08/11/2011 05:35 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2011

Is a Social Media Expert What You Really Need?

In the height of social media madness where everybody's looking for an expert to jump start their businesses' online fame, articles keep popping up decrying the validity of such a new practice. Though I don't agree, I do sympathize with the sentiments shared. When I interviewed Amir Kassaei, Chief Creative Officer of DDB Worldwide at the ADC*E Awards last month, he cautioned the industry against their folly of calling 'social media' a medium at all.

The crux of this backlash is like any other when a new denomination enters the vocabulary and starts to lose meaning as everyone jumps on board with blinders on. The people who've been doing it all along give those who haven't been a wake up call. The reasons companies are going gaga over social media is because the herd is all going there and they think they need some SEO, social media, hashtag loving guru to help them catch eyeballs. They do need help but not that kind. At least not beyond the initial catch up phase.

People panic. They know everyone wants to get a piece of this here social media pie and they just don't know how. The fear comes from knowing we have to communicate more than they ever have before and that is scary as hell. A few years ago companies could just throw money (in the form of retaining an agency) at a carefully tailored message and leave it alone -- the 'big idea' remember? But now you need to have constant communication with other people -- your customers, your peers, the world at large. You have to be an entertainment, media, technology, and service company all rolled up into one Agencies have scurried in every direction trying to keep up with their client's fears to varying affect.

So you need new proficiencies at play but you don't know what exactly. There are some things to keep in mind when considering 'social media experts'
  1. Be honest and clear about your business needs the old fashioned way. Problems occur when you reach out for the shiny mysterious toy without forethought.
  2. Nobody is an expert. The word 'expert' is antithetical to this environment of constant evolution. Leave that word to doctors, tax attorneys, programmers, and the people below:
  3. Knowing tricks is not enough. (see #2). If you want to invest in someone in house or on retainer, find someone who is a strong writer, communicator and editor -- as well as someone with a strong visual sensibility.
  4. More on visual sensibility -- There are just too many ugly communications out there. The visual does not stop with your web designer.
  5. The division between the online and offline worlds is on the cusp of disappearing. Soon they'll seem as quaint as this video on how to type a letter on a computer from the early 90s. So hire someone to show you the ropes and train you if you don't know the basics but start developing new habits now. The world is not going backwards.
I think the people who call themselves social media experts are probably amazing tinkerers and investigators. They are the kind of people who consider it second nature to play in the digital universe and they are not afraid. In fact, they can't get enough. The core systems of human interaction are changing and it takes an advocate who is curious and insightful, exploratory and clever, and has the time to be, to get it right. But if you're going to allot part of your budget to this person/people, they should also be strong writers, strategists, and communicator on many levels.

-Chauncey Zalkin
Founder What Women Make
Co-Founder Show Love - Purveyors of Haute Social Content