The social media expert is dead. Discuss

The social media expert is dead. Discuss

There have been a few more blog posts doing the rounds recently announcing the death of the social media consultant. The broad argument goes that, as companies have gotten used to SM, so then they no longer need to outsource this work.

Pronouncing the death of a genre, or breed, is headline grabbing. A bit like this one. It’s the shouting bloke at the bar, the black-is-the-new-white kind of statement that ignores all subtlety and counter-argument.

Bookshops have been heading for extinction for decades, that sort of argument goes. Indeed, digital downloads of books overtook sales of hard back versions yesterday. But while numbers of bookshops have dropped, there are still 1,000 in the UK. That’s a decline, not a death.

A social media consulting career is not terminal. Companies are recruiting in-house because SM is becoming mainstream. It’s part of marketing, and companies have always had marketeers – now they want ones with new skills, to do particular SM jobs. That’s for the bigger firms. As technology breeds new opportunities, social media twists and contorts into new directions. There is always something new to learn, and there will always be consultants with something to teach those who don’t, or can’t stay abreast of developments. Usually because they are busy.

The breed that is dying is the social media expert, because one person cannot know it all. As blogger Dave of Detroit says in a post: “We try things, we experiment, and we have some moderate amount of success with certain things… but we’re not experts.”

He posted the blog in April. But on closer inspection, it was originally posted in January, 2012. Given the rate of change in 30 months, certainly no-one could profess themselves an expert now. Read Mike Sowden’s blog this week, arguing that social media is only an adjunct, a sidebar to other forms of marketing.

So the picture gets increasingly fragmented and complicated. Which means one of two things for the person formerly known as an expert consultant. Firstly, they have become specialists, an expert on Instagram. Or Java. Facebook, maybe, or video. Even storytelling (aka a journalist).

Or they have stayed as all-rounders but for clients with much smaller expectations. Big brands will always use big agencies (who may well be experts) and are hiring in-house. But the small to medium companies, the SMEs, are still only getting to grips with social media.

I’ve noticed just in the past month a small but significant interest from this market, hitherto awed by, or dismissive of, social media. These SMEs don’t want viral and paid-for campaigns, reams of expensive original content and analytics beyond Google. They want someone to tell them how best to use Twitter and Facebook, maybe Instagram and possibly Pinterest. How to load a decent photo, get a good video for under £1,000 and what stories to write. And when to post them.

One consultant can do that for, say, a year and get paid around £5,000. And they can do it for five or six SMEs and make a decent living. Hell, then they can almost call themselves an expert.

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

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