10 Steps to Becoming A Social Media Expert

We’re all pretty much experts at something. Since social media is all the rage, why no become an expert in that? So many of the world’s trends in technology, business, marketing, entertainment and overall communication are heavily tied in with online social media. It’s an important area in which to be well-versed.

I’ve been knee-deep in social media since I was a friend-deprived middle schooler (not to give away my age here, but that’s 15 years and counting). So I’ve learned a few things about social media trends, etiquette, expectations and implementation. Having been a blogger and a “pundit” for nearly five years now, I’d like to share with you a few things I’ve learned about becoming an expert in social media. Except with my help, you can jump start things in just a week instead of what often feels like a lifetime.

1. Read

This is one of the easiest ways to gain information. Look. You’re doing it right now. Depending on what your goals and objectives are regarding the utilization of online social media, check for blogs in order to see what your best course of action would be. If you need help getting started with finding the best blog resources, try a blog search engine like Technorati or Alltop to see where some of the most popular and useful content is coming from for any given category.

Once you start finding the blogs that are useful to you, subscribe to their feeds and use a feed manager to be able to keep up with blogs’ new content. Google Reader or NewsGator are great places to start. Google Reader will even recommend other blogs you may be interested in based on the feeds you add. Even these feed readers can be rather social, as you can email an article to a friend directly from most feed readers, share them with others that are using the same feed reader service, or republish the URL for the article to a variety of social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

2. Become Friends With The Experts

There are plenty of folks that have already been through the social media trenches. Learn from them. Many of these existing experts have already taken it upon themselves to create blogs in order to inform others like yourself of the things you need to do to become a social media expert yourself. Others merely lead by example. Become friends with all of these people, and you’ll be able to pick up on things you may not have noticed or figured out on your own otherwise.

For instance, privacy settings on Facebook are commonly overlooked during the registration process, and many users that have been on Facebook for several months are still unaware of all the options available to them with their privacy settings. Befriending an avid Facebook user in this case would give you direct access to someone knowledgeable and helpful.

If you already have friends that have become social media experts, reach out to them as well. I have several friends from high school and college that call or email me with questions about getting started on Facebook and Twitter. They know me personally and can contact me anytime through any of my social media channels to get tips, hints and tricks for mastering their particular social media realm.

3. Check Out What the Early Adopters Are Doing

The early adopters are usually ahead of the curve when it comes to social media. If you want to stay on top of current trends, fight out what they are doing. The largest demographic of early adopters is the youth. Right now younger demographics are heavily using mobile, and cross-network and cross-device platforms are making this more and more possible every day.

As some of the earliest adopters of social media and new consumer technology in general, younger demographics tend to be more comfortable with burgeoning social networking concepts. Once the value of a given concept is realized, it’s spread over a wide array of media outlets and can be readily implemented, marketed and monetized.

One thing to keep in mind as a social media expert, however, it to make sure that you’re not dismissive of trends set forth by the younger demographics. Even if you feel like being dismissive, keep it to yourself. Unless you don’t mind sounding like an old fogie. If something social media-related becomes widespread enough to become a trend, then someone has found value in it. So being dismissive without first trying it on for size or speaking with those that do use a particular social media product first will lead to your dismissal as a social media expert.

4. Join All the Major Social Media Sites

After reading about social media and making friends, you have to begin having your own experiences. There’s nothing like first-hand occurrences to make you an expert in any field. So pick the social media sites that will be of most benefit to you, and dive right in. If you need help getting started, services like KnowEm allow you to search popular social media sites for your desired username, as well as registering that username across the board.

Sometimes it’s best to start with some of the more popular social media sites, because they’re heavily populated and you’ll be able to get an immediate stream of activity going once you start interacting with users. As a social media expert, you’ll also need to know about these popular sites for points of reference. Many smaller social media sites and other startups take cues from the major players. Sometimes, the major players take cues from the more innovative startups.

The more involved you can become in a given social media site, the more you’ll be able to dismiss it as a useless product, or appreciate it for its intrinsic value. If a site is useful to you and you’re able to take advantage of its feature set, any new updates to that service will be of keen interest to you and you’ll be able to immediately recognize their potential or points of weakness. This is just one step towards establishing yourself as a resourceful social media expert.

5. Pay Attention to Relationships Amongst Social Media Sites

Understanding the trend-setting initiatives the large social media sites push forward will give you a better understanding of social media as a whole. The relationships between the social networks themselves as well as the people behind them can give you a great deal of insight towards forming your own opinions about certain trends, acquisitions, mergers and partnerships. The more you know about social media as a whole, the more of an expert you’ll become.

To do so, read the news about social media companies you’re interested in. Many of them have blogs that are maintained by a core team member, and can offer a great deal of value regarding the relationships surrounding that individual as well as the company they represent. Read the news, as well as other specialized publications such as AllFacebook that are able to provide a dedicated line of sight for relationship-related announcements. You can even check the social media sites themselves to see what social media executives are friends with which other social media executives. In some communities such as Twitter, you’re often able to see public streams of conversations that occur between some of these executives. Good, bad or ugly, this can give you useful information.

In connecting the dots of all the variables that take place around social media, the opinions you do form will be increasingly valuable and sought after. This is all an exercise on expanding your perspective, which enables you to better recognize trends, make sound predictions and become a reliable resource. This can take a lot of work, but consistency is key when looking to relationships amongst social media sites for information that’s hidden between the lines.

6. Stop Paying Attention to Mainstream Media

I don’t necessarily mean this in the literal sense, but much of mainstream media is slightly behind the curve when it comes to online social media. If you hear about a Twitter trend on CNN, then you’re too late in the game. The best way to keep up with actual social media trends for the purpose of becoming an expert, is to be involved with those social media sites.

Granted, there are some exceptions to this rule. Oftentimes you’ll hear of news regarding a new executive being brought on board for a major social media site such as MySpace. The mainstream news sources often receive the news at the same time as bloggers, and find it relevant enough to cover at the same time as bloggers. This is usually because the major networks are controlled by or are heavily tied to a mainstream media company. MySpace is owned by News Corp., which also owns Fox and a myriad of other mainstream media companies. High profile stories related to such social media sites are more likely to receive mainstream coverage.

7. Ask Questions

Once you become a social media expert, you may be hesitant to ask questions (even though you shouldn’t be). But until you become a social media expert, don’t be shy! There’s nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to something. A great way to become an expert is to ask lots of questions. And ask lots of questions of lots of people.

There are lots of people out there that can answer a question for you, even if you think the question might be dumb. This is when experienced friends come in handy. If anyone is going to laugh at you for asking a dumb question, your experienced friends are the least likely to do so.

Twitter is also a great place to ask questions. Post a question via a Twitter update and watch the responses roll in. Too scared to post a question through your own Twitter account? Use a secondary Twitter account, ask a friend to post the question for you (make sure your friend has enough followers to make it worth your while), use a Twitter polling service, or rephrase the question so it appears to be a poll.

8. Go to Events

Attending meetups and events is not only a great way to meet people in the social media industry, but your appearance will eventually go hand in hand with your status as a social media expert. Check your localized event websites for events in the area. Meetup.com, Upcoming.org and Twitter are great places to start. For most of these websites, you’re able to extract additional value from befriending other users on that site, and turning to them as a resource for future events and other topics related to social media.

The key to attending the right event is to follow the right people on these sites (especially Twitter). These are also people you can research prior to meting them in person, thanks to the nature of social networks and event-specific websites. In turn, you can use these sites to establish yourself as a valuable go-to person, whom other people will follow. This is yet another step towards your becoming a social media expert.

Be sure to leverage all your social media accounts for spreading the word after the event is over. Take photos at the event, and post them on Flickr and Facebook. Get people’s Twitter names and follow them directly from your mobile while you’re still at the event. Ensure that the physical realm of social networking carries over to the virtual realm of online social media so you can keep those contacts going. They’ll be helpful towards your goal of becoming a social media expert.

9. Don’t Give Up

Even when joining a social media site, the majority of users never return to actually use its service. So as a social media expert, you’ll need to make sure you’re being consistent in your behavior towards various social media sites and giving them a chance. This will give you the perspective you need to formulate opinions and offer sound advice to others. Even the bad social media experiences are ones you can learn from.

So after frustrating moments of lost and reset passwords, dropped Internet signals, site downtime, certain startups dead-pooling and incompatible mobile applications, just remember to stay calm and keep the faith. Becoming an expert at anything takes time, if only a week, based on this cheat sheet. So dedicating yourself towards becoming a social media expert will only pay off in the end.

10. Teach Someone Else

Now that you’re a social media expert, it’s time to teach the masses. Spread the wealth of your knowledge by establishing yourself as a destination resource online. Set up a blog, share pertinent observations and make sure to put your perspective into everything you do.

Redistribute your blog so people will more readily stumble across your content and in turn know exactly where to find you on the web. Make yourself accessible across multiple social media sites, from Facebook to FriendFeed, so people will feel comfortable approaching you with their “dumb” questions.

There’s nothing that helps you hone your new-found expertise more than having to find a way to explain it to someone else, so put yourself out there as a helping hand. Even if you make a few missteps along the way, remember that even experts never stop learning.