tips? Share them in the comments!


43 Responses to “Never Hire a “Social Media Expert””

  1. 1 Michael Myers August 18, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    I wrote a post a couple of months ago called ‘The Plecostomus and the myth of the social media guru’:

    . . . touches on some of the same things and I believe that what makes a good social media marketer is passion for the space. They need to partner with those that have passion for the subject matter and through this you can create some remarkable results.

  2. 2 Debra Ellis August 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm


    I agree with your seven filters for blocking the phonies. Here’s add one more.

    Do a search on their twitter ID to see if they are monologuing. Many of the “experts” ignore their community and only chat with their friends. They ask questions, and then don’t respond to the people who answer them. Or worse, they make fun of the people who reach out to them. If their behavior is anti-social, do you want them to represent or advise you?

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. 3 Tim Baker August 18, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    @Debra – Agreed. Those people with the monologuing are missing the “social” aspect of social media. Huge red flag. Thanks for your comments.


  4. 4 Ted August 18, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Loved the Bieber factoid. Thanks for that. Will use that again (with attribution, ‘natch).

  5. 5 Mark Birch August 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Dude, this post is so on point. Thanks for sending this out there, it really needs to be a mantra for anyone contemplating hiring someone for social media anything.

  6. 6 Brandy August 19, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Great points here! Enjoyed reading the article. Found it through Twitter! Thanks for writing it!

  7. 7 Dave August 19, 2010 at 1:23 am

    Great post.

    One thing I look at is the falsely inflated twitter followers you mention in point 2.

    I check the Twitter user out on You will see a huge increase in a few days because they paid for a service.

    Usually their follows and following have a massive jump. Then a few weeks later you see them have a huge drop off of who they are following because they get rid of everyone.

    There is a ton of money being dumped into social media as well as SEO. I just had a friend get a call from a guy that wanted $2500 to get him on the first page of Google. During the conversation he dropped the price to $1,000. Then he wouldn’t let him talk to any references!

    Social Media experts and SEO experts are one and the same.

    There are some reputable companies out there that get it you just need to look.

  8. 8 Tim Baker August 19, 2010 at 1:55 am

    @Dave – agree with you on the SEO side too. SEO is not an exact science and anyone claiming they can guarantee you page 1 of Google is most likely using black hat methods which can do much more harm to your site than doing it the “white hat” way.

    Thanks for your comments.

  9. 9 LOeez August 19, 2010 at 3:16 am

    Thanks Tim for this incredibly lucid post!
    I’ve recently seen many job openings for “Social Media Strategist” and “Social Media Specialist”, and I really wonder. Do you think these “experts” really do exist or is it just a wishful thinking of companies?
    Thanks again.

  10. 10 Coca August 19, 2010 at 3:19 am

    I 100% agree with Debra, it is very common to see people who work with social media and/or advertising and use social network in a traditional way: broadcasting their own works and thoughts without joining a conversation, just pushing information. Non sense! This a very common behaviour for brands that think that are building a social media presence. Interesting post! I always believed that online advertising is definitly about exploring without feeling that you have control. Scarry but exciting.

  11. 11 Vanguy August 19, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Good recap.
    Thanks for affirming what I already knew – I’m doing it the right way.

  12. 12 Vincent Haywood August 19, 2010 at 9:43 am

    This post is amazing. Thanks Tim. I tried to sum up the snake oil sales men in article on my blog as well.
    I work in Social Media, I used to work in online marketing, before that developemnt, before that design and at no point have i ever claimed to be an expert. I have some knoledge but at the rate this industry moves that knowledge gets old very quickly so its a case of constantly consuming info, learning, improving.

    Totally agree with your list, I’m using something similar in my search for more people for my team. I want to see where they are, not the default youtubes, wordpresses, facebook and twitter. Show me you’ve played with Gowalla or Ning or dopplr or orkut or something out of the predictable box.

    I’m not an expert, I just love what I do.

  13. 13 Andre Galhardo August 19, 2010 at 10:26 am

    1st time here. (via @guykawasaki)

    Hey, great post.

    After designing (and running) many social media campaigns, sometimes I think to myself: why not jump into a “social media expert” job and experience that pressure?

    Could be fun.

    Or, at least, could be funnier than being a Creative Director.

    @FrankEliason is showing the way.

    An idea for your next post, Tim. 😉


  14. 14 Guy Clapperton August 19, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    You make a lot of sense. In fact one of the best companies I’ve spoken to about social media said they didn’t use it. I asked why not, and they said they’d asked their customers and the customers weren’t on any of the new networks.

    Looking objectively and making an intelligent decision about whether it’s right for you regardless of what anyone else is doing or what’s fashionable – that’s a much more meaningful expertise than most experts offer. Likewise I consider myself a prolific social media user but other than as a consumer looking for illustrations for blogs I don’t use Flickr – because I don’t deal in images, I also don’t use Photoshop and have little need for YouTube.

    It’s all about appropriacy and what works for you.

  15. 15 AndrewSCH August 19, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Here’s one other thing that pretty much sucks from the whole social media revolution; I recently applied for a job at a small web marketing firm as a content developer and was told that they would educate me on best practices SEO.

    Once I got there, the management switched my duties and informed me that I was to be the resident in-house “Social Media Expert” and to begin building a social media plan. I was to try it out on our company first, so we could then sell it to clients later.

    Any time I had a specific question, I was told, “You’re the expert, you decide.” After a while it just seemed like a cynical experiment.

    I left.

  16. 16 Fred Ranger August 20, 2010 at 1:27 am

    I think the problem is with all those buzz words. “social media” is just another one out there. Remember when Direct Marketing was the big thing in the 90’s? It was not a long time ago when “viral marketing” was the “future” of advertising… At the end of the day if you find a way to connect your brand with real people and you are telling a true and honest story that resonates and is relevant with more than one person, it will be all of that: Viral, Direct and Social!


    Fred “Social Media Master Guru 5.0” Ranger 😉

  17. 17 Nnamdi Osuagwu August 20, 2010 at 1:28 am

    This post is so true. I read similar on Mashable a while ago. I love concept of social media and the wonderful/creative ways that businesses are engaging with their customers/clients. I’m really biased towards Social Media Gurus that don’t have a firm grip on technology. Due to my technical background, I really feel that tools like Facebook & Twitter are great, but how do you now leverage those technologies and others into your infrastructure. These are answers that they should know.

    So let’s add an additional filter:
    Social Media Gurus should have an understanding of technology since social media is primarily based on technology. Seems simple but for some reason not obvious.

    I think they should have some sort of track record or at least a project that they implemented for themselves. Something besides a BLOG.

    FYI – love the point that technology is constantly evolving … we are still LEARNING and still being WOWED ….

    P.S. Think I may link back to this on my blog LOL

  18. 18 Tim Baker August 20, 2010 at 1:44 am

    @Nnamdi – Excellent point. Social Media is so engrained in some of today’s cutting edge technology that not having an understanding of it is a huge crutch.

  19. 19 Mark Faggiano August 20, 2010 at 4:17 pm


    Great post.

    If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say it’s #2. We need more people making that exact same point. Twitter is about influence and engagement, not about getting 10k followers and then Tweeting what you had for lunch.

  20. 20 John Morris August 20, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    I call myself a social media guru however I won’t call myself an expert. I use the term guru as friends started calling me that 3-4 years ago and it kinda stuck. They used, geek/nerd (not in a bad way) but ended up on guru.

    I do agree with the comments about an “expert” as there is no such thing yet, as for guru, I disagree.

  21. 21 Said Hamideh August 24, 2010 at 10:47 am

    You condemn the practice of claiming “expertise”, yet I see you using a lot of “we vs them” language in your article. Just playing the devil’s advocate.

    This article is part of a genre designed to professionalize the “domain” of social media marketing, so I understand the need. But let’s truly follow the spirit of your words by not implying that some people just get it, while others don’t.

    No one has a monopoly on excellent ideas for how we can use social media tools. I’d venture to say that more creative/well-rounded debutantes should just dive right in and try this profession even if they are not well-versed in the conventional wisdoms and practices of #SM. They might be better prepared to inject out-of-the-box thinking.

    Also, don’t be too quick to demonize people who use stale SM formulaas. They have resumes that go far back too, don’t they?

    Depending on the business context, that pretentious person may actually be more qualified to handle a specific account than someone who has mastered a lot of SM conventions.

  22. 22 Tim Baker August 24, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    @Said – Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with your statement that nobody has a monopoly on excellent ideas. The purpose of my post was to help provide those in charge of hiring a social media person to be equipped with the tools they need to make a smart decision.

    As a marketer, there’s a lot of damage that needs to be undone by people that have claimed to be experts in spending marketing money on social media and shown no results, or worse, convinced their clients that social can’t be tracked. At the end of the day, ROI is the only language that a brands understand and if their first touch in social is by someone claiming to be an expert and doesn’t have a basic understanding of marketing principals or even the history of social media and it’s roots throughout the internet, they’re doing more damage than good.

  23. 23 türkh yazılım teknolojileri August 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Looking objectively and making an intelligent decision about whether it’s right for you regardless of what anyone else is doing or what’s fashionable – that’s a much more meaningful expertise than most experts offer.

  24. 25 Scott Strickland August 27, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    the problem right now is that companies have no idea what exactly it is they need to hire in terms of experience. Yes Messagr Boards, irc, etc have been around for years, but it’s only recent that the ease of getting a message out has gone mass market.

    Web 2.0 is the new wild west, with companies throwing money into technologies and new marketing doctrine they barely understand themselves. we saw this happen in the 90’s when everyone just HAD to have a website, we also saw this with the dot com boom and bust.

    Bottom line though, its a VERY good time for real professionals in this industry to get in and grow a career. There is very little competition out there in terms of people doing what we do, and companies are willing to pay big money for our expertise. Our day has come, and those of us getting in on the ground floor can expect to vault our careers if we play our cards right.

  25. 26 Markus September 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    retweeted, useful post

  26. 28 Jack De Kekoni September 16, 2010 at 3:36 am


    I do not agree with you and also I’m asking what caused that everybody now write articles against self-named social media experts? You also call them ninjas?!? Do you know what is social network behavior like?? And please explain what makes YOU better?

    I think this is all fear of loosing your monopoly because of facebook and twitter getting so much users and attention.

    Also why everyone agrees with you??? All of commenters are nerds made at your standards or what? I don’t believe it.

    Yes I claim my self an expert. Why? Because I’m better than most others to set up and properly run most widely social networks which by the way can be count on one hand, thumb excluded, so you don’t really need Wikipedia’s social network list for this.

    Wake up, and don’t follow others like a sheep…

  27. 29 Social Media Guru September 16, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Excellent post, i think blog posts like this add so much value to the marketing community,i have learnt some valuable info from you. Keep it Up! Sincerely, The Social Media Guru

  28. 30 Social Media Guru September 19, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    I lately came across your blog and have been reading along. I imagine I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say, except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice site. I will keep visiting your site very frequently.

  29. 31 stupid_fish October 26, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Interesting read – it does seem like “social media” is the new industry for snake oil salesmen.

  30. 32 Mattbb November 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Tim. Such a valid piece of writing. Highly amusing, incredibly well thought out. Alan Sugar said a really interesting piece in the Evening Standard a while ago “Some people refer to themselves as Entrepreneurs, I don’t understand this. You are only an entrepreneur in someone else’s eyes, not your own.” I am sure the same can be applied to Social Media Gurus and Experts.

    I think the people that know the most about social media understand that the term social media simply refers to a channel where people are passionate about things, discuss things and socialise. The real “social media experts” are the ones who are incorporating social technologies, measurements, analytics, strategies into their brand’s everyday behaviour. I believe they still call these guys Strategists and Planners.

  31. 33 Tim Baker November 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

  32. 34 Mike Kennedy November 29, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Good post Tim, you’ve provided a lot of very cogent points, especially the “it can’t be measured” one. I know from personal (frustrating) experience that there are consultants who argue that and do not have any valid way of measurement (I asked the question in the vetting process).

    To build on your case studies point, another way is to ask for examples of specific models such as the hub and spoke. If they give you a blank stare they probably are frauds.

  33. 35 tabela March 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    thanks very good site

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