A couple of days ago, as I wrote in my last blog posting, I spoke at a Social Media Day gathering in an interesting, concert-like downtown Queen West Toronto venue, to an interesting and varied crowd.
After I had left the stage and assumed a position within the audience, beer in hand, a woman began talking to me in the crowd. Let‘s call her “Jennifer.“ Jennifer told me that she knew nothing about social media even a few weeks ago, but that her husband had bought her an iPad for their anniversary and now she was devoting all sorts of time to learning it. She had driven up from Niagara Falls —about a 2-hour drive—in order to see the Social Media Day event.
“I want to become a social media guru,“ she said to me, with a big, winning, business-y smile.
Gotta tell ya, Jennifer. That‘s just about the last thing the world needs. That, another horndog politician, and four bucks will get you a Starbucks latte.
I keep hearing this term “social media guru“ everywhere, usually in puffed-up self-proclamations (which my mom always taught me were faint praise, anyhow) as in “Hi, I‘m George, and I‘m an alcoholic–and a Social Media guru.“
Now, give me a big fat molten chocolate-covered break.
Yes, I know the word guru officially and originally meant “wise teacher? in Hindi. Even so, if you say you are a social media teacher, what are your designations, where is your accreditation, who certifies you to teach about it? It is supposed to mean one with great knowledge and/or wisdom, who uses that wisdom to teach and guide others on a spiritual path. What the heck does it mean to be a self-realized and Fully Ascended Social Media Master, anyways? Is there supposed to be something Intensely Spiritual about the Like Button?
And, here’s the gist. Doesn’t anyone using that honorific realize that, since the days of Bhagwan Shree Rhagneesh, EST, and the whole weird 1970s ESALEN California spirituality vibe thing, the use of the designation “guru” in the West always contains with it more than a salt shaker‘s worth of irony, as well a distinctly greenish tinge of worldly avarice lying just underneath spiritual rhetoric, and leading, almost inexorably, to fleets of Rolls Royces?
I mean, come on. “Guru?“ Guru? Really? In the West? In 2011? Without irony?
Me, I am a Ph.D who studied social media in my dissertation and a Full Professor now, and I have had a strong social media component to my classes since 1999. That’s twelves years ago, for those who are counting. I began teaching the first social media course in Canada, and one of the first in the world, in 2007, calling it “Word of Mouth Marketing.“ I have developed multiple courses at undergraduate, graduate, and PhD levels to teach Social Media Marketing and Management. Those course outlines are being used by dozens of other professors around the world right now.
And I am definitely no “Social Media Guru.” No thanks.
I much prefer to be known as a Still-Learning Social Media Expert-in-Progress. Or a Social Media Researcher. Social Media Pioneer? I think I have probably earned that one. I have been researching and writing in this area since 1995, with multiple publications in top peer-reviewed scientific journals. That is legitimacy. I pioneered a social media research approach and method. I have consulted to industry on these matters since before there were blogs. I was one of the first researchers to clearly specify the importance of social media to marketing. I have been in this space for 16 years. Like the few true experts in this area, I can give specific examples of what I have accomplished, rather than writing yet another book with some trendy title that is also subtitled “How Your Company Can Profit From Facebook and Twitter” and calling myself by some ridiculously inapplicable Indian honorific.
So please forgive me for being more than a little ticked off at the gathering of “Social Media Gurus” like ants at the proverbial picnic. While this boom is still booming, they will keep swarming. And I feel entitled to spray a little Raid.
As far as I am concerned, if someone comes up and tells you they are a social media guru, they are telling you, essentially, that they have a Facebook and Twitter account, talk about it to their friends and family, and hope to one day cash in on their “spiffy mailing list“ of 406 friends and 217 followers. Maybe they have even written one of the 968 popular business press books about social media you can find lying around the shelves of your local bookstore like old remaindered copies of The Celestine Prophesy or The Coming Stock Market Crash of 2003.
If they come up and tell you they are a Social Media Guru, here is what I think you should say to them. Because it is probably just as true. Don‘t ask them for their credentials (I will write more about some interested efforts at WOMMA, at Universities, and at NetBase soon to tap in this market need soon). Don‘t ask them what is new or original about their approach. Certainly don‘t ask them if they know more about social media itself, or about its application to real marketing or business strategy needs (that might really confuse them). No, you just look them right in the eye nice and steady and say:
“Wow. Me too.“