Three Kinds Of Social Media Losers: Charlatans, Sharks, And Geeks

Peter Shankman and Sarah Evans have co-written an article titled, “Is your social media expert really an expert?” If you have spent even a little bit of time exploring social media, you probably know that these are two very credible, serious people. Their 25-point list is very useful to anyone thinking about seeking outside help.

It’s tempting to reproduce it here, but that would be way wrong. You should  go read the list then come back here.

Are you back? OK, good.

the teen, the shark by Flickr user egarc2
"the teen, the shark" by Flickr user egarc2

You probably noticed there are really three themes at play. Call it three ways to be a loser when it comes to advising others on implementing social media:

  1. Being a charlatan. You know the type. They exist in all fields. They actually call themselves “gurus” or “experts” yet there is no trace of them on the Internet before 2008. They talk big and tell you about a brave new world where revenue doesn’t matter and everything is some kind of “conversation.”A charlatan sees money in the fact that many people are at sea when it comes to social media — and he or she is there to sell some snake oil and skip town.
  2. Being a shark. This is the person who sees social media as just another way to make real the world of Glengarry Glen Ross where the dictum is always to “get them to sign on the line that is dotted.” They see Twitter as a great way to “push” marketing out to “eyeballs.” They concoct schemes to boost followers and friends without regard to quality, just so the numbers are pumped up. To a shark, social media is a low-cost way to target new dupes.
  3. Being a geek. The geek has fallen so in love with the social media tools that she or he can’t see the purpose behind using them. They don’t seem to grasp that, at some point, someone has to buy something to make it all worthwhile. They don’t think about the needs of the organization, nor do they think about how to integrate social media with other outward-facing (and some inward-facing) functions in the organization. They don’t mean wrong (unlike the first two types) but they can be quite damaging in terms of blind alleys and false starts.

A friend of mine recently compared the current times to 1996, when few organizations really knew what to do, if anything, with this growing thing called the Web. Consultants cropped up like mushrooms and dispensed lots of lousy advice. This friend is of the opinion that it will be about two years before organizations have really decided on a stable set of social media strategies and, in the meantime, lots of charlatans, sharks, and geeks are going to make a killing.

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

One thought on “Three Kinds Of Social Media Losers: Charlatans, Sharks, And Geeks”

  1. Ah, 1996! I was a self-proclaimed HTML guru for about 15 minutes that year — mostly of the geek variety, with a dash of wannabe charlatan — and actually built a handful of websites, mostly for myself and friends. I very quickly realized there was a difference between an avid user and an expert, though, when an almost-client made some very reasonable design requests that I had no idea how to do.

    Can it be that it was all so simple then? ;-)

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