Do marketers fake it before they make it? (Or, how to identify a genuine ‘expert’)

In a world where seemingly everyone claims to be an expert in something, how do you identify the real thing?

A friend and PR colleague recently revealed that his process for screening someone who claims to be a ‘social media guru’ is to first gauge how many Facebook or Twitter followers they have. In his mind, for this line of work, there is a clear correlation between followers and credibility.

Most of the people who responded to my friend’s post were in agreement.  I was one of a small minority for whom the concept did not rest comfortably. In my view, having a large number of followers is as likely as anything else to indicate the person is wildly popular or a ‘collector’. After all, studies reveal people use social media to satiate two primary needs:  1) the need to belong; and 2) the need for self-preservation.

Still, I’ve been mulling it over ever since and the serious question remains: in our industry how do you detect if someone really is an expert? Unlike other professions (accounting, law, engineering), and unlike other countries (United Kingdom), there is no embedded industry-wide accreditation scheme for marketers in Australia.

So here are a few tips to help you pre-qualify expertise:

1. To begin with, expertise implies a person has a great deal of experience. Experience comes with time. I’m sorry, it just does. So if you’re under 30, go ahead and shout from the rooftops that you’re a specialist or a budding expert but don’t wish your life away trying to convince yourself and others you’ve already made it.

2. There’s no international standard for job titles. These days, colourful titles are de rigueur.  Simply search LinkedIn for ‘Director of First Impressions’ or ‘Chief Inspiration Officer’ to see what I mean. On the flip side, it’s not uncommon to meet extraordinarily talented and successful people – individuals who truly are experts in their field – who have the most underwhelming business cards. Anyone who’s worked for an American company will know that the vice president title is about as standard there as manager is here. My point? A big title means little.

3. You have to use relevant measures to identify and assess expertise. Using my friend’s social media example, number of followers is an inadequate measure as they could be passive or even personal followers. More relevant metrics would be frequency of interaction, number of fans, or the person’s influence measured through Klout, Kred or PeerIndex scores.

4. Are they really an expert in what they claim? People often claim to have much deeper or broader expertise than they do. And they usually get away with it because those seeking to engage their services don’t have the industry or technical knowledge to know any better. As one authority eloquently pointed out, digital experts build business online; they don’t just create banner ads and microsites. You have to do your research.

5. Ultimately, of course, the most reliable measure is past performance. What has the person actually done or delivered before?  Ask them to be specific, to quantify the results. Ask for testimonials, references. Speak to existing or former clients. Scan their endorsements on LinkedIn. And most of all remember, the world’s changed and it keeps on changing so recency is the new currency.

 

Jacqueline Burns
BY Jacqueline Burns ON 4 November 2013
Jacqueline (Jaci) Burns is managing director of B2B marketing agency, Market Expertise. Serving as both steward and strategist, Market Expertise assists 'smart' companies with their marketing, communications, business development and associated human capital requirements.