Don’t just call yourself an expert, act like one.

When someone says they’re an expert, do you believe them? Be honest here. Until recently, I would have said yes, until proven otherwise. And that’s exactly why people put that claim out there.

In the last two days I’ve been to two events for social media: a webinar teaching marketers in my industry how to use Twitter and a social media club breakfast. At both, we had the people leading the events that were considered the experts and we had the audience that listened and asked questions.

So what does it mean to be an expert in social media communication/marketing?

Instead of answering, I ask you this: does anyone care?

The term “expert” here is really a misnomer. In my experience, the people that say that they’re experts want to appear like they know more than everyone else so they have more credibility, but they don’t actually have any more knowledge than the frequent social media user. I consider myself a social media resource (or a social media advisor, to borrow from Chris Brogan). I use social media for personal and professional uses and I help the people I work with to understand more about these new types of technology. I answer questions about strategic implementation and technical nuances alike. Does that make me an expert? Maybe, maybe not. If you get asked and can answer these same questions, are you an expert? Maybe, maybe not.

Regardless of your expertise status, you’re learning more and you’re helping people around you by being involved. And isn’t the whole “community” aspect pretty central to social media anyway? Isn’t that really the point? I say get rid of the label and work to get more out of these tools, help those around you to do better and continue to learn. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself if you can’t back it up. It’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do.

So I leave you with my original question: when someone says they’re an expert, do you take that at face value?

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11 responses to “Don’t just call yourself an expert, act like one.

  1. Funny you say that. I’ve never seen so many experts in one place like I’ve seen on Twitter. All of the sudden they’re eveywhere. Where were they 10 years ago?

    Good rant, I mean blog post. 🙂

    • The HR Intern

      @Pedro – I know, right? They must have been experts in training at the time. And thank you – I like rants that make for good posts 😉

  2. Perception is reality and I guess this applies to your “expert” post. Nice synopsis. Like it!

  3. In your experience with a so-called social media expert you hit on a question that is broadly relevant. Self-described experts certainly abound but that only strains one’s ability to identify a true expert, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

    An expert should always be able to synthesize facts and ideas in a way that creates understanding of the topic they specialize in as well as illuminating the topic’s meaning in the broader context of related issues or fields of interest.

    If the last decade has been a demonstration of anything it’s that experts can be anywhere and yet even the places we most expect them to be, places like our most powerful news, economic, and political institutions, they are frequently sorely lacking and with sometimes dire consequence.

    I watched a special yesterday on running on HBO. There is a growing movement of runners and scientists who propose that running bare foot is actually better for the human body than running in the highly cushioned footwear we’ve grown accustomed to over the past couple of decades.

    Now, to be sure, there is debate brewing over this but there is some fascinating research that supports bare foot running. What was most astounding about the special wasn’t the pro barefoot data, it was that shoe makers, Nike specifically, had absolutely no scientific evidence that the shoes they design with all of this important padding and supposed shock absorption actually promote better foot, leg, joint health at all. They had not one study to share in support of the way that they design shoes.

    It is a classic example of this whole issue. I definitely expect Nike to research the way that their shoes influence the likelihood that an athlete is injured and they they confessed that they hadn’t. In fact, Nike actually started on the barefoot running track because a university coach told them that he found his team gained considerable strength and endurance when he began training them in bare feet. Nike is literally dumping their shoes on this coach’s door and he’s telling them barefoot is better.

    Again, lots of debate is going on. But the experts in this case seem not to be experts in ways that seem vital to their users and industry.

    Do experts exist? Yes. Are they easy to identify? No. So, can we really take any claim to expertness at face value? Look at where it’s gotten us politically and economically in the last decade for the answer.

    Thanks for the great topic.

    • The HR Intern

      @Erin – Thanks for dropping by and for the comment!

      @Gregory – Sorry to ignore your comment!

      That represents another element and thanks for bringing it up. Many experts, aside from simply declaring that they are the said resource for whatever they represent, lack any kind of backing to substantiate their claim, be it fact, data or proven experience. They simply make their and roll with it, creating a persona around that.

      I’ve found that there are a lot of certifications out there that don’t really mean anything, but because they exist, people assume that having it gives someone more authority. I get e-mails about human resources administration certifications on occasion and I question what exactly that would do – aside from giving the sponsoring organization more cash.

      Given all this that you’ve touched on, it makes it abundantly clear that the real experts out there are the ones that are doing what they say, that have concrete data to support their position and don’t have the need to attach “expert” status to everything that they do. Which means that if we want people to take us seriously, we should do the same. Actually be great instead of saying that we are.

  4. I believe the degree to which a person considers themselves an expert is inversely proportional to the extent of their expertise.

    Sorry, but the field where I see the greatest over-abundance of self-proclaimed experts is HR.

    • The HR Intern

      @paul – Yeah, I find that also. Again, it’s saying it to sound impressive with demonstrating the reality.

      And no need for apologies – it’s entirely true that there is an abundance of HR people that are overly promoting their abilities, so I’m with you. What’s been your experience? Where is that coming from? Inspire me – I might use it for a blog post.

      • I don’t have any specific experience to relate, just years and years of annoyance at HR ‘expertise’. Job seekers should ONLY put relevant experience on their resume….but should also include hobbies and other involvement to show they are a well-rounded individual. Job seekers should ONLY do what the job ad says (no calls, attn: HR, etc)….but also have to do something to get the attention of HR, to stand out. Send a thank you, don’t send a thank you. I think HR people just like the power trip of watching job seekers jump and beg and grovel.

        One thing HR people ARE experts at, though: making lists. “Top 10 things job seekers MUST do.” “Top 50 things every job seeker should know.” “Five sure-fire ways to get the job you’ve always wanted.” “Twenty-five qualities hiring managers look for.” With all these lists job seekers have to remember, it’s a wonder they can even remember their own name when they get to an interview.

        Like I said, I don’t have a story to tell. I just have a lifetime of being fed up with HR games.

    • The HR Intern

      @SP – While you’re definitely right, a lot of the things that HR asks from you that you’re citing are to help them figure out how best to proceed. If they’re getting 500 interior design resumes (which, for one opening in this economy, they are), they need some way of going through them. Now, I’m not saying that it’s the best practice, but recruiters need some way of coping with the work. So if you put irrelevant experience down and you call to bother them, then you’re likely going to find yourself outside of the stack.

      There may very well be HR people that are on “power trips”, but they’re crappy employees and you likely don’t want to be at a firm that rewards that kind of behavior – if that’s their job application process, then what is the end culture going to be like? But for the most part, it’s really for sake of convenience and assistance on the part of the HR people that they ask for these things. So you’ve really just got to suck it up and be open to whatever gets tossed your way.

      While it’s an annoying game, the best way to handle it is to ask them what they’re looking for or just follow the instructions provided. If they’re not there, then you figure out a way of finding out – or you take your best guess. That’s pretty much all you can do.

  5. “Suck it up and deal with it”?? Frankly that’s exactly the smug HR attitude and games that I’m talking about.

    Creating arbitrary rules for no other reason than to make your job easier is a cop out. What if the architects and designers that work for your firm did the same thing? Would that be considered acceptable performance, to arbitrarily exclude design ideas and solutions because they can’t be bothered to consider all the options? I hardly think so. Because that is precisely their job. And reviewing resumes is HR’s job. Anyone in any other job would be fired for such behavior, and the only reason HR gets away with it is that HR can’t fire itself.

    Not only are arbitrary rules and screening criteria the lazy man’s excuse, but it is just bad business. It means the people you hire are not chosen because they are the most qualified, but merely because they won some lottery you created. And the qualified people will go work for your competitors.

    • The HR Intern

      Honestly, I feel like you’re actively trying to pick a fight with me, and I’m not really interested.

      There’s no game playing here, I’m just being realistic. This is just the way things are. I’m sorry you’ve had bad dealings with HR in the past. If you’re this upset, the only solution is to not work for places that make you jump through hoops. There are definitely plenty of them out there, you just have to find them. Good luck.

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