ou can barely swing a dead cat in a room full of marketers without hitting a self-proclaimed social-media expert. In fact, while swinging said cat, you might even peg what one presenter at a recent conference dubbed himself: a social-media guru. (I imagine applying for "social-media guru" status involves some sort of Hindi ritual conducted via tweets and wikis.)
I'm all for identifying pioneers in new fields, and I understand the desire to establish oneself as a subject-matter expert, but are there really any honest-to-goodness experts in social-media marketing? Who among us can prove - via metrics beyond a gross total of followers or blog posts - that their efforts in cyberspace are paying dividends worthy of such a moniker? And what qualifies someone as an expert in a field that is still in its infancy?
I've sat through dozens of educational sessions where these "experts" summarize examples of various social-media campaigns, most of which have questionable value beyond supposed increased brand awareness - usually among a pool of existing clients who already knew about the product to begin with. Others walk a room full of technophobes through the paces of setting up a LinkedIn account, and call it a day. And a precious few provide case studies of how they have utilized social-media sites and tools for general marketing purposes.
My concern is that these "experts" are misleading marketers with comparably less experience into believing that social media is the best thing since Ron Popeil's food dehydrator, and that by setting up a corporate Twitter account, they too can slice and dice their programs into lean, mean, sales machines. It's like a 16-year-old with a learner's permit teaching his younger sister how to drive. The boy's no expert to begin with, and the girl's likely to land the family car in a ditch immediately following the tutorial.
Social-media marketing is a new frontier, especially when it comes to face-to-face marketing applications. I'm not saying there's no one out there who hasn't had success - EXHIBITOR itself has profiled a number of companies who have used social-media applications to accomplish exhibit- and event-related objectives. But I've yet to find an expert on social-media marketing - much less an expert on exhibit- or event-related applications of such tools - with a long enough track record and impressive enough results that I'd be able to confidently endorse without a caveat or two.
Standing in front of a room of people and waving your iPad around does not qualify you for guru status. And, for the record, self-proclamation is a shady way of earning new titles.
Conference sessions discussing social media are a great way to learn the basics and pick up a tip or two along the way. But look beyond the PowerPoint slides showing big-brand examples and general-marketing applications, and ask about campaigns specific to trade shows and events. Don't settle for a bevy of B2C case studies for companies rife with enthusiastic evangelists - of course social media works for them. Instead, ask for examples within the B2B realm. If a company that sells something as utilitarian as catheters figures out how Facebook can boost its ROI at trade shows, that's the kind of thing you can likely adapt and extrapolate.
So if you find yourself swinging cats, and you hit a social-media expert, apologize and inquire about the expert's credentials. If he or she has a long list of successful exhibit- and event-related campaigns, pass on my contact info. If not, please refrain from worshipping the virtual path on which they trod. Listen to what they have to say, take their advice with a grain of kitty litter, and knock off that damn cat-swinging bit - unless, of course, it's part of your guru initiation.e