Beware of the Self-Proclaimed Social Media Experts

The most critical step in the hiring process is reference checking. This is important not only in hiring employees but especially in hiring consultants. Not everyone has the expertise they claim.

The Mustache Salesman - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #5487211

Photo courtesy of ©

For example, I am increasingly being pitched by so-called “social media” experts. A very few are bona fide experts. Some are traditional media people, who are repacking the same old advice using the new buzz words. More than a few are unemployed marketing people who discovered Twitter last month.In fact, I checked out one yesterday who had no blog and only a few hundred Twitter followers. There’s no crime in that, of course. Unless you are billing yourself as a “social media expert.” Then it’s just ludicrous.

How do you tell the difference? Here are my three rules:

  1. Make sure their claims are backed up by their numbers.
  2. Make sure they have been where you want to go.
  3. Make sure they know how to replicate their success.

You wouldn’t want to attempt to climb Mount Everest, get half way up the mountain, and then discover that this is your guide’s first climb. Neither do you want to follow the advice of someone who is (as they say in Texas) “all hat and no cattle.” Reading a few books and articles on social media is not the same as building a successful social media platform.

Rather than walking you through some negative examples, let me give you some positive ones. I faithfully read the blogs of Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, and Tim Ferriss. I would be happy to take advice from any of them on building blog traffic.

Why? Look at the numbers from (Disclaimer: this tool is not 100% accurate, but it is close enough for double-checking someone’s claims): Results for Three Big Bloggers Over Six Months

They all have significantly more traffic than I do. Therefore, when they speak, I listen.

Or take Twitter. I get pitched several times a day from people who want to teach me, “how to dramatically grow your follower count on Twitter.” This claim to expertise is easy to check as well. In fact, if the so-called expert doesn’t have more traffic than I do, I ignore them. On the other hand, Guy has over 144,000 followers, Chris has more than 83,000 and Tim has more than 50,000.

Again, I would be happy to take advice from them because they have built large followings—without the benefit of traditional media platforms (e.g., a television show, movie career, etc.). Unfortunately, most of the people who are out there touting themselves as social media experts aren’t. It’s up to you to know the difference. That’s why I start with the numbers.

Question: Who are the experts you’ve found and listen to? I would love to expand my roster of mentors.
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  • zaniskiwi

    I tend to think the 'social media' experts come from the now defunct 'life-style' consultants who by some amazing twist of fate think they can manage another persons life but still be themselves requiring of a job. If anyone contacts me as a social media expert I laugh and 'close the door'.

  • Jeff Brown

    I like @KrisColvin, @thebrandbuilder, @problogger and @ariherzog in addition to the names you mentioned.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jeff. I follow @ProBlogger but not the others. Will definitely check them out. Thanks.

  • Tyler_Braun

    Being an expert HAS to be about more than numbers. I agree it is an indicator. But take a look at the people who follow those guys. About half are spammers or trying to make money. I think that all can be pretty misleading. I agree all those people know what they are talking, so they aren't bad examples but hits and followers are only so valuable as they were willing to go the extra mile for you.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It definitely has to be about more than the numbers; however, I don't think it is either or. I am looking for quality content and quality readers. The best way to insure this, in my opinion, is by producing good content.

  • Jon Dale


    Great post.

    I’d like to throw a little shout out on behalf of this post’s sponsor Blythe Daniel Agency. I’ve known Blythe personally for 5 years. I’ve seen her work first hand as she worked with my clients. I add my endorsement to yours.

    Happy 4th.


    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jon. I have known Blythe personally for 11 years. She is a fantastic person and does a fantastic job.

  • Eric S. Mueller

    I've been getting a lot of Twitter followers lately with bios claiming to be "social media experts" or "small business consultants". At one point, I used to follow anyone who followed me (unless their tweets are pointless and annoying), but I reached my fill of "social media experts". I'm not sure how they find me anyway. Neither my blog nor my Twitter feed have much to do with social media.

    I also noticed that when you follow these people, at least every other tweet is a repeat. It's one thing to listen to repetitive commercials on TV and radio, but I'm not dealing with it on Twitter.

  • Joe Tye

    I'd rather have a dozen meaningful followers than a million total strangers. But when CEOs of some of our client organizations say they aren't into social marketing, I find that I end up forwarding your blog articles more than any other one item (with Gienna Shaw of Health Leaders Media a close second).

    Joe Tye

  • Timothy Fish

    Numbers are meaningless. I see authors with websites and blogs that don't amount to much in terms of numbers, but if you were to mention their name in a room full of authors, everyone would nod their heads and say, "Yeah, I know him." On the other hand, I get these guys on Twitter who follow me for not particular reason and by the time I check their numbers, they have have jumped from 25 follows to 3,000 followers or something like that. I look at some of the stuff people are recommending to build "platform" and have ethical qualms about some of the stuff they are doing. And some of these people are Christian authors. When people link to my website or click the follow button on my blog, I want them to do so because they know they will get something of value. I don't want to be putting a bunch of rubish out there, just so my Google ranking will climb.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don't agree that numbers are meaningless. I would agree that they are only one component in evaluating someone's effectiveness. Personally, I don't think it has to be either/or. This is a false dichotomy. I want to influence as many people as I can with the best content I can create.

      Thanks for your input.

      • Timothy Fish

        Perhaps "meaningless" was too strong of a word. I have a Software Engineering background, so I certainly understand the value of numbers, but I have also seen that how we interpret the number can be just as important as the number itself. But from the social side of the equation, there is a big different between influencing someone to do something he wanted to do anyway and persuading him to a cause. Some successful bloggers are successful because they are doing the equivalent of selling bottled water in the desert. That is a good thing to do, but his numbers are going to be different from the guy who wants to sell sunscreen. And different again from the con-artist who is selling a rainmaker.

  • Tim

    Perhaps if you only follow the advice of established "stars" then you may miss the new thinking of up and comers.

  • patriciazell

    Since I am finding a steep learning curve in getting my blog up and running along with my twitter account, I can use all the advice I can get. When you reference someone, I usually bookmark the site. I even went to a real bookstore yesterday and spent some time in the social media section. I bought The Twitter Book by Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein and the WordPress for Dummies manual. I think we might all agree that with social media, there will always be something new and exciting and that we will always be in a learning mode. That's part of what makes reaching out and sharing ideas so challenging and fun even though frustrations abound.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Tim O'Reilly is great. He is a real person, running a real company. I don't know Sarah Milstein, but I will check her out. You can never know too much about WordPress.


      • patriciazell

        It's good to know I picked good books–thank God for His guidance because I didn't know what to buy. Whatever I do online, I want it to reflect well upon our wonderful Father.

        • Sarah Milstein

          It's great to hear you bought our book (The Twitter Book) after spending some time at the bookstore, Patricia. I really hope it helps you out. If you find yourself with follow-up questions, you can find me on Twitter (@SarahM) or email, which is listed in my Twitter bio.

          Michael, we haven't met, but I used to work as a staffer for O'Reilly, and I founded the TOC conference, at which you've spoken (insightfully, I'm told). I know you're busy, so no need to follow up. But if you do want more info, I've linked my name to my site.

          • Michael Hyatt

            Thanks, Sarah. I look forward to visiting your site and buying your book. I am headed to Amazon right now!

          • Sarah Milstein

            That's great to hear, Michael! I hope you find it useful, and I'd love feedback from you and any other readers 'round these parts.

  • Daniel Decker

    “Social Media Expert” has to be the #1 bio line on Twitter especially. I’m a little leery of people who put superlatives like “expert” in their bio anyways. Seems that most who really do have the credibility don’t have to sell it so hard. :) In the defense of some “experts” though, I think some CAN be legit but they are better at creating traffic for others versus themselves since so much of traffic depends on the content. You and I can have the same tools at our disposal but great content is what makes it ignite and start a fire.

    • Daniel Decker

      As for the credible social media experts I do follow, not self-proclaimed, I mostly follow those you mentioned and a few more. @techcrunch, @mashable, @kevinrose, Robert Scoble, John Jantsch @ducttape, @StevenBJohnson… and others.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I'm with you. If you are an expert, why do you have to tell me. Won't the facts speak for themselves. I also totally agree with your comment about content.

    • Timothy Fish

      I agree that credibility makes it easier to sell something. Isn't that the whole point? One of the goals social networking is to build credibility. I too am leery of self-named experts, but then we have people like Seth Godin saying we should tell people our super power.

  • anne jackson

    I learn a lot from you!!!! :)

    • Daniel Decker

      I'd also add Anne to my list of those to learn from on Social Media. While that may not be the area she most drops her wisdom, she does have a lot of good insight to share… being authentic and engaging the reader.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I'm an Anne fan, too. In fact, we met on Twitter. Now she and her husband are neighbors.

  • Marysol

    Thanks for the recommendations! Looking forward to checking them out.

    My reccommendation is not tradtional:
    This woman is by no means a "social media expert" nor would she care to be, but somehow she has built (according to TIME) one of the most powerful blogs (or rather collection of blogs) in the world in just 3 years.

    I don't know a woman in my circle of friends who doesn't follow her. I own the knife she promotes b/c my mother saw it and got it for me. Most of her recipes are in my files. Alot of my photography I learned from her. She is THE first site I visit as a woman in the 24-35 age gap becuase she of the repore she has built with us readers. She's down right FUN. Even better, I don't feel that she has "tried" to do it.

    My husband and I talk all the time about how if you want to sell to women, make friends with Ree, the pioneerwoman. She understands this part of the market but would never tell you so.

    • Bryce

      I second that! I love pioneerwoman and follow her regularly.

    • Jan

      Amen! P-Dub is the best blog/social media around .. this morning's Twitter comment from her has me itching to check into the blog to see what engendered the comment .. and I KNOW it's mundane, but it will be something I and relate to and enjoy.

  • Andrew

    Actually you should post the negative examples

    • @jessewick

      There would be about 5,000,000. Unless I know these people personally, I ignore them on Twitter. As someone pointed out, their tweets are repetitive (and usually vapid to begin with). I spent enough time in advertising to know that a new set of buzzwords does not constitute a revolution in the way we do business. Same old snake oil in a new medium.

  • Eva Ulian

    I'm "afraid" you are the person/mentor I come to first whenever I need to "stretch" my knowledge on anything to do with the social media- also Gail as she taught me how to upload an avatar for "intense debate". I guess the main reason is because I am able to understand your non-technical language and have been able to put into practice a number of your recommendations- However, fundamentally I think it is because you generate trust…

  • stephenbateman

    A big question is the quality of their followers. Anybody can go find 3000 spammers/quicksellers to follow them on Twitter. People like Godin, Brogan, Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) have developed a really huge following in large part composed of real, interested people.

    • LoriJ_VA

      It stands to reason that someone like Godin would have a huge following for his blog and all. He already had a huge following of interested people from his book writing and speaking. I follow Rowse, Brogan, and some other people who I found while browing the subject of social media. I had never heard of them before but their content is what kept me coming back. So it does stand to reason that their following would grow to the present levels. The one thing that social media makes evident is that anyone who has something revelant to say can be heard by the people who want to listen. Before Web 2.0 if a person had a relevant message there was still the issue of getting the publishers/media, etc, to send it out for you.

      • stephenbateman

        indeed, I also daresay that a lot of people (in fact a majority) with good content, get less following than they deserve. Sometimes it's personality, other times it's marketing, but I see lots of blogs with great design, and quality content, and a feedburner chicklet that reads like 8 subscribers.

        • LoriJ_VA

          Yes you're right about that Setphen. Definitely Godin is very loved and the bloggers have used their speaking platform to promote themselves. If a person claiming to be a media expert pitched me I think numbers would be important as Mike says. It seems that we don't have enough information for the definitive answer of how to analyze the numbers connected to social media tools yet. Maybe in another 10 years. :)

  • Josh Mann

    No doubt that Darren at is helpful. I don't blog for money, but he has many helpful posts related to blogging and how social media can enhance blogging.

  • Mary

    For a great take on a woman's point of view, consider googling for "top women bloggers." I found many fascinating links and some great ideas (I work with mostly men as a software developer and find I need to seek out the ideas of other women to stay balanced.)

  • LoriJ_VA

    The Gladwell book, the Outliers, suggests that it takes something like 10,000 hours or 10 years of dedicated work experience before someone should be considered an expert at what they do. So if you agree with that suggestion then that means that in social media there is no such thing as an expert yet. Why? Because the internet itself is just a little past 10 years old. And the technology that allows us to talk like this is still very young. In fact for me, this is the first year where I feel that the tools for blogging have improved so you don't have to be technologically inclined to learn how to use it.

    I think that the best we can say right now is that there are some people who have made it their job to understand the social media tools and to develop by trial and error some of the policies that we now acknowledge as best practices. At best a person could be considered an "expert student" of social media as we continue to discover what the tools can do and if the people who are our listeners will indeed listen to us in such a way.

  • Jim

    experts…phbbbbbbbb! i have letters of reference available on request+I work only by referral. i wonder how many people have been ripped off by these so-called experts?

  • @chrisjohnston

    They all have books which is very old media. I will agree that social media got them their book deals but for most a 50K+ follower account on Twitter is just not feasible or necessary if you are working in a niche. Some of these guys also built followers based on their past successes Kawasaki was on the original Macintosh team at Apple. Seth Godin is a marketing God and worked for Yahoo and has many, many books, spoke at TED, come on. Tim Ferriss, Mr. Four-Hour Workweek himself, got huge geek creed for using automation, spoke at SXSW and actually said Twitter was a bad thing when it first launched in 2007. Chris Brogan on the other hand I think has really used mostly social media to create his following so I'll give you that one.

  • GraceTMorton

    I am still trying to learn all the Social Networking stuff. I met someone I would consider a Social Network Expert, William Kapfer. When I reached out to him on Facebook he was so kind with his time and introduced me to his friends, helped me set-up a Linkedin account and was just all around generous — for not reason at all. William has almost 5,000 friends on Facebook, and I know why. It is so refreshing to have people help you for no reason. As for my business, I see the value of social media and have two team members that focus on our group's efforts. Keep up the good work Michael! Grace

  • Esther

    I don't believe proof of qualifications are in the numbers/stats alone. Quite frankly social media can be and often is a popularity contest. Followers don't often equal sound advice. A good friend of mine has attended practically every conference/session of well known social media experts out there and he noted something very important — a lot of people pontificate about social media strategy and tactics. But having spoken to every speaker at every event he's attended, he found that very few actually executed or managed an actual social media campaign. My rule of thumb is if you can talk to me on a high level about your concept but be equally well versed in walking me through the tactics and metrics then you have some street cred. If not, talk to me when you've come back from the trenches.

    Also there is a tendency to use certain social media vehicles because everyone out there is but how about using some basic marketing principals and mapping that strategy and outreach back to the users first? If you can't tell me why you built your program a certain way or how your approach supports the marketing/business objectives then you are wasting my time.

    Last, i support Tim's comment above. It's good to follow the "stars" as a guideline but if you only follow the established players you can miss out on some amazing new thinking.

  • @goinggreendc

    I would have to agree that being good at social media isn't just about the numbers. It's by providing value, having a point of view, and being generous with your time and knowledge.

  • Michael Gass


    Another great post. I have been a fan for a long while now. I use your blog constantly as an example for the way CEOs should blog.

  • Spike Jones

    How about not starting with their own, personal numbers. But with the results they've gotten for their CLIENTS. Even among the names mentioned above, there are those that have absolutely ZERO experience creating success for companies, only for themselves. They are PREACHERS. Not PRACTITIONERS. They have ZERO hands on experience. None. Even if they have a large Twitter following (which anyone could get with the follow schemes), they don't know how to actually go out and do it for others.

    • @DavidSteeleRose

      Thank you Spike,

      I've been practicing guerrilla marketing for over 30 years. I'm still seeing the effects of work done over 20 years ago at Dagger Canoe Company and find that in most situations it is a long term test. The medium and tactics change, but the results are effected by the willingness of the company to fully and effectively participate as well as a good bit of luck. It's hard work and out-of-the park successes are rare.

      What I do may be labeled repackaged old-school marketing if my Follower metrics or even the success of how well my own brand is taken into consideration. (the cobbler's shoes excuse comes to mind here). I certainly know I need to do a better job. Some of the superstars mentioned leverage their celebrity from past gigs or current positions in media companies to strengthen the Follower metric. They and a select few others ply for themselves exactly what they preach and work extremely hard to build their this metric. They are all very smart and good at what they do. I read, watch and listen to them intently and certainly mimic what they do with my clients, because I want to see it working for them as well. I hope to repay the stars some day by attending events where they are keynote speakers.

      I suggest, however, that Follower it is more of a metric on entertainment or the compelling nature of writing style and perhaps passion for helping others. If my own metric doesn't measure to the standards common to the meme "beware of the self proclaimed expert", then I yield to the power of Word of Mouth to lead me to the next opportunity.

  • mark allen roberts

    I follow David Meerman Scott

  • Michael Hyatt

    I'm not sure what your point is. I could mention lots of authors who have sold huge numbers of books and have very small followings on Twitter and almost no blog readers.

    Attracting and retaining followers is first and foremost about having content people want. People like Guy, Seth, and Tim continue to grow because they have something people want to hear. This is why I still maintain that the numbers are the best—though not only—indicator of that.

  • Michael Hyatt

    I agree that it is not ONLY about the numbers. But I don't think this has to be either/or. Why not provide as much value to as many people as you can?

  • Lewis

    Does this mean only people with "high" number of followers are social media "experts"?

    I agree with comments that imply social media then become like high school, with the "in" social media crowd. We all know that has already happened — each TechCrunch, Mashable, whatever brand has their own cliques.

    It seems simplistic to just judge one an "expert" in a one-dimensional way — ie, # of followerss.

  • @robnz

    If people don't protect their tweets the number of followers is basically meaningless in assessing the value of that person's comments or advice. Even if they are protected, people can still play the numbers game but at least it lowers the risk that the follower number is there as a "status symbol" or because of some viral program.

  • @johnemerritt

    Real Social Media Experts don't proclaim themselves experts. They are the humble but vocal individuals shaping the environment. I tend to follow quite a few, but a few in particular have helped me advance my understanding and application of social media at large brands. Here are some as follows:

    – Olivier Blanchard @thebrandbuilder
    – Pete Cashmere @mashable
    – Seth Godin @
    – Chris Brogan @chrisbrogan
    – Michael Moon (for the customer engagement cycle and impact on social media) see (Customer Engagement Cycle) @michaeljmoon

    I have found these are real experts. Please excuse me if I did not mention other names – I do my best to give credit where credit is due.

    These experts don't boast, they do 4 things that are critical for social media:
    – Connect with people
    – Inform people
    – Entertain people
    – and Share ideas, content and concepts with people

    These people are NOT selfish, do not restrict thought nor do they hinder the development of their own understandings. They drive the very heart of innovation itself.

    REAL social media experts BUILD relationships they STRENGTHEN them by aiding and growing themselves, others and the community and they REFINE and ASSESS all they do in, around and throughout emerging marketing and social media.

    If interested in more info pls reach @johnemerritt happy to point you to the REAL SM Leaders or resources that can help you decide for yourself.

  • DigitalOverlord

    #Tweepsearch: 4,273 Intrnt mkters/1,652 SM mrkters/513 SM consultants/272 SM strategists/180 SM exprts/98 SM gurus/58 Intrnt mrking gurus …but only one DigitalOverLord. Thinking a standardized test should be required to have the word "expert" or "guru" on your title/bio


  • David Bunker

    I would contend that being an expert @ social media is like being a pro @ amateur sports. It is oxymoronic. The highly fluid, ever changing nature of technology & culture offer up the possibility that any so called "expert" status is probably a marketing ploy to sell products (their own). This is why authors of get rich theories or faith healers tend to make good money. Every wants the inside scope. In this case, the inside is the outside. We may have some scouts out on the frontier but we can't mistake the map for the territory.

  • Mary Antonopoulos

    I have to agree. I keep a pretty low profile when it comes to my own marketing, but my CLIENTS have a presence that kicks ass. Numbers are not that hard to get, but relationship marketing and meaningful lead generation that converts into clients and sales is NOT easy. What does 30,000 followers on Twitter generate??? That's a case-by-case answer. Someone who can TEACH you social media / networking in a way that you can LEARN it is one thing, and a strategist that you can trust with your brand, your company and your reputation is something else.

    IF you're hiring someone to log in and network for you in a by-proxy format, then you also need a good WRITER. Don't overlook the importance of that. Anybody can build your numbers, but speaking for you is an art. Ask for a client list and writing samples — not just testimonials.

    Mary Agnes Antonopoulos
    Social Networking Strategist

  • Mary Antonopoulos

    Also, beware companies that offer the $499 special to get you set up. It isn't a one-shot deal, and it honestly isn't an a-b-c formula to be applied across the board.

    Mary Agnes Antonopoulos
    Social Networking Strategist

  • Pingback: Top Ten Social Media Turkeys in 2009 – The Buzz Bin()

  • Catherine Ventura

    Good post, Michael, but I do have to agree with Spike. Many of the best people I’ve met in social media are working behind the scenes, making their clients shine, without drawing attention to themselves. Indeed, one of the paradoxes of helping a client get up and running with social media content is that often the strategist or consultant’s role has to remain anonymous. I would suggest it’s important to look for bona fide’s, but to not be dazzled by the number of followers someone has. And particularly to not overlook someone who is extremely experienced and insightful just because they don’t command legions of followers.

  • Carl Townsend

    When doing a web site for a client, I always ask for stories, stories, stories. What testimonies does the client have about his/her product or service? When I write a book (and I've done over 40), I drive my point from stories, stories, stories. No one can deny a story if it is yours. But a story can be enhanced – you have to read between the lines. I get ads for ebooks and read the testimonies, soon realizing that some of those people doing the testimonies never read the ebook they are promoting, using comments about how great the author is with no real objective info on the book. Uses stories and facts.

  • BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    "More than a few are unemployed marketing people who discovered Twitter last month." hehe.
    I'm doing well-enough following your advice, Michael. I now know where to get when I am ready for the next level.

  • Bianca Perez

    we say that in Texas…hmm, i wasn’t aware…lol ;)

    Great post!

  • Dina Boettcher

    Thank you – I know this post is old, but it is exactly what I needed to hear today!

  • Raylee Melton

    I just read this post, in your book, Platform. This post has stopped me in my tracks. I am a social media consultant. I started my business a few years ago and went full-time last June. I never claim to be a guru. A guru is typically an older person. I am a lady and ladies aren’t old. I love social media and market myself as a student. I would love some honest feedback on your opinion of my business. Are you really saying that people like me are not needed? These are a few of the top social media platforms, which I have created. I am on a mission to create a wow experience for my clients, maybe I need to rethink my method?