Monday, April 5, 2010

How to Be a Social Media “Guru”

Through some twist of fate, I recently found myself managing the social media of three clients, including two extremely well-funded startups. But I still have trouble answering the question, “So what exactly is it that you do, Jennifer?”

The other day, I told an author that being a social media guru was “easy.” Keeping me real, she replied, “Yeah, duh. It’s easy for you because you’re good at it. You’ve practiced and you know what you’re doing.”

And she was right. To some of you, math – which terrifies me – or swimming or cooking or piloting planes, might be the easiest thing in the world. That’s because you took the time to learn the rules and figure out what you’re doing. And that, in a nutshell, is how to be a social media guru, right?

…Okay, so maybe there’s a little more to it.

Do you really want to be a “Guru”?

First, I don’t really buy into the term “guru,” even though, sadly, it seems to have become the default term for the services I and my counterparts at this relatively new position provide. A traditional guru imparts words of wisdom to followers. But a social media expert should always, always start and maintain conversations. If all I did was drop a “Confucius says” quote on Twitter once and awhile, I wouldn’t be a very good social media guru, now would I?

When writing for social media, make sure to be as open as honest as possible. Sometimes that simply means asking questions that don’t have “Yes” or “No” answers. For example, which is the better Tweet?

"Do you think Company X should create an iPhone app?”


"We here at Company X want your help designing our iPhone app! What features can you not live without?”

Of course #2 is the better Tweet, because it encourages participation and discussion. A “guru,” on the other hand, might simply announce “Company X is developing an iPhone app. So be it.” That’s not very social media like, is it?

Know Your Social Media Sites

The second ground rule in social media is to find ways to quickly ascertain the etiquette of any social media site you encounter. You should, of course, know the etiquette of the big sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linked in, but there are plenty of social media “sites” out there – blogs, forums, Nings, etc. – that don’t start with the letters T, F, and LI. You may have a real estate client who wants you to establish her presence on, for example. Or you may have a client who wants you to establish her presence, but isn’t sure where. It’s your job to use the tools are your disposal, such as Alexa or Google PageRank to determine whether sites are big and bad enough for you to invest your time on.

Know Your Target Audience

On the other hand, you also have to be able to ascertain a social media site’s audience and decide whether that audience gels with the folks you’re trying to reach. Say you’re selling sausages. Don’t you think you would have a better chance of selling lots of sausages on the Sausage Lovers Forum (for god’s sake, never, ever Google that) with 3,000 members than you would on a bigger site like Facebook, where users may or may not be sausage lovers? Often, it pays in social media to hit a variety of targets both small and large. Read here for more on identifying your target audience.

Be Able to Show Return on Investment (ROI)

One of the biggest complaints about social media is that its ROI is hard to ascertain. That’s certainly the case. Just like with something like public relations or marketing, it can be difficult to discover whether your new customer randomly stumbled on your service or whether they did so because of a marketing, PR or social media effort on your part.

While there is no exact science when it comes to social media ROI, there are tools you can use to at least prove that your message is getting out there. First, you know you’re doing something right if you get more social media “followers” or “fans” on sites like Facebook or Twitter.

You also need to get analytical with tools like Google Analytics. This handy free tool tells you how many people are looking at your anchor website, what sources they are clicking in from (I.e. Twitter, Facebook, the Sausage Lovers Forum, etc.) and what they do (i.e. buy a product, subscribe to your mailing list, etc.) once they are on your site.

One caveat: Google Analytics and tools like it are not a foolproof way to discover the ROI you are generating from social media. A Twitter follower could love your Tweets and feel great affection to your company, but you would never know that that unexpected sale that just came through came from that guy because he simply typed in your website URL. In that way, social media is like public relations in that it generates general good feelings, but those feelings may not be quantifiable.

In Conclusion…

This is just a tiny encapsulation of what it takes to be a social media guru. As John Blossom has already illustrated, “everything” it takes would fill a book (or, more likely, a blog.) The most exciting – and nerve wracking – thing about the social media “guru” position is that it’s changing every day. There are a plethora of new sites, iPhone apps, strategies, analytic measures, laws and regulation to keep up with, and they are always changing. Social media is like the Wild West of the internet. Do you think you can strike your fortune?


  1. Jennifer, I couldn't resist temptation, so you'll be happy to know that I got over 43,000 hits when I Googled "Sausage Lovers Forum." I guess that just goes to show the sheer size of the internet as well as demonstrating that there are larger numbers of people who like to discuss sausage than I thought. I would have figured three, maybe four hits, tops, all hailing from up around Chicago.

    Speaking of the "Confucius says" strategy, I know several people on Facebook who do just that. Every day they put a great quote out there, and then all their friends comment about what a great quote it was. I'm not certain if that's good social media strategy or not, but you do see a lot of it.

    Good luck with being a guru!

  2. Jennifer, I'm with you on the use of "guru." When I see that on candidates resumes, I tend to stop reading. (The only term that stops me faster is "rain maker.")

    A relocation company I know is launching a new product using the term "sherpa." I didn't like it at first, but it's growing on me.

    I thought maybe you could start a trend, calling yourself a "social sherpa," but lo and behold, that term is already in use! It's a trademark of Masterminds, a travel and leisure marketing group. Apparently, "Social Sherpa" is "Your guide to social media for the travel, leisure and gaming consumer."

    Even in Content Nation, I'm a day late and a dollar short.

    Seriously, though, guru or not, your knowledge, experience and insight during our class have been invaluable and encouraging. Thanks!

  3. Hi Raymond,

    Well, I was just afraid that you would come up with "sausage" as a euphemism. I hope that wasn't the case! (Or, at least, you didn't click the links!)

    Montyne, I like sherpa, too, but then there's, so they pretty much have that word tied up. My preferred term right now is "social media architect." I'm still trying to brand it! And thanks for the compliments!

  4. I find this very helpful in developing my own social media plan. I had not thought about ROI until this point. I am going to add a section today about this aspect of social media. I could easily implement this by adding a box to the sign-in sheet at the advising office I work in that asks students where they heard about us. It would allow us to track how many students were actually feeling "our presence" online. Also, I could see how many students decided to follow us online. Thank you!

  5. Whitney - Oh definitely! You can also do surveys and email marketing. (Email marketing - though not precisely social media - is a great way to keep track of ROI because its relatively easy to track.) Here are a couple of resources if you are interested: