So Your Colleague Thinks He’s a Social Media Expert?

Back when I first got started with online marketing — in 2009 — it seemed everyone was keen on donning the label “social media guru”. Touting “best practices” they never used and suggesting social media was all about community, it was an endless barrage of unsolicited advice from folks tooting their own horn — as an ambitious, fame-hungry 19-year-old, I, too, was a guilty offender.

The internet had made it such that any person could make any variety of claims and fool a shocking number of netizens around the world into believing what was, to the more discerning, brazen lies.

Indeed, it was a fake-it-til-you-make-it world.

But, what really makes someone an “expert” on social media? With so many self-proclaimed pros, what are the signs of a true authority?

Here are a couple of “dos” and one big “do not” for evaluating someone’s social media savvy:

Do: A Smart Audit of Their Public Profiles

Put a so-called expert’s claims to the test. “[Quickly scan] the content they share to their own or their business’s social channels,” recommends Matt Navarra, Social Media Director of The Next Web. This should give you “a good indication as to how talented they really are.”

You’ll also want to look at how engaged their networks are with their content:

  • Do their posts get a lot of shares, likes, retweets, favorites, +1’s, etc?
  • How innovative or creative are their social media strategies vs. those of recognized social media superstars?

Navarra’s Twitter profile proudly notes his current and past experiences as an expert in the space, qualified with a reputable award nomination. A bit more snooping takes you to his LinkedIn profile which highlights honors such as:

  • Top 30 ‘Pinners’ on Pinterest (Time Magazine) – 2013
  • Top 1% Most Viewed LinkedIn Profiles – 2012
  • Top 1% of Online Influencers on – 2013
  • Top 5% of Influencers on Klout – 2013

With those credentials, I would easily trust any advice he would impart — hoping it applies to my unique situation — and fork up hard-earned cash if he was taking on new clients.

Many times, if someone is influential on social media, you’ll likely already know.

“For me, in social media, if I have not heard of them or find it hard to locate their details on various social platforms, then it immediately gives me some reservations of their true prowess,” shares Navarra. “Within five minutes of using tools like,, and others, you can quickly build up a picture of a person’s social media success and online presence.”

Personally, I use Klout to evaluate an individual’s social influence, as well as that of the brand (s)he represents. Navarra’s Klout score is 66, slightly higher than mine at 65. Impressively, The Next Web’s Klout score is 91. Compare that to loud-and-proud social media madman, Gary Vaynerchuck, who’s Klout score is 85. It’s an imperfect metric because it only tracks connected accounts, but it’s powered by a fairly sophisticated algorithm.

Screenshot taken 02/10/2014 of

Of course, some pros shy away from the limelight and instead focus all of their energy on their clients. In his guest post on PandoDaily, Brandon Watts, founder and principal of PR agency Wattsware, writes a compelling case for why a publicist shouldn’t tweet. The same thinking can be applied to social media pros who are the puppet masters for many of the popular Twitter accounts, Facebook fan pages, and Google + pages we all follow, like, and circle.

Do: Ask Questions

Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local and Chairman of Likeable Media, tells SEJ, “An ‘expert’ is someone who is experienced in using social media to obtain business outcomes. To determine the pros from the wanna-be’s, ask for metrics-based case studies for work they’ve done to help accomplish business objectives.”

That last bit is worth reading again because Kerpen wrote the book on likeable social media, literally.

To get a true sense of the depth of a person’s knowledge and understanding of social media (or any topic for that matter), you want to ask revealing questions that will help you better recognize the experienced professionals and uncover the phonies.

A sample of questions worth asking are:

  • Why do you use social media?
  • Why should brands be active on social media?
  • How does X trend impact Y in social media?
  • What are your best strategies for doing A, B, and C? How would you replicate those strategies for Z industry?
  • What are one or two metrics-based case studies you’ve done to help accomplish business objectives?

In asking questions, you begin to understand how they think about social media and learn how they work. You slowly start to understand if they practice what they preach (or are complete hypocrites), if their work is actually meaningful (or is littered with vanity metrics), and you may discover if their work is genuine (rather than supported by bots).

Do Not: Be Fooled by Vagaries

Beware of the sloppy wordsmith. Navarra warns, “Hear lots of buzzwords, long pauses, or vague statements… get out of there!”

Image provided by Danny Wong. Used with permission.

The three tips above should make it easy to filter out the jokers from the tried-and-true pros. Simply put:

  1. Do your research
  2. Ask targeted questions
  3. Be a bit skeptical

What other tips would you share to confirm an expert or spot a phony? 

Full Disclosure: Kerpen and I are members of the Young Entrepreneur Council and in the past, I’ve contributed to The Next Web, where Navarra works.