Arrogance and the Social Media “Expert”

By December 1, 2009Uncategorized

I eschew the term expert when talking about social media – preferring the term “specialist.” I don’t think anyone can be an expert in social media – with a field so new and ever growing and changing there are only specialists – people like me who devote lots of time and energy to staying on top of the game. I think there are people who are passionate about social media and the power it holds, but to call oneself an expert smacks of an undeserved arrogance.

A word about arrogance, though, as I acknowledge that those of us in this field have a certain amount of it. I argue that it has been necessary and it is an attribute that has grown out of a need to be absolutely convinced and convincing when sharing the benefits of engaging in social media for business. We are the self-taught forerunners of this field who have spent, in most cases, the better part of the last seven years defending the internet. We’ve had to stare down corporate leaders afraid to dip their toes into online waters and demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

When most of us started in this area the word blogger was said in the same tone as cancer; bloggers rose from the pasty-faced basement dwellers to a chosen few who make millions and others who just make a difference. By definition, a blogger almost has to have some level of conceit to trust that their thoughts and online ponderings would be of interest to anyone at all.

I’ve been part of an audience of those learning at the feet of those who have taught social media in the PR industry, this guy, this guy, this guy and this guy in particular. They all have one mannerism in common – a dismissive shaking of the head when a member of the community begins down the road of denial (it won’t work! we don’t have time! we can’t allow our people to self-publish! we need control!). I’ve noted this move and truly don’t find it arrogant (although corporate leaders, uncomfortable still with this deep end of the pool into which they’ve been thrown most likely do). I find it admirable – and it’s that confidence, that absolute gut-deep knowledge that you’re right and you know what you’re talking about and can prove it that I believe I’ve realized for myself. Does that make me an expert? No, but I’m practicing that head shake for the next time a doubter is in the room.


  • Jay Baer says:

    Marijean, I love this post. You’re right on both counts. Nobody is an expert, some just have more experience than others. And you have to make the audience believe – that’s part of the speaker/evangelist gig.

  • Hmmmm. I have VERY mixed feelings about this post. I totally agree that the promise of the internet is fantastic, although I tend to err on the side of less enthusiasm for certain trends (like 24/7 knowledge of everything, everywhere). But arrogance is the one quality in humans I revile the most. I believe that the confidence borne of knowledge and experience can be patiently administered, through teaching, revealing proof, and helping the audience transform things on their own by showing them how to visualize their own business in a new way. Shaking your head like a disappointed parent only makes some people defensive, and rightly so. If this stuff is so new and ever-changing, how and why can we expect everyone to get it like we do? We owe it to our clients to do the one thing we tell them to do–listen first.

    OK, pound me!

  • Renee says:

    Great post, and very glad my title is “specialist” as opposed to “expert” 😉

  • Jeannette says:

    The term “Social Media Expert” never bothered me until a couple of weeks ago. One of my friends owns a mareting and PR firm and I was talking to her about how she can better utilize twitter, their blog, etc. After several emails back and forth, she explained that they have a “Social Media Expert” who is in charge of all that.

    I don’t mind that she wasn’t interested in my suggestions, but it was very irksome to know this person is billed as an “Expert” when they really aren’t. Their blogroll is a list of other places you can find them on the web. I couldn’t find links to any of their clients or constituents – anywhere. And overall, there is no engagement with their audience.

    Engaging and interacting with your audience is the key to “Social Media.” If you don’t socialize, it’s just media.

  • Great observations, Marijean. And while I have run into a few journalists who thought blogging was like cancer, or a pox, there were more who treated it like… clown school, as I put it:

  • Marijean says:

    Rusty — no pounding — really, not my style. I do think that one person’s arrogance is another’s confidence and the less comfortable the audience is the more they may perceive arrogance when what they’re faced with is the “gut-deep knowledge” (yeah, I know; I just quoted myself) of being right. I think the head shake is far less arrogant than some of the very condescending attitudes and language of those who almost belittle those who “don’t get it.” I’ve been a patient teacher and hand-holder to those who have come along slowly and I think probably have come across as arrogant at one time or another as I struggled with my own frustration of how to convey what I know to be the truth in the most gentle way possible. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t want to be called an expert OR arrogant — just a learner, like anyone else.