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Brendan Cooper is Editor-in-Chief at byyd, the leading mobile Demand-side Platform.

If you don’t want gurus then don’t call them gurus!

A recent post by Mark Ragan reminded me of a post I’ve had swirling around in my brain recently. His post is pretty bang on the money – of course he’s right that, as a general principle, we shouldn’t use jargon. But who’s ‘we’? Who are ‘them’? What are I?

Well apparently I’m a guru. I never told people I was a guru. I don’t walk around wearing a loin cloth. I never held my arm in the air for 50 years until it atrophied. Nor have I sat on a windswept mountain and heard the sound of one hand clapping (actually I did once hear that, but it’s a long story).

So, when I was a web designer, pre-FrontPage and Dreamweaver or even basic HTML editing utilities, I was called an HTML guru. Then I became a designer, and was a design guru, apparently. Then I became a copywriter and I was an apostrophe guru (no, really). Then, when I got into social media, I became – you guessed it – a social media guru. I never called myself that. I was introduced as that. People would say, proudly, “And here is Brendan, our social media guru” as if touring the museum of curiosities. I would smile politely then return to picking nits out of my fur.

So Mark Ragan is right. We need fewer gurus. I agree. I’ve said so too in the past (good grief was that really so long ago?)

But I think there’s another trend I’m seeing this year, which is a bit more pernicious. There seems to be a general movement to ‘kick out the gurus’. This anti-guru movement seems to boil down to the following argument: social media was taken up by early adopters who don’t really know how to ‘do social media properly'; social media is essentially marketing; so now, it’s time to bring in the real marketeers, people who know how to ‘do social media properly’.

Again, I’m all for driving out the snakeoil salesmen – but hang about: who called us gurus in the first place? It wasn’t us!

Think about this. Who did you first employ as a social media specialist? Or who did you first ask to look into social media within your organisation? Were they fully qualified marketing types? Were they measurement addicts, or management specialists? Were they, in short, the kind of people we all seem to be asking to come in and sort out the social media house?

Or were they people who seemed to ‘fit’ naturally into this strange, new, online space, and bring a variety of skills to bear? So, some of you might have hired someone because they used to be a web designer and they’re comfortable with the web; or maybe they were copywriters who can identify stories and carry messages; or possibly they were web-savvy PR people who wanted to see how to port PR across to the web. Or some, or all, or none of the above but something much more exotic and interesting.

And then you called them gurus. And now you want to get rid of them because they’re gurus.

Social media is far from a settled issue. Networks are being born (Quora), growing (Foursquare), or even getting a bit creaky (dare I say Google?). It’s still messy out there. You still need a native curiosity about it, otherwise you’ll just get left behind. Most of the people who I know working in social media today are simply that: curious people, who try their best to make sense of online conversations to the benefit of their organisations or clients. Calling them gurus is doing them a gross disservice.

So before you demote them to the social media helpdesk, having brought in some big shiny new gun who’s going to wrestle it from the gurus and turn social media into dollars, don’t forget: they were the ones who you turned to first, and tried their best to make it work. It would make much more sense to help them succeed rather than kick them down. And to help them do this? Don’t call them gurus.

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4 Comments on “If you don’t want gurus then don’t call them gurus!”

  1. Dan Thornton January 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    I’m certainly not aiming this at Mark Ragan, but it’s interesting to see how many people are calling for the end of social media specialists etc, and also happen to be involved in large digital and traditional agencies who have recently included social media as part of what they do.

    I’ve also never called myself a guru, and I’ve cringed when a couple of people have said it about me. But at the same time, the inevitable backlash against the people who were built up as the pioneers ignores the fact that many traditional agencies and organisations still don’t have the mindset to do innovation, and their main advantage is that they can include everything on one invoice…

    Personally, I’ve been involved in social media for a few years, and I’m still learning a lot from every project and every new client, but at the same time, I’ve also developed a number of sensible practices for clear, transparent and common sense ways to develop and evaluate each project.

  2. Brendan January 27, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Well said Dan! Very interesting point there about why these agencies might be saying these things.

    From my pov, what drove me into freelance was frustration with the lack of strategy behind much of what I was doing, having to account to clients for work was not underpinned with joined-up thinking, measurable outcomes or reference to a competitive marketplace. This, as far as I can tell, is still the case with a lot of comms, unless something has radically changed since, well, Christmas.

    As you say, it’s all about sensible practices, not black arts.

  3. Brennan March 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    I LOVED THIS. =D

    I agree with you on so many points…but more than anything, I think it’s interesting that marketers are taking on social media and applying basic marketing practices after management have thrown around/out social media gurus.

    But the thing is, those marketers going to get thrown out if/when they show similar results. It’s kind of a revolving door, here.

    I think there does need to be some better management and measurement tools in place, and I don’t think anyone’s really cornered the market on it, yet. If they had, we wouldn’t have had all these gurus in the first place. Also, SEO specialist are also trying to take part of the pie for social media as well, from all the presentations I’ve watched.

  4. Brendan March 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    This is just the thing – I don’t think social media belongs anywhere specific. It’s all well and good bringing in marketeers but have you ever read anything written by one? More to the point, did you understand it? What I’m saying is, a good marketeer might be a terrible copywriter, and vice versa. OK, so give that marketeer a team, but you’re still talking about someone who might not be all that turned on about the latest new thing, or who still throws the toys out of the cot because they might need a bit of HTML from time to time. So you need a marketing manager with vision. In my experience, managers with vision, or indeed visionaries who can manage, are poles apart and very hard to find.

    Measurement has come a long way and someone, somewhere is going to crack this one. I can feel it in my bones. Someone who successfully offers real, actionable metrics such as engagement and influence, shows them in the context of a marketing funnel, and integrates with Google Analytics so you can just pull audiences in like a big marketing rope. One of these days…