First, we’d like to thank all 596 survey respondents and the many Open Thread commenters who gave such interesting and valuable feedback in our recent post “Should Social Media Experts Be Required to Know Their Tech?“
Over the past couple days, we’ve been able to put together a decent picture and identify some knowledge gaps and points of confusion for many would-be social media experts. But first, let’s address why some of the RWW staff – and many of our readers, some of whom must hire social media experts – feel it’s important for even the most marketing-oriented of consultants to have a rudimentary understanding of the workings of the Web, including its ecosystem of companies and applications.
You will always need to know more about the Web.
Konqueror is a popular browser among Linux users. The browser Mozilla hasn’t been supported since 2006, having been replaced by Firefox and, to a lesser extent SeaMonkey, both products of the Mozilla Foundation.
The Web does a lot more and a lot less than the average bear would think.
For the most part, we humans have a hard time admitting that we’re “average bears,” though. Before you earn the moniker of “guru” or “expert” or even “professional/consultant,” you need to be far above average in your knowledge of the Web, not just how to get a few thousand Twitter followers or how to increase sales by X percent through Facebook promotions. Those things can come down to common sense or secondhand advice from true pioneers in social media.
Generally speaking, a social media expert will have been around the block long enough to know a CMS from a CPU, to know a bit about servers and DDoS attacks, to know what kinds of operating systems and browsers and even hardware the tech elite prefer to use (or debate over). And the good ones will remain humble enough to keep learning and will always admit there’s more to know. Some of the wisest social media advisors I’ve know will ask to not be called experts, in fact, for how can any one person truly be an expert on something as vast as the Internet?
Flip Side of the Coin: Imagine someone telling you he was a broadcast media expert. That includes television – national, local, cable, satellite, you name it – and all kinds of AM/FM and satellite radio. It might also include pre-show advertisements in movie theaters. That also includes media spend, account management and metrics for all kinds of ads, from branding to direct response. Essentially, the person is claiming to be a one-man ad agency – an impossible claim at best and a fraudulent one at worst.
How to Fill the Knowledge Gap: Start listening to people who disagree with you. Search the farthest corners of the Web for new people and new ideas. Stop hanging out in echo chambers and start telling yourself every day, “I know that I know nothing.” That phrase seems to have done Socrates some good; chances are it could help you, too.
You need to communicate with developers.
Haskell is a rare and complicated programming language. .NET sounds more familiar, but it’s a framework, not a language.
In almost every social media project that doesn’t involve something as simple as setting up a Twitter account, you’ll have to work with and rely on the expertise of developers.
You might not want to learn a programming language yourself – it can take a lot of time, which is a precious commodity. But if you don’t know the basics of what programming languages can and cannot do, as well as what languages your developer colleagues use, you’ll end up frustrated and inefficient. And the aforementioned developer colleagues might feel disrespected as well; being asked to deliver fantastical products or results from someone with no understanding of your work isn’t a fun experience.
Flip Side of the Coin: Imagine a CTO telling you, an interactive marketer, to run a direct mail campaign and get 500,000 new registrations. It could be done, perhaps, but it’s not efficient or a good way to use your skills. Even if he told you he wanted 500,000 new signups, is that a realistic goal? Is it based on current adoption trends? Does this guy have any idea what he’s asking for?
How to Fill the Knowledge Gap: Read up on the basics of programming languages; spend a few hours here and there on Wikipedia and O’Reilly books. Then, ask questions of developers you trust. Don’t be afraid to “sounds dumb” or be inquisitive.
You need to rely on hard data and facts, not gut feelings.
It may seem to be the ad-free fluffy bunny of the social networking world, but Twitter turned a profit through search deals in 2009.
On occasion, we social media folks make intuitive choices that turn out to be dead wrong. While there’s a lot to be said for making bold choices for your users and clients, there’s much more value in making solid choices based on observed trends, analyzed data and tested outcomes. In fact, it’s plain irresponsible to make recommendations to clients based on feelings rather than facts.
Always challenge yourself to make sure your opinions and advice line up with facts, not the other way around. As a wise man once wrote, “You don’t use science to prove that you’re right, you use science to become right.”
Flip Side of the Coin: Rather than looking at marketing budgets or user traffic, your CEO tells you to spend $1 million on an AdWords campaign because “Google and advertising are where’s the money’s at online, right?” It seems like a ridiculous gamble with no logical reason or rhyme.
How to Fill the Knowledge Gap: Test everything you might suggest. Test it over a reasonable period of time, making sure to take peak times into account, and get a reasonable data sample. Learn about A/B and multivariate testing, website analytics, SEO and all the dirty details of traffic and user responses. Most of all, never, ever assume.
You need to know about the finance and investment market to identify competitors, potential partners and pitching opportunities.
Friends and family (and fools) will always be the first to invest in any startup.
Especially if you’re communicating with or about startups, you need to understand a little bit about venture capital, if for no other reason than to understand an app or company’s place in the market. VCs can sometimes be good barometers of a startup’s health or the likelyhood of future success.
Likewise, with regard to our survey question about profitable social media apps and companies, knowing about various stages of development can help you know when to suggest key partnerships. Collaboration between two entities can give a boost to both.
As a strategist, a consultant or any kind of expert, you need to be able to spot a sure bet just as quickly as a sinking ship. And in the startup-filled world of social media, few are better at this all-important task than those with an understanding of tech investment.
Flip Side of the Coin: Your CEO informs you that the company is about to start a marketing campaign on a website that, through your social and industry connections, you know is about to go out of business. In fact, every website of its kind if flailing; you’re surprised he wasn’t aware of the situation.
How to Fill the Knowledge Gap: Read ReadWriteStart, of course! We recommend (and frequently interview and comment on) various brilliant VCs, angels and experienced entrepreneurs on this channel.
We hope you’ve found this information entertaining and informative. The remaining questions on the poll were, by and large, answered correctly. There still seems to be some confusion on the definition of the word “hacker,” but I’m convinced that one will simply take more soapboxing on my part.
What words of advice do you have to share with your less technical colleagues in social media? How can we all improve our game online while making the Internet a better, smarter place? Let us know in the comments.