There is a fundamental problem among social media experts today. Some people have argued that the problem lies with people who are rushing to call themselves an expert without having the necessary experience. Others create some sort of artificial metric to try and put some parameters around who should be allowed to call themselves an expert and who should not. The easier way out (which I myself have taken on occasion) is to excuse yourself from the entire debate by saying that no one is REALLY an expert and we are all just people who use these tools and try our best. Since coming back from SXSW, I have been thinking about this and realized that none of these methods really works because they all assume that a "social media expert" is a single type of person.
To be sure, there are some people working in social media who really shouldn't be – but I don't believe this number is as high as others would say. Instead, I think that many people who could be great at certain roles are simply trying to fill the wrong role. So, to help, I thought I would share what I think the 9 types of social media experts really are. And in true social media fashion, since 9 is such an uneven number … let me know what you think the 10th would be. I will add the best suggestion for a 10th to this list. Thanks to all the great suggestions, I have added 3 more types of Social Media Experts to this post and updated the title to share 12 instead of 9 types. Thanks for all the great comments!
- The Pretender – This is the person who everyone loves to hate. The newly arrived and minted "expert" who has barely used any tools beyond Facebook and Twitter, has hardly any friends or followers, and bases most of their thinking on what they just read from the dozen or so social media "gurus" who frequently share free advice on their blogs.
- The Trainer/Teacher – Being a great teacher is a gift, and not many people truly have it. If you are a natural trainer or teacher, you have the ability to make complex ideas that are part of social media easy to understand. After listening to your direction, someone new to using the tools and thinking about social media will feel dramatically more comfortable using the tools and (most importantly) why they should even bother.
- The Professional Speaker – Popular sentiment is to treat these people as the biggest blowhards in the industry because they get up on stage and get paid to talk about social media. It is the existence of this type of expert, however, that often creates the inspiration and excitement about social media as a whole. Once again, not everyone is necessarily good at taking this role – but listening to a great speaker about social media can create a real impact across the entire industry. Speakers may be the rising tide that can lift everyone else's boats.
- The Content Curator – I have blogged at length about how I believe content curators will be among one of the most important social media jobs of the future. While some may equate the job to that of a digitally savvy librarian, I see the role of a curator as much more of an editor about a particular topic. The curators are the ones that can help us make sense of the exploding amount of content online. The almighty search algorithm won't be enough.
- The Event Organizer – In social media, there are lots of great events. From the more official conferences and summits to the less formal meetups and tweetups. If your gift is in creating really engaging moments for people to gather in real life and to facilitate those moments, you might fit this category. The Event Organizer, too, is vital for the social media industry to thrive because they are the ones that drive the real moments where virtual relationships become real.
- The Community Manager – Having a great community manager may be one of the most difficult roles to fill on a digital team, because the skill set can be quite elusive. A great community manager is dealing with real conversations in real time and reacting to those conversations transparently. If you happen to have these skills and use them well, you could easily grow into the very center of an organization's entire social media efforts (a great place to be).
- The Content Creator – This is one of the most public types of social media experts because their expertise is on display consistently. Content creators are great at writing thoughts in blog posts, sharing their every thought via Twitter, or creating video. In the right role, content creators can become indispensible assets to a team and generate highly original content to engage an audience.
- The Marketing Strategist – If I have one intention with this post, it is to point out very distinctly that not every social media expert should automatically be put into this category. If you are a marketing strategist, you know the best way to use social media to achieve a marketing objective such as promoting a product or service. You don't blindly create a "platform" for a client with every social media tool, or consider "start by listening and then engage people in a conversation" actionable strategic advice. Instead, you are able to solve a real business problem with a smart plan for using social media, and entirely capable of admitting which business problems social media may not be the best solution for.
- The Designer/Builder – In some ways, this is the most important type of social media expert – because these are actually the people who make real solutions. Strategy is great, but at some point you need a real execution plan and these are the experts who can get it done. More importantly, they will also be able to provide advice based on experience for how you may want to implement your plans, and what strategy or tactics you may want to stay away from.
- The Networker/Connector [Added 03/24] – This additional category, suggested by several commenters, is the person who actively uses social media to make connections with people both online and offline. In some cases these individuals may be HR professionals, but in most instances they are simply people who actively believe in being social online and use their connections to introduce people to one another. In the best case they are the ones that enable real connections between people – but in the worst case they can also be shameless self-promoters. (Suggested by Maxiosearch, Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR)
- The Evangelist [Added 03/24] – Often in the role of speaking for a brand and putting a human face on an organization, the Evangelist is the person who uses social media to promote a beli
ef, product or organization. For this individual, social media is a way to share content and engage in conversations about something they are passionate about. As some readers pointed out, this could also be someone who preaches the use of social media internally within an organization. (Suggested by Phil Simon, Ingrid Hein, Russell Pearson )
- The Entrepreneur [Added 03/24] – One category that several readers alluded to but no one specifically suggested was the category of innovator or entrepreneur. This is the person who sees everything in social media and decides that their expertise is in creating a new tool or platform to share with the world. The creators of popular services like Foursquare or Twitter might fall into this category, as well as anyone who has ever launched a new service or app to solve a particular need or desire. Entrepreneurs are the ones who use their expertise to create something new in social media and drive innovation.
You might be tempted to read into this post that there are certain types of experts that are more valid than any others, but except for the first type I strongly believe that each has an important role to play as organizations and businesses of all sizes get smarter about how and when to use social media. If you work in the industry or interact with those who do – my simple plea is that we all need to get better about understanding which of these roles we are particularly good at and focus on that. As a whole I can think of nothing better to help legitimize and grow the entire area of social media and the groups who are able to benefit from using it well.