The following LinkedIN  conversation is real, albeit edited, and the name has been changed to protect the ridiculous.

Kid’s email: I thought you might be interested in attending my free Social Media seminar next week. [Location, time, etc.]

JZ response: Thank you for the invitation. What will you be teaching?

Kid’s email: I am giving EXPERT [emphasis mine] advice on how to use social media tools to build your business. It is for beginners mostly.

JZ response: [Thinking: dude did you even read my profile before sending this?] Actually, I already write a blog about my adventures in PR, I have a twitter account that I use daily and I have been on FB for a while, so I will pass. Out of curiosity [because I looked at his LinkedIN profile and he works in banking!] what is your experience in social media?

Kid’s email: We built a website for my dad and he got a lot of new visitors to his site, so I am going to teach other business owners how to use social media to increase their sales.

JZ response: [After banging my head against the desk and moaning] I wish you all the best in your new venture. May I ask, who is the “we” that you mentioned?

Kid’s response: A couple of my friends are doing this with me.

JZ response: Really, do they work in marketing? [Meaning, please dear heaven above, let the friends be marketing majors because nothing on your professional LinkedIN profile shows that you have any relevant experience at all.]

Kid’s response: No, we just like to go online a lot so we want to make a business out of what we love to do.

JZ response: [Because who am I to knock down someone else’s dream, right?] That sounds very nice. Best of luck to you all.

On Monday morning in my LinkedIN feed his newly updated profile pops up introducing him as a SOCIAL MEDIA GURU AND ONLINE MARKETING EXPERT!

I almost fell out of my chair! I was distraught. Shocked! I thought, perhaps he didn’t understand what the words EXPERT and GURU mean? But it seems, upon further review of his profile, that he is, in fact, intent on presenting himself as THE source for social media expertise in Idaho.

That must have been one hell of a free beginning social media seminar!

I know, I am so mean, but seriously? What have we if not our professional code of honor? Ok, if that is too much to ask, how about at least a reality check, then?

I have worked in PR for 15 years, with a couple of years of pure marketing in the mix. I interned at a PR firm and was hired after my internship was successfully completed. I worked as an account coordinator with daily interaction under the leadership of experienced PR pros for over two years. I moved to in-house PR & Marketing at a then famous start-up, later taking a promotion with a well-known tech PR firm in Silicon Valley. I did freelance work (for which I was paid by real clients) for 9 years before even getting a real logo. [Coming soon!]

How did he become an EXPERT over the weekend, when it’s taken me this long to get to plain, old, boring “really good at what I do?” Clearly, I have set my goals too low. I will now begin to refer to myself as a PR Goddess!

There are so many people in social media that I respect, but these fly by night’s are going to ruin it for all of us.

I know I have said this before, but it takes more than a Twitter account to manage a brand or implement a strategic communications plan. After 15 years, I know that much, but don’t worry, I still promise not call myself an expert! I probably never will, because the day I am convinced that I know it all, is the day I become useless to my clients. Real experts, or at least the people that I think areleaders in communication today, are the ones who would never, ever refer to them selves as such because they are the first to admit they are still asking the important questions.

But, I am way better off than the self-proclaimed GURUS I keep meeting; they are already useless to their poor, unsuspecting clients. ~ Jules


3 Signs You May Be an Expert in your field:

  1. Your primary source of income is related to work that you do in within your area of expertise. If you bus tables or have a totally unrelated day job, you may be an Expert-In-Training.
  2. Other people (not related to you or charged with promoting you), who have some degree of knowledge within your area of expertise, refer to you as an expert.
  3. You do not have to announce that you are an expert because everyone already knows that you are.

21 thoughts on “There are no Social Media Experts! There are no PR Gurus!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jeremy. Yes, experience takes time – there is no crash course and there are just some things that cannot be taught via textbook or classroom. I have had to work through a few sticky situations and I am better because of it.

      I guess that means I am getting old because I now value those character building situations


  1. Consider it a sign of a maturing industry. In web development, we have to deal with the guys who say they’ll build you a website for $299, then proceed to destroy all good will towards our profession.

    Some professions have laws against this sort of thing (lawyers, engineers, doctors) but unfortunately we won’t see that in PR or web development. Just remember to smile and be helpful when clients come crawling away from some awful experience with these self-proclaimed gurus. Most importantly, and this is something I struggle with, resist the urge to say “I told you so.”

  2. Oh, yes, you are so right, Rex: that $500 website is STILL on my list!

    Smile: check
    Helpful: check
    Not saying “I told you so”…working on it!

    Thanks for visiting!

  3. Awesome post, and unfortunately a sign of the times….I’m in Johannesburg, South Africa and specialise in DigitalPR / social media strat. I’ve done my time in advertising, marketing and PR over the past 12 years, honed my skills and now choose to have my biz focus in the digital area.

    I was emailed to attend a ‘social networking’ seminar the other day; the speaker (expert) was someone I have never heard of (and we have a close community ‘down here’) and could not find on any social network. I replied and said ‘have you done your homework?’, in a polite way of course, and ‘who is the course facilitator?’. The response was ‘She’s a trained coaching professional.’ Oh yeah…ok? What?….and then I was sent the course outline again.

    It’s gonna keep on happening, your last 3 points are the key and will ultimately sort the quality folk from the fly by nights…..great post, thanks 🙂

    1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much! I am so glad you agree. I see PR as having a bit of an image crisis right now and this might be one reason why. If inexperienced people flood the market, then we have to work twice as hard to keep our credibility. I guess the best way to deal with it is hyper-support the great work so it continues to stand out above the rest.

      Thanks for being here.

  4. Preaching to the choir!!!! It is a great concern to me that this sort of thing is happening and how many people are being duped then dissappointed by people like this giving real professionals a bad name. I don’t call myself a ‘superstar’ or a ‘guru’. I call myself an experienced PR professional with knowledge gained by working at my craft every day combing old and new medias.

    1. I know, because of my grandmother I always say the phrase “preaching to the choir” too!

      But I want to preach to the audience because the people I hang out with (in real life or online) don’t need this info, but *those other people* apparently do.

      It’ll all be part of my PR Road Show someday!

      Thanks for the support.

  5. Loved the exchange Jules. Couldn’t agree more – if you need to tell someone you are an expert or a guru you probably are not. It is kind of like the personals section where everyone is attractive and funny. Based on what? According to whom?

    While I am against professional PR certification (although I’m starting to reconsider the idea) you are spot on when you say that PR is facing a bit of a crises due to the influx of self-proclaimed gurus. You don’t see medical gurus or legal gurus.

    Honestly though maybe the people who choose to hire a guru instead of a professional get what they deserve. PR professionals can prove their professional status with a resume and paycheck. Hell, even a crack dealer can prove he (or she) is a crack dealer. If you exchange crack for money you are a crack dealer. Does anyone call themselves a crack guru? But I digress.

    At the end of the day, I’m assuming this will all work itself out. The fly by night social media gurus (AKA kids with twitter accounts) claiming to offer a valuable service will be discredited as business focused social media efforts…
    1. Continue to mature
    2. Become better understood by the business community (show ROI) and
    3. Rightfully fall under the PR and communications function at the corporate level

    1. PR people and crack dealers in the same post…skipping to the next point now!

      First, do you mean to say all those attractive and funny people on those dating sites are lying!?! Shocking!

      I too am against professional PR certification but am also like you in that I am starting to reconsider the idea. Personally, I don’t need another test in my future, but if that’s what it takes to gain credibility as a professional and as an industry, then I would suffer through and study like a rock star.

      I think we see medical gurus, such as Dr. Oz, Andrew Weil, and Deepak Chopra, but again, they don’t introduce themselves as gurus. Although, I do believe all three deserve the term expert. Their PR people probably use the term, but it’s been earned.

      So as our profession continues to mature, I am pushing better understanding by the business community and eagerly awaiting for SM to rightfully fall under the PR and communications function at the corporate level.

      Can I get an amen?!

      ~ Jules

      1. HI Jules, Very interesting blog, I’d like to subscribe to it, shall I follow (where would the link be?) If not I”m following you by email subscription.
        Check my blog noted up there somewhere with this message. Let me know what you think ( by leaving me a comment). I am a photojournalist and that’s what my blog is about. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed at all.
        Keep up the good work!
        René ♪

  6. These are the posts on which a burgeoning, purple bus-wielding national PR empire is built. Oh wait…

    Those who’ve been following me on Twitter know I’ve decried the emergence of so-called “social media experts” since the inception of the phrase. Not sure if any or all of your followers are familiar with Ken Smith’s “Junk English”, Jules, but he rails against the commodification (indeed, I’m certain he’d rail against the word “commodification”) of language for deceptive or otherwise nefarious purposes. Similarly, when a medium or technology can birth “experts” with little more than their own say so as proof of their expertise, I question the provenance of said experts, the audiences supporting their claims of expertise and the collective wisdom underwriting their rapid ascent.

    As for accreditation, shouldn’t we as a community agree on a shared set of standards or practices before we start slapping APRs and IABCs on our business cards all willy-nilly? It’s been my experience that our individual and collective talent is what will open these doors (though I’m told purple leather-upholstered buses can work, too) irrespective of whether or not we over-alphabetize our collateral.

  7. I am smiling from ear to ear Benjamin because I simply love reading what you have to say. A post sprinkled with “purple bus-wielding national PR empire,” “nefarious,” and “willy-nilly” is practically perfect in every way.

    Honestly, most of the time I just worry about covering my own rear end, doing good work for clients and paying a couple bills, but once in a while I take a look at what is going on and I flip out (hence snarky post). I think we as a community do have a shared set of standards. At least MY community does. It’s the fringes that I worry about and I see it in large businesses as well as single person consultancies. Flash, charm, bank account, previous title or just plain nerve sometimes wins out over experience & results. It’s a big topic I am finding here in Boise (newly relocated). California was so much more competitive that you could call yourself whatever you wanted, people just didn’t fall for it. Proximity to LA-LA land increased most peoples’ BS-o-meter.

    My own peers in Boise have said that there is a lack of sophistication that leads to just about anyone being able to claim just about anything. I have only been here a few months, but I am starting to agree to a certain extent. Elsewhere, the issue seems to be cropping up, especially online.

    So I will be nice now and wish the world well and just try to become a better communicator by working hard and trying to learn from those that I respect.

    Off to put a hold on Ken Smith’s “Junk English” at the local library.

    Thanks so much for being here.

  8. I experienced something similar on LinkedIN the other day as well. Perusing possibly connections, I saw a gentleman with the title, “Communications Guru.” Well, I thought how did this person get to “guru” status in my field and perhaps I should connect with him? One click in and his title says “seeking AAE position.” Okay, so that means you are a very entry-level job seeker for an ass’t account executive position. And you are a “communications guru.” Riiiiiight.

    And I did pursue my APR last year – I highly recommend it for any PR professional. I didn’t do for other people, I wanted it for me.

    1. Michelle ~ Thanks for your comment. You’re right: entry level job does not = guru. And, I love it when people use their sparkle words when writing, but most gurus don’t call themselves gurus. I just wish more people would self-monitor.

      Glad you are here.

  9. Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Something I would have totally written myself. Thanks for being a voice of reason in a world gone mad!

    On a related note, I saw someone post a job on a LinkedIn group today for a social media manager. This guy responded with a comment and ask the person to email him a job description. OK, that’s stupid enough. But the dork interested in the social media job didn’t even realize you could click the link to see the job description online. Geez!

    Gurus and experts give us all a bad name!

    Amber @wordsdonewrite

    1. Thanks Amber. That is certainly a compliment.

      I am also concerned about the guru who couldn’t find the link. I am a space cadet sometimes, but that’s one reason I do not refer to myself as a guru.

      One benefit to social media getting all grown up with be the shedding of the mavericks and players. It won’t be as fun in some ways when it’s the online version of the three piece suit, but as it gets more corporate the frenzy will subside.

      Thanks for being here.

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