So Your Colleague Thinks He’s a Social Media Expert?

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social media fake

Back when I first got started with online marketing — in 2009 — it seemed everyone was keen on donning the label “social media guru”. Touting “best practices” they never used and suggesting social media was all about community, it was an endless barrage of unsolicited advice from folks tooting their own horn — as an ambitious, fame-hungry 19-year-old, I, too, was a guilty offender.

The internet had made it such that any person could make any variety of claims and fool a shocking number of netizens around the world into believing what was, to the more discerning, brazen lies.

Indeed, it was a fake-it-til-you-make-it world.

But, what really makes someone an “expert” on social media? With so many self-proclaimed pros, what are the signs of a true authority?

Here are a couple of “dos” and one big “do not” for evaluating someone’s social media savvy:

Do: A Smart Audit of Their Public Profiles

Put a so-called expert’s claims to the test. “[Quickly scan] the content they share to their own or their business’s social channels,” recommends Matt Navarra, Social Media Director of The Next Web. This should give you “a good indication as to how talented they really are.”

You’ll also want to look at how engaged their networks are with their content:

  • Do their posts get a lot of shares, likes, retweets, favorites, +1’s, etc?
  • How innovative or creative are their social media strategies vs. those of recognized social media superstars?

Navarra’s Twitter profile proudly notes his current and past experiences as an expert in the space, qualified with a reputable award nomination. A bit more snooping takes you to his LinkedIn profile which highlights honors such as:

  • Top 30 ‘Pinners’ on Pinterest (Time Magazine) – 2013
  • Top 1% Most Viewed LinkedIn Profiles – 2012
  • Top 1% of Online Influencers on – 2013
  • Top 5% of Influencers on Klout – 2013

With those credentials, I would easily trust any advice he would impart — hoping it applies to my unique situation — and fork up hard-earned cash if he was taking on new clients.

Many times, if someone is influential on social media, you’ll likely already know.

“For me, in social media, if I have not heard of them or find it hard to locate their details on various social platforms, then it immediately gives me some reservations of their true prowess,” shares Navarra. “Within five minutes of using tools like,, and others, you can quickly build up a picture of a person’s social media success and online presence.”

Personally, I use Klout to evaluate an individual’s social influence, as well as that of the brand (s)he represents. Navarra’s Klout score is 66, slightly higher than mine at 65. Impressively, The Next Web’s Klout score is 91. Compare that to loud-and-proud social media madman, Gary Vaynerchuck, who’s Klout score is 85. It’s an imperfect metric because it only tracks connected accounts, but it’s powered by a fairly sophisticated algorithm.

Matt Navarra klout

Screenshot taken 02/10/2014 of

Of course, some pros shy away from the limelight and instead focus all of their energy on their clients. In his guest post on PandoDaily, Brandon Watts, founder and principal of PR agency Wattsware, writes a compelling case for why a publicist shouldn’t tweet. The same thinking can be applied to social media pros who are the puppet masters for many of the popular Twitter accounts, Facebook fan pages, and Google + pages we all follow, like, and circle.

Do: Ask Questions

Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local and Chairman of Likeable Media, tells SEJ, “An ‘expert’ is someone who is experienced in using social media to obtain business outcomes. To determine the pros from the wanna-be’s, ask for metrics-based case studies for work they’ve done to help accomplish business objectives.”

That last bit is worth reading again because Kerpen wrote the book on likeable social media, literally.

To get a true sense of the depth of a person’s knowledge and understanding of social media (or any topic for that matter), you want to ask revealing questions that will help you better recognize the experienced professionals and uncover the phonies.

A sample of questions worth asking are:

  • Why do you use social media?
  • Why should brands be active on social media?
  • How does X trend impact Y in social media?
  • What are your best strategies for doing A, B, and C? How would you replicate those strategies for Z industry?
  • What are one or two metrics-based case studies you’ve done to help accomplish business objectives?

In asking questions, you begin to understand how they think about social media and learn how they work. You slowly start to understand if they practice what they preach (or are complete hypocrites), if their work is actually meaningful (or is littered with vanity metrics), and you may discover if their work is genuine (rather than supported by bots).

Do Not: Be Fooled by Vagaries

Beware of the sloppy wordsmith. Navarra warns, “Hear lots of buzzwords, long pauses, or vague statements… get out of there!”

Social Media fake

Image provided by Danny Wong. Used with permission.

The three tips above should make it easy to filter out the jokers from the tried-and-true pros. Simply put:

  1. Do your research
  2. Ask targeted questions
  3. Be a bit skeptical

What other tips would you share to confirm an expert or spot a phony? 

Full Disclosure: Kerpen and I are members of the Young Entrepreneur Council and in the past, I’ve contributed to The Next Web, where Navarra works.

Danny Wong
Danny Wong is the co-founder of Blank Label, an award-winning luxury menswear company. He also leads marketing for Receiptful, a platform to supercharge all customer interactions for eCommerce stores, and Tenfold, a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. Danny is a proud graduate of Bentley University. To connect, tweet him @dannywong1190, message him on LinkedIn or reach out through his website. For more of his clips, visit his portfolio.
Danny Wong
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  • Steve

    One thing I see a lot are what I would describe as “absolutists.” These are people who preach one strategy/practice/tactic over and over again. More often than not they come across as blowhards to experienced marketers, but to the average joe, they’re extremely confident. Unfortunately, they often will narrow an impressionable person’s thinking with their arguments. To me that’s very similar to faking it until you make it. Perhaps you’d call it “scream til you’re living the dream”

    • Danny Wong

      Haha. Interesting thought, Steve. Thanks for the comment!

  • Alex M.

    If someone works at a popular site and published articles which immediately receive hundreds of social media shares, I wouldn’t really class this as “expert” level. Anyone can do it. If you work for a small business and have to fight for a single retweet, or a few Likes, then you become canny.

    From my perspective, at any rate, being a social media sort also involves writing articles and blogs, too, as part of your job. So, I don’t know about “expert”, it’s a gimmicky term. Social media formats aren’t difficult to use, this is the point of their mass appeal. You do your job and don’t show off about it.

    • Danny Wong

      Thanks for those thoughts, Alex. It’s worth noting that Navarra’s author page only has 3 published stories over the past 2 years. Kerpen, on the other hand, founded Likeable and is a highly published author (best-selling books, columns on LinkedIn, Inc, and many more) — hardly an easy feat. That’s why I believed they would be the perfect sources for this story (and yes, they were people I knew and trusted).

      I agree, “expert” is a bit of a gimmicky term. But I was short on alternatives and “expert” just happened to be the easiest way for people to understand what I was referencing. One other alternative was coming up with a new word entirely, but ultimately I decided against that.

  • James Halloran

    Hi Danny,

    I like what you have to say here, but I remember reading how unreliable and misleading can be with its rankings sometime. I agree with the commenter above that just because you get lots of “likes” and shares doesn’t mean those likes and shares aren’t fake or bought.

    It is a good idea to follow up on people who claim what they say, though. I do agree that if there’s too little sharing and commenting on their posts, that’s a red flag right there. A good indicator for me has always been guest posts. If I see the same person posts on multiple credible SEO/ social media blogs, I tend to believe they are an “expert,” despite the gimmicky title.

    But anyway, good post over all! Thanks for sharing!

    • Danny Wong

      Thanks, James! There are many opinions floating around about Klout’s scoring algorithm. It’s imperfect, that’s for sure, but the team seems to have done quite a bit of work over the past years to improve the quality of its score system.

      Of course, as you mentioned, engagement can certainly be “faked” and that’s a real shame. But, fortunately, if we put our detective hats on, we can easily spot the phonies. Cheers!

      • James Halloran

        Yes, you’re absolutely right. A little detective work usually will help you spot the phonies, but that takes a little time and effort. I think that’s what most phonies bank on actually — the fact that most people don’t have the time to investigate them further. Anyway, good post!

  • iphrasebooks

    Hi Danny..Thanks alot i have learned so many things …As i have just entered in online marketing field so your Discursion will be usefull for me..

    • Danny Wong

      I’m so glad!

  • chris

    Great article Danny
    As a Web design company SEO is something we are branching into along with sem smm, But finding reliable learning resources hard to do everyone wants thousands for a weeks course lol Would I would say is avoid anyone who guaranteesuch instant results there usually using link chains and black hat techniques, people who know what there talking about are usually able to explain it in many different ways for clients to understand so don’t mind questions, Ask for previous clients references if your good you won’t mind proving it.

    • Danny Wong

      Thanks, Chris!

      References are an incredibly effective way to vet SM experts. True experts tend to have testimonials prepared and ready too.

  • Jeff George

    What I find humorous about all the self-proclaimed social media marketing experts is they spend all their time telling people what experts they are while never actually handling a client’s website. Who has time for clients when you spend hours and hours every day on G+ and putting on events? Social media is a small part of the overall web marketing equation. Anyone that has at least 7-8 years in this business will tell you that. Why? Because social media came afterwards and those of us that have been in online marketing since before Facebook and Google Plus know this.

    • Danny Wong

      “Experts” who have never actually been tasked to overcome client problems surely are not worthy of any sort of title that denotes credibility. Totally agree, Jeff!

  • Romano Groenewoud

    The latest problem of social media is the imposter issue. according to the recent researches about 20% of the accounts are spotted as fake accounts as a result most of the advertising and business tactics has become irrelevant since there are no real people to absorb it.

    • dannywong1190

      Inflated numbers is certainly a rampant issue. Hopefully social networks will learn to filter out fake engagement soon!