Justin Kownacki wrote a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek article about 10 Ways to Look Like You’re A Social Media Expert (even if you’re the farthest thing from it), including tips like quoting Mashable, retweeting your followers, and other pointed fun. Go read it and follow him. This post will make far more sense once you’ve read his.

Justin Kownacki

Welcome back. You did go read it, right?

What if, however, you actually wanted to become a social media expert? Bad news first: there is no such thing, because legitimate expertise takes Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice time, so even if you did nothing but social media for 40 hours a week, it’d still take almost 5 years to gain that level of proficiency.

That said, let’s adjust Justin’s list to provide tips you can use for starting down the road towards expertise.

1. Don’t bother quoting Mashable or Techcrunch. Do read them, but then disintermediate the information and click through to the original sources. There will almost always be some level of detail that the aggregator’s summary article missed, and those details can influence the success or failure of an implementation.

Do your own research, too. To the extent that you can, use proven frameworks like the scientific method (see this post by Tamsen McMahon) to create authoritative, verifiable, and reproducible results with your social media experiments.

2. Write linkbait articles once you know what’s actually baiting people. Here’s a hint: people search for the things they’re interested in, using different language than you, the expert. Familiarize yourself with Google’s Wonder Wheel, Related Searches, Insights for Search, Twitter’s Trending Topics, and other free services to see what’s actually catching people’s eyes – and how they talk about it.

3. Write list based posts. For good or ill, people love the list-based format because it’s easier to digest.

4. Wear a suit. I know, blazers are all the rage, but if you’re aiming upwards to impress the corner offices of the folks who actually have the money (or signing authority), chances are they wear suits.

If you’re talking about photos, I recommend reading this tutorial from Digital Photography School on how to take headshots properly.

5. Follow all the people in your area of focus you can find. Forget about the social media leaders, as nice as they are. Look at services like FollowerWonk.com to find who’s in your industry, location, or field and follow them, as they’ll be most relevant to you and your work. If you have legitimate leaders of your industry using social media, they’ll give you insights far faster than your industry’s trade publications.

6. Retweet things you want to keep. Yes, it’s nice to retweet people to get their attention, and that’s a valid tactic, but more importantly, use tools like retweets and favorites as a way of cataloging useful information (most Twitter clients save retweets and favorites separately) for later use. I store some of the best bits on my blog so that I have them permanently.

Bonus tip: the stuff you actually want to keep for yourself inherently has some value, so you’re retweeting not because you want to be popular, but because you found something useful, valuable, or important.

7. Reply to people who retweet or address you if a reply is called for. Someone retweeting you mindlessly isn’t really contributing anything useful. If a retweet contains commentary, objection, or questions, respond if appropriate. Reply also to the folks you followed in step 5 when appropriate (especially if they’re asking general public questions).

When appropriate means when you have something of value to add, just in case that’s not clear.

8. Learn the buzzwords and what they are supposed to mean. Buzzwords exist for a reason, good or bad, and if you understand what’s behind them (like synergy) then not only can you tell when someone else is shoving a plate full of bovine excrement your way, you’ll also help create clarity for yourself, your team, and your customers.

9. Link to your own content for discovery purposes. Internal linking actually does provide nominal value for search engines spidering and respidering content. As silly as it seems, it’s also useful for helping new readers who haven’t been following you for ages to find older stuff. I suggest plugins like SEO Smart Links for WordPress that do it automatically. Remember, just because you’re jaded with your own content doesn’t mean that the person who just followed you today is; chances are they’ve never even seen your “best stuff”. Link it up.

10. Offer a webinar, eBook, or some other form of content with value. Bonus points if you employ some form of lead capture, because you own nothing in social media, so the faster you can create and grow your own database, the more secure your social media platform will be. Think of it like insurance.

Will you be a social media expert after doing all this? In a few years, maybe. You will have gained usable knowledge, ability, and credibility with your audience, however, and that’s as good a place to start as any.

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