Today, we got a new reason to panic about social media. According to sources, the snake oil salesmen are swarming like locusts. As Mashable reported, there are now a whopping 15,740 people on Twitter calling themselves a social media expert, guru, consultant, or other such title. The post cites broadstuff, which claims to have calculated that Twitter will be made up almost entirely of social media experts by 2012. The number is derived from a growth rate of 3.5x every six months--thus, 30 million in the next three years. Attention getting stuff, and I have no doubt this post will be retweeted hundreds of times.
OK, enough of that. Let's get real.
Reality check #1: The geometrical progression model is not the proper one to use in this case. Any statistician worth her or his salt will tell you that. This is because we're in a particularly intense time in which social media is spreading like wildfire. As I've pointed out in an earlier post, we are in the center of what Gartner calls the "hype cycle." The hype will die down well before we get to 30 million, believe me.
Reality check #2: There is a real demand, and need for social media expertise. Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang writes in Forbes that companies tightening their belts in the recession began to recognize the power of social media. "Social marketing promises lower costs and bigger returns."
As social media observer and consultant Louis Gray points out in his recent look-back post on 2009: "In 2009, the majority of businesses woke up to social media. While there are no doubt many holdouts, and even a bigger number doing a poor job, 2009 was the year that companies realized you could get business done on Facebook, Twitter and other networks." (Italics added for emphasis.)
Another way of looking at this--social media will be integrated into overall marketing and PR strategies in the coming year for a number of businesses. This is simply the new reality we're in, and some companies are legitimately concerned their approach may not be working. They are possibly getting slammed by customer complaints that spread out of control across the web. Or, they may not able to rise above the noise due to a lack of understanding of how to get noticed in the socially-networked community. This is a radical departure from traditional, "push" marketing, and many are realizing they could use an insider to show them the ropes for some period of time.
Reality check #3: Most companies aren't going to find their social media consultants by searching Twitter. Those consultants who have a real and valuable service to offer will (for the most part) float to the top--in fact, this is already happening. Their reputations will precede them; satisfied clients will refer them. Those who are all hot air will soon flutter off into the distance, in search of the next big thing. It was like this during the dot com boom in the late 1990s. Every company knew it needed a web site, and so for a period of time, everyone was calling themselves a web designer--even those whose "skills" consisted of an afternoon of training in MS FrontPage. This too shall pass.
Reality check #4: We're just getting started with this social media thing. In that sense, no one is an expert... yet. And as you might notice, those who have the most to offer are usually the ones who shy away from titles like "expert" and "guru." After all, it's only been in the past year that its true power and potential has become apparent. How could anyone have gained true expertise in such a short period of time?
Twitter became a part of mainstream conversation really just in the last year, with celebs like Oprah and Ellen jumping on the bandwagon, and major news sources setting up accounts. And as Louis Gray points out in the above-referenced post, "real-time ended up being the word of the year in 2009." Google and Bing are now offering real-time search, and for the most part, it's improving the quality of the results. But it's really just the beginning--and anyone who claims to know for certain what's next is NOT the person you want to hire as your consultant.
Reality check #5: Because we're all learning, there is fun and adventure to be had. Rapid change can be unsettling. Frightening, even. But the truth is that there is immense potential in social media--for making more money, doing more creative work, and (best of all) being oneself in a way that was never possible. Social media is a place where dreams really can come true. No need to worship a guru--false or not. Find your own path.
OK folks, back to your regularly scheduled fear-mongering programming...