On (not) being a social media guru

I keep fighting the same battle. On Quora and Klout, I keep getting asked to establish my bonafides as a social media expert. I keep telling the algorithms at those sites that I’m not an expert. They don’t seem to believe me.

Oddly, over the last few years, I’ve become reasonably adept at understanding how to use social media for the things I need it to do. Sometimes this has been for my own personal entertainment, other times for raising awareness of activities, from the kidical mass bicycle rides that we do here in Saskatoon to political campaigns in which I’ve participated. During this time, many people, most of them well-meaning, have labeled me as a social media expert or guru. I have a lot of trouble with this for a few reasons.

First, I think that social media is useless on its own as a tool for accomplishing tasks. If you actually want to accomplish something, social media is just a tool for helping to get it to happen. If you’re running a restaurant, you still need to get people through the door and to pay for dinner.  If you’re running a campaign, you still need them to vote. If you’re raising awareness for a cause, you still need people to perform some end action that results in visible buy-in to your cause. Social media can help, but it needs to be coupled with something else. (I’ll talk about that “something else” in a minute.)

Second, the field of social media experts is very crowded with people who are either very narrow experts, fly-by-night specialists, or genuine experts whose understanding of social media dwarfs my own. I don’t really fit into any of those categories.

I prefer to think of myself as a process expert. Someone who has been trained to understand how to solve problems. It turns out that for the kinds of problems I’m trying to understand how to solve, social media is a very valuable tool because it provides data that is hard to get in other ways. In particular, it can provide information about connections between people combined with their interests and activities. This is a rich data set that can be manipulated as a tool for solving a wide variety of fascinating and difficult problems.

This is where the something else comes in. Social media can be one of the tools you use to get people out to vote, for instance, but finding out relationships between people and using those codified and identified confluences of interests and social circles to encourage people to reach out to each other in ways they might not have previously. In other words, by knowing more about people you can make sure that when you ask them to do something, the message comes from someone close to them and is framed appropriately. Evidence suggests that this is a much more effective way of convincing people to perform actions than by bombarding them with (even micro-targeted) advertizing. The something else, in this case, is getting someone to knock on a door and talk about voting.

This is just one example of how social media needs something else to get things done. It’s also a good example of why I’m not an expert in getting people out to vote any more than I am an expert on social media. Instead, I try to work on understanding processes, and how those processes can be changed or influenced to solve hard problems. 

So please don’t call me a social media expert, Klout. Save it for people who are.

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