“How do you become a social media expert?”
That was one of the questions I was asked when I was in Lincoln, Neb., last week.
I was speaking to several students at UNL, and while I didn’t get a chance to speak to each of them one-on-one, I could tell that they are serious about being the best professional communicators they can be (this was at the College of Journalism & Mass Communications).
I paused, and threw a question back at them. “How many of you think you’re social media experts?” I asked.
After all, these are digital natives, many of whom have never seen a typewriter, and who live in an “appy” world. So I figured it was a fair question.
Out of the 30-40 young people (and a few faculty members) present, three raised their hands. One a little diffidently, two very confidently.
“What makes you a social media expert?” I asked.
I wasn’t trying to be mean.
But if you’re going to tell me you’re an expert at anything, you should be able to tell me why, right?
What I heard from them was essentially that they use social media actively, perhaps more than their peers. They try new things. So they consider themselves experts.
Here’s the thing: there is, I believe, a huge difference between “developing expertise” and “being an expert.”
Expertise is what you and I are developing every day.
For you, it might be creating a way for businesses (and people) to use Facebook more efficiently, that is also fun. Say, what the Post Planner folk are doing.
It might be continuing to learn as much as you can about being an expat, and coaching others on how to live a successful and satisfying expat lifestyle.
For me, it’s continuing to hone my craft of public relations, which includes learning as much as I can about social media, networks and how new technologies impact the way we communicate with each other. And then putting what I learn into practice, not just for myself, but for my clients.
Expertise is a journey. It possibly has a defined starting point – the day, minute, moment you knew this was what you wanted to learn more about and make your life’s work. But it doesn’t have an end point.
Whether or not one should call one’s self an expert has been debated several times over the past few years, particularly when it comes to “social media experts.” It seems to be one of those topics that comes around every now and again (and yes, I get the irony of my noting that in this post).
To me, though, “being an expert” is a completely different thing. An expert is defined not by one’s opinion of himself or herself, but by the opinions and perceptions of others.
You are considered an expert when you know more about your industry and business than the majority of your peers do.
You are considered an expert when people start turning to you for advice.
Simply having an opinion, and/or voicing it extremely loudly, doesn’t make you an expert.
See where I’m going?
You can call yourself an expert when you know every little nitty-gritty thing about how your industry works… and yes, that means knowing why it’s important for the nuts and bolts to be screwed in at precisely 87 degrees and not 91, and there is absolutely nothing left for you to learn.
And, frankly, that’s an unlikely state of affairs, isn’t it?
Developing expertise is a good thing. It’s what we should all be trying to do, day in and day out. We should be trying new things, learning what works and what doesn’t. Not everything will work every time, and that’s ok.
But “becoming experts” – that’s not what our new professionals should be focusing on, and neither should we.
Let’s just focus on learning and doing good work. And then, if people start to call us experts, we can be grateful. But it’s not something we should demand, or expect. And if we have enough expertise in our areas, we’ll know that.
That’s the difference between “expert” and “expertise.”
At least, that’s my opinion. What’s yours? Please share, I’d love to know.
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[…] I do think is that perceptions… fueled by expectations… can and will lead to a fascinating assortment of public relations […]
Love the distinction you have made to the two terms!
You must be feeling 100% to be so right on! Good for you!
@ExpatDoctorMom … or my surgery warped my brain along with the ovary, LOL.
[…] The Difference Between Experts and ExpertiseHow do you become a social media expert? I'm not sure you do. … “How many of you think you're social media experts?” I asked. After all, these are digital …www.waxingunlyrical.com/…/the-difference-between-experts-… […]
[…] Differences Between Experts and Expertise (by @Shonali): […]
I’m not a web expert but a web explorer. It changes every day and it’s impossible to keep up with every new piece of software and application update. But if someone has an educational certificate claiming expertise in this or that web, who’s to say that person is any less of an expert than claimed?
@Ari Herzog To me a certificate is about credentialing, which indicates proficiency assuming one believes the credentialing authority is qualified to bestow said acknowledgement of proficiency. For example, I am accredited in business communication through IABC and have a certificate that says so. That means that a panel of my peers has evaluated my communication skills and decided that I at least meet (their, i.e. IABC’s) standards for professionalism in communication. But it doesn’t mean that a professional communicator without that credential is any less qualified than I am, and it will also make a difference only to those who regard IABC’s accreditation program as a standard… see what I mean?
@tsteenbeke Good for you. :) @joey_strawn Thanks, buddy!
@martylward @lindseymgrant @makbirch @allenmireles @click3x Thank you for sharing my post!
[…] her Waxing Unlyrical blog for the first time, I was immediately struck by her recent post “The Difference Between Experts and Expertise,” which discusses how the goal of becoming an expert may not be what we should be aiming […]
…and that’s exactly why I think too many people are abusing word ‘expert’
Thank you so much for the post.
@KlaudiaJurewicz Thank you for reading and commenting!
Social Media is an interesting environment. I am often overwhelmed by all the stuff I’ve never heard of or tried. (I still can’t figure out tribr sp?) I thought I was pretty good at it, and launched my first novel with a solid plan. I asked some of my Twitter friends like Gini and Shonali to give me a tweet and they did. I sold 100 copies (mostly Kindle and Nook) and it changed my perspective. I felt like a novice. Then I started reading about how other people have done, selling 4 or 35 or 50, and 100 seemed pretty good.
So I guess I have learned some stuff, but am not quite done. Of course, if I ever do get close to knowing it all, the clever people will just make more.
@ExtremelyAvg Triberr. T-R-I-B-E-R-R. :p
Everything needs perspective, doesn’t it? So based on what you’ve seen are other people’s experiences, I tip my hat to you for selling 100 books.
Of course you’ve learned stuff, we all have. But we’ve got to keep learning, because the day we think we know it all… we’re done.
Social Media is an interesting environment. I am often overwhelmed by all the stuff I’ve never heard of or tried. (I still can’t figure out tribr sp?) I thought I was pretty good at it, and launched my first novel with a solid plan. I asked some of my Twitter friends like Gini and Shonali to give me a tweet and they did. I sold 100 copies (mostly Kindle and Nook) and it changed my perspective. I know felt like a novice. Then I started reading about how other people have done, selling 4 or 35 or 50, and 100 seemed pretty good.
So I guess I have learned some stuff, but am not quite done. Of course, if I ever do get close to knowing it all, the clever people will just make more.
What you have touched on is a reality in a lot of industries but, in Social media, it impacts us – because we work in the industry. We perceive those who call themselves Experts as fake and overstating their abilities.
Really, the worst feeling comes when you know people in the business world and see them self-appoint themselves as Expert. You know they are NOT.
I think, social media being such a new industry, expertise develops as you go. I much prefer the term “practitioner”.
My 2 cents :)
@karimacatherine I like “practitioner” too, or “professional.” To me that indicates that we do this for a living, so we work at it. I also think one of the keys is making mistakes and having the courage to admit that when it happens. I have so much more respect for people when they say, you know what, I F’d up, and I’m sorry. Don’t you think?
Several folks have likely already said this but I just can’t imagine ever being an expert. I’ve been practicing public relations for 31 years now — yep…now you know I’m “old” — but there has never been a time I’m comfortable being called and expert. Every day there is more to learn and even more to stretch my brain.
As a result, it really does bother me when someone — and I’ll admit it’s especially annoying when it’s a young person — tells me they know more than I do and they are they expert. Ummmm…probably not. Experts, in my opinion, aren’t those who can tweet, Facebook, write a press release — or even write a plan. They are those, like Steve Jobs, who understand their craft so fully that they live and breath it.
Heading out tonight to see many of you in Orlando at PRSA and my reading list is huge! I’m hoping the plane ride is long enough for me to get through what’s there as I always learn so much from all of you. The relationships we have and the information we share is what helps us all to gain the expertise to practice our craft in an extremely proficient manner.
@mdbarber You’re not “old,” you’re just better. :p That’s one of the reasons I love attending #prsaicon, I not only get to meet so many of my friends but I learn so much from what other people are doing. Safe flight, my friend!
@Shonali it’s the learning that can NEVER. Stop, in my opinion. Made it safely. The hotel is beautiful.
You can call yourself an expert when you’ve spent 10,000 hours honing your craft. Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell.
@ginidietrich And thank you, Ms. Jean Genie. :)
So, that whole talking louder thing wasn’t working too well? I just thought maybe they weren’t listening good enough when I was telling them I AM a social media expert.
Hopefully we all continue to develop our expertise and never get to the point where we think we know it all. The only person who really knows it all is skypulsemedia but he is very humble and would never try to throw something like that in your face.
Your analogy was perfect; as soon as you call yourself the expert I don’t put much credence in it. However, if this is how your peers describe you I might take notice. Therefore, I guess I will remove it from my business card now…………
Count down is on; see you Monday.
@bdorman264 I am SO excited to see you, ginidietrich adamtoporek mdbarber dc2fla and so many more! As for skypulsemedia , dude needs to switch over to WordPress pronto. That is all.
Btw, Bill, I know better than to believe that business card nonsense. Ha!
@Shonali@bdorman264ginidietrichmdbarberdc2flaskypulsemedia Looking forward to it as well!
@Shonali@bdorman264ginidietrichadamtoporekdc2flaskypulsemedia All these people I know online and will be meeting soon. Going to be a busy few days!
@bdorman264skypulsemedia I like the “soon as you call yourself” standard. Old quote from President Truman’s (best of my memory)… “I don’t put much stock in experts, as an expert is someone who doesn’t want to learn anything new because they won’t be an expert anymore.” For some reason, that one has always stuck with me.
I won’t discount someone who calls themself an expert, but as @Shonali points out — experts are defined by others, not themselves.
@adamtoporek Love that quote! @bdorman264 skypulsemedia
@johnfalchetto @kmueller62 @shakirahdawud @deliberateink @prcog @OffThe_Record @bdorman264 @ericamallison Thank you for sharing!
Do we really ever reach a place where there is nothing left to learn. I sure hope not.
@TheJackB Never! There’s ALWAYS something left to learn:)
@KDillabough@TheJackB Me too. The day I stop learning is the day y’all will be singing at my funeral (so you better master “Dancing Queen,” btw).
@Shonali@KDillabough Would it be rude to change it to The Winner Takes It All. ;)
@TheJackB You’d do that to a dead woman?@KDillabough
@Shonali@KDillabough I am mean like that- comes with my Taurus nature.
@Shonali@KDillabough You are dealing with a Taurus and that is no bull.
@TheJackB I think that definitely deserves a ROFL. Taurus, eh? I’m Capricorn. So we’re both “earth signs.” Figures. @KDillabough
@TheJackB If we do, it is but a moment before someone will make more. That is why I love the internet and think that there is a very good chance it will catch on.
@ExtremelyAvg You don’t say. :p @TheJackB
@ExtremelyAvg I hear in some places they have increased their dial up to almost 28 baud.
I love how you define the difference between “expert” and “expertise”. I never thought about it like that but it’s very true. My favorite quote “Expertise is a journey. It possibly has a defined starting point – the day, minute, moment you knew this was what you wanted to learn more about and make your life’s work. But it doesn’t have an end point.” I may just use this ;)
@rachaelseda Use away, my dear! And thank you for stopping by when I, of all people, know how busy you are. That’s the kind of thing that makes an expert. :)
Huge difference and you are right to call this out. I cringe when I am introduced as the Expat expert.
I understand it’s easier to label people to introduce them and in the age of personal branding everyone wants to have a great title.
But expert/ninja/guru really kills the perception of expertise in my book. You are right that as long as it’s others who use the label it’s great although embarasing.
What’s worst is when people use the same label to describe themselves.
Great to read you again Shonali :)
@John Falchetto I have to say that “expat expert” has a nice ring to it, though. :p The thing is, John, you have developed a certain level of expertise, and people recognize that. So they are showing that recognition, and even though it’s embarrassing for you (it is for me too), it’s peer-driven. That’s the key, for me.
And thank you for the welcome back! Before you know it, I’ll be kicking your bootcamp butt. :p
“Expertise” is what you can say you have. “Expert” is what other people will call you if you do your job right.
@sarahmorgan Excellent distinction that ties into this great post:)
i relate so much to this Shonali. I come from a sales background. I have been teaching myself Twitter and social media by reading, observing and asking question. Now I learn by doing with my blog.
At my old job, my bosses insisted that they were “social media experts” I am not making this up! One Friday night, as I am headed out to dinner with my son and my boyfriend, my cell goes off. It is one of the “experts” and he wants to know the “password” for the company Facebook page. I explained that there is no password, and that for the IT workers to make changes to the page they would have to be admins!
I laughed hysterically all through dinner. Experts. Yeah, not so much. I claim to have basic knowledge, and can help someone who needs the basics to get started but I am no expert.
@NancyD68 OMG, that made me laugh SO hard, thank you for sharing the story! ANd also for the kind comment. I think learning by doing is the best way. I was just talking about this earlier today with some (very smart) people. So many times I hear, “How do I…?” Well, first, you Google it. Then, you try it. Then, you see what works and what didn’t. Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe sometimes you’ll have to change the shampoo or conditioner, but that’s par for the course.
@NancyD68 That was hilarious. Happened to me a couple of times as well.
not much to say aside from “Amen!”
@KenMueller Ditto that:)
@KDillabough@KenMueller Are we all going to start singing now? “A-a-a-men.” (doosh doosh doosh) “A-a-a-men.” (doosh doosh doosh)… :p
@Shonali@KenMueller I’m singin’ along right now:)
Love the distinctions you offer here, Shonali. I particularly like the distinction between becoming an expert and developing our expertise. I most definitely fall into the latter camp and have no desire to become an expert. How could you possibly be an expert in this field anyway? Just when you have it ‘mastered’, things change overnight. There’s a constant thirst for learning and knowledge and for me, putting all of that knowledge to good use and demonstrated results. That’s what I care about. Perhaps it should be competency or highly skilled that we’re going for, not expert status.
@EricaAllison That’s what I was thinking. I mean, someone like leeodden – he IS an expert, because he knows the ins and outs of SEO, how that ties into PR, etc. But when you meet him, he is just the nicest person without a whiff of arrogance. To me, that’s a real expert.
I’m only nice around you @Shonali :). Great post BTW, I’m a big fan of the journey.
@leeodden Oh, Lee, I think you’re nice around a LOT of people. That’s what makes you so amazing, not just in my eyes but in those of so many others.
Great post Shonali. I think that this will be very helpful for me this week. I’m on a panel speaking about social media for our local chamber of commerce. I’m far from being an expert and this will help me to explain the difference. So great to have you back!
@BestRoofer Thank you! You know, I was wondering if I was overdoing it with this post, but then I figured, if it’s been percolating inside me for a while, I need to let it out. And I’m glad I did. Good luck with your speaking gig; and if you’d like to write a guest post for me, just say the word!