4 cautionary tips for ‘expert groupies’

Don’t blindly follow a social media expert and take their advice without considering these tips first.

I love experts.

They invest their own time and money into learning something so I don’t have to. I can read their blogs and get valuable insights for free, or at a fraction of the true cost.

Some of these experts have become popular in their respective niches, benefitting from years of consistent work and reaching critical mass.

I tip my hat to them. I never disparage someone who works hard and takes risks.

My problem is with you, the readers of expert blogs. You take the wrong lessons from these social media luminaries. Instead of carefully evaluating their advice, you lean too much on their experience. Your over-reliance on the gurus might cause more harm than good.

Consider this advice before you become an “expert groupie”:

1. Don’t think experts are just like you.

For most social media experts, it has been years since they were “just like you.” Experts have huge email lists, social followings, and a steady income from products and services. They’ve benefitted from years of experimentation. Although they may do things similar to the way you do them, they operate with superior resources and expertise.

What this means: Realize you will have to learn new lessons and make new mistakes. You can’t compare your experiences to those of the A-listers. The best you can do is relate to them as fellow travelers on the same road.

2. Know different times require different strategies.

Starting a blog in 2012 is a lot different than starting one in 2006. According to Nielsen, there were approximately 34 million blogs in 2006. By the end of 2011, this number ballooned to more than 174 million. It is much harder to get attention and attract readers today.

What this means: Be careful when a guru says everyone starts out with nothing. While that may be true, the first person to offer ice cream on a hot day is much more successful than the 100th guy. You have to find, vet and deploy techniques that match today’s market, not yesterday’s.

3. Beware of case studies.

I hate case studies. They distort reality and offer false hope. Simply because one company saw great results doesn’t mean it created the only path to success. In fact, blindly implementing someone else’s strategy can have devastating effects. Case studies and best practices can help upper management understand a platform or technology, but you shouldn’t use them as blueprints.

What this means: Don’t unfollow all your Twitter followers or abandon your blog to dedicate time to Google+. Don’t think collecting social data like Dell will lead to Dell’s results. Instead, experiment daily with your own product and customers. You have to be your own case study.

4. Pick the right role models.

I put my role models into two buckets: foxhole cohorts and ivory tower generals.

The foxhole cohorts wrestle with the same challenges I face every day. They build an audience, grow their lists, and hustle to get new customers, leads and readers. Foxhole cohorts are vigilant and quick to warn me of danger.

Ivory tower generals won their stripes by successfully fighting yesterday’s wars. They are wise and offer amazing perspectives. But these folks haven’t been in a back-alley knife fight in quite some time. Although they tell me to blog less, promote less on Twitter, and “be epic,” I smile and talk it over with my foxhole cohorts first.

Warning: Ivory tower generals will often come down to the battlefield to show everyone they still have “the stuff.” Learn all you can from them when they do, but remember they have many resources and old fans waiting for their new ventures. You don’t.

I might sound like I’m tough on experts, but that’s not my intention. My goal is to be tough on you. I want you to learn the right lessons. Eighty percent of your tools will come from your experience. Make sure you pick the right role models for the other 20 percent.

Stanford Smith obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s chasing large-mouth bass. A version of this article first appeared on {grow}.


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