Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas


Photo courtesy of Flickr user Seth W.

Let’s get this straight – a few years ago, you read The Cluetrain Manifesto or Groundswell or one of the other hundred social media books out there, you started reading Mashable, you created a Twitter account, and you developed a bunch of presentations you used internally to help get buy-in from your organization’s senior leadership for your social media ideas. It’s now two or three years later, and you’ve become the organizational “expert,” “guru,” or “subject matter expert” in social media, your social media blog receives a lot of traffic, you’ve championed the use of Enterprise 2.0 tools internally, and you’re managing your organization’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Everything’s going according to plan, right?

Eh….not quite.

Here’s the thing – over the last few years, you’ve probably gotten a few raises, won some awards, maybe you’ve even been promoted one or two times. I hope you’ve enjoyed your rise to the top because I’m here to tell you that the end is near. If you’ve ridden the wave of social media and branded yourself as the social media “guru,” “ninja,” or “specialist,” I hope you’ve got a backup plan in place because what once set you apart from the crowd now just lumps you right in there with millions of other people with the same skills, the same experience, and the same knowledge. A few years ago, you were innovative. You were cutting-edge. You were forward-thinking. You were one of a few pioneers in a new way of thinking about communicating. Just a few short years later, and you’re now normal. You’re just doing what’s expected. You’re one of many. Social media specialists are the new normal. Oh, you were the Social Media Director for a political campaign? Congratulations – so were the other 30 people who interviewed for this position. What else have you done? What other skills do you have? People with social media skills and experience on their resume aren’t hard to find anymore. It’s those people who don’t anything about social media who stand out now.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the end.  Instead trying to be a social media ninja, try being a communications specialist. Try being a knowledge management professional. Try being a recruiter. Try being an information technology professional. Because guess what – THAT’S what you are doing. Instead of talking about how you have thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans, talk about what those fans have helped you accomplish. Instead of talking about the number of blog subscribers you have, talk about how much revenue that blog helped generate for your organization. Instead of talking about the number of members of your Yammer network, talk about how that community has positively impacted your organization’s workforce. Start talking about social media for what it is – a set of tools that people with real professions use to do their jobs. Don’t try to be an expert at using a hammer. Try to be the master builder who can use the hammer, the saw, and the screwdriver to build a house.

When everyone’s a specialist, no one’s a specialist. What makes you stand out now?

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About sradick

I'm an SVP, Senior Director at BCW in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (

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23 Responses to “Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas”

  1. Crystal Says:

    This may be my favorite post ever.  Well said.

  2. Dr. Mark Drapeau Says:

    Thank you, Steve. Thank you.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Thanks Mark – glad you liked it!

  3. jaybaer Says:

    Genius post. Bravo. 

    • Anonymous Says:

      Thanks so much – means a lot coming from you. 

  4. Olivier Blanchard Says:

    Thanks for that. Spot on.

  5. Charlene (@SocialMediaDIY) Says:

    Smart post, Steve. As the “bright, shiny” wears off, it’s about what else you bring the to table. 

  6. Paul F. Bove Says:

    Dammit, Steve! Now what am I supposed to do with all my business cards that say “ninja?” 😉 Kidding. Solid info and I fully agree. One thing that I find very telling is how companies are posting for jobs that involve social media. While the majority still say something like “social media manager” or “social media specialist,” many companies are simply using the more realistic term of “communications specialist” or “strategist.” It kind of keeps in step with the government designations that are usually public affairs (or communications) specialist and encompasses the reality that social media is only one part of the overall communication plan. (Or at least should be.)

    Well done 🙂

  7. Raul Colon Says:

    I have to agree when everyone is a specialist no one is. 

    Funny how in Social Media there are so many self proclaimed Ninjas… 

    I have to say that I agree with you its how you take your knowledge and the tools at hand that make you stand out. 

  8. jmacofearth Says:

    Armano is not so enamored with your post over on Google+. But I think you make a good point. What are you DOING in social media. Not what have you DONE.

  9. Lynette Young Says:

    I’m a technology specialist and have been for over 20 years, but for the last 7 have focused on social technologies.  I love when people list themselves as experts and have Home Depot cashier as the position they held last. Not so much.

  10. Jamie Favreau Says:


  11. Helen Mosher Says:

    Steve, this is a great post but it also could be framed in a different light. I’ve long struggled with being *called* the social media guru in my organization, an appellation that I have been resisting for the reasons you mentioned above. I was hired in 2007, when Facebook and Twitter were just emerging, and have had my finger on the pulse of emerging media ever since. But over time, I’ve become so much more than a “social media guru,” even though that’s the box some people put me in, still. Why anyone would voluntarily put themselves in it is completely beyond me.

    If you’re one of the forward-thinking organizations who hired a social media specialist/guru/ninja/whatever several years ago, it’s time to re-evaluate how that person fits into your mix. The social media guru of 2008 is well positioned to expand their task palette to include knowledge management and strategic communications for the entire organization. It’s a growth opportunity that I think some folks miss, both those you describe above … and their managers. And along that line, if you are growing your people, don’t you think it’s time you stopped putting them in the fairly limiting social media guru box?

    • Anonymous Says:

      Helen – have you read my previous post on that subject (  Yes, at the beginning, that “guru” might be needed, but at some point, that position HAS to be evolve, has to go beyond teaching people how to swing a hammer, and move toward helping people learn to build a house.  As you mention, chances are that if your “guru” is still around, he or she is one of the highest performing people in your org. Unfortunately, you probably don’t have a career model for him/her and so you risk losing one of your top performers because you didn’t know how to integrate him/her and their skills.

  12. allison Aldridge-Saur Says:

    Yes! Yes! And if people want to keep there ninja status a little longer, how about helping under repelresented communities? Give classes at a Native American College if Journalism, maybe?? How about driving out to a rural chamber of commerce?
    Bask in the love! Be a Ninja here it is still very much needed!
    What you know is needed to tackle the digital divide. Go forth and help them prosper!

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  16. Bob Gourley Says:

    Thanks Steve, this is full of context great for so many other domains as well. 

  17. Niall Harbison Says:

    Its a very good point and people are getting caught out. The one thing I would say though is that there are always new technologies emerging that people can pin their flag to like Google + as the perfect example. The same thing happened with SEO experts and there are plenty of them still around!!


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