Social Media Experts? (SMEs)

What exactly *IS* a Social Media Expert?……

Over the last year or two, the terms Social Media Expert and Social Media Consultant and Social Media Strategist blah blah blah has become a staple in people’s bios. I had SME on my Linkedin profile for a while and then I removed it.

I removed it because too many people were using it and it didn’t mean anything anymore. I decided that I’d rather have people recognize me as a video editor, which is a concretely-defined craft, instead of one of the millions of SMEs that suddenly permeated the online world.

Recently, there have been a couple of situations that have caused people in the Social Media community to band together and point fingers at people and say “You’re a bad SME!” 😀 Unfortunately… In order to call someone out for doing the wrong thing, you have to have a DEFINITION of a Social Media Expert to begin with.


The problem with nailing down a definition for SMEs is that it’s actually an umbrella term. What I mean is, if I say I’m a video editor, and then you think to yourself “What does Bill Cammack do?”, your mind returns “He edits video”. If I say I’m a SME, your mind returns “…………………” because that term by itself doesn’t mean JACK.

Now there are A LOT of ACTUAL EXPERTS whom occupy a SUBSET of SMEs. These people have actual jobs that they actually do and are actually good at. Aside from those [relatively few] people, the rest of the SME field is selling vaporware. Not by the STRICT definition, which, according to Wikipedia is:

Vaporware is a term used to describe a software or hardware product that is announced by a developer well in advance of release, but which then fails to emerge after having well exceeded the period of development time that was initially claimed or would normally be expected for the development cycle of a similar product. The term implies unwarranted optimism, an as yet unannounced abandonment of a project, or sometimes even deception; that is, it may imply that the announcer knows that product development is in too early a stage to support responsible statements about its completion date, feature set, or even feasibility. However, most vaporware would not be considered a hoax since the makers have a genuine intention to create their product, even if it ultimately never materializes. Products with unspecified release dates or long development times that outwardly demonstrate regular, verifiable progress in production are not normally labelled vaporware.

The reason I consider it vaporware is because SMEs are selling you “nothing”. They have no product. Their product is ideas. Most of them don’t actually DO *anything*. There is no TEST to become a SME. You don’t have to pass the bar. You don’t have to agree to ethics… In fact, the recent situations have brought to light that there ARE. NO. AGREED. UPON. ETHICS. when it comes to SM. You don’t have to graduate college with a degree in SM. All you have to do is add a comma and three words to your title, and *POOF*… You’re a Social Media Expert.

What SMEs are selling you happens to be valuable, though… 🙂

The reason why the IDEAS that SMEs sell you are valuable is because otherwise, you’d have to waste your own time and energy figuring these things out yourself… IF you’re that smart to begin with and IF your business can stand for you to take time away from putting bread on the table to research progressive concepts. This is why it’s better for YOU to pay a SME to tell you what to do. It’s better for your bottom line and time is spent more efficiently.

So this is why it’s been tough for people to define what a SME actually is. The field ranges from people with actual products and services down to vaporware salesmen and saleswomen. The only way to define the entire group is to point out the lowest common denominator across the board, which is:

A Social Media Expert is *ANYONE* that knows more than *YOU* about Social Media

That’s right. SME is a RELATIVE term, not ABSOLUTE. The reason people make money as SMEs is that they (we) pioneered the space while you were sitting in your office doing cold calls and setting up business lunches. Now, we know more than you do so you can either pay us for what we know OR use up your own staff’s time reinventing the wheel. Also… By the time you reinvent that wheel (if you’re successful at all), the game will have changed and you’ll STILL be out of position.

If you go to a conference, or even watch a video from a conference that shows the crowd, you’ll see A FEW people on stage, kickin’ knowledge, and you’ll see A LOT OF PEOPLE in the crowd, perfectly silent, amazed at what they’re hearing. The thing is that ALL of those people have SME in their titles. This is what makes them SMEs TO. YOU. 🙂

You can also see this in some of the work that’s produced from people hiring these so-called SMEs. You might see a video and go “Man. That was absolutely GARBAGE!”, and that video was created by someone who was an SME… ACCORDING TO whomever hired them to handle the business. That’s one of the funny things about this whole thing. Since the people doing the hiring know LESS than the SMEs they’re hiring, they can’t possibly be CRITICS of those SMEs. They can tell “This person knows more than I do”, but they can’t tell how up-to-date they are or whether the person they’re hiring is well-regarded and respected in the field. That’s why I got rid of the title… There’s no way to separate the wheat from the chaff. hahaha Somebody go make SME-RATINGS.COM! 😀

Is Bill Cammack A Social Media Expert?

Odds are, compared to whomever’s reading this right now, yes I am, If you’re willing to accept the definition I’ve proposed in this post. If not, feel free to offer YOUR definition of a SME in the comments. Compared to YOU, I’m a SME because:

I have a better Google ranking than you: Bill
I’ve been doing this longer than you: May 27, 2006
I have more twitter followers than you: ~1,700
I have more facebook friends than you: ~1,100
I have TWO myspace accounts with more friends than you: ~600 each
I’ve produced more videos for the web than you: ~350 for my own site, not counting work for clients
I’ve created more social sites than you
I’ve maintained more social sites than you
I’ve been IN more videos and participated in more projects than you
I’ve done more live broadcasts and logged way more hours than you
I’ve contributed literally YEARS worth of advice & feedback on the Yahoo Videoblogging Group
I’ve studied, and learned DIRECTLY from more successful internet show creators than you

etc etc etc… All of which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans… EXCEPT for the fact that through my trial and error, I’ve amassed knowledge that you don’t have. Meanwhile, there are people that have done 100x what I’ve done in the space, and *I* consider THEM Social Media Experts. Even people that haven’t done more than I have, but are experts in CSS or Social Media Site building or making sponsorship deals or WHATEVER I haven’t specialized in are experts to me.

Original vs Derivative

Besides separating the multitude of SMEs into people with tangible skills and vaporware peddlers, you also need to separate the original from the derivative. Of course, this is impossible to do when people either fail to or refuse to reference where they got their ideas from.

Before someone came up with the courtesy of identifying in twitter posts where they saw the information, I was guilty of this myself. I would see that someone I was following made an announcement that, say, Joost released a new version. I would then take the link, make my own post on twitter or my blog and send out the announcement myself. Of course, this gives the impression [unintentionally, in this case] that *I* somehow had this knowledge and shared it. At this point, we put “via @whomever” or “RT @whomever” to give the appropriate credit to the person we received the information from.

You might be wondering “What difference does it make?”. I mean, knowledge is knowledge, right? The problem with hiring derivative SMEs is that they’re actually working of of other people’s information and don’t have ANY in-depth knowledge of the subjects they post about. For instance, going back to my Joost example… By not RTing my source, if someone contacts me and wants more information about Joost, I. can’t. give. them. any. because I’m not a part of the company and I’m not the person who directly received the information and first broadcast it. So I might LOOK like I’m “in the know” because I’m actually aggregating other people’s comments and “taking credit for their thoughts and concepts” by omission.

That will work for your company as long as you don’t need anything other than the information that’s on the surface. They can tell you to build a Ning site, but they can’t tell you WHY. They can tell you to add such and such widgets or modules, but they can’t tell you WHERE to place them or tell you anything about how the community of that particular site interacts with each other. They can tell you you need to live stream, but they don’t know how to rawk Ustream, Mogulus or BlogTV. They can tell you you need to be on youtube, but they can’t tell you how to interact and build friends and communities. They can tell you you need to have a blog, but they can’t tweak the theme themselves. They can tell you to put a mybloglog widget on your site, but they can’t tell you how to build interest inside their community for your site. They can make a video, but they can’t make the mouths sync with the audio. They can make an audio podcast, but they can’t patch in more than one guest. They can write a post, but they can’t comment intelligently about it so you never see them commenting on THEIR OWN MATERIAL!!!??? :/

Meanwhile, with ORIGINAL SMEs, who actually THINK UP their own material instead of regurgitating what they read from other people, the “live show” is the same as what you read on the blog or the microblog. The conversations are more in-depth and they don’t lose an iota of functionality if Twitter goes down (disabling their support system like a game show life-line).

Quality Assurance?

Stephanie Frasco & Bill Cammack Again, some sort of sanctioned, agreed-upon rating system would help here. What would also help is some kind of concrete definition of what the E’s supposed to mean in SME. Until that happens, we will continue to have people with MINIMAL skills in Social Media running around claiming to be experts, merely because nobody’s authorized to say that they can’t. So, until the time where ANYTHING gets defined in this field, let’s stop OOOHing and AAAHing when a so-called Social Media EXPERT makes a misstep. Adding words to your title doesn’t make you ANY smarter, ANY more original or any more PROFICIENT in working on projects for clients OR maintaining your own internet presence.

You can’t add MD at the end of your name and claim to be a doctor. I mean, you CAN, but nobody will let you operate on them without seeing your degrees and reading or hearing testimonials from your references. You can’t put on a Giants jersey and get admitted into the stadium, onto the field and into the game, unless you’re an actual, currently-active member of the team. What’s the barrier of admission to calling yourself a Social Media Expert?…

As long as the SME you hire does your company good, and you see ROI in terms of your company making more money or building and maintaining a new customer/user community or less of your hours being wasted trying to figure out what someone else already knows, good for you. However, since there is ZERO QUALITY ASSURANCE in the field of Social Media “Experts”, it’s not exactly “the blind leading the blind’… but in most cases, it’s “the LESS blind leading the MORE blind”.

~Bill Cammack

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  1. The funny thing is: colleges are starting to catch on and make it a “legitimate” degree earning field. So those self-proclaimed experts are going to be out-done by legitimate degree holding people very shortly. Then what?

    1. Well, that’s just the thing. The non-degree-holders are going to be pushed out as the new college graduates replace them at lower pay and more up-to-date knowledge.

      Back in the day, I was a trainer at my gym. I didn’t have to take any form of certification to do it. Now, there are lots of people in HORRIBLE SHAPE that happen to be ACE-certified, who are ABLE to be hired by gyms as opposed to people who clearly know what they’re doing yet lack that certification.

      It’s a window of opportunity, like there was for HTML coders before they created WYSIWYG editors. All of a sudden, that entire industry went out the window.

  2. Well said! Although I do share the info from others my original content I create on the spur on twitter and on my various blogs. My real passion is my analysis of the intellectual property issues that face us as users of social media. I am writing about that but offline. I refuse to share that online because once it is published online I know some moron will copy it and pass it on as their own.

    Bless you for sharing your vision and expertise! xoxo *yay* !!

    1. You’re welcome, Jenn. It’s been getting pretty “hot in here” recently, with a lot of people having a lot of opinions about a field that has ZERO guidelines and ZERO requirements for entry.

      It’s like complaining that someone can’t play baseball when you just saw him walking down the street and asked him to play. There’s no REASON he should be good at baseball, just like there’s no REASON all these people claiming to be SMEs with ZERO evidence of anything they’ve ever DONE should be taken at their word that they’re “Experts”.

  3. SMP – Social Media Professional would be a more appropriate title. I guess Sr. SMP if you’ve been around for a while. Expert implies a ranking system that doesn’t exist. I also think in this case “Expert” actually sounds unproffesional, like some kids just made this shit up… “Hey, let’s call ourselves Experts!” Nobody knows what the hell it is but all of a sudden there are “Experts”?
    Doh! 😮

    Colleges are just trying to stay relevant and in business. Doesn’t mean their curriculum is going to be any good or that the kids won’t be parrots. The colleges will need existing SMPs to teach, so there’s still money to be made for the old guard right there. 🙂
    I think people who can point to work they’ve done and show quantifiable benefits will always reign supreme independent of degree in this case. It’s not as static as being an Electrical Engineer and if it’s so poorly understood by customers they’re just gonna’ want someone with a solid work history and good references.

    That’s my .0shoe

    1. Entirely agreed about the colleges. The thing is that even though they’ll be selling similar vaporware, it’ll be more up-to-date and the workers will be way more affordable.

      The whole startup model is based upon hiring people as young and broke and talented as possible. It’s best for “the bottom line”.

      1. I could see SM being integrated into an online marketing degree but I don’t get why they’d be standalone. Then again I don’t get why an online marketing degree wouldn’t be a sub of a traditional marketing degree. Shrug. I figure if you really want to keep your value in the marketplace high you should have a firm grasp of all these concepts.

        According to this link each is being offered as a three year program:

        1. If you want to remain relevant in a changing environment, you have to spend time maintaining your skills in what’s current and you have to spend time learning up-and-coming technology so that when the time comes that someone asks you to consult THEM, you have real-world experience to speak from.

  4. I agree with what you are saying but we live in a bubble and what is old and overused to us still has value to those not in the know.

    If we were in the gold rush there would be people with maps and people without maps. The people with maps could keep them private or they could share them and charge money by calling themselves “Guides.”

    We can choose to keep our social media maps to ourselves or we can pick up a little extra cash helping those who are willing to pay for us to share what we have spent time and money learning.

    1. Hey Tim! Thanks for the comment. 😀

      I agree with you ENTIRELY about that, and I’m not “knocking people’s hustle”. It’s just that that’s exactly what it IS… a hustle. But you’re absolutely right. We know it because we’ve been doing it for years, so why shouldn’t people pay us so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel AND do it wrong in the process?

      I guess the main point I’m making is that the title of SME covers such a broad range of skillsets and lack-of-skill-sets that the term itself is meaningless. You can have someone such as yourself, who has created successful podcasts AND done “real” video work and call him or her a SME. You can also have someone who sat in a session where you spoke at a conference, write down what you said, slap “SME” on their linkedin page and hit the bricks, peddling their wares to whomever will listen. 🙂

      It’s not like being a doctor, which indicates that you went through a certain amount of training to become certified or accredited. Without a barrier for entry to becoming a “Social Media Expert”, the term itself can’t mean anything at all.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jon. I’m going to read your article a little later. 🙂

      It’s funny that you mention “Life Coaches”. It’s basically the same thing. It’s people that help you get from A to B, because you’re unable to get there yourself. The important point that I hope I’m getting across is that I’m not knocking the entire industry… I’m knocking the fact that you can have only 10% knowledge (let’s say) of Social Media and call yourself a SME, and someone else can have 80% “knowledge of SM”, and they’re a SME also. How do you know which one you’re doing business with?

      There are a lot of people with just A LITTLE BIT of knowledge of SM who are getting paid to tell companies what to do. I’m not knocking their hustle, but when that company needs to shift gears and go from 20% to 50%, that person’s going to have to tap dance a lot faster or produce a lot more snake oil. Meanwhile, if they had hired someone more advanced in the field, they would still be within his or her comfort zone as far as understanding and excellent ideas for progress.

      It’s like when I see these SLOPPY-LOOKING people that are somehow accredited as Fitness Trainers. It’s like, um… YOU CAN’T EVEN TRAIN YOURSELF!!! WHY IN THE WORLD SHOULD SOMEONE ELSE LET YOU TRAIN THEM? 😀 But the thing is, as long as they pass the test, it doesn’t matter. There’s not even a TEST to become a SME. You just DECIDE you’re one, and that’s it.

  5. Bill, I absolutely loved this quote:

    All of which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans… EXCEPT for the fact that through my trial and error, I’ve amassed knowledge that you don’t have.”

    Which make me think that SME isn’t a title….it’s a part of the resume. Specifically, “Social Media Experience:” Bill’s explanation of SME being a relative term is so critical to understanding the backlash against the term. But there is a demand-driven reason for all these “Experts”…businesses recognize opportunity and are willing to pay for knowledge that can improve profits.

    Additionally, I think the backlash is because the Social Media Community (redundant) is more insular than we like to think. I like to believe I’ve made all these diverse connections over the world…but all of the experts, wanna-bes, and seasoned professionals are all connected to each other. Here are six thoughts from a post I wrote on why there are so many social media _____(Insert title).

    1 – Your network isn’t as diverse as you think
    2 – Social Media Is Fun
    3 – Easier to Use Technology
    4 – Businesses Like Making Money
    5 – Businesses Don’t Possess the Necessary Skills
    6 – Experts Make More Money Than Noobs

    Most importantly…let’s embrace this trend! This rush to “expertise” isn’t a bad thing….technology gets better when there is an economic incentive for businesses to adopt them.

    1. Thanks Ben. Cheers! 😀

      I can definitely go for your explanation of SME being part of a skillset as opposed to an actual title… Something that adds value to whatever else you happen to do, whether that’s marketing, video editing, whatever.

      I met a woman last night who didn’t know what tagging was. When I explained it to her, she said something about tagging her page, but that her page had different articles on it. I informed her that what she perceives as a page is a linked list of permalinked posts. After that, she understood that each particular POST needs to have it’s own set of relevant tags.

      To HER… I’m a Social Media Expert. My understanding is far enough ahead of hers right now that her company would benefit from taking my advice instead of trying to figure things out themselves. To me, someone who knows the ins and outs of CSS is a SME. Ultimately, it all comes down to whether the person offering the services is HELPING their client move forward faster than they would have without them, or whether they’re just spinning their wheels and wasting the client’s time and money.

      Thanks for the comment, Ben.

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