The Social Media Menagerie

First published January 17, 2013 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Did you know there are 18,903 social media gurus on Twitter? I haven’t the faintest idea what the prerequisites are for becoming a “guru,” but apparently thousands of people have passed the hypothetical “bar.” As a baseline, the original Sanskrit meaning of “guru” meant “teacher” or “master.” Fair enough, I suppose. It seems fairly benign. But the way many use the term, I think Wikipedia’s definition might be more fitting:  “In the United States, the meaning of ‘guru’ has been used to cover anyone who acquires followers, especially by exploiting their naiveté.”

To be fair, I have had the label applied to myself by others in certain contexts. But I have never used it to refer to myself. To me, it just smacks of a king-sized stroking of one’s own ego. What the hell makes you a guru? Did you take a test? Study under a true “master”? Lock yourself away in solitude to consider the intricacies of Facebook or Twitter? Was there a vote of a “guru” nominating committee that conferred the title on you? Did the god of social media anoint you? Or did you just sign up for a Twitter account and suddenly decide you were ready to go into the consulting biz?

I’m sure some of the 18,903 actually know what they’re doing. But I’m betting there are just as many that you should fend off with the proverbial 10-foot pole. Let’s face it: if you need to call yourself a guru to justify your self-worth, there may be other inadequacies in your own personal inventory.

To me, true masters always refers to themselves as students. They know they don’t know everything, but they’re always ready to learn. They open themselves up to constantly growing by doing. They know the value of “screwing up.” They realize that this is an area that is just defining itself, and to believe you have it mastered is the height of presumption. Give me one social media “student” over 18,903 “gurus” any day.

Of course, “guru” is not the only moniker appropriated in the Twittersphere – there are also 21,928 social media “mavens” and 21,876 “ninjas.” For some reason, I don’t take the same offence to these terms. In Yiddish, a “maven” is “one who understands, based on an accumulation of knowledge.”  And a “ninja” is a “covert agent or mercenary who specialized in unorthodox warfare.” The former seems to be a little less self-aggrandizing, and the latter is just stupid. Let the mavens keep learning, and let the ninjas battle each other to the death in some type of social media grudge match. I presume they use Twitter throwing stars and Linked In nunchucks.

Apparently, to consult in social media requires some kind of “out-there” title. There are only 9,031 social media “consultants”, 5,555 social media “experts” and 1,555 social media “marketers”. But there are 287 “freaks,” 104 “warriors,” and 35 “wonks.” I was also heartened to find that there are 174 social media “whores.” Now, there’s a title you can relate to.

Look, I get that you need to “stand out” — but if there are 20,000 other people calling themselves the same thing, how much are you really standing out?

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