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March 9, 2009
Social Media Noobs and Gurus
 
Some social media “experts” and veterans look down on social media “noobs,” aka newbies, or newcomers. (The word “noob” comes from l33tspeak, an early hacker “language” now popular among some social networkers.)
This behavior can manifest itself in several ways, such as the snub at someone who dares to say something as naïve as ‘Wow, have you tried Friendfeed? It’s pretty cool!” The social media putdown artist can respond, “Come on, everyone knows about Friendfeed.”
I’m sure this phenomenon exists in other fields, but it’s very common in social media. I think there are several reasons for this. Social media is only starting to be taught in universities, and recognized as a profession, so “expert” credentials are hard to define and are often something one awards to one’s self.
Also, those who see their social media participation as a form of Search Engine Optimization, that is, they behave on social networks and on blogs as if traffic and links were the only measures of success, know they can improve their stats by flaming others, and noobs are easy targets.
Many of the top bloggers compete like oldtime pressroom reporters for “scoops” on the latest Web 2.0 announcements, influencing others to mistakenly believe that if you’re not first, then you have nothing worth saying. There’s even a “first” meme online, in which people vie to be the first to comment on a video, photo, etc. by posting the word “first.” No one knows why it matters to be first in this contest, but it continues.
Truthfully, there is little value in just being first. What matters more is using social networks to share information. There’s value in letting friends know about one’s own social media discoveries, whether they’re new to the world or not. Referral is what makes and grows a social network. If the first 10 people to use Facebook didn’t tell friends “hey this is cool!” Facebook would have, let’s see, 10 users.
There’s also value in explaining how to use social media tools. (This is not the same as explaining how to behave when using them, which is much more subjective and complex.) I wrote a post on using hashtags on Twitter. Was I the first? No. Was I the best? No. Was it useful? I think so.
My repertoire in the kitchen is pretty limited, so I was intimidated when my daughter asked me to make her a hardboiled egg. It doesn’t matter that it’s a simple thing to do. If you don’t know how, you need to find out. So of course, I turned to Google and found a great recipe on About.com. Maybe it’s not Brook Trout Almandine lightly sautéed and served on a bed of rice pilaf, but I’m glad some people aren’t afraid to talk about cooking basics and help a hardboiled egg noob like me without condescension.
More on topic, I gave a presentation a couple of years ago at a Public Relations Society of America conference on the topic of using social media in an agency. An experienced public relations professional asked, “what’s a blog?” Even in this room full of relative neophytes, a couple of people laughed, but I thought this was a wonderful question, and I really admired the person who asked it. It opened up one of the best discussions of the afternoon, because, by returning to fundamentals, we were able to dissect just what a blog really was, and why an agency/company would want to have one, and how it behaves, rather than glossing over it as if everyone understood it.
So what’s my premise? Social media is too new to be dividing the world into the “get its” and “don’t get its.” And if there are experts, the best thing they can do is not to flaunting their expertise, or bash people with it – it’s to help out a newcomer without motive or attitude. Because the people who engage in contentious and antagonistic behavior aren’t social media experts. In fact, they have proven themselves totally incompetent in a field with the word “social” in its name, which has among its meanings “marked by friendly companionship with others.”
 
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Joel Postman is the principal of Socialized, a consultancy that helps companies make effective use of social media in corporate communications, marketing and public relations. He's the author of SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate, a handbook designed to help corporate communicators and executives understand how to successfully adopt social business strategies in large companies. Prior to founding Socialized, he was EVP of Emerging Media at Eastwick Communications a Silicon Valley public relations firm, and before that, he has a decade of Fortune 500 corporate communications experience, including leadership roles in executive and internal communications at Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

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