Expulsion of the Social Media “Gurus” –Impacts of the Recession

Thank god for the recession, as now the social media gurus are on the way out.

One of the challenges of the social media industry, oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of challenges, is that self-proclaimed gurus have appeared from everywhere. In fact, the recession is going to cause those who are unemployed to experiment with the tools on a personal basis, giving them ample ammo to update their linkedin profile as a social media expert category.

But isn’t that the point? Shouldn’t everyone be able to get into the action? Of course, yes. However times are different now, with budgets under scrutiny, layoffs at hands, companies don’t have time for gurus filled with opinion, over-used case studies, and empty books. I was inspired by this charged article: ‘Like pedos in a playground‘ from the Register that exposes some of the weaknesses of the space.

[The recession will force practitioners within corporations to start to focus on measurable results, as a result, they will seek advice beyond opinion and gut instinct]

The recession. This is going to cause a purging of the opinion-makers, pontificators, and the gurus to be passed up as companies need to make decisions based off intelligence, information and references of previous success. Why? their very jobs are on the line, as they have to be accountable for their budgets within their corporations, and demonstrate a return on investment to their management beyond ‘awareness, buzz or thought leadership’.

Aren’t I being a hypocrite myself? Yup. I’m no longer a practitioner as a community manager at a large corporate, nor do I work at a social media vendor helping brands, so in many cases, I too, am looking in the mirror. I write this with a lump in my throat, and it’s a constant reminder that if I’m going to give advice it’s important that I back it up with fact, data, insight, for business people to make business decisions.

So, expect the real practitioners (you’ve see the list right?) to focus on moving the needle to create actionable programs that generate leads, increase sales, decrease support costs, or make innovation more efficient–their jobs are on the line, and they don’t have time for “Gurus”.

62 Replies to “Expulsion of the Social Media “Gurus” –Impacts of the Recession”

  1. Yes, we don’t need “gurus” – we need those who know how to use *all* media for tangible results that achieve client goals. Social media is just ONE element in the mix. At this point you can’t ignore social, you can’t ignore SEO, you can’t ignore AdWords, you can’t even ignore the daily newspaper yet.

    Everything matters and you have to know what to use and when for necessary results. The gurus who spew buzzwords and fluff without substance were never going to last anyway. The recession will quicken their exist, so we hope.

  2. Excellent post. We MUST move from blind experimenting to serious value.

    I was thinking the exact same thing today about the guru curse. With all but just a few exceptions (yourself as one, of course) I find “social media gurus” to be nothing more than “social media blowhards.” As such, I’m much, much more interested in speaking with my peers at other companies who are doing the hard work of actually making this stuff happen in their organizations. And, since I’m at a really big company (IBM), I’m most interested in the experiences of my colleagues at other big companies because we are all tasked with actually having to make it happen in real life, not in theory. Real life separates seemingly good ideas on paper from bad ideas in practice. I realize that my awesome theoretical plans sometimes crash and burn while others thrive. But disconnected gurus don’t get that real-life, live or die immediate feedback loop by which to learn and gauge what works and what doesn’t.

    My other pet issue of late has been the disconnect that “gurus” (and in this now I lump PR agencies, marketing agencies, etc.) have when they advise corporate clients on social media and don’t really understand the unique culture we have. So their social media proposals cooked up in a vacuum fall on deaf ears because they run counter to our culture. I tried to capture some of those thoughts at a presentation I gave a month ago. I posted some of the thoughts and slide show here://bit.ly/2M9spc

    anyhow, thanks for the post. And let’s keep a sense of optimism of the positives coming out of this recession!

  3. Jeremiah,

    First off, I don’t think that lump in your throat should be very large. There are plenty of folks who would gladly act as a collective reference for you in case you need to prove your value in future endeavors.

    Secondly to your point, recessions are excellent vehicles for clearing out the weeds. Now more than ever brands are going to save their money for things they KNOW deliver. Brand are moving towards direct response because they need to answer to stock holders and their executive boards. Social media :”gurus” can stand on their soap box and preach the wonders of social media, but if none of them can present a case study indicating that social efforts are providing direct sales than they aren’t going to dollars.

    In my opinion companies are going to go their trusted sources: Agencies, CRM Orgs, Search to infuse their proven campaigns with more progressive strategies and tactics. When times get better then ears can open back to consultants.

  4. Jeremiah,
    Great post – I’ve seen quite a bit of this backlash coming from many points against self-appointed gurus of social media who have little experience or real results to back up their claims. I’m a guy working in social media at a big agency, so I’ve been accused of this myself. But I live social media tools and love what I do. The team that I’m part of at Ogilvy has real examples of work we have done for brands that has been successful – not because we did the same thing for every brand, but as Adam C. pointed out, because we worked with the culture of each client and what they were ready to do. Coming up with ideas with social media isn’t hard. Actually doing it is. The reason I’m proud to be part of the team that I’m on is because I see us actually doing this stuff every day. It’s not just theory or a sales tactic for us.

  5. Very thought-provoking. The thing about harnessing social media for whatever purpose is that it’s not that hard to do. We owe a debt of gratitude to the gurus for making the case for social media in business, but that train left the station a while back. Now I think more and more companies will look to their employees to carry the ball. The gurus will always be needed to referee to some degree, keeping the space from becoming over-commercialized. Good luck with that!

  6. Jeremiah I agree with your reasoning that many are adding ‘social media expertise’ to their list of ‘skills’ in an effort to improve their marketability. But what I have seen from talking to others is that the people that have been consulting for a while, and can point to results, are seeing a big uptick in business and interest. I think this is partly due to more interest by companies this year rather than a year ago, but also think companies are doing more homework before they pick someone to help them with their social media needs. I think this is causing the creme to rise to the top.

  7. One of the things not talked about here regarding self proclaimed social media gurus taking advantage of companies is the assumption that company vendor acquisition is so faulted and ineffective as to not consider measurement and accountability as part of the criteria.

    Consultants have a responsibility to be truthful and companies have a responsibility to do due diligence when hiring community managers, social media marketers or outside consultants.

    Smart companies should be able to tell the difference between an overnight “expert” and the genuine article by a review of process, case studies or examples and certainly references.

  8. Dennis thanks. Research is the first step, but also required is implementation, and finally measurement.

    Accountability on all stages of the process are required: 1) Decision, 2) deployment, 3) assessment.

  9. I’m so glad I don’t blow hard and fast (tho I’ll continue to blow soft and long:-))

    An old saying says, “Everyone thinks they can build a fire, run a hotel, and manage a baseball team better than the next person.” Add coach social media next to that? Not sure…

    Those who do well will thrive (because they help others do likewise) and those who can’t wont be able to endure.

    Lots of great points in your post and comments above. At the end of the day, it should be about the talk, not the tools.

    Blogs and Social Media can be conversation stations (he whispers softly:-))

  10. My thoughts are summed up well by Lee Odden, above: “Smart companies should be able to tell the difference between an overnight expert and the genuine article by a review of process, case studies or examples and certainly references.”

    We’re providing advice for clients on how to engage via SM, but also delivering results through reputation-monitoring projects. When clients see their brand &/or issues being discussed in blogs or the twitstream, they finally begin taking it seriously.

  11. Thank you so much for this post.

    I think that one of the keys is for the credible people in the industry who have conducted campaigns, written, spoken and hosted events not to get caught up in the swell caused by the puffery of these new ‘experts’ and call them on it when you start to hear folks go on about how to get rich on the internet from Twittering or blogging.

    At the end of the day, clients evaluate you on the work you’ve done and your ideas – not on how many followers you have on Twitter.

  12. If you are looking to learn more about social media and how it can help your organization, you must cut through the clutter and noise coming at you from all angles (blogs, webcasts, tweets, white papers, etc.).

    There is a single question that I would ask every single ‘guru’, ‘expert’, ‘sage’, etc.:

    1. What organizations have you helped and what were the business results?

    If your prospective consultant has a single story from where they worked before the recession, you will need to make a leap of faith to hire them.

    If they only have high level stories about “tying the cloud together for unified messaging” without a tangible result (X% of leads generated, Days to close reduced by Y%, Subscribers renewed at a % higher than non-participants, Customer Satisfaction increased by Z%, Dedicated resource costs reduced by A%, etc.) then you will need to make a leap of faith to hire them.

    You don’t need to hire a large agency for this. There are several excellent small companies (like ours) who have more than ten years experience helping clients achieve real business oriented results, not just better traffic. We have a clearly defined methodology that works for multiple industries. It’s not theory and it’s not a cookie cutter approach where one size fits all. It’s hard work, it takes commitment from the client organization, but it produces excellent real world results. Our references from Cisco, SAP, AARP, NetApp, American Chemical Society, and others will back this up.

    Several of the smaller consulting and management companies have operated from the early days of online communities to the “blog revolution” to the dominance of social networks to the social media crush of today. They recognize that not every solution of technology fits for every organizational challenge. But their experience will help your organization succeed without making the mistakes that so many organizations make today.

    And we do look at ourselves in the mirror every day and ask “Are we helping our clients succeed?”

    The answer in most cases is “Yes, we are!”

  13. Two observations:

    1) Everyone will enthusiastically applaud the idea of expelling the “gurus”.

    2) Almost no one will consider that they might actually be one of the charlatans who ought to be expelled.

    One of the reasons you’re not a charlatan is because you recognize that you must guard against it.

    If social media hopes to mature into something useful, it needs to think, not just feel.

    “Enthusiastically applauding” feels good. But it is no substitute for the hard work of “examining critically”.

  14. Good post and a relief. I have spent thirteen years working with clients in various digital architect type roles and have sat in too many meetings when somebody is just using buzzwords to try and get the client excited. Experience has taught me you really need to get under the skin of a business to truly understand how to maximise the potential the technology offers – there is no single blueprint. None of the guys I have met ever seems to have the time or skill sets to do this effectively (although I know they do exist before I get flamed!)

    Ironically, we have just branched off to form a another company that will focus on purely on Social Media but instead of just talking we are building an application and trying to practice what we preach, allowing clients to see and learn from our experiences, good and bad.

  15. I think this is true of all fields – not social media in particular. With consultants of any kind, there will always be a spectrum of fluff/hype to legitimate practitioners. Those who move from client to client, delivering lots of “advice” but no real value, will eventually run out of clients to dupe. They won’t have the same lifetime client value that a better consultant will have. This system manages itself – junk out, quality in.

    The key is to focus on measurable outcomes – does your social media strategy provide results that can be accurately measured and tracked? If not, you have very little evidence on which to build your case. Without real numbers, you have nothing but personality or celebrity-factor to sell to a client.

  16. Hopefully company hiring experts will have the ability to set expectations and hold the service providers accountable.

    You said it best, “if I™m going to give advice it™s important that I back it up with fact, data, insight, for business people to make business decisions.

    So, expect the real practitioners to focus on moving the needle to create actionable programs that generate leads, increase sales, decrease support costs, or make innovation more efficient…” all providing a return on the investment in the expert or service provider.

    Any consultant, coach, or expert of any kind ought to be accountable for the service they provide.

    If you call yourself an expert, you better be prepared to back it up. I am a guerrilla marketing and direct marketing expert and can back it up with my books, my writing, my service, my speaking, etc.

    I am not a plumbing expert, painting expert nor lawn care expert so I dont market myself as one. I cant back it up if I do.

    Well done. Good perspective.


  17. Good point and very timely. I thought Jennifer Leggio’s research summed up this point very well. Decision makers are looking for results that drive leads and sales from their agency – within campaigns that include “pieces” of social media. Social media is not the be all end all.

  18. Hoo – Freakin’ – Ray for this post. Yes I’m real sorry about the recession and the pain it has caused many I know, but from my seat the social networks / new media “gurus” have proven that what we’ve got is a tulip bulb craze on our hands. New media are exciting and challenging to current practice, but best use requires discipline, as you mention – metrics. This sounds dull to many on the keynote circuit in inbound marketing and new media — but it has the property of being TRUE.

  19. Soon I will talk at the seminar about web 2.0 for the Italian pr association.
    I think that your post is crucial to my presentation because outlines a key point: too many words, not too much facts. We must reverse this trend and show proprietary case history.

  20. Great post, Jeremiah. I’d add a couple of points:

    1. IMHO, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A SOCIAL MEDIA GURU! This bus is simply moving too fast for anyone to have pulled it over and taken the engine apart. Our culture, our media consumption and our uses of social tools are shifting amazingly quickly – only an opportunist or idiot would proclaim themselves to be a guru.

    2. The recession is forcing people to pull a lot of levers in their personal bizdev efforts, including, for some, a lack of honesty about their skills set. The same tools that let us express ourselves can be used to create instapunditry and an online personal brand. However, as with any corporate brand, market noise and slick presentation alone will not sustain these folks.

    3. The metrics and ROI issues ARE being worked out at a high level by a lot of smart thinkers in the traditional marketing, online marketing and advertising spaces.

    And you, my friend, are no hypocrite…as an analyst, your job is to watch, analyze, provide insight and report, and you do those things very well.

  21. Get ready, then, for the metrics gurus, whose shamanism will rival that of the social media gurus. We can measure a lot today but often it tells us little.
    At the end of the day, it’s all about driving sales. Awareness can be driven through social media but purchasing intent and purchase are hard to pin down, and what bean counters want is that magic point where purchase intent happened. I may follow a brand on Twitter but be motivated to purchase after hearing a radio ad. That’s where measuring channel ROI is really tough.

  22. Well said Jeremiah … and Brian Fuller. Much as we (and by “we” I mean PR folks like myself) don’t like to admit it, it is all about driving sales. Numbers and measurable results should drive any PR campaign, including social media plans.

  23. Refreshing post and all too true. I am working in a large UK organisation where these self-proclaimed gurus are the ones getting air time with senior management and seen as the be all end all. My thoughts: talk the talk and walk the walk. Where are these gurus when its time to calculate out the ROI? Implement these programs? Deliver any of their bright ideas? All talk no action MUST become, talk the talk and walk the walk.

  24. I would say it goes even farther…most of the community at large use the term “Social Media” in too broad a context. Easily 80% of what I see attributed as such would be much more appropriately tagged as “Social Media Marketing.”

  25. Bravo, Jeremiah. 🙂

    The only thing that still pains me about the practitioner list is that it (or at least it did) only included those with fulltime social media / community management roles. For some companies, the campaigns and projects are important and successful but they don’t require a fulltime role. In my company’s case, it helps that 2/3 of my role is knee deep in company strategy and business decisions, and the other 1/3 is digital media, as it’s easy for me to map our objectives.

    I do agree that the economy will continue to force out the fluffy folks and put more attention on the doers, which is great. Posting something about that next week. 😉


  26. Jennifer it comes down to managing the list, for me to add part time folks wouldn’t be worth my time.

    If you or anyone else wanted to create a part time community manager list, I’d link to it.

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  28. Anytime I read “Social Media Guru” or “Social Media Expert” in a persons’ bio I usually smile… Sometimes I associate those “titles” to something like “I just started using Twitter” or “I’m a guru with Facebook, no one can add as much friends as I do!” or something like that. Moreover, you take a look at their blogs and see a feedburner counter which shows a “25” on it 🙂

  29. What is needed are social media counsellors – because that’s what most organisations need to help them work out how to adjust to the new reality. That can be a “guru” – in fact its what gurus do well (if they genuinely are a guru of course)

  30. So are you a Guru? and the “list” of Gurus you refer to must be approved by Forrester I presume?

  31. Skill at networking and charming your way into various social contexts and a large “following” is the domain of the sociopath, the hustler. Appeals to ego, emotion or attention are not the same as actual insight or expertise.

  32. Thanks Jeremiah for talking about this issue. Nowadays everyone who has some few friends on facebook is now a social media expert.

    Ola. Ayeni
    Mobile Dialog

  33. I have been surfing online greater than 3 hours these days, yet I by no means discovered any fascinating article like yours. It is lovely worth sufficient for me.

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