Social Media Success Story: From the Streets to the Stacks

Posted on May 28, 2011


Keep Your Coins, I Want Change by Meeks

Keep Your Coins, I Want Change by Meeks

It may have escaped your notice, but probably not (especially if you’re in the field of social media, yourself) that the field of social media services has an oversupply of snake oil marketers and plain old incompetents, as well as just a plain old oversupply. In Vancouver over the past nine years I’ve been teaching social media the ratio of consultants/trainers to clients/students has hit one to one, and we’re overdue for a shakedown.

It’ll be both Ugly and High Time when it comes, but that is neither here nor there. It’s just a long, convoluted way of getting to the following post: you see, smart people everywhere can damn well see that these practitioners don’t know what they’re doing, and it results in posts like the following cri de coeur in the forums:

I’m going to work as a Social Networking Expert

  1. luridtalesofdoom
    May 27, 2011, 4:38 AM
    I have accounts on twitter, facebook, Linkedin, ListGeeks and many more social networking sites – so please pay me thousands of your finest pounds sterling to impart my secrets to you or your organisation. I’m willing to do lectures, presentations, podcast, shoutcasts and faith healings too if the price is right.This is a bit tangential (I suppose that’s par for the course in ‘off topic’), from something Raincoster mentioned in the “Anyone Have A Facebook? =)” thread. But how the hades is “social media guru” a thing? It seems to me to be bizarre and almost cult-like that social media experts make a living convincing dupes that the inordinate amount of time they have spent on twitter and facebook has somehow given them special secret knowledge and powers over social media that they will impart to you – for a price.Last month I began on the editorial team of a small start-up publication, and again came across this same odd attitude to using social media. The purpose of the publication is in part to give inexperienced people skills and experience in journalism and publishing, so anyone applying for a job who was outwardly trustworthy and enthusiastic was automatically put on staff. But we rejected around ten people for banging on about how they ‘write a couple of blogs’ – as if this was somehow a valued transferable skill beyond basic literacy. There was one gem in particular who, ipad in hand, referenced her use of twitter to further demonstrate her social media prowess.I hold that there are no real social media experts, any more than there are real bananna-peeling experts. Also that, rather than being a skill using specialised knowledge, blogging demonstrates nothing more than the ability to mash a keyboard with your fingers. However given that this forum is the blogging Heart of Darkness and that there are many people out there who make a living selling apparent social media skills and specialised knowledge, I think I may be in the minority opinion – Does anyone here care to put me right? Is blogging a professionally transferable skill? Can one be a real “social media guru”?

Well, yes. Blogging IS a professionally transferable skill. Social media can be important. It can even be complicated.

The alphabet is pretty simple, but Shakespeare isn’t. Treaties aren’t. And yes, social media can be both practiced and taught at a very high, life-changing level.

That is what I do for a living, actually. And here is one example, from further down that same thread, once I’d gotten my dander good and up (I should really switch back to Head & Shoulders) and decided to weigh in:

there are no real social media experts, any more than there are real bananna-peeling experts.”

I can prove this wrong easily. Let me give you an example of one of my students.

He’s a man who’s essentially been on the streets and wasted (in every sense) for much of his adult life up until a couple of years ago, when he got it together. He’s lived in shelters for 15 years, when he hasn’t lived on the streets. I was the social media trainer for a project called Fearless City, which trained people in internet use as a way to empower them.

I persuaded (and it took work) him to start a blog on and post some of his amazing poetry. He did, and he hit Publish and then turned around and argued with me for five minutes about how futile it was. Nobody was going to give HIM a break. Nobody cared. It was all just throwing words into the void.

I looked over his shoulder and told him he already had two comments. One was from Germany and one from Australia, both saying essentially, “I had no idea Vancouver had poetry this good!”

He got hooked, in part because of the feedback (and if he hadn’t gotten any, I’m not above making up a fake name and leaving some feedback myself for motivational purposes) and the blog he eventually built he used as a portfolio to get a full scholarship to Simon Fraser University’s creative writing program.

I knew going in that he needed to take the wonderful stuff he’d written and build a portfolio he could then use for something like that. Or a book deal. And so I set him up on There are other students of mine I’ve set up on other platforms, like the guy coming out of prison I sent to a World of Warcraft forum because they’d ban him whenever he stepped out of line and, in this way, taught him that following the rules was something he HAD to do now that he was out.

So, I use my sophisticated understanding of social media to actually change people’s lives.

And I see people who take my class one week with ads in the paper the next week to “teach u how to get the mos out of Twittr” and it makes me sick.

And yes, I’ve seen far too many people take one of my workshops and then put ads in the paper about their workshops on the selfsame topics, just a week or two later. I’m pretty good as a teacher, but I can’t make someone an expert in four hours.

Coming up next in Outraged Social Media Professional Theatre, a post on how to tell if your social media consultant actually knows her apps from a hole in the wall.