How Social Media Experts Get Their Wings

Written on June 15, 2010 – 1:14 pm | by Brian Wallace |

Credit: Conversation Marketing – good post, Ian 🙂

Years before I started my own firm, I clearly remember a great question designed to trip me up at a job interview:

“So Brian…how many hours of experience do you have on Visio?”
After a chuckle, I regained composure and replied:
“About 4-5 years. Do you catch a lot of people on that one?”

“Yes, I do,” he said with a smirk.

Which brings us to the point of expertise. Lots of people throw around needlessly unqualified labels about how so and so is a guru, maven, or expert. Question is, how do you know someone truly is an expert? Especially in social media – a field so near and dear to our hearts?

The answer? Experience.

I’ve recently read (and re-read several times – ask my wife, she can attest 🙂  a book called Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. You have probably heard of another one of his works – The Tipping Point – but this is also a must read.

Mr. Gladwell does a wonderful job of challenging the conventional way of thought on the coveted “self-made man,” rags to riches stories, and innate geniuses (they get help along the way too, read the book for more on this point). Without giving away all there is in the book, he talks about how people don’t come from nothing to success. Even if they are geniuses. Rather, it comes from opportunity and experience.

So, How Much Experience is Enough?

This may sound weird to you, but if you look across all sorts of fields of knowledge, they all converge around a single number. 10,000 hours.

Here’s the kicker. Social media is such a new field, that people could not have been expert practitioners until recently.

Let’s say you started 3 years ago and consistently work your butt off to the tune of 70 hours per week:

  • 70 x 50 (give yourself some vacation and sick time) = 3,500 hours
  • 3,500 hours per year x 3 years = 10,500 hours

Got that? Testimonials from customers aren’t enough.  News mentions.  Interviews.  Even past performance on a client – you could have just got lucky.  The true measure of expertise is this 10,000 hours rule.

Conclusion, and a Bit More

And here is what I have to add to Malcolm Gladwell’s argument – it isn’t just the 10,000 hour rule, but rather how quickly you got to the 10,000 hours.  Total immersion, i.e. getting 10,000 hours as quickly as possible is an even greater predictor of success.  Keeping in mind that social media is such a new field, many so-called “experts” are eliminated right from the start.

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  1. 18 Responses to “How Social Media Experts Get Their Wings”

  2. By Eric Hempler on Jun 15, 2010 | Reply

    I’ve run across a few so called “experts” only to find out they’ve been copying someone else’s material. Guess we know who I should actually be following.

  3. By JaniceWilkes on Jun 15, 2010 | Reply

    how many times is this topic going to be discussed? isn’t it time to move on. It dosen’t matter results matter….get over it already

  4. By David Finch on Jun 15, 2010 | Reply

    Brian, I like the way you connected the “social media expert” and Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. In a time, when the word “expert” is so easily thrown around, at the end of the day, you still have to produce.

  5. By Art Cato on Jun 15, 2010 | Reply

    I love the 10,000 hour rule. I broke out my calculator and did the math. This wannabe expert has logged in an estimated 9,830 hours, so when a client ask me if I am an expert my answer will be .98 expert-0.02 wannabe.

    Some of my competition is so strong and embedded in my niche market that sometimes I think potential clients have drank to much of their claimed expert cool aid.

    Thanks for the book suggestion. I am going to pick it up. Need a break from meeting that 10,000 hour goal.

  6. By Tad Chef on Jun 16, 2010 | Reply

    As I started blogging in 2003 and finally went pro in 2005 I am by now an expert? Not sure about that. I think just being there doing that for 10k hours still doesn’t mean you’re an expert. Things like focus on one field, finishing manifold projects and at the same time performing a variety of tasks during that time are crucial as well.

  7. By Rishi on Jun 16, 2010 | Reply

    Basically, if you want to succeed you have to work really hard. I was kind of hoping that wasn’t true… 😉

  8. By Brian Wallace on Jun 16, 2010 | Reply

    @Eric: yes it is important to find the signal. Copycats can have some level of success but its still important to find the innovators.

    @JaniceWilkes: I disagree with you. How does one get results? Through trial and error in the social media space. Even some folks that might get lucky the first time or two aren’t going to have a successful pattern for repeat success until they’ve put in the time.

    @David Finch: glad you liked the connection, and thanks for stopping in – been a while!

    @Art Cato: let us know when you’ve added those 170 hours in and enjoy the book 🙂

    @Tad Chef: I would agree with you to an extent. Yes, focusing on specific topics within a field are important but you STILL need to log in the hours even to branch into a specific realm of expertise. And in my opinion…you are an expert blogger 🙂

    @Rishi: yes sorry no magic bullet here, though having certain experience and aptitudes definitely help 🙂

  9. By Phil on Jun 16, 2010 | Reply

    10,000 hours is a good rule of thumb, but I’m still leery of anyone that calls themselves an expert. The term carries much more weight if it’s used by someone you trust describing someone else.

  10. By Morah Mommy on Jun 16, 2010 | Reply

    I think its actually refreshing to hear that most people don’t come easily to success, that my hard work isn’t in vain! 10,000 hours is certainly something to aspire to!

  11. By Sean - Australia SEO on Jul 14, 2010 | Reply

    Sometimes people understand that a social media expert is someone who holds large number of followers/fans in his online community! And they don’t know the fact that numbers doesn’t indicate the popularity of a person’s social media experience!

  12. By on Jul 19, 2010 | Reply


    Great Post. It’s true- “expertise” comes down to experience.

  13. By Nick Stamoulis on Oct 4, 2010 | Reply

    I think to call someone a Social Media expert is kind of ridiculous, social media is so new and ever changing, that one cannot really become an expert at it, sure if you have been in social media from the start, you are a seasoned professional, but in this day and age, I’d hardly call anyone an expert in it. It also doesn’t matter how many followers you have, it’s how many of quality you have.

  14. By Jason @ How to make lots of money fast on Oct 7, 2010 | Reply

    Brian, one interesting thing you mention ibn your article is that . . . no one have quite spent enough time to be a social media expert. Even if you’d been around for 3 years. That really brings up something quite interesting. And I agree 1000 times – or so I have just realized. Social media is now in a stage where it is evolving even at a faster aggresive pace – and it’s almost as if the guys know knows about certain things could be scratching heads all over again with new technologies coming in every single day . . .

  15. By Carmen Brodeur on Apr 9, 2011 | Reply

    Based on your formula I have already reached 10,000 hours so I am technically an “expert” however I certainly don’t feel like one. I think I am still a newbie in the social media field compared to others like yourself.

  16. By Joe on Jan 17, 2012 | Reply

    I thought it would be deeply considerate to ask, how years of experience challenge collective thoughts?

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