Sometimes I feel like forums don’t get the respect they deserve, in the grand scheme of social media. Sometimes people want to put forums in a box, separate them from the social media “movement,” as if they are separate or as if they aren’t just as important to the whole thing as Facebook or Twitter or the buzz platform du jour.

This is disregarding that, in large part, social media is forums, or threaded text-based conversation. Forums are everywhere – it doesn’t have to be called a forum to be one or to have similar functionality.

I have come to realize something, however. The people that have an extensive background with forums, the people who worked with social media when it was largely “just” forums, the people who were in social media before it was popular or before it was even a term in existence – those are some of the real social media experts.

Forums are where you really learn how social media works at it’s essence, at it’s core. Managing a forum or structured online community gives you a strong basis point with which to engage with other community spaces and that is why, when this whole “movement” started, those were the people who understood it best. That is still true.

I think of people like Ted Sindzinski, who co-founded a month after I founded (that’ll be 10 years ago on Saturday). He’s worked his way through the ranks at numerous companies, most recently leading digital for Monster Cable. He has a tremendous amount of diverse experience. He may or may not be a name you recognize, but for my money, he’s as smart as anyone in this space.

If we think of expertise as something that you learn through education and then earn through real world experience, it takes time to become an expert in something. I am not saying that “social media” (the term, not the practice) is not old enough to have experts, but it’s a tongue in cheek joke in the social media or online community veteran circles to refer to yourself as a “social media expert.” Too many people called themselves that, way too fast, and now it means nothing. I have never referred to myself as an expert of anything because it makes me feel weird and stupid.

I came across a young woman who was speaking at a conference and billing herself as a “social media expert.” At this stage of her career, she had maybe a year or a year and a half of actual, real world experience in the field, according to her LinkedIn profile. She had a degree from some graduate program on social media. I’m sure I could learn from her, but part of me was thinking “you’re literally fresh out of school – how do you bill yourself, in good conscience, as an “expert”? Maybe that’s unfair on my part.

I hope this doesn’t come off curmudgeonly. At the end of the day, it doesn’t keep me up at night and it doesn’t affect me. I love this space and I love that it’s grown so much – I remember when platform selection was abysmal and there was no such thing as easily hosting your own online community and doing what you wanted with it. I love that there are social media and online community related classes at colleges or elsewhere. I love it all and that is my overriding emotion.

You don’t have to have managed forums to actually be a veteran in this space. Not at all. I think of it as one of the many gateways. There are people in this space who I respect greatly and I don’t know if they’ve ever managed forums – but, I do find that many of them have been dealing with the internet for a long time and, more often than not, some of their first interactions with “social media” were forums.

I don’t think that is just a coincidence.