Lead or Follow. But Don’t Call Yourself An Expert.

I have nothing against the professionals who are knowledgeable in their own respective fields. Really. What I think would be in poor taste is for people in rather new fields to call themselves “experts”. For marketers, when we’re trying to get into a particular industry and reach out to the masses, we’re looking for people who can help lead us in the right direction. They don’t have to be experts, just pretty knowledgeable in what they’re talking about. Often times we’re not given that measure of respect.

What is an expert?

I’d probably define it as being someone who would thinks that he/she is the know-it-all when it comes to the industry, but may or may not know all that there is. Perhaps termed as a snake-oil-salesman? If you are as good as you say you are, then you don’t need that nomenclature in your title to justify it, right?

I’m a social media strategist at Stage Two Consulting. I hate being referred to as a a social media expert. Why? Because while I can hold my own and know some of the latest technology to reach out to influencers and consumers, I’d rather not have that high expectation of being considered an expert and possibly setting the bar that high.

In a recent Ad Age article, Tom Martin makes a good point about how not to hire an expert. Instead, you should focus on trying to find an explorer. Why an explorer? It’s because an explorer is always looking for new stuff to learn. With an expert, you assume that that person knows everything already. Interesting points from Martin:

You only become an expert by doing something repeatedly and to a point where you’ve learned all there is to learn, and thus are crowned an expert. But the problem with experts is that they can only really tell you how it has always been done.

See what I mean? It makes sense…you’re an expert so you’re going to be doing things the only way you’ve perfected over the course of time. An explorer seems to be someone who would be willing to adapt to the situation and grow with it at every point. But it seems that people seem comfortable with hiring someone with the word “expert” in their title. Is it because of a sense of security? A guarantee of some sort? Such is the naivety of companies to think that simply be suggesting Twitter or perhaps creating a Facebook page is enough. In fact, you want someone to think more of a objective and how to accomplish that from the 50,000 ft level rather than just tactical. The explorer would be more willing to grow and accept suggestions and feedback to help evolve their strategy in the next iteration.

Explorers are a rare breed because explorers are not afraid to fail.

I think that Martin makes a good point. No one expects someone to be perfect 100% of the time. Yes, you know that people will fail, campaigns won’t succeed, or that something will go wrong. Get over it. Focus on doing your best and learning from your past mistakes and do a better job the next time. You’re only human, but keep in mind that you’re going to have to try and do your best to avoid screwing with the business objectives of your client and the employees that work there. If it doesn’t succeed, learn from what you did and establish what you could do better next time.

If you’re a marketer and you want to find a resource or talent to help you out – I would advise trying to put in the RFP or in your request a need for an “expert”. Instead, talk to the team or individual and ask them questions to see how they have evolved from one campaign to another and what other brand new ideas they may have to help solve your dilemma. The ones that continuously drop the phrases “social media expert” “website guru” “search engine optimization expert” or even technologies like “Twitter”, “YouTube” or “Facebook” may not be suitable for your program. Skip over them and see find the next person whose focus isn’t on the name-dropping, but on the technologies at hand.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."