Late last month, Peter Shankman posted a decidedly sour meditation on the perils of hiring a “Social Media Expert”, insisting that such a moniker is both apocryphal and a waste of dollars.  Mr. Shankman wrote:

Being an expert in Social Media is like being an expert at taking the bread out of the refrigerator.You might be the best bread-taker-outer in the world, but you know what? The goal is to make an amazing sandwich, and you can’t do that if all you’ve done in your life is taken the bread out of the fridge.

Peter Shankman, 20 May 2011

Ouch, Sir. Very ouch. I have never described myself as a “Social Media Expert”. Rather, I subscribe to the philosophy of Bill S. Preston, ESQ., who famously quoted an Ancient Greek of some renown when he said “The only true wisdom, consists in knowing that you know nothing.” and as Mr. Preston’s esteemed colleague Ted Theodore Logan affirmed: “That’s us, dude!” As I see it, the title of “expert” is one that is better given, rather than taken. It is a far, far, better thing to be called an expert, rather than call yourself one. And so on the issue of self-titled “experts”, Mr. Shankman and I are in accord.

Where I take issue with Mr. Shankman’s diatribe is in the misstep of lumping so-called “Social Media Experts” into one big pot. Bearing in mind that true social media expertise is easily identified, but difficult to quantify, when endeavoring to define an “Expert”, it serves to separate the wheat from the chaff. Social media demands a specific set of faculties: command of the written word, an understanding of who you’re addressing, and a zero BS modus operandi. You’ll forgive me, Mr. Shankman, but it is in fact about engagement. It’s about talking with someone, instead of at them. That’s what the arrow of social media has added to the quiver of marketing: a direct, potentially meaningful and easily mismanaged, tool with which to engage consumers.

And so with this squarely in mind, on several points, I’ll agree that Mr. Shankman is correct. Social media is absolutely about transparency, relevance, and brevity. Like Mr. Shankman, those tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand staunchly on-end whenever I encounter grammatical woes in professional correspondence. Just last week a prospective job candidate wrote to me, stating that she was “fluent in both Mandarin and England”. Good grief. But I’m a firm believer that those sensitive to issues like these recognize others of the same ilk. With very little effort, it’s easy to see who is an effective communicator, and who isn’t.

So Mr. Shankman, rather than drinking “the same damn ten-year-old Kool-Aid” (which you say is synonymous with repeating the ills of the dotcom era), take a step back and recognize that like you, there are those of us out here that get it. We understand the value that social media adds to an overall sales and marketing plan, and like you, we find it abhorrently distasteful when the Kool-Aid goes bad.  And as for making the whole sandwich – indeed, serve up a whole, amazing one (as long as you know not to serve a Double Down to the Judges of Top Chef).

Written by Ed Gazarian
Ed is the Managing Partner of Pandemic Labs, where he occasionally does some work in-between deep discussions of both Shakespeare and Star Wars.