no gurus: we are all social media students.

Perhaps no term draws greater disdain from web communication practitioners than the phrase social media guru. It’s vain, it’s pretentious, it’s arrogant … and, if you use it to describe yourself, it’s almost certainly wrong.

Social media is an ever-evolving landscape. New platforms, apps and communities appear all the time. Best practices are established, demolished and reshaped. And Facebook is bound to change everything it does at any moment. At best, we are all social media students — paying attention, comparing notes with colleagues and realizing this field requires non-stop learning.

By all means, seek out experts among those who have tried (and failed) things in social media. And seek out classmates — those traveling this field’s fascinating learning curve and studying it together. Twitter is a never-ending classroom where even the most seasoned can learn something from novices who express great ideas or insights. Even with my geosocial presentation last month at PSEWEB and later this week (!) at SUNYCUAD, I expect to learn from my audience, just as I learn by attending any presentation.

So if someone says they know everything about social media, then they know nothing about social media. But if we admit we are still learning social media, anything is possible.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “no gurus: we are all social media students.

  1. Erin D.

    Tim, I actually said the exact same thing in the cover letter that wound up landing me this job – social media coordinator for a private college in mass. Funny to see if almost verbatim from you! It’s good to see others have the same view. We all need to keep an eye on this ever-changing landscape and learn as we go (and from our peers).

  2. Gurus, ninjas, sherpas, etc., ..folks who give themselves these titles may be good communicators, but they are horrible at establishing a brand that feels “real.”

    Nice post. We are all still learning.

  3. Gemma

    Yes! You make an excellent point that’s also reassuring to us who work in the social media arena. Realizing that there’s no pressure to know everything and that we’re all still learning makes the job much more enjoyable. Thanks!

  4. Tim Nekritz

    ERIN: I’d be thrilled if this mindset would indeed supplant the idea of rushing out to a snake oil salesman. It’s a shame some folks are more interested in buzzword-spouting quick fixes. But glad it worked for you, and congratulations!

    ERIC: I was so tempted to mention ninjas! And as for sherpas, I think that diminishes a truly awe-inspiring profession. There’s a big difference between overbilling to run some sucker’s Facebook page/Twitter account and helping someone climb Mount Everest. I mean: It’s Mount Frickin’ Everest! Thus I hold true sherpas in high regard!

    GEMMA: Indeed, I tend to think that learning social media as we do it is much of the fun! Every day brings fresh opportunities to learn.

  5. Great post! I agree… gurus is such an overused over-inflated term. Plus, while we all compare notes and keep learning, you have to keep in mind that what works for one social media account may not work for others not matter how similar the audience may be. You have to find what works for your own audience and your own organization.

  6. Tim Nekritz

    TRAVIS: That’s an excellent point. And what works for any given college may not work at another, since Harvard is not the American Culinary Institute, which is not SUNY Oswego, which is not Cayuga Community College. Audiences and affinities differ wildly, as should tools and tactics. Thanks!

  7. Can I get an amen?

    Yes, yes, and yes. I hate when I come across those titles online; it’s so incredibly pretentious. Travis hit the nail on the head: every approach to using social media should be fine-tuned according to each school’s personality and demographics, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach… that’s one of the first things I tell someone who’s looking to start up a Facebook Page or Twitter account. It takes work, it’s not magic, and you need to know your audience.

    Not to mention, the addition of an ‘expert’ title adds an unnecessary hierarchy to our professional lives; some have more knowledge to share, some have more to learn – but in the end, any contribution to the SM conversation adds value.

    (Does the fact that I’ve yet to encounter a social media sherpa make me out of the loop?)

  8. I like to think of us as practitioners. Like doctors, we practices our craft. When you find someone who is no longer “practicing,” then they no longer work in social media just like if you find a doctor who is no longer practicing they are no longer working in medicine.

  9. The problem with social media is that it is changing so quickly, what you find are people who are ‘able’ with the many tool of their trade but expert at none of them. They are rivers wide, not deep. Finding someone with deep talent in one social or programming technology also seems to go hand in hand with finding someone reluctant to keep changing with technology.

    While I can’t say we’ve been successful at it (yet), our model is to simply find people with the same enthusiasm, risk tolerance, and willingness to learn that we have. Group-think and camaraderie fixes and smooths out the inevitable blemishes. No gurus, just lots of effort.

  10. Tim Nekritz

    COURTNEY: To paraphrase science historian James Burke (as I am wont to do), for many generations society has tried to position science or the arts (cf. Richard Florida’s “creative class”) as mystical fields requiring specific skillsets or backgrounds to make them appear “elite” and create hierarchies that discourage others from participating. Instead, we should encourage anyone that they can become a scientist or an artist, if not for a living at least as a hobby, to spread around the opportunities for innovation. Similarly, it behooves the “social media gurus” to make social media look like a science, art or specialized skill that only only a few master. It’s total hogwash. And if you’ve never encountered a “social media sherpa,” consider yourself fortunate.

    LANE: I like that analogy! Get busy living social media or get busy dying? OK, an overstatement, but those who are not progressing are standing still … in social media or any field of experience, really.

  11. Tim Nekritz

    DANIEL: I like that you mentioned “enthusiasm, risk tolerance and willingness to learn” as key traits. I’ll bet on passionate people willing to take the occasional calculated chance and ready to always learn any time!

  12. Amen. And on a related note, I’ve dug this article out of my bookmarks four or five times in the last two weeks and shared it with people, including someone on our campus who referred to me as a social media expert. http://www.businessinsider.com/why-i-will-never-ever-hire-a-social-media-expert-2011-5

    I detest the terms social media expert/guru/etc. Thanks to you, I have a new term to use: social media student🙂

  13. Tim Nekritz

    ROB: Thanks! I’ve noticed the sentiment is quite common, and happy to see it’s widely shared. If more people did pick up “student” as the title of choice, that would be great.

  14. Pingback: Declaration: After 10 years in higher ed, I’m still a novice

  15. Pingback: on ‘experts’ and arrogance. | InsideTimsHead

  16. Pingback: El Social Media Guru. Una Fauna Amenazante |

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