Beware community and social media know-it-alls. Take the time to do your own research.
One of the many things I enjoy about social media is that it affords people the opportunity to meet and converse with people they might not have otherwise had an opportunity to encounter. Having worked in this area for a number of years, I can attest to the power of networking. I have personally developed a number of close friendships and business relationships that started online because I enjoyed and valued what someone I didn't know shared, and I wanted to explore the topic further.
The exciting thing about social media is that it affords all people a voice and the opportunity to express themselves and their opinions without discrimination based on experience or location. It also provides a venue for people to connect with other individuals and businesses around a set of shared interests.
But for all the positive qualities of social media, it's not without risk. One of the things that concerns me the most about social media is that it assigns expertise to too many people. Since a great number of our conversations are indexed and return in search results, you can literally stumble upon anyone's blog or conversation stream without any context as to who the person is and what his or her background or level of expertise might be.
If you're diligent like me, you research the person whose content you've come across before you take the person's expertise at face value. Every week I run across a new person who offers his or her social media expertise for sale in the form of consulting services, webinars, white papers, or books. Yet when I look at their profiles or research them a bit further, I find no examples of experience or expertise in using social media for business.
Another recent example was when a smart individual started a conversation surrounding a tool he never used and challenged the usefulness of that tool and questioned whether customers really use it to its full potential. He argued that the tool is too expensive, offers too much functionality, and may even take too long to deploy. Your average reader might conclude, "Oh, no -- I've got to take that vendor off my list!" The sad reality is that this self-proclaimed expert never even used the tool, in a business or any other setting. I know firsthand that companies worldwide use this tool to transform the way people work, communicate, and accomplish real business objectives. But the average reader who searched for the tool or vendor wouldn't know that without doing a little research.
I'm not saying that people are maliciously sharing bad information; I don't believe that at all. A lot of people have a lot of great ideas, and I admire their passion and enthusiasm for sharing and sparking conversation. I'm even OK with the above individual starting the conversation around the tool he'd never used, because it led to testimonials from real users. It sparked exactly the kind of factual information and case studies necessary to make an informed decision.
It's important to remember that passion doesn't equal expertise or experience. Theories and assertions can be interesting, but facts win out every time.
Jamie (@JamiePappas) is VP of social media at AMP Agency, the leader in inspiring brands with integrated digital and experiential marketing. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at her blog, Social Media Musings.
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