I love the term “charlatan” because it pretty much calls a person out.

Lately, it seems like every time someone leaves their employer, their fallback is to open up a social media agency.  I admit that it’s both flattering and annoying.

Flattering —  Because apparently, they feel that this is a growing industry filled with opportunity.

Annoying — Because many of these new pop-up agencies need this guidance themselves, but won’t admit it. In fact, they often think that they have a handle on digital advertising because they’ve posted and boosted before.

Why is this dangerous for marketers?

A mentor of mine,Dennis Yu, CTO of BlitzMetrics, reintroduced me to the term “charlatan” a few months back. I hadn't heard it used in a long time. We were speaking about the upsurge of self-proclaimed social media experts on Facebook. People who want to help, but lack the knowledge to be effective.

They’re charlatans. Individuals who claim to have a special knowledge or skill, when they do not.  One could call them frauds, but I like to think of them as hopefuls.  Individuals trying to make a living doing something they’re not yet qualified to do.

It’s ok, we all have it in us. That desire to grow into something larger than ourselves.  I’ve done it.

Back in 1998, I interviewed for a position as a Java Developer. My headhunter described the opportunity as a perfect fit. I recall asking him what the position was, and he said there was no title, but that I should interview, so I did.  The interview went so well that I was given an offer, which I accepted, at that moment. Here’s the irony – the position was for a Java Developer, but I didn't know Java at the time. And no, Java Developer wasn’t a fancy title for a Starbucks Barista, but rather for a person who could write code in the Java language.  At the end of the interview, they asked how long I had been a Java Developer, and I responded with “I don’t know Java, but I can learn it.”  I worked with them for three years, traveling across the US, meeting with clients and working as a developer on various projects.

I guess someone could have thought of me as a charlatan, but that wouldn’t be accurate. I didn’t pretend to be someone I wasn’t.  I was honest about my experience, and fortunately, my knowledge of programming, along with my social skills carried me through to an opportunity where I was then able to prove myself.

But today this isn’t the case.  I meet so many individuals who want to advise companies on their social media marketing efforts, but lack marketing experience and technical prowess. Acronyms like CTR and CTM are just buzzwords used to land a client.  And, ad optimization often equates to tagging themselves at their local client’s location or within a post to justify their efforts and create a sense of organic reach.

Often, charlatans aren’t even familiar with business models or industries they’re serving.Marlena Solomon wrote an excellent article for BlitzMetrics, Automotive Social Media Charlatans Exposed, which sheds light on the importance of knowing the sector you’re promoting.  She states, “There is an assumption that knowing how to post to a social media account is sufficient. This ability alone does not make you an expert.” And yet, this is the first service that a newly proclaimed “social media expert” will offer.

[shareable cite=”Marlena Solomon”]“There is an assumption that knowing how to post to a social media account is sufficient. This ability alone does not make you an expert.”[/shareable]

If you’re considering working with a digital marketing agency, you owe it to yourself to perform due diligence. Amongst your usual list of questions, consider adding these two to your list:

[  ]  What type of experience does this person or agency have marketing to people in your industry?

[  ]  Can this person present case studies with real numbers from real campaigns that they’ve created and managed that have produced results?

Finally, if anybody begins their pitch with “you’ve got to be on social media to get more exposure,” politely thank them and walk away. These individuals aren’t selling results; they’re merely creating a job for themselves.


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