Experience Has Nothing To Do With Your Social Media Status

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Being great at getting people to follow you on Twitter or read your Blog does not make you an experienced Marketer.

It’s easy to create a title for yourself. It’s easy to be provocative. It’s (fairly) easy to get people to follow you on Twitter. It’s (fairly) easy to create a Blog full of linkbait. All of that will create attention for you. All of that will give you status within the Social Media sphere. All of that is fine and dandy, but none of that can give you any real experience. Doing the hard work – over a long period of time, with real clients and real teams – is where experience comes from – nothing more… nothing less.

We can’t really quantify professional experience in Social Media.

I’ve head of people blacking out their windows while spending months on Twitter developing a significant following. I’ve also seen Marketing veterans with some of the sharpest insights struggle to get people to connect to and follow them. Those folks in the basement get 50,000 followers after a couple of months, and then everyone who discovers them after that point makes the assumption that they must be experienced/smart if they have so many followers – including book publishers. With just a bit of scratching beneath the surface, it’s actually quite easy to separate the real professionals from those who are either just starting out or those who are trying to jump the cue.

But, there’s a problem with that…

It takes an experienced professional to know that someone else isn’t an experienced professional. Because of that, we’re seeing a lot of self-proclaimed gurus and experts dishing out their own perspectives as if they were seasoned and experienced Marketers espousing experienced fact. I often shrug my shoulders in amazement/disappointment at some of the content I read (and the ensuing comments and retweets). In a perfect world, you would hope that the brands looking to hire people to help them out with their Digital Marketing will do enough due diligence to see through the pale text, but then you realize that this will likely not happen.

Then how do we define experience?

It’s probably a combination of time, energy, effort and results. While some newcomers to the industry have some pretty amazing ideas and some of those folks with thousands of followers say things that seem to make sense, senior experience can’t be faked.

But don’t let that stop you.

I’m not saying that everyone shouldn’t have right to publish their thoughts (especially those that are not as experienced). In fact, it’s the total opposite. I love seeing new, fresh and exciting faces (and this includes students) leverage these many online publishing platforms to share what they’re thinking. The truth is that most people have some semblance of experience (at a basic level, you gain experience after every day of work), and the last thing anybody wants to is to see voices and ideas stifled. Just remember that a lot of followers and Blog comments doesn’t equal experience.

The trick is in not thinking that someone with many followers or lots of Blog posts with comments is a seasoned professional. They may not be.


  1. I need a Gapingvoid print of “Doing the hard work – over a long period of time, with real clients and real teams – is where experience comes from – nothing more… nothing less.”

  2. Isn’t that the trouble with social proof? We’re all so easily hoodwinked when we trust our instincts. Have you read Influence by Robert Cialdini? He talks about the dangers of social proof and other such automatic human behavior that marketers/salesfolk can manipulate for monetary gain.
    I notice that you list the number of comments on a particular blog post but that’s about the extent of your social proof indicators. There’s no conference badges, awards or public displays of your Twitter following. Is that on purpose?

  3. well forget what other people think for a minute. also forget that it’s a fairly new world to have your numbers be made public by default.
    if you are creating any art, you need followers to help yourself validate the time and energy you are putting in. you need those fans and you are praying for them to show up, whether you will admit it or not.
    some of us are able to keep going even when there are not many of them around, but overall we are working for their arrival.
    so forget how we are validated by others, to start with, this is how we validate ourselves.

  4. Some ” marketers” bloggers are exhibitionist and are excellent in attracting attention, however who are they attracting? Ignorant will follow the ignorant
    Quantity is not a reliable metric here.
    I recall on old French proverb saying:
    Knowledge is like Jam, the less you have, the more you spread!

  5. Taking the thought a little further. I’ve often wondered if people who create a legitimate personal brand through legit hustle and know how can translate this to their clients. It seems to me that the things which work for an individual are often radically different from the things that work for a customer.
    For example, if an individual’s success was built on a great and engaging personality and a fantastic blog, how do you translate that to a corporate customer? The customer may actually ave no interest or ability to leverage a blog and the strategy falls apart.

  6. The old debate of quality vs. quantity. When it comes to social media it’s about the quality of the content being posted as well as the experience/credibility of the one behind the post.

  7. Thanks so much for “telling it like it is” as usual! I have lost count of the number of job opportunities from which I’ve been excluded because of a lack of formal social media experience. I don’t discount that there are true experts and practitioners and I always learn something new from others. But I’ve often been frustrated by this attempt to define who is and who isn’t an expert of an ephemeral channel when it sometimes seems to be a high school popularity contest.

  8. The flip side is true as well > years of mktg experience and success is not success in the world of social media. A lot of marketers are now trying to run the table just because corporate org charts have put “social” in their bucket. The “I got this now, so scram” attitude shows ego more than results.

  9. Mitch,
    In response to your last sentence – or they may be.
    I’m working on a post now about separating signal from noise in the online space. After reading this post there might be some linkbait back to this post in mine. πŸ˜‰

  10. Joel,
    I was just commenting on Geoff’s blog post from yesterday, which I believe is a follow on from that here. Maybe not.
    Fact is, as I mentioned on a comment at Geoff’s post, clients are becoming much smarter than they were previously due to the ideas and content shared on the web. The cream always rises to the top.
    We have the hardest time selling our ideas into clients who still want numbers, followers, and put a weighted factor on that part in lieu of building out a long term relationship with their audience.
    This is a self-policed system you speak of here. Clients will filter the bad from the good. I love new thinking and ideas. It’s why you are in my feed. I read, I learn, I agree or disagree. Same as any client would do once they see the work we give them.
    I find that our clients, big brands and medium sized brands, are skeptical at first. Once they see the thinking and rationale behind what we deliver, they begin to get it. It takes time with clients for them to get this stuff. Once they do, it’s like 1000 light bulbs go off in their heads.
    That part is when I know I have done a good job. Period. Keep up the great work. Your good people. I like good people.

  11. What I took from this post was that your readers should assume you are a seasoned pro but suspect all other bloggers who appear to have the evidence of a seasoned pro’s success. What’s the point? If you must warn against false prophets, please define”sesasoned pro.” I’d suggest that “seasoning” involves of a body of work created over time, including failures as well as successes.

  12. I agree and it is not just Marketing, but any expertise needs to be followed up with experience. I myself have extensive experience within Customer Service, but do not consider myself a Marketing expert. I have picked up Marketing lingo and understanding along the way, but still count on Marketing experts for true Marketing adventures. I believe Marketing is only one piece of Social Media. I follow Marketing experts such as yourself to gain insight and understand the process. In my experiences prior to explosion of “Social”, I regularly relied on assistance from Marketing to advice on best language and presentation to customer, to ensure corporate brand being represented.
    Also agree with Carla in that years of Marketing experience does not make a Social Marketing expert. In fact there are few Social Marketing experts currently. I believe it is necessary to have a background in Marketing to be able to promote yourself as a true Social Marketing persona – others getting into should be careful regarding the Marketing title. It takes years to fully understand Marketing. Others certainly may be adept at implementing the pieces and technical aspects, but will be useful to build a rapport and alliance with a true Marketing expert.
    It is becoming more and more apparent that numbers of followers is meaningless. Celebrities have millions of followers – as a fan club. Others that work at increasing numbers but don’t have the experience are being found out. I myself review the content of the person and not just how many followers have they been able to amass.

  13. A month ago, you accused me of complaining…this sounds like some of that.
    My theory is this…the companies that hire these gurus, whether to write a book or help them market online, get what they deserve.
    There’s a certain SM guru that got a book deal because of a similar situation, and when you hear him speak, there’s zero substance. The book is more of the same. It’s easy for me to tell.
    The true marketers w/ experience talk about things other than unicorns and rainbow. I rarely here you talk about engagement, yet it’s the battle cry of the inexperienced.
    You’re right, but I say let them get what they deserve.

  14. As usual, great insights and plain spoken words! I think that how you evaluate someone’s true expertise is by the content they’ve generated. When I’m kicking the tires on a potential new connection/subscription/resource, I always read pretty deep into their Tweetstream, read a few weeks worth of blogs, and do some Googling. My in-box is too clogged to let a pseudo-guru in.
    Regarding follower numbers, I have a weird opposite reaction to folks who have the 50K/50K count. I run screaming in the other direction. Those numbers ARE revealing.

  15. Stop complaining Nathan!
    Actually I couldn’t agree more with you here, they got what they deserve. But, will the “got what you deserve” mentality harm an industry that is on fire?

  16. I hope so…that’s the only way to control it.
    I’d also question whether it’s on fire or not. There’s a lot of chatter, but I’m not sure that equates to usefulness.

  17. That’s very well said. One of the things I was very careful *not* to do when I started out was giving an impression I was just the n-th cocky social media fanboy jumping in the wagon and acting like a pro.
    I am the first one to admit I am a total rookie at this and every day that passes I learn something new, and I think that’s an approach many people should have, newcomer or not.

  18. Love the comment on quality vs. quantity! I started a blog last year, having only a few years of experience in marketing. I decided my ideas were good, thoughts good, but nothing was great because it was hard for me to relay my stories or ideas back to personal experience, and give real world examples.
    I think what makes someone a professional expert on a topic, and blogs I enjoy reading, is when the writer can relate ideas back to some project, or work, or experience that they personally have dealt with. It enables credibility of the writer. Trust of the writer is created for the reader.
    I never published my marketing blog live, because I felt I wasn’t ready to be considered an internet expert. I still write posts for myself, to help hone my writing skills and develop my ideas and strategic thinking. My blog will only go public once I feel I have greater experience that I can contribute to an effective blog. Blogs should teach readers and help develop thinking skills and ideas, ask questions to get people thinking beyond the box, and inspire its readers. Inspiration- real world examples.
    Blogs on a specific subject (marketing or otherwise) written by someone claiming to be a “professional,” should develop this inspiration and trust of its readers… “if I’ve done it, you can to, think outside the box, grow, flourish, become the expert you know you can be.”

  19. So many people with vastly different levels of experience have jumped onto the Social Media bandwagon without any idea what the goal is – and that leads to focusing on all the wrong things such as Twitter follower numbers for the sake of numbers alone.
    The same is true of publishing daily blog posts to increase traffic. If you can’t keep quality high, posting for the sake of posting will hurt you in the long run. Social Media is the same as most other business concepts – clear goals and logic plus collaborating with others will get you much better results faster – and RESULTS are what counts.
    Results for most people means more leads and/or sales. If you sell products or services your blog posts need to be about what you sell. I do not mean they should be selling – I mean they should build relationships that reveal how what you offer benefits your readers.
    Being able to charge more for advertising based on worthless artificially generated traffic that will never convert is preying on others who do not know any better than to buy it.
    An obsession with spreadsheets and using analytics that only track last click to try to measure what can’t be measured is a fool’s errand. Using timelines as suggested by the brandbuilder to see trends based on changes over time will work. When GrandMa tells her daughter that product x works for her and the daughter shares that on her favorite Social Network you are simply not going to be able to track that sale back to the original source.
    The bottom line is only a few really know what they’re doing and, as Mitch said in this post, “It takes an experienced professional to know that someone else isn’t an experienced professional.” That means the solution is that those who CAN tell who knows what must be willing to recommend the best – at least privately and ideally publicly.
    Exceptional consultants are a tiny minority and so are exceptional clients. It just makes sense that they recommend these people to each other.

  20. I love Cialdini… his books are critical to any businessperson.
    I don’t like to self-promote. I’m hopeful that the work Twist Image does and the content you get here can demonstrate the experience. I’m not big on the “look at me” stuff and it’s not about me. I’m the President of a company (and one of four business partners). We’re a team – all 130 of us at Twist Image. No one person makes it happen.

  21. It is the self-exploration that is the most exciting (to me). I get less impressed when those who don’t have the experience try to create scenarios that seem counter-intuitive to a client’s success. It’s those more basic instances when you can really feel the lack of experience and professionalism.

  22. I have Blogged about this before… I do not think that the credibility of a personal brand is transferable. I do think that some of the skills, strategy and tactics that one uncovers while creating a personal brand can be used in a toolkit for others as well – like for direction.

  23. I find the argument between whether someone is a professional marketer or not, as it relates to social media, very interesting. Marketing, as a discipline, was invented to help companies represent themselves as compellingly as possible to their customers. To do that, agencies would take the company’s infinite complexity – all the people, products, history, etc. – and craft a singular image (brand) that approximated a single human being. Our nomenclature reflects this personification of brands – brand personality, brand behavior, etc. In the social space, the individual is already a single person! There’s no complexity to simplify by creating a personified brand. The discipline of marketing no longer applies, at least in the traditional sense. What matters is substance, to Mitch’s larger point here. Substance will win every time. Not marketing savvy.

  24. So true for what the both of you are saying in this thread. We should also remember that not all brilliant Marketers are brilliant at creating content and copy to explain how they do things. Being able to produce content – specifically for Social Media channels – is an artform unto itself.

  25. I briefly touched on this subject in my blog back in August – it was a post about ‘blagging’, e.g. bluffing your way through life http://bit.ly/dwaPf1. I agree with what you’ve said in your post and I can empathise with your point-of-view. I am a marketer and I often feel frustrated when I see/hear about people who are clearly not experienced marketers but are gaining a following because they have played the system and shouted the loudest. People with new thoughts, theories and opinions are great, and it’s always good to hear a different perspective. But as Will Burns points out in his comment, it is those with substance that matter the most.

  26. I sincerely hope that this post of yours Mitch has brought some new readership to the blog and that those readers have discovered the additional greatness of the comments. So much happens in here and this set of comments is a perfect example of where some of the “experience” discussed in the post can be found. Kudos!

  27. Sara:
    Don’t sell yourself short. Based on this comment alone, I’d consider reading your blog, were you to take it public.
    Great thoughts and well written.

  28. As smart as clients are getting (and I agree with you, they’re getting very smart), we still can’t tell that someone with a top-ranked Marketing Blog actually has little (to no) real-life experience doing this sort of stuff for clients. It’s something we need to consider and think about.

  29. I guess I may be considered experienced to some and not-so experienced when compared against others. It’s not about me. It’s about us. If you re-read the Blog post, you’ll see multiple definitions of “experience” – which will also shift and change based on who the brand is, the scope of the project and beyond…

  30. I’d take this a step further (much further) and deep-dive into the content they’ve helped create for others. I think building a personal brand can be fairly easy, it’s doing it for others that impresses me.

  31. A lot of us feel like rookies… and that’s fine. It’s our professional experience coupled with our curiosity of Social Media that can help us transcend and build into something that brands can really define as having value and experience, but we have to be able to do it for others (not just ourselves).

  32. I agree with Sam. Letting people know that your Blog is a space to formulate your ideas is fine. In fact, that’s what this Blog is (exactly). Also, I never (or rarely) mention brands and clients… we just don’t do that at Twist Image, and I don’t have the right to speak to current client work, so don’t worry too much about that either.

  33. Back to word of mouth and recommendation… and nothing has changed, has it? When I get asked who to work with, I follow a very similar path, but I’m quick to not refer to people just because they have a highly trafficked Blog, many Twitter followers or even a best-selling book. I like to send brands that aren’t right for Twist Image over to the worker bees (as it were).

  34. “Blagging” – love it… sounds like “Blogging” and “Bragging.” The strange part is that a lot of people can’t find the balance. They either tweet all day and don’t do the real work of building a client’s brand or they’re doing the real work of building a client’s brand and feel like they don’t have time for Social Media.
    There is a healthy balance… and it can/should be done.

  35. I actually did say *something* similar in the Blog post: there are plenty of seasoned vets who get few comments and followers. Part of this is (probably) due to the fact that they may be great at getting results, but they may not be perfect at communicating it in channels/platforms like this.
    … and many thanks for the mention on your Blog, Robin… you know I always appreciate it.

  36. Late to the party but wanted to let you know I agree with you . This was a great quote: “It takes an experienced professional to know that someone else isn’t an experienced professional”
    That seems unfortunate but true. When i see the pablum being put out there and people just fawning over it, I am amazed.
    The thing that is interesting is that I can understand why a company is not a meritocracy. You have politics, mentors and bureacracy. But a blogger seemingly has to put their best stuff out every week to legitimately earn an audience. Not so. Fact is, some of the leading bloggers are at the top, and will stay at the top, simply because they were first in the space.
    Thanks for the great post.

  37. Just re-read your post and you certainly did raise the point I re-raised. In the future, I’ll save myself the trouble of scanning all the comments – and just read the post more carefully. πŸ˜‰
    And thanks for the comment on my post!

  38. I had not seen that Blog post, but I just read it. I still think what makes Social Media “social” is the ability to connect, share and be more human. I’m not great at saying, “thank you” online – I too feel like it can be contrived, etc… on the other hand, I get it. People want to know that their message was heard.
    This Blog has done a complete 180 in the past several months as I have made attempts to truly connect, listen and react in the comments. It’s not always easy. I sometimes hold my tongue. I’m often not really saying back what I want to really say, but that’s the reality of managing a media property.

  39. But there’s a difference between someone linking to you or mentioning your name or a blog post because he or she was truly inspired (pro or con), versus doing it to grab your attention, either by deliberately being provocative/controversial or to “suck up” to you or to try and get you to comment on that same post.
    Like Jenn, I don’t think you should feel obligated to comment on blog posts that feature your name or a past posting, unless you feel you genuinely have something to add. (As a reader, I get so tired of the “thank you for mentioning me” comments, and especially the “thank you for including me on your [subjective] list of “best of…”)
    Why is being thanked via an email, DM or phone call not sufficient?
    I’m saddened to read this part of your comment, “I sometimes hold my tongue. I’m often not really saying back what I want to really say…”, especially as it relates to *your* blog.

  40. I actually Blogged about this a while back:
    You’ll not that I changed my style/tone since then. I’m actually enjoying the back and forth in the comments. The truth is that there are many ways to make this work and no one way is the right way.
    I like that… and I’m fine with that… even if it means being cordial when I’d much prefer to blast someone… it’s good for the “self” to demonstrate restraint and peace at some points πŸ™‚

  41. I was just having this conversation with an associate and friend last night. While he and I might not have a massive Twitter following, we both have “made things happen” in the social space. I agree that the number of followers doesn’t necessarily mean experience or ability to execute.
    I’m curious to know your thoughts on measurements like “Klout”. Have you blogged about this before or talked about it on a podcast?
    Keep it up Mitch!

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