Are "Social Media Experts" the old black?

John Sumser's daily roundup linked to Louis Gray's "Social media experts are the new webmasters" post with which I disagree on just about everything except the punctuation.

I won't argue that the title of "webmaster" carries a tinge of the information-age equivalent of a locomotive fireman, but unlike that example, it's not because the work has disappeared. Most webmasters in their heyday were copywriters or graphic designers with above-average IT skills, or application developers or sysadmins with above-average copywriting/graphic design skills. A graphic designer who doesn't mind a little code and a coder who doesn't mind a little graphic design are still in enormous demand, we just don't call them "webmasters" anymore. And the number of marketing professionals whose day is spent entirely in web-land is probably far greater today than the number of full-time webmasters circa 1998.

As for Gray's charge that to put "social media expert" on your LinkedIn page is like calling oneself an "email expert" or a "telephone expert," I can only say he is undone by his own argument. There are dozens if not hundreds of consultancies and training firms who bill millions of dollars of work helping companies to use the phone, web, and email more effectively, or in the case of someone like Maureen Sharib, to do the ditch-digging for them.

Most importantly though, there is a flippancy to Gray's argument--call it the 'it's just a blog post' fallacy--which I find to be highly questionable. Decades into the life of modern marketing--radio, daily papers, TV, telemarketing, direct mail--these continue to be distinct channels in which many individuals and even entire firms specialize. To think that "social media," which itself is an umbrella term covering a half-dozen or more distinct categories, will not benefit from, indeed demand, a similar level of seriousness, is tantamount to saying that social media are in fact not particularly new or special.

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Comment by Joshua Letourneau on July 17, 2008 at 5:07pm
Collin, good debate and strong case. If I may add, let me toss out there that there is another major distinction:

a. In the late 1990s', content management systems hadn't really come into their own. I mean, after all, html was the baby of the day.
b. Most webmasters in the late 1990s' could, as you say, write some html and likely had some experience with WSIWYG editors like Dreamweaver, etc. Some could do some Fireworks things, and some even knew a little javascript to boot.

The difference is that the title of "webmaster" in the 1990s' pointed mainly to technical ability . .. while "social media masters" today don't have that dilemma. The tech component is largely taken care of (for example, by Ning in the case of RBC.)

So the "social media master" is more a marketer/market psychologist (who is able to manipulate existing widget/technology more than create it) than a jack-of-all-trades techie.

Oddly, Colin, there is a dichotomy to my argument. See, I agree with you on one hand . . . and then on the other, I agree with Louis that there are "social media masters" appearing all over the place.

There is one major acid test for me, and it hasn't failed me yet: If someone claims to be a social media expert, show me the networks and communities you've created. And I don't mean a 4 person Ning group; I mean a living, breathing community like RBC . . . full of sneezers, thinkers, doers, and village idiots as some like to put it.

There are many "studies" out there - people observing best practices, but nothing more . . . until you camo up and hit the beach, you're not an expert yet. You're a fan. :)


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