Social media expert or time wasting idiot? My top 10 ways to identify who is who.

First things first, I am not a social media ‘expert’, these strange animals do exist, but they are few and far between, and I am not one of them. The social experts that I know tend to be deeply digital characters, technology industry veterans capable of explaining how the fabric of the web works and why, as well as understanding how value can be extracted from the torrents of social interactions. I’m not saying that you need to be a data nerd to be a social media expert, but it helps. Also, a few other observations, social media experts are almost never former 4th grade drama teachers, or indeed, home-office based Mums or people who ‘re-trained’ to take advantage of the ‘huge’ opportunity in the social space, or worse, people whose business ‘just kinda snowballed’ after the massive social campaign that they ran at the local hardware store saw a net increase of 6 new twitter followers and some forced “likes’ on Facebook. Wonderful though these achievements undoubtedly are, they do not constitute the conquering of the social Mount Everest. The caveat to all this is that there are some spectacularly successful and knowledgeable social media experts who were perhaps once drama teachers and do in fact work from home. My point here is that identifying these pioneers is straightforward, the key indicator is in their ability to articulate their own original thoughts and ideas, and to be clear, this means that you will likely have not thought of something they mention, or, that what they propose will resonate with your own experience. Moreover, they will (more likely than not) be able to point you to case studies of projects that they’ve undertaken on behalf of individuals and brands with which you may be familiar.

Social experts, real social experts, tend to deny any ‘expertise’ within the social media category – they tend to concern themselves with social data, they are the social scientists who are data driven, outcome and value aligned and rarely share their unique selling points  and insights for free in facile “top 10” lists linked to cheesy, under-trafficked and pointless blogs that centre on muffin receipes, “powering up Google + in 2014” and other random rubbish that is neither valuable or even in the slightest way, informative. Strange that!

In the round though, those professing to be social media experts are flowery, non-skilled individuals who do nothing but populate every social channel known to man with borrowed quotes, plagiarized content and tagged articles from informed publishers within their area of their so-called “expertise”. To be very precise, very very few of these utter social sheep can sit the right way around on a toilet, let alone drive audience, engagement or indeed,  sales through social channels. After years of having these social titans clog my social streams, I thought I’d share my own “top ten” “how to identify a time-wasting social media expert wannabe”, and in my next blog post, I tell you how to have a little fun with them too, if that is, you have a few spare minutes.

1. The first clear and obvious sign that you are dealing with a social lightweight is posting frequency. Some of these utter idiots use pre-programmed  apps to broadcast content to populate their social channels on an almost minute by minute basis. I don’t know many thought leaders who have time to do the odd tweet here and there, let alone a detailed outreach schedule. The more successful social gurus will tend to have thought to curate a stream of news and content that supports their area of information expertise, as such, even thought their streams are populated with news content, that content tends to be relevant and informative. The over-share that some of the less expert social travelers seem to be believe to be critical is staggering in the extreme. As an example, today, on one twitter stream whose owner whose owner remain nameless,  they had posted 49 tweets, of which 50% were repeats and 100% vacuous rubbish. They did the same yesterday – shotgun tactics in a sniper’s world – sorry #fail!

Conclusion: experts tend to post/tweet when appropriate – not bombard people and bludgeon to death with reconstituted crap.

2. Tone? Always flowery rubbish. Always!

Conclusion: if you feel like you are dealing with Mrs Walton from the Walton Family, they are likely not an expert. Run away as fast as possible!

3. Sentiment; they will appear like the kid at college desperate to make friends. Polite, overly interested in your well being, and always asking “how are you?” – more flowery rubbish I’m afraid.

Conclusion: more Mrs Walton I’m afraid.

4. Community leadership: these folks work on the “in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king” principle. So they’ll acquire their industry following from interest and event based groups where they’ll follow you if you follow me. So, as an example, they are unlikely to be jousting intellectually with Jason Calacanis on matters relating to the digital evolution, or debating the future of digital content with Stephen Fry. Nope, these folks will be active in their own unique influence ecosystem, comprised others just like them, newbies, the elderly and 12 years old kids desperate to build up followers as trophies. As an aside, they always seem to  want to connect on every social platform that exists, and their prime motivation in life seems to be to develop notoriety and, if you will, some form of de-facto earned kudos that they can claim as a result of having lots of other people just like them click a button on an a screen that says that they are inextricably linked. It’s hilarious when you take a moment to think it through.

Ironically, they seem to gather online in whatever the collective noun (how about ‘toilet’) for a group of social media charlatans might be. Trading the same ideas and supporting each other with their stupid  and annoyingly unoriginal thought pieces, quotes and pearls of commercial wisdom, based on a veneer deep appreciation of a sector that they think they know deeply, but barely scratch the surface of comprehension.

Conclusion; of they are not followed by someone you have heard of, and more, are regularly engaged and re-tweeted by other ‘notables, they are likely fakes.

5. Unilaterally, these folks seem to have all attended the same 2 day “Get a PhD in Social Media” correspondence program that delivers the breakthrough strategy , “how to get people to click on a link by asking a question”, or offering a URL with the ‘”top 10 Kitty videos on YouTube”, or indeed, “how to look an utter buffoon by pretending that you have a social audience hanging on every letter of you insightful posts”. As an example, I read today on one ‘expert’s’ site, a detailed and highly informative piece that sets out the expert way to improve one’s Klout score. And here, in a precis of what was ground-breaking insight, is what was shared. For those not used to dealing with intellectual insight, you may want to sit down before reading what follows.  Essentially, the conjecture was that linking all of your social accounts to Klout, (and here’s where insight seems to know no bounds) and, engaging with recognised domain experts with higher Klout scores than you may just increase your own Klout score. Bloody hell, stop the presses, this is disruptive and informative thinking the like of which we’ve never seen. I can hardly wait to connect my social streams to a meaningless scoring platform whose relevance is recognised only by bird brained, self-important people with nothing better to do, who are the only ones who actually care what their Klout score might be. Moreover, they have not perhaps been lucky enough to read some of the detailed updates that Klout have recently introduced that outline how ‘resonance’ (yes, that the ‘pebble in the pond impact of what you say’) will increasingly amplify scoring – so the world seems to be moving towards a ‘forget the quantity, quality matters’. To the budding social experts out there – you have been warned.

Conclusion: head over to Linkedin and check what these social titans have done before the development of their online training and consulting empires. I’d suggest you’ll be able to draw your own conclusions pretty quickly.

6. Personal descriptions: I hardly know where to start. The descriptions that some of these people use are, frankly, stomach turning. However, there are patterns that can be inferred from the data, and, the revolting wholesome goodness that they project. Universally, it would appear that these social experts are “successful pioneers” and in “huge demand” from global enterprises who want to learn from them. They all appear to be “accomplished public speakers”, “spokespeople”, quoted ‘experts’ in the media, and of course, the controllers of multi-billion dollar media empires.  As an aside, few can lay hand or thought to a real-world case study that discusses the business benefits of a social engagement program that they’ve implemented.

The vast majority claim to like spending time with their family (which is handy), whom they seem to like (another win). As a group, they do lots for charity, I’d venture that these people could teach the chappie on the road to Damascus a thing or two about helping their fellow man. Finally, they tend to own pathetic yapper-type dogs who feature in their more human ‘shares’, and, rather predictably are more religious than the Pope. Their descriptions are phrased in perky, happy ‘tones’ (which is a phrase they’ll teach you about), that conveys ‘sentiment’ (another light bulb moment for you here), while conveying a transparent demeanour and a desire to ‘engage’ (my personal favourite). I warn you now, do not look at too many of these personal descriptions without some other form of visual stimulation, or at the very least taking a break between reading a few – they are likely to cause nausea.

Conclusion; at the slightest whiff of wholesome goodness and a desire not to piss anyone off – avoid at all costs.

7. Disingenuous engagement . It’s a good thing to say ‘thanks’ to someone who agrees to connect with you on Linkedin – frankly, it’s just good manners and business etiquette. Similarly, “@ ” someone to say thanks for following is a nice touch. Facebook – not so much, you are friends anyway right? And G+ – once someone explains the circles metaphor and the personality crisis that it’s having, I feel confident that I’ll be able to figure out how, or indeed, whether I should acknowledge a connection at all. But that’s it in terms of engagement. If I wanted to be a weather reporter, and respond to the stupid and shallow, pre-meditated “Hey, thanks for connecting, and how’s the weather where you are?” , I would have become a weather reporter. Nor, unless you are prepared for a fairly rude and accurate appraisal of my well being is it wise to ask “how are you today?” Yet these infernal buffoons seem unable to help their wholesome selves. Why?

I like social interaction and banter as much as the next man. What I detest is the replication of small talk that I can get from the barrista (still makes me laugh that, “barrista”) at my local coffee shop. Debates among peers can be informative and useful, and the ability to ask a question of a domain expert democratizes knowledge. In fact that’s (for me at least) the real wow factor of the emerging social channels. The ability to recall “do you remember when…” is one of the real engagement factors that define why social networks have become so well used, but reminiscing suggests the existence of a relationship of some form. However, in the real world, if I have just been introduced to a random stranger, I am unlikely to discuss my innermost thoughts with that person until I have established rapport, trust and respect. To this end, when the ‘experts’ think it smart to ask me “what are you up to today?” it often draws the standard “drowning more kittens, just like yesterday” response.

Conclusion: any signs of “how are you today?” should draw out your venom,  respond caustically and delete them from friends or unfollow.

8. The ‘experts’ democratisation of knowledge – candidly, it would be hilarious were it not so sad. The manner in which these people impart their wisdom seems to be couched with a worrying religious fervor that scares the crap out of me, and a dumbed down manner that can cause irrational and spontaneous rage. Moreover, the knowledge imparted from a hook line like “get 100,000 followers on twitter in 30 days” tends to be, well, rather disappointing when you’re told to “be active” and “tweet a lot”. Indeed, what is most revealing is that the  very challenge that our heroes pertain to be able to meet, is the very thing that confounds them and that they’d most like to be able to achieve. In fact, some of the irony in these hooks to meaningless content would give P G Wodehouse a run for his comedy money.

Conclusion: popular “top 10 ways to tie you private parts into a reef knot” lists have long been a way of attracting the tabloid reader base. Unless there is original thought, imparted real world experience and opinion – avoid.

9. Influence networks; the painfully transparent process of groups of social ‘experts’ colluding to promote one another inside their own meaningless communities and interest areas. Pathetic. We’re back to points “1” and “2”. Few of our new found chums are capable of actually having a point of view at all, which means that they don’t so much divide opinion as gather splinters in their posteriors from the digital fence upon which they sit. I’d love to see one of them, just once respond to a comment or article with an outrageous reply, something like “You cretinous idiot, you’ve missed the whole point!” Instead, the stock “What a great response, I certainly go ahead and take that into consideration. Thank you!” is the stock response.

Conclusion; seek opinion and solutions, not vanilla flavoured middle of the road rubbish. If that’s what they provide, and as an example, their response to the Syrian problem might be, “well let’s just see what those great guys in Washington have to say about that” – you know what to do…

10. Original thought and trying to be clever. I have left my biggest frustration until last. My aim in writing this was not to lambast people for engaging on social channels. Nor was it to criticise those that try to become social community experts and advisors – far from it, I love entrepreneurial spirit, I admire people who give things a go. But for the love of God, have an opinion! Develop a point of view. There are so many news sources out there that allow me to access news and draw my own conclusions, what I most want is other people’s thoughts on things – I want them to do more than retweet something that they thin might be important. I want them to tell me why they think it’s important.

Conclusion: test their mettle – see what they know and think. Ask them something really random and see whether they (a) have a pulse (b) have a sense of humour (c) actually have the ability to construct a scenario that may see them proffer a point of view. If not, use your delete key as fast as possible.

Rant over. That is all.

Next post will deal with how to really frustrate and annoy wannabe social experts. Do tune in!

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2014 Tech Predictions

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Top 10 technology ‘probables’ and ‘should happens’ in the UK in 2014.

I promised myself that I would never write a ‘top 10 something or other list’ and then post to Twitter, but if you can’t beat them, join them.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

1. Shoreditch may not (well, is most likely not) the centre of the UK’s digital universe. Hard to believe though it is, there are other locations in the UK, indeed in London, that also seem to produce some interesting businesses without the incessant over-marketing of E14. There are, of course, some great businesses in Shoreditch, but you don’t actually have to be there to be successful, despite what everyone tells you. You heard it here first!
2. Social data applications will become much more important, monetised and valued by the corporate world. I still see social networks in their very early stages of development, they are by no means mature. Increasingly, corporates will start to assemble their own data structures that centre on data generated by the social ecosystem. Combined with their existing corporate data, they’ll be able to build data structures that enable deep knowledge of existing and prospective customers and align products to them. This means tangible improvements in business productivity and realizable savings in business processes. Undoubtedly, because they stand to gain the most soonest  – the insurance and banking sectors will lead the charge.
3. Big Data will get a new name. At least, I hope it will. At present, it is the name given to “a lot of data that we’d rather not throw away but we don’t quite know what to do with, at least not yet“.  Quite how database, cloud storage and hardware manufacturers will pivot to this new reality of actually defining what value there may be in ‘big data’ is a confounding question that will drive the acquisition of smaller data analytics companies by the main players, through the roof and beyond.
4. Apple will be fine. Really they will. So too will Facebook, and shock of shocks, so will Twitter.
5. Tony Bates will be named as MSFT’s CEO; Bates is British, so that counts as the UK. Bill Gates will not be named CEO although he will name Bates as the new boss, and remain as Executive Chairman. Steve Ballmer will move into the VC space and drop a load of dough on some very esoteric projects that, initially at least, no-one gives a hope in hell’s chance of working. But work they will, and when they do, all the journalists who have given him such a hard time will deny ever having wronged him – in spite of his fantastic YouTube video in which he depicts a power-crazed dictator, which of course, he is not. Well, not for much longer.
6. Medical and well-being solutions will be central to the wearable technology that CES promoted beyond rational excuse. Indeed, I think the bio-tech space will be turned on its head as the economic realities of dealing with long term, chronic medical conditions will come home to roost. The cost of managing diabetes alone exceeds $170 billion annually in the US. It’s estimated that at least 30% could be saved just by helping sufferers change their lifestyles. Don’t be surprised to see a load of clever stuff from the UK and Germany in this sector.
7. Video will remain the killer data format – in that it will be killer for consumers, who will continue to consume video content with abandon, and killer for network carriers and MNOs, because they’ll still not get a penny for the content that costs them so much to deliver.
8. The matter of internet Privacy will rear its innocent head on an almost daily basis, yet little will change as the increasingly aware thought leaders from the consumer base realise that there are no free lunches on the web, search is free so long as consumers are prepared to share their data. Ditto social. Ditto apps. The paltry efforts of legislation will do little to damage the treasury coffers of the main players – so in short, privacy will remain an issue that will not be fixed. Instead we’ll see a stalemate.
9. Mobile payments will flourish as the humble mobile finally morphs into one of those clever gadgets from I-robot.
10. Innovation will slow as hardware becomes constricted by processor and battery technology limitations.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN

1. UK government stops spending a fortune artificially creating free trade zones in derelict parts of the capital and starts to make investments in business across the UK with the view that a meritocracy is probably preferable to a bunch of under-funded, badly located and naïve businesses.
2. Individuals will have the right to charge for their online data and have greater control of who gets to see what. Ultimately, personal data will become the currency that it already is, but consumers will have the chance to see some value from their content, networks and ideas.
3. All governments globally will ban the phrases “big data” and “the internet of things” and mandate that people who have no idea about how data is harnessed to deliver personal and enterprise value, to be quiet on pain of incarceration, or even death.
4. Apple will be fine. Really they will. So too will Facebook, and shock of shocks, so will Twitter.
5. MSFT will finally break up into a number of distinct companies and start to re-invent itself as the pioneer that it once was. The removal of the OS and Office stipends (read ‘monopolies’) will force the devolved indepedent businesses to deliver the innovation and value that they once did during the 1980s and 1990s.
6. Global governments will finally recognise that there are global diseases for which they could find effective global cures and management strategies; as a result, they will learn to collaborate and share knowledge with each other and the major bio/pharma companies. The net impact will be a global reduction in healthcare costs and an increase in quality of life for every citizen on the planet. As an aside, there will be apps for those who are addicted to their digital devices, and the The Priory will add to its roster of addiction treatments by running pioneer cold turkey retreats for those who have lost the ability to think or do for themselves in the real world.
7. Content producers and creators will have a ‘light bulb’ moment in which they finally figure out that content should not be stuck onto YouTube for free as it will inevitably ruin the long term health of of the content industry, and leave “Mitty the Kitty” and facile Xbox and Playstation gaming ‘celebrities’ as the headline performers in the Royal Variety Performance. Actually, come to think of it, that may not be such a bad thing.
8. Governments will mandate all data driven businesses to offer all users the ability to opt out of data sharing and retain their rights to personal information privacy. Rather than fining any wayward constituents – their propositions will be banned from use within the jurisdiction that they’ve contravened. This will have far-reaching impact on valuations of digital businesses as investors will be forced to adopt the rather racey ‘does it make any real money or does it stand a chance of doing so‘ question. Radical I know.
9. ‘Normal’ people will just leave their cell phones off some of the time, revert to human interaction and conversation and not constantly live their lives in an artificial onliine world of memes, memories, avatars and shallow celebrity. For data on those who don’t, see “6.”
10. Innovation will be driven by real-world needs and value, not ‘hit and hope’ concepts that have no relevance, utility or value for anyone. People will realise that they only use about 10% of the total functionality of the devices and applications that they own, as such, a new dawn of building what people want will break out all over the digital world.