Are You a Social Media Expert or Evangelist?

Photo cred: Transguyjay
Photo cred: Transguyjay

Are you a social media expert or a social media evangelist?  There are a lot of discussions about the gorwing number of “social media experts”.  Most of it tends to be negative, as there are many self-proclaimed social media experts out there, that aren’t worthy of such a title.

There are also a lot of people that say there aren’t social media experts.  They say the space is so new, and always changing, so it would be impossible for someone to be an expert.  If you ask me, the technology and tools are changing, but the concepts have been around since the beginning of time.

So I think there are experts, and those are people who understand the concepts and how they apply to the changing tools and technology.

Are you an evangelist? Perhaps you think you’re an expert? Well, here are a few ways to tell.

Evangelists usually understand and are able to convey other’s advice to new people.

Experts are also able to develop their own advice.

Evangelists are knowledgeable about what has worked or hasn’t worked for others.

Experts have experienced it themselves.

Evangelists know where social media works.

Experts know where it doesn’t.

Evangelists love to talk about the value of social media.

Experts love to apply it to real situations, and prove it’s value.

REAL experts make money through their passion for social media.

BS experts’ only passion is taking your money.

Here are some of the responses that I received on twitter when I asked “what’s the difference between a social media expert and a social media evangelist?”

Mandy_Vavrinak: Evangelists have to be believers. Experts can be in it for the money.

billhandy: evangelist simply advocates. Experts have experience, knowledge, etc and are considered authorities. Think flack vs sme

robynski: Experience? An expert has hands on work and an evangelist is a recipient that has had good exps.That could be one definition.

kengaylord: I’m not sure there’s such a thing as “social media experts” there is WAY too much social media out there to know about it all.

NeerajKA @DavidSpinks no difference, they both use social media exclusively to talk about social media

33 thoughts on “Are You a Social Media Expert or Evangelist?

  1. Nice post, David…

    Guess I’m in the minority from the responses you received and your own views, but I feel like a true evangelist would be the higher order. Here’s why:
    > Expertise, at least by today’s loose definitions, can be bought (take a class, get a certificate, bona fide expert in X)
    > Experts can really be self-declared (h/t to Don Henley: “I’m an expert, because I say I am”)
    > Experts don’t have to believe in what they’re selling (or selling you!) they just have to be good at selling it.

    I don’t think you can market some thing, some one, or some idea effectively unless you really understand it… and that includes the idea of social media. One may be an expert at using the tools, but you can’t be an evangelist without being a true believer. Belief can’t be purchased. If I tell a client that I believe this tool or that strategy will work in a given situation, that isn’t an ambiguous statement… I don’t mean that I “think” it will work, I mean I have faith, believe, trust that it will work. Because I’m an expert? Yep. My expertise & experiences are the foundation of my belief, allowing me to evangelize clients, prospects, etc. Does that make sense?

    At any rate, thanks for asking the question & giving me a chance to think some deeper thoughts on a Sunday evening 🙂

    1. I think a lot of what you were referring to as experts deal with the BS experts that I mentioned. They aren’t true experts. The experts that I’m referring to in this post, are true and honest experts.

      I’d even say that a true expert is also an evangelist, as they would not have been able to achieve such expertise if they did not have a passion for the field.

      1. >> a true expert is also an evangelist, as they would not have been able to achieve such expertise if they did not have a passion for the field.<<

        Yes… passion is the driver for both true experts and evangelists. Can't be a true believer without passion for the idea/product/service.

        And you're right… I have a jaded view of "experts." I can agree with your version as it pertains to TRUE experts (those recognized by many others in their field as experts, as opposed to the Don Henley variety).

      2. I’m going to have to disagree with you there about any true expert being an evangelist. There is a clear difference between liking, hating, loving, and having a passion for something.

        Here I’d use the logic all Evangelists are Experts, but not all Experts are Evangelists. A person can be passionate about something, but that doesn’t mean that they’d have the aptitude for their passion. Sure, on occasion you hear about a person without legs swimming across the ocean, or a short person getting into the NBA.

        I know plenty of kids in med-school because their parents want them there who are amazing with medicine. They get it and outshine their peers. However, if you talk to them about it, they don’t really care. To them its not really a big deal, just a means to an end. For a lot of people, that’s what their job ends up being: their paycheck.

        I guess you could use the idea of the ‘unwilling/unintentional prophet’. There are a small percentage of people who love and excel at what they do, and less fortunate others who are terrible at what they love. We’re all given different talents, its just an issue of if we embrace them.

        1. Interesting, I guess you’re right. Perhaps I’m just thinking in terms of social media.

          I think it’s also an issue of relativity. Can you be an “expert” to one level of people but not to another? There will always be people who have greater expertise than you, right?

          So perhaps those doctors, that are there because their parents wanted them to be there, are considered medical experts to the average person, but to other doctors, it’s the ones who have a passion for the field and strive to always learn more that are considered the true experts.

  2. I’ve got to say I agree with NeerajKA’s comment. However, that’s only because this is the ‘new’ and ‘hip’ topic as of late it seems.

    All ‘social’ media really is, is a reflection of people trying to use technology to bridge the gap between sitting alone at a computer communicating via electrons versus physically moving and going places and meeting people face to face.

    The problem with the social media hype on the tech end, is that it doesn’t reflect the true state of things online. Social Media is just a faster version of the social stock market. If you get enough hype, everybody will join in. Considering how relatively young the internet is compared to older forms of communication, the ‘social media’ explosion is just a smaller version of what was the DotCom Boom.

    We’re just adults very excited over our new online toys and gadgets, like 7 year-olds unwrapping our birthday presents each year. Eventually some toys are used until they fall apart, others get a lot of attention at first before being abandoned.

    As with any new field, until it can age enough for standards and nonsense to be sorted out, the hilarious chaos that is social media will continue.

    Personally, if I were to define the terms “Social Media Expert” and “Social Media Evangelist”, I would coin each definition not by how they go about spreading news or informing others of this or that, but rather by their reliability, stability, and knowledge. Is person A and expert or a parrot? Do they just repeat what everybody else says? As I’m not much for radical religion or anything of the sort, to me an evangelist brings to mind larger-than-life claims and the promise/illusion of miracles whether out of honest belief or simply their attempt to create their own niche in the ever-expanding virtual climate.

    To create a very tasteless negative analogy, an individual has the opportunity to make money (money being defined here as anything they view valuable, such as readers/followers/comments) in numerous different ways. Here we have the big traveling church evangelist and the calculating sly business owner. Both of these people can be very wealthy, whether through sales or church donations. The only catch is that they are able to convince others that they are the right choice to make in their faith or their business endeavors.

    For example, I would consider Dr. Phil to be and evangelist. His motive doesn’t really matter much, but he certainly doesn’t carry any form of doctorate or medical degree. Whereas one with a Ph.D in psychology is a professional. Sure they might not have written any books you’ve heard of, but they aren’t exactly seeking TV shows either.

    All it really comes down to is public opinion and presentation.

    I suppose you can argue that I haven’t really answered anything, but am merely rambling on about concepts and human behavior. My brain is tired of trying to organize words into sentences and sentences into …. etc. There’s my two cents. 🙂

    1. haha that is quite the comment you have there! Could be a blog post on its own.

      I think that you’re right about the comparison between the tools and kids opening their presents. But while these tools change and get old, or they’re forgotten, I think that these new capabilities and concepts are in fact revolutionary, and are the beginning of a big change that we’ll be seeing for a long time to come.

  3. I think I am a mixture of both. I try and share what I know when I know someone needs help but I have also used “social” media in a career so I know what does not work too. I think you can do both!

    1. I agree…as I replied in the other comment, I think that any true expert, must also be an evangelist…otherwise they wouldn’t have had the passion to develop their knowledge and experiences.

  4. Evangelists have experiences that are extremely positive and help them convey a message of support. I am a customer evangelist for several companies and it is because of my positive experiences with each. Being an expert is suspect now days it seems. However, as I stated in my comment on twitter, (robynski) what truly makes one an expert is experience. Experience that builds, is positive and has measurable results. Any one can call themselves an expert, but the proof is in the pudding.

  5. As always David, great, thought provoking post.

    Regarding evangelist vs. mechanic, if your car broke down would you want an evangelist mechanic or an expert one?

    1. I don’t think anyone can argue with that logic ^_^

      I’m certainly not trying to say that evangelists should be trusted to provide the best service…in fact quite the contrary. The purpose of this post was to help people see the difference in an evangelist and an expert, regardless of what they call themselves.

      There are some people who call themselves evangelists, but they’re just modest and have actually reached the level of “expert”.

      There are also, as we know all too well, people that call themselves experts who are actually just evangelists, or nothing at all.

      Key is to find the true experts, in a sea of evangelists and BS artists.

  6. David, I think your point, “evangelists should be trusted to provide the best service” is very important to the argument. Evangelists are the worst kind of consultant simply because they don’t provide any kind of service at all, they simply… well, evangelize. Kind of like rocking in a chair – it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you very far.

    A few other thoughts on evangelists:
    They will always evangelize the next new big thing – usually because they read about it from an expert.

    They spend a lot of time evangelizing with other evangelists.

    They spend a lot of time talking the same talk over an over – a one size fits all mentality. Experts know this is never the case (at least an expert told me that)

    Evangelists don’t become experts over time unless they shift their focus from evangelizing to research and/or application.

    Finally, and this is simply my opinion, it seems evangelists always fall.

    Regarding folks who call themselves evangelists, “just cause they are being modest.” Here is my wife’s opinion on the subject matter, “If it’s your birthday, don’t go around telling everyone it’s your birthday. If you are worthy of the celebration, others will know it and you won’t have to tell them so.”

    If you still aren’t sure, I offered up this test to determine if someone is a “social media expert” Enjoy.

    1. Great points, tips and link here Bill. Thanks for the contribution.

      And just to clarify, you did mean “evangelists SHOULDN’T” right?

      I do think that evangelists can become experts, but you’re absolutely right…it does require a shift in mentality.

  7. I know how to use social media…but I doubt you could call me either an evangelist or an expert. Do I think you are moronic if you ignore the trend completely? Yes.

    Do I think you are a moron if you claim to be an expert at a tool? Yes.

    Just my two cents.

    1. So what should we call you? If you HAD to have a title, because unfortunately, we all do need one…otherwise, how can people outside of the community know what we are and why we’re here?

  8. The true experts never say they are. They build a community who trusts in them and tells other people about how smart they are.

    I personally like being a SM Average Joe… with Johnny Bravo hair.


    I think we are what we make of it when it comes to SM. We all have different terms – because, well, we are all different brands. My “whiz” might be your “cool kid.”

    1. haha well I have the hair part down ^_^

      it’s true that we all have different terms…and I mentioned in another comment that there is the issue of relativity… an expert to me could be a n00b to you…regardless of official or unofficial titles.

  9. Can I say that really hate the words “evangelist”, “expert”, “guru”, “god”, etc? They really make people sound prideful about their talents. And the second you overrate yourself, the next guy comes along and does something much better than you ever did.

    I’d rather refer to us all as explorers. There’s still a lot of uncharted territory out there. To assume you’re expert already is bit presumptuous.

    Just another 2 cents.

    1. I tend to agree with you, as I feel like many would. When it comes down to it, titles are empty, and it’s the people behind the title and the people around them that really matter.

      Unfortunately, titles are necessary for those who aren’t as comfortable/active (employers) to be able to find the people who truly are. My goal with this post isn’t to play into the title game…but rather to help people on the outside understand a little bit more about what these titles SHOULD entail.

  10. The way I view this debate is that you’re not out to market the title of being an ‘expert’ or ‘evangelist’. We’ve all probably coined Chris Brogan as such, but that’s because we’ve seen what he’s about, the community he’s built, the work he’s done, and the value he brings to the table that helps us out in our everyday lives.

    It’s something that is a result of your body of work and something that you don’t ask or talk about, but rather a perception that’s put upon you, while you continue to do good in this space.

    Think of it as Social Media Fight Club. First rule of Fight Club – don’t call yourself an expert or evangelist 😉

    1. I agree, completely. The best way to truly understand the value of a person is by the word of their community.

      Unfortunately it’s not always easy for others, outside of the community, to make the distinction between community established, and self proclaimed “experts”.

  11. It seems like a pretty clear distinction. Expert denotes a level of skill or knowledge, and “evangelist” implies promotion and faith. While someone could obviously be both or neither, I don’t really see any overlap that would blur differentiation.

    Which would you say you are Spinks? I realize that there is a negligible chance that you will answer one or the other and that answering to the tune of expert would sound arrogant and you will be justified in avoiding it. I also realize that this makes the question mostly rhetorical and a waste of both our time, but I am very bored at work.

    1. hahaha thank you for your valuable contribution.

      There isn’t an overlap in reality, but the blurred differentiation is a result of people who are actually evangelists who claim to be experts. Some mistake support and understand for experience.

      and to your question…I plead the fizzith.

  12. David –

    Interesting distinction you’re making.

    Here’s my question: What exactly makes an expert and expert? (Setting aside the ridicule we heap on “experts” & “gurus”, etc.)

    I mean I read all over the place about who is and who isn’t an expert, but I rarely hear any concrete, specific and case-based stories about *what* experts have done in the past that makes them trusted authorities. It’s experts execute – but just what is that?

    I have yet to see that explained in any useful detail – the talk is usually vague and not very helpful. Please, help me out here.


    1. vague and unhelpful explanations? Welcome to the social media space haha.

      Well the truth is that’s because people don’t have the answers. To me, someone worthy of the title “expert” isn’t necessarily someone who has all the answers (that would be impossible) but rather it is those who understand the changes that are occurring, and have and continue to apply them to real world situations.

      For specific examples, I consider Chris Brogan to be a social media expert, Beth Harte a marketing expert, etc…and perhaps it’s just relative to my experience. Perhaps that’s why everyone is vague because they can only say who is an expert compared to themselves, but not for everyone else.

      I think what you’re looking for is a set of organized requirements that one must accomplish to be considered an expert. That certainly hasn’t been developed yet…although we have heard talk of such programs being installed.

  13. David,

    Thanks, I see that. There’s no right or wrong way to do this – in fact they’re probably an infinite array of approaches, depending on the purposes, goals and cultures of clients.

    I also think any organization that steps into social media – once they get some from someone like Chris – is that they have to do it themselves. And perhaps it’s difficult to get more in depth case studies about their successes and (more importantly) their failures.

    (Maybe the people who actually *doing* don’t have time to do the *telling*. 🙂

    I’m hoping more peeps comment here – you’ve started a great thread.


  14. As far as I am concerned, they are all nothing more than labels. When expert became a bad word, evangelist, rockstar, superstar, guru, etc. appeared. All of these can easily be replaced by solid time-proven work (so, the idea of being a true expert I guess?).

    The best answer on this topic I saw came from @jaredroy. When asked what people in social media should call themselves, he mentioned we should call it like it is – We are social media marketers.

    I’m sticking with the idea that if you need to attach words like expert and the like, you probably aren’t. You could say I’m in the same corner as Lauren F. and Sonny.

    Good post, thanks.

    – Scott

  15. I’m not interested in expert. It’s meaningless.

    This is what I’m interested in: *expertise*.

    Maybe if we talked about expertise and not people, we’d have a more productive conversation. Just a thought.

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