We May Not Be Experts, But We Know Frauds When We See Them
There's an old joke about how to win an argument. When you have the facts, stick to the facts. When you don't have the facts, make your argument louder. When you're losing the argument, bang your shoe on the table. We have no tables in social media, but we see this kind of behavior way too often.
Social media is hard. In addition to having to learn at a breakneck pace, much of what you say and do is obsolete shortly after you produce the content. I know this in a painful way, as my training DVD's had a shelf life of less than six months, as Twitter, LinkedIn, and especially Facebook altered their look and functionality so much, my content was no longer relevant.
And because that functionality changes, old pronouncements can come back to bite you, as in when I said Facebook was worthless to recruiters not serving the college graduate crowd. When that changed, I changed my mind, and wrote about it, fessing up to my mistake.
I've had to eat crow, update, confess to rushing before I got facts right, and I've even had to apologize. And it was good for me. It's a sign of character my parents taught me, and it's more important than ever in understanding social media (or really any expertise).
I want to give you four examples in recent weeks of people making outrageous statements. All four have a large online presence. All four have been called experts by others conversational tone. All four reacted differently, and it's my contention that their reactions were more important in the determination of their expertise (and their character), then their initial statements.
Number One: Peter Shankman And Social Media Experts
In a blog post that got picked up by the Business Insider and tweeted and shared thousands of times, Peter Shankman said you should never hire someone who calls themselves a social media expert, and he joked they should all burn in a fire.
First, I'd like to refute the argument visually.
Note Peter spoke at an event in October where he is listed as a social media expert. By his own words, we should not hire him, but instead should give him a book of matches.
But hey, we all say things we come to regret. Shankman was trying to make the relevant point that social media has to be tied to business goals (actually he said revenue, which is only part of the picture, but the argument is a valid one). Where he made a mistake was punching down and insulting a broad swath of people with little more than innuendo.
When called on it, Peter did three things. First, he argued with people on his site and doubled down on his comments. He refused to acknowledge that he smeared a group of people unfairly (and no one specifically).
Second, he contiued to argue with people on other sites, but he did so in a mocking manner. The one that sticks in my mind is the guy who found this picture and asked about it on Twitter. Peter insulted him, mocking the guy's personal website for having broken links. Not exactly a classy move.
Third, and the worst part, was Peter's failure to address the substantive issues in a forum online. He let the original column stand, and then moved on. For a guy claiming to be a social media expert and worldwide connector, he sure seemed to miss the point about engaging critics in an honest manner.
In short, Peter acted like a jerk, and his personal reputation deserves to be measured against those actions.
Number Two: Gary Vaynerchuk, and the social media clowns.
Gary made a comment in an interview that almost all social media people don't have a clue how business works. the interview title was provocative, and so Gary came out with a video backing up his statements, but explaining what he meant. The argument was very similar to what Peter Shankman was hinting at, that social media has to produce a result, and that requires expertise and hard work.