I wish I had a nickel for every social media guru.
And I wish I had a quarter for every one of them that ran from that description.
It’s time for the guru to die, because as a term it’s too generic to mean anything useful. For that matter, “expert” and “maven” need to go, because they don’t give you enough information either.
Besides, when it comes right down to it they’re all weasels.
The next time you see that link to a “guru” or “expert” or “maven” or whatever, there are two questions you need to ask:
- What exactly does this weasel do?
- What exactly do I need from a weasel?
Three years ago, this list wouldn’t have been necessary because the field of people who could really help you was small. But there’s enough solid thought and experience out there to be tapped online, you’re better off with awareness of the types of help you can get. It’s also useful to know, because the people who deliver you value in one area might be very ill-suited to be useful in others.
You’re better off with several different types of weasels in your RSS zoo. Here are the 12 types of social media experts.
The curator is a wealth of links, and does his best to pan the river for the nuggets that matter. Without a curator in your corner, you miss out on the best contributions from the people you aren’t already following, and it’s harder to discover new voices. The downside is you may end up with a lot of random noise, and no context.
The specialist sits in one place, with one network and one specialty. He or she knows it inside and out, but might not be attuned to how relevant that network might be over time. There are Twitter specialists and LinkedIn specialists, Facebook specialists and blogging specialists. There is value, but it often comes at the price of looking through someone else’s rose-tinted monitor.
The cheerleader never has a negative word to say about the implementation of social media, or any of the technologies. Beware the cheerleader, because lacking any track record of constructive suggestions or critical thought, you’re likely to end up a Pollyanna yourself.
The evangelist isn’t quite a cheerleader, but it’s clear there is a less-than-objective perspective at play. Evangelists aren’t just interested in validating what they do, they want others to do what they’ve done. On the plus side, they continually develop new ways to convert the unbelieving—on the negative side, they are dismissive and cliquish against those who don’t “get it.”
The Dystopian wishes like hell these tools had never been created, but recognizes the reality these technologies aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t as bad as the curmudgeons who simply don’t like listening to the zeitgeist, nor are they so elitist as to think the average person shouldn’t be entitled to an opinion. But man, it was easier back before blogs…
Thinkers probe the discussions of the day for deeper meaning. They are rarely relevant to the news of the day, but when they are they try to deliver a perspective you won’t find anywhere else. On the downside, Thinkers are prone to developing alternate realities in their rabbit holes.
The Researcher won’t post every day, not as a researcher anyway. His posts are very focused around available data, and expose the results and insights that lay beneath the surface of the numbers. Note the researcher is often not the same entity that collected the data—merely one who reports or expounds on it.
The astrologer makes you feel really good, and their posts resonate with just about everyone. Unfortunately, they often work by broadcasting tired platitudes, devoid of real direction or application. “It’s all about the community.” Astrologer posts are the Fortune Cookies of the internet—the smallest unit of wisdom wrapped in empty calories.
The journalist doesn’t act like the wire service that a curator provides, but is known for doing actual original reporting on the issues in social media. Reporting that involves, say, talking to someone before firing off an opinion piece. Or maybe verifying a fact before re-tweeting or writing about it.
The crier (think town crier) amplifies the news of the day so everyone can hear it. This activity can take several forms, from seeding discussions across multiple channels to writing their own post which expounds on the issue. Criers often have a niche, whether it’s a technology platform, a strategy, or even a locale. Unlike the specialist, the crier doesn’t make the news—just makes it louder. If you gather enough criers, you can make an echo chamber.
Engineers may not be in the middle of the trendy conversations, but they know how pieces connect. They are the first to experiment with making systems work, and the first to test the limits to see where the system will break. The engineer will map a network of messages, and can show you how A links to B which links to C and G. Engineers talk about building systems.
Mentors are hard to find in real life, but they are easy to find online. Most of the above types do engage in mentor behavior to an extent, but the mentor is focused primarily on teaching and transmitting successful skills. The mentor doesn’t just want to tell you things—the mentor wants you to know how to figure them out for yourselves.
Of course, new discoveries are always possible, and this field guide is far from complete.
Which weasels did I leave out?
Which weasel are you?
Which weasel am I?
Who are your favorite weasels in each species?
Who wants a social media weasel badge for their site? (…and who wants to help design them?)
Ike Pigott is a communications consultant in Birmingham, Alabama. He blogs at Occam’s Razr.