Wednesday, May 11

Listening To Experts: Or Social Media Intellectuals?

smart guyAlthough a recent Hoover Institution video, Peter Robinson interviews Thomas Sowell, had political overtones, it also inspires some questions that fit for social media. Are the experts that your company is listening to "experts" or "intellectuals" and why does it matter?

If you ask Sowell, your company might be cautious listening to "intellectuals," people whose end products are only ideas. It might be worthwhile to consider other intelligent people who produce end products like vaccines or buildings or campaigns and programs instead. The difference between the two isn't only in what they know (or think they know) but it's also a matter of attitude and accountability.

The latter is one of the first distinctions Sowell points out in the interview. Intellectuals do not have accountability to their ideas whereas people who execute ideas are frequently held accountable. The reason for the exemption is obvious. Intellectuals can fault the execution. They can fault the data drawn upon to make their conclusions. They can fault unexpected events.

The concept makes for a compelling argument, especially when it's moved to a new field like social media where there are few experts and many thought leaders. It might even be safe to say that some people are operating within the sphere with nothing more than ideas or, more specifically, opinions — ninjas who are so unfamiliar with a sword that they still struggle with their butter knife at dinner.

Five Warning Signs That You're Working With A Social Media Intellectual.

• The belief that their knowledge of things far exceeds their experiences.
• The notion that superiority in one field transcends into superiority in all fields.
• The willingness to provide advice without having the benefit of consequential knowledge.
• The over-reliance on studies, surveys, and statistics without looking at individual people.
• The unwillingness to rigorously review data that might run contrary to their own conclusions.

These types of behaviors abound in social media. Some social media experts tell executives how to run a company. They have ideas related to political policy. They make a living as consultants without ever managing a campaign (beyond their own). And they draw conclusions based on a singular study. And social media people search for validation more often than truth.

It doesn't have to be social media people, of course. The entire communication industry has a tendency to over reach into topic areas where they have no experience or even consequential knowledge.

I remember one "expert," for example, who suggested an ice cream company make whatever flavors people could dream up (and then convince them to sell it) without ever considering the operational nightmare of cleaning out the machines in between every new concoction. Suffice to say, it was an intellectual daydream and not even a very good one (and that's without mentioning all the problems associated with nut allergies).

ideaDon't get me wrong. It seems to me that intellectuals can be very useful, especially if they dream up stuff that other people do not. But any company hiring them as consultants has to vet every suggestion and rigorously research the contrarian views.

Why? Because at the end of the day, unlike the intellectuals who think about it, the people who actually do it will be held accountable. It's especially true when such advice begins to drift away from social media and into human resources, customer service, production, pricing, loyalty programs, how your shoes look with blue pants, what your spouse might like for dinner, and where your kids should go to school.

Sure, you can ask their opinion on all that stuff if you like. However, opinions from intellectuals — especially those propped up by popularity — are exactly what they sound like. They are opinions, and they might even be opinions of lesser value than non-intellectual experts who happen to be immersed in the business of doing. Or, at minimum, doers will be well equipped to vet.
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