Titles Are As Meaningless As Ever

There’s a bunch of buzz lately in tech and marketing circles with an ever-increasing disdain for self-imposed titles.  The one which stands out in the marketing niche is some incantation of “social media (or new media) consultant (or expert or specialist).” Mix and match as you please.

As an aside, there is a backlash across the web with an ever-increasing disdain for the word entrepreneur as literally everyone who has created some sort of .com is slapping the title on themselves.

Literally throngs of individuals (and even agencies) are dubbing themselves with impressing-sounding titles and claims without evidence to prove they’ve had success doing much of anything.

But is this any different than how the snake-oil types trotted themselves around in previous years in whatever the hot industry of the day was?  Not really – there have always been the types of people who prey upon those with a lack of knowledge.

On the plus side, the web makes it simple to see who is full of hot air and who actually knows how to produce successful, tangible results in the social space. Here’s what matters and what is meaningless:

What matters:

  • Strong Google PageRank of their website/blog (not easily faked – look for 4-5 minimum). Some say it is the ultimate measure of online influence. This matters, if they can’t create a positive reputation for themselves, can they really help you?
  • Number of RSS subscribers to their blog (or a client blog they helped build) through Feedburner (also not easily faked, takes great effort to acquire).  Again, if someone doesn’t have experience building something themselves, how can they possibly help you?
  • Consistent, intelligent comments and interactions on their blog/in the social web
  • Client case studies/success stories showing tangible results from their online campaigns (links/traffic driven/responses/PR/sales, etc.).
  • Placements/quotes/case studies in trade media
  • Links from industry-leading blogs
  • Their clients/their work is being talked about on popular blogs
  • Lots of information and positive reactions available on them through a Google blog search/Technorati search/FriendFeed search/Twitter search.
  • Past client testimonials from legitimate online businesses
  • Referrals from other marketing agencies
  • This one is a bit nebulous but I’ll say it anyway:  true web “street savvy” (Have they made something that hit page 1 of Digg?  Shared highly on StumbleUpon?  Do they actually have people on staff who are bloggers/social media power users/message board gurus?)
  • Creativity and knowledge behind building marketing initiatives/web apps that spread organically
  • Understanding how SEO, online marketing, PR, etc. all come together

What is meaningless/worrisome:

  • Number of followers on Twitter, number of friends on Facebook/MySpace, etc. (can be achieved through spam tactics)
  • Big/instant promises, self-imposed titles without any social proofing
  • Excessive use of jargon with no background/clarification supplemented
  • Low score in SEO tools like Website Grader
  • Pop-up subscriptions on their page
  • Big success with traditional advertising/PR/Marketing isn’t necessarily an indicator of web-based results
  • Not able to show you samples of successful campaigns
  • Their blog or website isn’t organized, clean and usable
  • Unwillingness to allow you to speak with previous clients
  • No previous clients
  • Suggests a paid blogging campaign
  • Gushingly positive press releases about themselves (seen this tactic recently by some “expert” blatantly hyping the fact they had a high number of Twitter/Facebook friends – not sure anyone is gullible enough to fall for this, but it was actually quite a pathetic tactic.)
  • Links from spam blogs or to spam sites
  • They keep a blog but receive no comments/no subscribers/no traffic

The social web is not a new concept, and many people have been using it daily from the IRC days and the start of message boards/forums into the present incantation of what we have come to call social media. You can and should easily be able to find and work with people that will lead you down the right path.

There’s no rush — take your time and properly vet any individual or agency that you’re thinking of hiring, as you should with any type of business partner. Even feel free to ask someone if you’re not sure, there are plenty of helpful individuals who are willing to answer your questions to connect you with the right people.

Dealing with an unscrupulous or well meaning but inexperienced person or agency can potentially harm your brand on the web for years to come, hurt your positioning in Google, and destroy your chances of future success in the social web. Be meticulous and do your homework, as you would in any other area of business.

Titles, jargon, pitches and bullet points on a website are as meaningless as ever and should be treated so. They are necessary but empty.  Proof, case studies, referrals, experience and tangible evidence of success are what matter.

Related posts from The Future Buzz

14 Reasons To Have A Web Guru On Your Team

Shouldn’t SEOs Rank Well? Shouldn’t Web Pros Blog?

How To Choose An Online Marketing Or PR Agency

Related posts from around the web

Who Isn’t A New Media Strategist? (Six Pixels of Separation)

Top 25 Ways to Tell if Your Social Media Expert Is a Carpetbagger (Livingston Buzz)

The joke of advertising on social media (WinExtra)