I think industry experts have some responsibility to qualify their opinion statements, but their audiences have a far bigger responsibility to vet what they hear.
For one thing, experts don't all agree, so what does that tell you? Further, experts in some areas aren't necessarily experts in all areas. And even when they are, in general, advice is "one size fits one" (a concept I heard a few times at an event last week).
Last week, I was at the Winning is Everything conference held by The Advisory Board—a group of my colleagues who are widely recognized accounting-industry consultants. This year's event was as good as any of their past ones I've attended, if not better.
As always, I heard some great stuff where firms are truly innovating, and I heard some stuff that makes me cringe.
It's true that everyone has an opinion. Especially on hot topics like diversity in the workplace or on the effectiveness of social media.
Sometimes, especially on panels, speakers are simply sharing their observations an a wide variety of subjects, whether their areas of expertise or not.
It's kinda frightening to me that members of the audience, holding the speakers in deservedly high esteem because of their clear expertise on certain topics, will take observations on other topics and cling to them like gospel. Especially when it's what they want to hear about trying new things (i.e., "don't bother").
This is the case with some sweeping statements made about social-media use in professional firms. Panelists discussing changes in the profession said things like "Firms I talk to about their social-media use say that there hasn't been any ROI [return on investment]."
Who, exactly, are those firms? How have they been using social media? Did they define their purpose? Specify goals? Once that was done, did they use the right tools? In the right way? With the right groups or people? And for how long? Did they track the right success metrics?
The odds of all those things happening well are very slim, if they happen at all. So, yeah, it's no wonder they can't point to results.
Social media isn't the problem. Lack of planning and spotty execution are the problems. I devoted entire chapters to this in my book, Social Media Strategies for Professionals and their Firms.
We're so quick to blame the tool and not the methods of using the tool. That's like saying cars crash and fail. Yes, some do. But why?
Social media is rarely effective in a vacuum. Or as stand-alone marketing.
As I discussed in a past blog post called "'What's the ROI of Social Media?' is the Wrong Question," you can almost never isolate the ROI of social media." It's like trying to isolate the ROI of your phone. Or your email's ROI. Impossible.
Anecdotal and blanket statements like those heard last week can prematurely deter others from even caring to learn how to use the these modern communication vehicles. (Don't confuse "modern" with "new." Twitter & Facebook have been around for 6 years, LinkedIn for 9, and blogs for 13+ years). There's enough trepidation within firms (already far behind the rest of the commerical world) about exploring social media. We don't need more.
Coincidentally, the fabulous Rebecca Ryan, a member of The Advisory Board who couldn't be at the conference this year, had commented on my above-referenced blog post with remarks that included this gem:
Asking "What's the ROI on SM?" seems like a way for decision-makers to end a conversation they're uncomfortable having. (And it works!)
Please, don't let anyone deter you from exploring any methods for communicating with people and distinguishing yourself and your firm from the pack.
Take advice, including mine, in its proper context and explore and challenge experts' ideas on your own.