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Social-media faceoff: The ninjas vs. the gurus

When I was 9, I wanted to be a shark-tamer — like a lion-tamer, but for sharks. It didn’t occur to me that sharks might not be tameable. I just liked the sound of it: “Jesse Stanchak: Shark-Tamer.”

I admit it —  sometimes I think people would call me back faster if my business card said “shark-tamer.” Occasionally I think I should persuade my boss to change my title. Then I remember that I’m a professional, and I don’t need a wacky title to convince people I’m awesome.

But not everyone has that much restraint, especially in the Wild West world of social media. The Web is full of self-appointed experts sporting fanciful titles.

‘So what?’ you say. “They’re just having a little fun. Who does it  hurt, especially if these people are self-employed?”

Normally, you’d be right. Except that social-media marketing isn’t like other industries. It’s got something to prove. Many executives still think that social media is a fad. These people are wrong, but that doesn’t mean their skepticism is unwarranted. It’s up to us to prove them wrong — and that task becomes spectacularly more difficult when the person doing the convincing bills themselves as a “social-media dragon-slayer.”

I spent some time digging around on LinkedIn, looking at trends in social-media titles, and I think you can separate them into four categories.

The Mystic Master

Of all the dumb social-media titles, “social-media guru” might be the most hated. It’s become synonymous with hacks trying to make a buck off of clueless managers. LinkedIn says the title is in decline — but there are still at least 91 people on the network who claim it.

There are lots of subspecies of guru: Mavens (37 people), experts (243) and mentors (2). But these all have the same problem. They make social media sounds like it’s magical or difficult to understand. And that old song-and-dance isn’t helping anyone.

The Tortured Metaphor

For some people, just being knowledgeable isn’t enough. Those people go on to be a “social-media ninja” (15 on LinkedIn) or maybe they become social-media operatives (2) or social-media champions (2). I was also able to find a single social-media rockstar, one social-media surgeon, a social-media samurai and even a social-media king. And that’s just what people will admit to on LinkedIn.  Play around with Google and you can find plenty of other weird titles.

These titles all fail for the same reason: They don’t explain what these people actually do. Take those social-media ninjas: Ninjas were known for killing without making noise. They might be the least social people ever. Putting “ninja” on your resume might feel awesome now, but you’re going to feel stupid when someone asks you to explain it.

The Button-Down

These titles are the most common and probably the most acceptable. We’ve got 2,387 social-media managers on LinkedIn, 2,005 social-media consultants, 1,284 social-media specialists, 458 social-media analysts and 304 social-media marketers.

The rule is that your title must explain what you do. Do you analyze the performance of social-media campaigns? Then you’re a social-media analyst. If that description doesn’t fit, maybe you’d be better served by a different title.

The Rare Exception

That doesn’t mean your title can’t be creative. It just has to explain what you do — and you need to live up to it.

Dan Zarrella bills himself as “The Social Media Scientist.” Normally, that would be ridiculous. But Zarrella actually performs experiments with social-media data. His title fits.

Paul Chaney calls himself the “Social Media Handyman.” He helps people fix their social-media presences. It’s perfectly apt. (Full disclosure: Chaney is on our social-media advisory board and has written a ton for this blog.)

Heck, I’d be okay with a social-media rabbi — assuming you’re actually a rabbi. Of course, Geoff Livingston is also an advisory board member, and he’s clearly being tongue-in-cheek there.

So What?

We’ve all met these people, either online or at a conference, and until now we’ve been polite when they called themselves social-media kaisers or whatever. But we need to stop being enablers. Tell your friend with the crazy title that unless he’s a pre-World War I German monarch, he needs a new batch of business cards. It’s the socially responsible thing to do.

What’s the goofiest social-media title you’ve come across?

Image credit, Double_Vision, via iStock Photo

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