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Social Media “Strategists,” Experts” “Thought Leaders” And Other Over-Used Terms

Posted on September 27, 2010
Filed Under Social Media | 14 Comments

I have been wanting to write about this subject for the past year and every day I decide it’s not worth the battle. I then saw the phases “Strategists,” Experts” “Thought Leaders” one too many times today and I decided today was the day.

According to the dictionary definition: A strategist is a “person skilled in designing and planning action and policy to achieve a major or overall aim.”

It is my fair assessment that this definition would beg for a redefined title or brand from some 90 percent of its enablers.

My friends, if every person on twitter, facebook or Linkedin who called themselves an “expert” was indeed that moniker, than we must have an industry with “all chiefs and no indians” as the saying goes.

  • Having registered and signed on to a social media account does not make you an expert
  • Having a large network does not make an expert
  • Having a blog does not make you, an expert
  • Having friends call you an expert, does not make you an expert
  • Attending lots of mini summits does not make you an expert
  • Saying the word(s) Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook – does not make you an expert
  • * Exchange “expert” for strategist or “thought leader” in all the above listed examples.

    Moreover, to embrace the goodness of the art, you may otherwise be in actuality:

  • An Open Networker
  • An Advocate
  • An Evangelist
  • A Provacateur
  • A Disciple
  • All that being stated, none of the above equates with someone who indeed, suggest being “skilled in designing and planning action and policy to achieve a major or overall aim.”

    A strategist offers an overall solution, a series of initiatives that are in and by themselves ground breaking, if not innovative in the manner used even if aspects are familiar. A strategist is consultative or entrepreneurial in nature who presents findings bench marking current practices and provides recommendations that provide nuance if not complete departures from the current practices and once approved by their clients, employs them with vigor. You can be conceptual and not have implemented, and still be a strategist – budgetary restraints can be your absolution. That said, the animal that is by definition an “expert” or a “strategist” or a “thought Leader” – offers what has not been done, or done but not effectively and in broader application to fulfill an objective; a vision from which a client can benefit in a meaningful way that departs from the status quo.

    I have actually heard someone say “twitter” and “tweet” on stage overseas with no bearing on the practitioner, more so as a slogan to oohs and ahhs. I cringed in my seat. It’s like I was in the 1940’s and I took a time machine trip and returned with an iphone to eternal gasps and awe. It doesn’t mean I invented it and it surely doesn’t make me an iphone engineer.

    Perhaps it helps your branding to be flippant about such terms, however, in doing so the words lose meaning. Words mean things. We do our industry and these very particular individuals who provide deliverables which define the art a disservice when we set expectations and fail to deliver the glory of the terms suggested. Do us all a favor, think pointedly if you meet the standard and edit your Linkedin profile if the shoes don’t fit. You can still be a subject matter sourcer or full cycle recruiter – but neither makes a social media strategist/expert/thought leader/guru.

    When you submit a proposal and you have to argue on behalf of your recommendations and weigh them against best practices with senior staffing management – we can start the conversation, the content however is objective:

    “What are you adding to the conversation from a strategic and tactical perspective?”

    I will call them passionate. I will call them advocates and all the terms of nuance other than that argued – and do so energetically, but let’s consider that definitions are meaningful things and that we all have limitations in a social media world that redefines its potential regularly, if not daily.

    Stop making what we do … trendy.

    Pass me the mojito. I need a drink

    A strategist is consultative or entrepreneurial in nature who presents findings bench marking current practices and provides recommendations that provide nuance if not complete departures from the current practices and once approved by their clients, employs them with vigor.


    14 Responses to “Social Media “Strategists,” Experts” “Thought Leaders” And Other Over-Used Terms”

    1. Sheila Greco on September 27th, 2010 4:40 pm

      You are the best. I could not have said it better. Thanks Dave!!

    2. David perry on September 27th, 2010 4:45 pm

      I love it when you get all twisted out of shape. Your so much fun to read. Alas, I’m just a Rogue Recruiter and I was proud of the Rogue title until Sarah made it oh too Vogue.

      Next windmill Dave?

    3. Steve Jenkins on September 27th, 2010 4:51 pm


      Thanks for covering the topic of over-used terms in the marketplace! Thought leader, Expert, Strategist are indeed the branding words de jour. They have replaced the old one of “Consultant”; which so often meant one was, “between jobs/unemployed”.

      Asking for a list of current clients (or at least a list of completed projects) is usually the quickest way to ascertain whether they are being honest, or if they are merely legends in their own minds.

    4. Ryan Leary on September 27th, 2010 4:54 pm


      I agree with what you are saying here and feel most of the same thoughts you are writing. I won’t reiterate everything you are writing here but I will say that the terms are abused. I wrote a bit ago about how a lot of those in the industry train others and those that travel the world to speak.

      My frustration is that the “experts” in the field that are highly visible and do this work are clearly not as successful as their background may suggest most being out of work and never closing seriously significant billings.

      Now I can’t and really don’t have the want to prove that but it’s pretty obvious to me and I am sure many others. The problem with conferences today is that the speaker panels are simply those that are the most visible online and not those that are truly successful recruiters.

      It’s a game of draw and selling a few tickets. This is why the conferences are down in attendance and won’t rise again until that problem is rectified.

      I’m a strategist and that is my role with my clients at Kenexa.

      Question for you: Do you consider yourself an expert or a strategist?

      Great conversation. Thanks.

    5. Scott Allen on September 27th, 2010 4:57 pm

      “That said, the animal that is by definition an “expert” or a “strategist” or a “thought Leader” – offers what has not been done, or done but not effectively and in broader application to fulfill an objective; a vision from which a client can benefit in a meaningful way that departs from the status quo.”

      This is SO true. I often get this from clients. They say, “Show me someone else who has done this successfully,” and all too often, my answer is, “No one. You get to be the first.”

      If you try to exactly repeat the success some other organization has had in social media, you’re already six months behind the curve. If you want to have breakthrough success with social media, hire someone who’s in the habit of looking beyond the current buzz.

      A good indicator? Look for people who saw social media coming WAY before it hit mainstream, i.e., 2003-2004. I’d hire all kinds of writers, social media managers, designers, etc., with less experience. I wouldn’t hire a social media strategist without at least five years experience in the space and a proven track record of thinking ahead of the curve.

    6. Dave Mendoza on September 27th, 2010 5:12 pm

      Ryan, I have in all honesty established proposals, bench marked, and had deliverables on SOWs to provide perspective on what has been done and what can be achieved in the future and all the trends that make it salient – so yes, I would meet the mark of strategist and tactician in these regards.

    7. Russ Moon on September 27th, 2010 5:46 pm

      “No one. You get to be the first.” – This is what I do.

      I’m all for proving it, showing it, telling it, allowing those who worked with you to share it…it would make things alot easier….

      of course I will walk the talk and “mine” resides at my Linkedin Profile. Read the endorsements, call the people if you must, satisfy yourself all you wish.

      Dave, your scope is zeroed in at present. Very nice, direct hit.

      Cheers, Russ

    8. Garrett Hollander on September 27th, 2010 10:40 pm

      Dave, I hat overused business terms and you hit the nail on the head with these three. We at Vendere Partners have long called ourselves thought-leaders in the industry but now I’m rethinking the corniness of the term.

      How does one actually qualify to be a leader in your opinion? Is quality of content produced? Coining a key term maybe?

      Good stuff, man. Keep it coming.


    9. Dina Harding on September 27th, 2010 10:58 pm

      Hello Dave,
      I commend you on a very well written post, and for drawing attention to the sad fact of verbiage misuse, as well as the ‘dilution’ of our vocabulary today.
      Very well stated!
      ~ Dina Harding

    10. Gerry Crispin on September 28th, 2010 12:03 am

      Nice post Dave.

      I changed my profile to ‘Student’ about two years ago.
      It continues to be the most appropriate descriptor which I hope to master in the next decade.

    11. Josh Letourneau on September 28th, 2010 9:51 am

      Dave, good post – I was surprised to see your response to Ryan Leary. It’s not that you or anyone doesn’t deserve the right to personal-brand themselves an “expert”, but the argument then becomes one of “I’m an expert and you’re not . . . ” or “I’m the real ‘expert’ in the room.” This is a controversial topic, but I don’t believe you want it to devolve into that type of hypocrisy (i.e. “My expertise [or ‘expert-enis’] is bigger than yours.”) Lol 🙂

      Let me toss out some thoughts on the notion of expertise —

      The more I perform SNA (Social Network Analysis) projects within organizations, I can honestly say that there is a distinct tension between ‘expertise’ and ‘innovation’. I can vouch for this because I just finished a project to help a company become more ‘innovative’ and learned that the ‘Expert-Knowledge Network’ was resisting new ways of doing things. The ‘experts’ were killing new ideas (in the new product development funnel) and not sharing the ‘innovators’ thoughts and ideas. Experts often cling to ‘best practices’ and ‘benchmarking’ (which are LINEAR ways of thinking, i.e. “A leads to B”) while Innovators focus on new ideas and fresh ways of looking at old challenges (through non-linear approaches, such as “A leads to C, which then can lead to E or B.”). ‘Experts’ are normally industry veterans, where ‘Innovators’ are typically newcomers to the network. It’s Psychology 101 – Ego meets change resistance. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “But this is the way it’s always been done around here.”

      My other thought is that the majority of our Industry understands there is little to no value in being a cost-center. If all you are is a white-box Recruiter, there will always be someone cheaper and more efficient (plus it’s a Global Economy.) That’s why so many hopped onto the social media craze – it was a means to reinvention and creative destruction. It was a perceived way to ‘protect’ their job when companies were shedding recruiting jobs at an alarming rate. But we all know that ‘current’ usage of social media in the Recruiting world is nothing more than a red herring. 90% push-marketing and 10% pull-marketing doesn’t cut the mustard. Sprinkling the words “social media” into our resume makes us no different or better than any other Recruiter. I am blown away how someone who broadcasts job tweets that do nothing but point back to their Monster ad believe they deserve another $20 per hour on a bill rate.

      As it stands today, I believe the Recruiting World is overfed on tactics and underfed on strategy. It’s like over-eating tons of carbs and never ingesting protein – you get fat! Strategy should always under-ride tactics, but if people are only looking for busywork (i.e. setting up an LI Group or Twitter Account), they often resist the “why” behind the busywork in the first place. If you present to an audience of 90%+ Line Recruiters, it’s busywork city. If you present to mainly Directors or VPs’+, you have to be able to explain the “why” behind your recommendations.

      To conclude, I’d simply like to add that ‘Strategists’ are often expected to have a ‘proven process’. When you try to explain that these ‘proven processes’ need to be tweaked depending on talent pools and demographics and locale, etc., it can be seen as weakness or vulnerability. Or, in worse cases, Clients can see your desire to dive in deeply and customize a solution as a means to ‘price-gouge’ them. I understand this is counter-intuitive, but it’ the Consultant’s dilemma.

    12. Bobby Davis on September 28th, 2010 11:26 am

      Thanks for the lesson on verbiage and I quite agree. Those terms are used too much of the time and anyone can sell themselves as an expert in this or that.
      Now – have you thought about taking on the onerous matter of position titles? I would love to see people performing the same kind of work be called the same thing from one company to the next. Sure would make my boolean searches a lot easier. Just had a posiiton for a Sr Bus Analyst and could only find Systems analyst that fit the job description which required relational database and data modeling exp.
      Why isn’t everyone in HR called a Human Resource something or another? Why do we call them Human Capital Talent Managers or whatever the newest title is. I would love to see some continuity in this space. What do you think?

    13. Brian Kevin Johnston on September 30th, 2010 2:58 pm

      El Dave- I LOVED reading this post… More than anything, the writing was excellent. It made me ” really think” about my title. “Expert R/D Recruiter” The article and comment re-confirmed what I already know.. In my niche, I am blowing my competition out of the water with innovation, automation, engagement, and overall “caring more”. This article is amazing for many reasons, but most importantly, the “comments” are full of passion! Best to ALL, Brian-

    14. Tom E on October 10th, 2010 1:22 pm

      Spot on post Dave. This reminds of the time when every man and his dog was a website developer because they used Dreamweaver.

      The issue for me is that a vacuum exists for these people to propagate claims of their social media expertise.

      Look forward to reading more of your posts.