Social Media Street Cred

Mitch Joel recently posted on his Six Pixels of Separation blog a discussion starter on the role of lived experience in social media work (my words, not his). Mitch writes:

There have been many Blog posts and debates about the notion of “walking the talk” when it comes to Social Media. A thought like, “do you need thousands of followers on Twitter to speak to the business benefits of being on Twitter?” The answer is “no,” you do not need thousands of followers, but you do need to show up, be active and be engaged with the channels to really know what they are, how they work and – most importantly – how to teach them to others.

He makes a case for why social media requires some sort of street cred, which is earned by showing up and being in the spaces that one wishes to talk about. I couldn’t agree more.

He goes on to say:

The amazing thing (and the scary thing) about Social Media is that it’s evident (through those simple searches) if someone understands the channels and how they work. The amazing thing (and the scary thing) about Social Media is that it’s not a numbers game – you can get a general gist of someone’s competencies by their level and quality of activity. The amazing thing (and the scary thing) about Social Media is that you can’t fake it. In the old days, you could say, “I’ve spent a decade in the Marketing industry,” and it was a tough claim to disprove. That was the world of “too many secrets.” Now, can you really claim to teach a course on how to successfully leverage these channels when it’s clear that you have failed to engage in almost all of them? The default excuse may be that you don’t have time for them, yourself, because you’re too busy successfully doing it for clients… but I don’t buy it. Social Media is highly personal and it’s hard (very hard) to do it well and, if you’re not neck deep in it, yourself, it’s even harder to be successful doing it for others.

My concern is that it is too easy to be well-read in social media, but not nearly as easy as implementing a social media strategy. Just look at the panoply of voices out there in the social media landscape who are trying to advance their careers as “experts” in the field. Simply knowing about social media, reading reports from places like Pew Internet & American Life project, or the many social media books out there, is not the same as knowing it.

As one who has spent a lot of time in the social mediasphere as an academic researcher and designer, I am fascinated by the way that the theory and the practice of social media dance and fight. Indeed, much of the nuts and bolts of social media is pretty simple. Twitter, for example, is ridiculously easy to use, yet remarkably difficult to practice. Like most other technologies, there is a gap between the potential of a medium or tool and the way that it actually gets used in practice by normal people, people who are not me (the social media advocate).

Yet, espousing the potential of social media to change the game (or not) by pointing to the numbers of users and the widespread use of the tools of social media (e.g., cellphone ownership etc..) is not the same as using those tools effectively to advance a message, promote change, encourage dialogue, and learn.

Perhaps as social media folk, we might want to turn some of the marketing strategies we employ with others on to ourselves to see how we might better inform the public about the possibilities of social media and what kind of talk that they need to see walked before enlisting that next social media “expert”.

1 thought on “Social Media Street Cred”

  1. Cameron:

    Thanks for this. As someone who has floundered around Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and our own web site for over a year now, I wouldn’t dream of trying to tell anyone what to do or how to do it, because I still feel utterly clueless myself. I’m thinking about trading my year-old (and now a creaking antique) T-mobile G1 for a spanking new G2, but I still haven’t given FourSquare a test drive, and then there’s Tumblr, Flickr, 1,001 third-party Twitter apps, keeping up with Facebook’s upgrades, etc., etc.

    I’m thoroughly on board with the notion that anyone who touts themselves as a social media expert is full of it.

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