Saturday, December 26, 2009

By any other name...Can you label yourself?

Last night, an aunt of mine told me she had been reviewing my "web site" -- did she mean my blog, my Twitter profile, my Facebook profile? I am still at a loss for which online presence to which she was referring. Regardless, she had one problem with my bio. After 30 minutes of discussion about what countries I have been to in 2009 and which ones I plan to fly out to in 2010, she said "Erin, you simply cannot call yourself a 'jet-setter.'" She informed me that it was perfectly acceptable and - in fact - honorable to be called a jet-setter by others, but to label one's self such a thing was a bit - I don't know, pretentious? I don't recall her exact adjective. I think, in fact, she avoided telling me that self-labeling was anything in particular. She simply implied that it was a massive faux-pas.

It immediately reminded me of how we are all falling into the same trap when we call ourselves a "social media guru" or "social media expert." How much can we label ourselves and get away with it? I used to be able to call myself an online marketing specialist or "online marketing consultant" and all was well. Now that I'm getting more specific with things, is there a threshold of, say, speaking appearances or consulting gigs I must land before I can call myself an expert in social media marketing? Is there a certain number of miles I must obtain - a la George Clooney in "Up in the Air" - before I can call myself a "jet setter?" Is being Platinum on American Airlines' Advantage program enough?

Is it really faux pas to label one's self? Where do we draw the lines?


  1. Times have changed, so I don't think it is faux pas to label one's self. It isn't "bragging" if you can back it up, so as long as you can explain to someone why, then I believe it is fine. There is most likely a very good reason why you would want to label yourself, so why not?

  2. I think this is a slippery slope, especially in the industry of marketing/social media. People get very bitter/angry when new "social media rockstars," "marketing gurus." or "digital strategists" enter into the marketplace. I think it is because social media is so new that everyone is on essentially the same level playing field. Meaning someone in marketing for 10 years isn't necessarily going to be "better" at social media than a recent graduate new to the industry. It creates some tension.

    I don't like throwing around terms like expert, rockstar, or guru. I feel like it immediately makes a person less credible and somewhat cheesy. But then again, I'm a modest guy. If you're an author of a book on social media, work as a digital marketer, and consult/speak about social media - I guess you are in fact an expert or a rockstar - I would just use different terms.

    Great post, brought out a lot of food for thought for me.

  3. "I don't like throwing around terms like expert, rockstar, or guru. I feel like it immediately makes a person less credible and somewhat cheesy." I agree, Michael. Completely. I also feel like, because I write a blog and do some consulting - and now I'm starting some speaking engagements and teaching - I need some title that articulates what I've accomplished for those who first meet me or read about me but haven't checked out my LinkedIn profile yet.

    I have to say I've had some pretty healthy discussions with some other "gurus" in STL on social media about the very same topic. They also have felt like it's offensive to those who have worked hard to accomplish their expertise whenever someone comes along claiming that title without the experience or expertise to back it up. I haven't quite understood why yet. Personally I feel like those self-professing but false "gurus" will prove themselves liars when they try to get into the thick of a discussion, panel at a trade show or consulting gig with a client.

    As an SEO for many years, I often readily took in new customers who had been burnt by bad "black hat" SEOs who ruined their rankings and got their sites banned with unethical techniques. It brought me really good business - why? Because the client was already primed on what SEO stood for and knew they needed it, and I was able to speak to the exact, specific ways in which the black hat SEO "guru" had done harm to their site and exactly how I was going to fix it.

    In any emerging marketing trend, especially online, I think we're always going to see a group of front-runner con artists looking for the publicity or ready to soak up large amounts of clients. Right now, for example, I feel like those of us who work in social media marketing are on the supply side of a demand-heavy market.

    Let the gurus keep self-professing and I believe each of them will face a judgement day. That's part of why I love what I do. It's all about results, and as time goes on, more and more of it is quantifiable and heavily transparent.

  4. I am in agreement with a lot of this, but if you have proven results because of your work, why not stand by them? Wouldn't Michael Jordan or Albert Pujols call themselves MVP-type athletes? Everyone knows it, so why not?

    Isn't a resume one of the most pretentious things you could assemble anyway? (And almost everyone has one.)

    I'm not saying to label yourself a "rock star" in your profession, but I believe it's fine to state what you think is correct. Why wait to receive a title, when most titles aren't really accurate?

  5. David Siteman Garland emailed this to me (for some reason the system wasn't accepting his comment last night):

    Great topic and an important conversation.

    In my opinion, let others label you. You can of course sort of guide this labeling why what you do.

    Be descriptive as opposed to authoritative.

    For example: Chris Brogan says he “Advices companies on social media and marketing.” Other people call him expert, guru, etc.

    Erin might say, “I’ve traveled to 20 countries this past year.” I might then call her a “Jet Setter”

    However, in my opinion the jet setter example is different because it is more descriptive as opposed to authoritative.

    This “new breed” of self proclaimed experts will ween themselves out. Survival of the fittest. Many will make very little money. Others will move onto something else. A couple might be successful.

    In my opinion, being humble is always undefeated. Let other people do the PR for you, but make sure to give them material to work with.

    David Siteman Garland
    CEO/Executive Producer/Host
    The Rise To The Top℠

  6. By the way, check out this recent article from Mashable. Too funny!

    There are 15,740 Social Media Experts on Twitter

  7. Traveler with wanderlust > jetsetter

    David is right - I think being humble and even sometimes a bit self-deprecating can go a very long way - maybe that wouldn't work for Tony Robbins or people like him, but it's OK and even advisable to let people know exactly who you are. If you're Tony Robbins, then be massively over-the-top. Otherwise, don't be. Or you're gonna look like a complete knucklehead.

    If you like to use social media, you're a social media addict, aficionado, devotee.... to me, they all sound better than expert. No matter what you are trying to achieve in life, it's all about the marketing. I take a lesson from real estate. Rooms aren't small; they're cozy. And completely bombed out dumps are nothing but "a handyman's dream!"

    Perry Belcher once labeled himself a "Seriously Bad Ass Marketer & Neurological Copywriter With a Gift From God." Then the feds took everything he owned, and he retired from Internet Marketing in disgrace.

    All that being said, I have no problem with your bio, because I know who you are - we've met, talked... the pieces fit together.

  8. I'll preface this with saying that I'm biased.

    My years as a recruiter taught me to be weary of self proclaimed experts. Always be cautious with people that need to sell themselves hard. Does their work not speak for itself? Are they just selling snake oil? That's the mindset. If I'm evaluating someone's aptitude I have to see that they can execute in practice or it's a bad hire. Hype men do not necessarily make good practitioners.

    In a perfect world accomplishments speak louder than titles. In reality people need to market themselves. If you can back up a title or a certain level of skill... feel free to use it. Just be self aware enough to know that you've earned it. There is a reason Budweiser is the self proclaimed "King of Beers". The difference is they've earned it in the eyes of their consumers.

    "Expert" is a four-letter word for many because it's so easy to attach it to a bio without backing it up. Peers don't want to see their shared audience get taken advantage of and burned. It's bad for the audience and bad for everyone in that space.

    I still think the best course is to execute like crazy. If you achieve something that is quantifiable, don't be afraid to share it. If you're speaking somewhere, writing about something people care about, achieving returns for a client that others might benefit from... make it known. Just make sure it provides value.

    As long as you keep in mind the best interests of your audience, they'll tag you and title you as they see fit. I think the best way to view someone's expertise is by what others say about them.

    Brad Hogenmiller

  9. Erin -

    Throughout reading your post (very thought provoking by the way) and the comments, the term "personal branding" kept coming to mind.

    I liken all this "guru, expert" stuff today to Internet 1.0 back in the late '90s when everyone was calling themselves "ebusiness" experts and gurus. As David said, "self proclaimed experts will ween themselves out."

    But in your case, with your background, years of experience, and knowledge - your actions are doing the best speaking for you. It's your actions that is the cause of getting the new work.

    So it may be helpful for you to think of yourself as a brand in the same way you advise companies to think about themselves. Do a personal branding exercise...and see what you come up with.

    If it is this: "online marketer, digital strategist, runner and jet-setter" then you good, no change needed.


Thank you for commenting on my blog post! I really appreciate the conversation. -Erin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...