What to look for in a Social Media consultant

The recent explosion in Social Media – or, rather, the explosion of Social Media “experts” – is confusing many local businesses, so I wanted to offer my humble thoughts on what to look for when seeking Social Media help. By doing so, I am probably using all sorts of cognitive biases. :-)

1. They don’t call themselves a Social Media expert

It takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. This works out to about three hours per day, every day, for ten years. Since User Generated Content (one of the foundations of Social Media) barely existed 10 years (Usenet, AOL, CompuServe, Geocities?), only a handful of people in Columbus might be able to make this claim.

2.a. Before beginning, they ask to see your Website’s analytics

If someone promises to develop a Social Media strategy for you but doesn’t begin by asking to see your Website’s analytics, run away. You can’t decide where to go if you don’t know where you are.

2.b. Before beginning, they review the current “buzz” around your brand

Without getting into semantics, this review could have a number of different names – another possible title is “online reputation” review. The point is to find out what is being said about your brand online before beginning to develop a strategy. As Mr. Covey would say “seek first to understand then be understood.”

Disclaimer – this might not always be possible with local businesses, but even finding nothing is data to report and consider before acting!

3. They don’t define Social Media as a list of tools

Social Media is a philosophy, about sharing information and creating a dialogue with customers, clients etc. Starting a Facebook page or a Twitter account is not a Social Media strategy.

4. They use the tools they promote

While Social Media is not simply about tools, it’s important that your consultant understand what the most common tools and what they are capable – that only happens through use. Make sure they are regularly using tools such as a blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. At this point, blogging is very mature. If they haven’t had their own blog for at least a year, they’re late to the game and are just trying to ride the social media wave. Also, they should post to their blog more than once a week.

5. They have taught a class on social media

It is important that your consultant or educator has experience in teaching or presenting on Social Media. This proves they have grasped the underlying concepts of Social Media and can successfully communicate them.

6. They are active in their community

They participate in their community through visible activities such as:

  • Commenting on blogs other their own
  • Allowing comments on their blog
  • Replying to followers on Twitter
  • Re-tweeting on Twitter

After all, you need to walk-the-walk!

7. They understand the difference between Viral Marketing and Social Media

These are most definitely not the same thing! Social media is about conversations and relationships. Viral marketing is, well, viral. It’s the unintended distribution of something – video, web page, etc. – about you by your audience. You have no control and it’s not a dialogue. Something spread virally can lead to Social Media opportunities, but they are definitely not the same. For an example of a viral success that lead to Social Media, read this little blurb about Blendtec.

8. They don’t discount the value of traditional marketing and advertising

If they say that the traditional approaches to marketing and advertising are dead, they won’t understand the powerful benefits of combining traditional and new media into an overall strategy. Many Social Media “experts” have only a hammer (i.e., Social Media) and see every problem as a nail.

9. They don’t value quantity over quality

Since Social Media is about dialogue, quality is so much better than quantity. Quality connections are the only way to succeed at using Social Media. 10 quality Social Media relationships are much better than 1,000 unengaged relationships. Side note: consider this for your personal brand when you connect with someone on Facebook or LinkedIn. Does someone with 500 or 1,000 “friends” really have that many quality dialogues going on?

10. They have success stories

Ask them about their history in using Social Media and if they can provide success stories with measurable results. If someone has no success stories, don’t risk your brand. Social media playtime is over so don’t dive in unless there’s a qualified lifeguard standing by!

11. A bonus in honor of Spinal Tap

They recognize the value of Social Media to search engine rankings.

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5 Responses to What to look for in a Social Media consultant

  1. Jeanne O'Keefe says:

    Excellent post about the ‘experts’ in social media… Mind if I share your work with my cohorts? Thanks in advance!
    Jeanne O’Keefe

  2. Chief Light Bulb says:

    Yes, please share!

  3. Craig Barrett says:

    Good list! However, I am not so sure I agree with 2a. While I recognize the value of analytics and it is integral to everything we do, at least 1/3 to 1/2 of our clients has their analytics mis-configured or is unable to track meaningful data. Personally, I would add “Works with you to define your goals and helps you understand the commitment required to achieve them.” We get many potential clients whose goals are so far out of line that we often have to calibrate there long before we get to looking at their analytics.

  4. Chief Light Bulb says:

    Hi Craig,

    That’s a good counterpoint. I often solve the mis-configuration issue (you must be talking about page-tagging) by getting their raw log files and processing them using a web log analyzer such as Nihuo. I’m a bit of a web analytics geek.

  5. Ruth says:

    Thanks for the great inventory, Dave! Certainly we need some standards out there. And I’m not sure you have any cognitive biases?!

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