The Plecostomus and the myth of the social media Guru


The Plecostomus is a fish that’s commonly referred to as a sucker fish. It uses it’s mouth to adhere itself to the side of the fish tank, feeding off of the algae but the most amazing thing about this fish is that it grows to a size that “best fits” the tank. Maybe other fish do this but this is the only one I know of.

Right now you’re asking yourself; What does this fish have to do with being a guru? Think metaphor. The Internet has allowed us all to become very big fish in an enormous tank. It’s exposed to us to a seemingly limitless amount of information and in the end, increased our “expertise”. What it doesn’t necessarily do is provide direct experience. That’s why people are so fond of case studies. It’s as close to experiential as most can get. So you have a bunch of people running around with good intentions (hopefully) but not much experience. This makes the claim that someone is a guru, statistically shaky.

I recently received this link from a former student of mine and thought it raised some excellent points about how to spot an expert or better yet, avoid the cruft. Some of my favorite items are:

Their firm has added social media as an additional service (as opposed to integrating it into a comprehensive PR approach). If they say “And we’ll do Facebook and Twitter!” beware.

All of a firm or agency’s “social media strategists” come from traditional PR or Marketing agencies.

They never talk to you about free ways to monitor your online presence (like Google alerts and Twitter search). Perhaps they’re afraid you can do it yourself?

. . . and my favorite

They call themselves an evangelist, guru or expert, and no one else does.

A great list indeed and illustrates the fact that there are many living vicariously through others, professing to be gurus.

Aside from a lack of experience, the other thing that makes being a guru extremely unlikely lies in the fact that online culture and technology are changing so quickly that no one can keep up. Most have taken to Twitter for crowdsourcing their information and with that they run the risk of groupthink. In the end; there’s no such thing as a social media guru. No such thing as an expert. If you listen to the people that are closest to attaining guru status, they have some excellent guidelines for how something should be done but they usually follow most advice up with, “it depends on the situation”. We have pockets of deep expertise but evolution is the name of the game and the best you can do is stay current and be passionate about social media, mobile behavior, etc. It’s like boarding a moving train.

On the chance that you now feel like one of the runners who followed Forrest Gump up until the last day, when he stopped and went home. You’re not alone! The best advice I can give it to look for people who’re passionate/share your passion and have the desire to share their opinions. Find as many as you can; preferably at the end of each spectrum. Listen to them and incorporate the information into your perspective; making it your own. Who knows? Maybe in time you’ll be known as a guru!