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This OUT and IN pairing deserves its own post.

OUT: “Expert” | IN: Expertise. During the 19th century gold rush era, when a miner staked a claim it didn’t mean he was rich. It meant he had the potential for riches if he owned the right plot of land and worked it diligently.

These days, just about anybody can (and does) declare themselves an “expert” and then sashays that mantel around without a lot of challenge.

But there is a huge difference between declaring oneself an expert and earning expertise. In marketing, and especially in social media, there are so many “experts” around you wonder why it is that so many efforts fail.

Here’s why: Nobody is born an expert, and in an emerging, evolving environment it takes trial and error, recalculation, grunt work and sheer force of will to learn, apply and eventually find successes.

Expertise is earned. Declaring oneself an “expert” is b*******t.

[For the record, this principle can be applied to any industry or activity. Just in case the social media “experts” are feeling bullied.]

For 2012 I’ve pledged to make my world smaller. At least my social media world. Because in the rush for scale and perceived clout I – and way too many people using social media – opened the flood gates of way too much chatter. And like the roar from a sudden rush of water, it’s become impossible to distinguish individual sounds (voices) and prioritize them according to desirability.

So, I’ve begun pruning connections on Twitter, in LinkedIn and even a bit among my Facebook circle. (Other than experimenting with Google+, Tumblr, FourSquare and other platforms, I never fully engaged at any of these so my work here is done.)

The thing is, I’ve matured to a less-can-be-more sensibility. I want to actually value experiences and instead find that my time in social media has become of diminished value, less special and decreasingly relevant. I crave the truly authentic (more on that in another post soon), and too much information from too many connections just doesn’t deliver that.

When all is said and done, our social media experiences are about us as individuals. We get to choose which voices we want to hear, what connections are meaningful, and who really is a friend privy to our daily life’s check ins.

In a spooky coincidence, I recently caught an exchange on Twitter between a person doing exactly what I’m doing and some of those she was unfollowing. Although she did her best to explain that her choice was not personal, she had a bit of a backlash. But her timeline is her timeline, and she has the right to choose what content constitutes that timeline.

Truth is, I had already slowed my Twitter interactions to a trickle so I doubt that anyone will notice my absence. And I prefer it that way as I enjoy a more tailored, relevant and informative experience in social media.

I’ll admit it. I’ve been grumpy about social media lately. A little backlash-y, if you will. Some early adopter friends and I were even sending mocking tweets one evening over beers.

But those beers, along with a sultry summer breeze on the patio of an Irish pub, lubricated our brains just enough to have a constructive conversation about what we’re experiencing among our marketing and communication peers vis-à- vis social media.

There’s a lot of hype, misunderstanding and miscommunication that makes brands cautious and turns social media into a private club that scares people away.

Here are five things to consider that might keep the skeptical from being grumpy about social media, insights that social media cheerleaders might want to consider as well:

  1. Social media is not a place; it is a way to get people to places (in ways literal and virtual but nonetheless real). Strategy comes first and must address content, distribution and engagement.
  2. Social media as most people think of it – by Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, MySpace, Gowalla, etc. – is not a collective medium but a collection of tools or platforms, many of which become media destinations.
  3. The quality of the discussions you have in social media forums depends on the quality of those with which you engage. If you don’t like the banter you’re experiencing: (a) find a new set of people to follow and/or (b) contribute to the dialogue in ways that will elevate it.
  4. Remember that social media does not supplant other forms of communication and engagement. No silver bullet here, despite statements from some of those social media hyper-ventilators. Keep a balanced perspective because traditional and established digital media are not dead or disabled, and can be just as valid as they have been before.
  5. If you’re tired of hearing people hyper-ventilate about how wonderful social media is (and how wonderful they are for saying so), then DO something with social media that is worth sharing.

Things, as the truism goes, happen in threes. And there have been three major things in the past three months that prompt me to reassess my presence in social media. In fact, I’m wondering whether they are harbingers of a social media backlash.

  • #1: My time with and energy for social media venues like this blog, Twitter, other peoples’ blogs and LinkedIn among others has been on a downswing. The big demotivator has been an increase in the demands of my “day job,” which does not require much social media integration. (Hmmm.) Another reason, one I’ve resisted accepting, is that I might not have enough new thinking to share at the rate at which I have been contributing. Hard to swallow, but possibly true. At least I’m unconvinced that I’m offering many new insights or ideas that are fully original – beyond what I’ve shared and pondered publicly in the past year or so. If the conversation out there is getting stale, as I keep hearing and reading, I’m loathe to be part of the problem.
  • #2: Next was the conversation I had with the head of a very forward-looking, innovative and deeply engaged company in the interactive and social media space. Ironically, we met through a mutual Twitter friend, and here’s where the dialogue went: concern that the social media conversation has gotten stuck – too many retweets of others’ thoughts or comments about them; a perceived lack of innovative and original thinking reflected in social media venues; and less excitement about discovering the social media phenomenon now that we’ve all been so immersed in it. That is not to say that there isn’t original thinking happening or that everything that social media platforms can do has been fully exploited. It’s just the feeling that the interchange has become somewhat circular.
  • #3: In his Advertising Age Gen Next piece “In Defense of a Limited Online Presence: Why I Stopped Tweeting” Alex Kniess writes, “It seems like the majority of the content I subscribe to is repurposed and watered down. There is so much noise out there that it’s hard for me to find the source. Where are the original ideas coming from?” So, now it’s official because it appeared in Advertising Age, doncha know, and the writer comes from the very generation thought to be the linchpin of social media activity.

I don’t presume to have an answer here, and this is not an indictment of social media or the people and content on it. Yet this convergence of like-minded observations has me assessing where to be in this space. For now, need to be here is trumping want to be here just because I can.

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