By Andrew Ballenthin
Despite having a time line that stretches over a decade it seems that it's only over the past few years that social media consultants and guru's have become popular new job titles. How is one to measure what their level of expertise is if their is no national or internationally standard for measuring quality standards and professional competency?
So finding experts in this arena should be easy right?
Without a doubt there are some very talented people that have forged their way ahead and can deliver credible business results. It's worth asking the question though, "how do you separate professionals from self-proclaimed experts or opportunist?"
In fields like marketing, PR, journalism, broadcast media and more we know what a particular job title looks like and how to ask the questions that evaluate capability and competency. We also know how to measure what success looks like in those roles and whether a person is able to deliver consistent and reasonably predictable results. So... what criteria would you evaluate a social media consultant on?
5 Possible Criteria For Qualifying Social Media Consultants
1. How many years have you applied social media in business in a results oriented manner? Note: most industries consider a novice to have less than 3 years experience.
2. Over your years of experience, how many years were focused on your needs versus clients? Note: personal experience is an asset but often not as rigorous as a business that expects ROI (Return On Investment).
3. What have you accomplished in monetization, PR, database building? Note: follow-up with how were these results accomplished and look for clear answers.
4. What is your past business experience in the communications industry? Note: a solid business background is a good indicator of business sense for your needs.
5. What is your specialism and how has that lead to your greatest achievement in social media? Note: social media is a broad discipline and one size does not fit all or every business.
What Would You Ask?
The goal of these questions is not to make it difficult on great people who deserve credit and have sounds skills, it's to understand who has the best competency that meets your business needs. Please feel free to share your own stories about working with consultants or views on additional questions to ask.
Comments on this topic from LinkedIn Discussions
Are these not the questions you should ask in hiring any "expert". Social media is only another form of marketing and relationship building and needs to be kept in perspecitve I believe.
One challenge is there are many snake oil sellers out there and just as many desperate people that they stay in business. Oh when will we stop panicing and think about who we buy from and why. Fear and greed are 2 poor motivators
Roberta Budvietas - Director at Budvietas.com Limited
I'm glad you are sharing your insight regarding Social Media. I'm a professional singer but currently in the process of designing my own line of children's clothing. I want my campaign to be more organic ( as a start up business my budget is limited). It is overwhelming the number of SEO's and the horror stories that go along with them. I know having a good product is about 5% with the remainder 95% being marketing so I appreciate what your are doing and will hopefully learn alot.
Lisa Hanson - Entrepreneur, Professional Singer, Children's Clothing Designer
Maybe someone should start a certification program. CSMC?? It could be profitable for someone! I have an outline if anyone wants to connect and discuss.
Joy Kramer - Media, Marketing & Events Professional
Great questions. In fact, the list makes me analyze my own skills regarding social media. Thank you.
Judith Brown - Freelance Writer / Publicist / Marketing Consultant
I think a SM consultant who knows "old" marketing would be high on the list. As SM is just a tool, it helps to have a good knowledge of the basics. They may know how to use Twitter, but if your audience isn't there, who cares.
Robin Horton - Robin Horton Design
Regarding #3, I'm curious why you would not also include asking for ones accomplishments with seo and sem. They're both so intertwined with social media today that you almst have to sell a total package.... no?
Bill Kearns - CEO at gnidesign
We've actually followed a few so called social media consultants to find they relatively inactive themselves. A real eye opener. Also, social media is about being sincere, helpful and friendly. If you need to pay someone to teach you how to be "human", you may want to spend you money elsewhere.
Gary Powell - Owner, ImageWear Solutions
Great advice, Andrew. Thanks for sharing.
Lisa DiMonte - Visionary Entrepreneur
I would add it's important to demonstrate using SM, i.e. has a FB, LinkedIn, Twitter account, etc. We recently searched for a SM specialists for a client and only ONE resume actually used their LinkedIn resume. None of the rest used any of their SM sites to show their expertise or experience. Amazing.
Kyla Thompson - Owner, Kyla Thompson Consulting
This is fantastic. I am in the process of looking for a social media consultant to help me with some online communications and marketing activities next year through Facebook, Twitter, etc., and I'll admit I really don't know how to figure out if someone is qualified or not!!
Kathy Geller Myers - Communications Director at PA Partnerships for Children
...an example can be applied in SEO.. a person changed their meta tags in the website and he/she called him/her self a SEO Guru.. well I cannot blame it.. sigh!!..
Jon Edward Santillan - SEO Specialist & Joomla Programmer
I agree with the idea of defining a criteria by which businesses would learn about the consultants competing for the gig. I also believe that the questions must be bottom-line focused, rather than creative focused. At least when we we're talking with smaller businesses who are not also looking to run a :60 spot during the Superbowl.
But, I have to gently differ in the estimate of how long social media has been around. The technology is obviously new, but the practice has been in play for longer than ten years. I first learned it in 1986 when I was a copywriter for JCPenney Financial Services. One of my fellow creatives was given the task of communicating directly with all the "agents" in the Penney Insurance Centers all over the country. She hated the job and I thought it was the best job ever invented. It combined relevant advice, an honest exchange of information, a touch of PR and a dash of motivation.
That experience changed the way I wrote marketing programs. I always imagined the individual on the other end. Even today, I look at Social Media Marketing as communicating WITH as many individuals as possible, rather than AT a vague target. So, rather than being about the technology, I believe SMM is about the approch you take in your writing. So, perhaps one criteria for hiring a social media consultant is to get examples of his/her approach to writing it.
Michael Lovas - Credibilty Consultant and Author
References and Referrals and I would like to see some already on social media sites; make sure they practice what they preach.
Patrick McGonagle - Director Business Development at Jet Mail Services, Inc.
Andrew, while I think your questions are wise and directionally correct, I'm not sure about #1. The "years" of practicing social media are relative. Is 3 years better than 2? Not really. I'd be most interested in what they are doing right NOW and how they are using social media to help build business in past few months. The social media world has exploded so dramatically that the "past is not a predictor of the future". Happy to provide additional thoughts if you want to chat more.
Lonny Strum - Managing Director, Strum Consulting Group, Inc.
Totally agree with this Andrew. Too many people call themselves social media consultants these days.
Jim Gilbert - Direct and Social Media Marketing Agency CEO, Author and Professor.
Thanks Andrew for sharing this list and Jim for calling out the throngs that believe they are consultants. Many people jump on what it is hot at the moment but when asked to deliver a SM strategy campaign they run as fast as they can. Additionally, MLM is big in the social media world and all those people think spamming is social - throwing spaghetti against a wall does not make you a good Italian Chef.
My clients want a return, my task is to explore what type of social media campaign is right for their demographic then develop realistic social media objectives to develop return data.
Look forward to the book when it is completed Andrew.
Michael Newhouse - Brand Strategist Consultant at WCN Group
Reminded me of this cartoon: http://www.penn-olson.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/social-media-expert.png
It made me smile but then again, I'm not real keen on all made up titles these days. Think it works if you can impress a client with knowledge instead of a specific title. But that's my personal opinion.
Oscar Rottink - online and offline, 2d and 3d, concepts and visualization @ fizion
Good quesion though the leading social media networks such as linkedin and facebook have been not that long around and did not become valuable for business before 5 years ago. Being a consultant myself, I think that people need to 'get it', before they embrace a consultant to help them execute a successful strategy. The informations systems literacy rate in CPG has a pretty wide spread, and I think the first step is education of the Boomers that today run these organizations.
Patrick Pilz - Principal Owner at Pilz Consulting
Great tips! Thank you!
Maria Gamb - CEO & Chief Change Agent at NMS Communications LLC
The problem with certification is that social media means something different to the varying users. Some people just want to "chat" about things that interest them, which are not remotely business related. While businesses are looking to add social media as a venue for increased marketing and customer service opportunities. If your business goes on Twitter and strictly markets their services or products, they are in for a rude awakening.
Gary Powell - Owner, ImageWear Solutions
I have dealt with a few SM consultants and you would be amazed to know there are still ones out there that think "spam couponing" is a good interaction tool for marketing. It's not! Really questioning their concepts on how they feel the best ways to use SM and how do they put into action is important.
Beth Campbell - Marketing Consultant Business Development at Entercom
At PwC, I have been working on advising clients to use social media networking for sales promotion activities, especially in the financial services space.
A company may use social media to promote its products, schemes and incentivize its sales force to be more active on social media.
for example an insurance company can incentivize its agents by social media index and communicate this ranking across the company on a monthly basis. Based on this rank the company can give an incentive to performing agents. Calculation of ranking will be based on Google rank of blogs, number of comments in the blogs, subscriber to the blogs, friends and followers on face book and twitter, contacts in LinkedIn etc
@ Andrew, we calculated ROI in some cases, from social media marketing, the approach remains adhoc but it inlvolves, industries market potential and social media population growth trends to establish the ROI.
Pratik Gupta - Management Consultant with PwC, MBA Marketing
I would be more interested in asking them questions around
(1) the main issue they see with SM right now
(2) why they see that as an issue... what was their most recent example
(3) how did this client suffer for failing to address it
(4) how did s/he solve
(5) how does s/he know s/he solved
(6) what added benefit and advantage did the client experience beyond solving the issue and living the solution
I would get very curious to know more about this person... even consider scheduling another hour of my time.
Robert Litjens - Owner, Drysdena
Ok. A new perspective. I am not a social media specialist. I am a user who is actually searching for the right person/company to help my company.
Here are the things that I am interested in.
1. What is the level of your experience in "linked in" branding, in use of RSS and other means to expand our message, in effective blogging, in social media press releases. I want someone who knows how to improve our ability to obtain SEO. In other words, I want to really see their level of expertise.
2. I want someone who has experience in helping a larger company use the internet to really increase our branding and then for incresing sales.
3. I want an accurate idea of the cost associated with this effort and I want to seem some real ROI.
4. I want someone who I can relate with and will show me the time and effort it takes. I want someone who will recognize we are not experts in this stuff and that's why we need them.
There maybe other things I should be looking for, so I will follow this carefully.
Steve Almy - Vice President of Operations at Security Forces Inc.
I have 2 questions to add. What is your approach to Branding through Social Media? What Social Media Tools do you recommend to achieve this?
Andrew Rappa - CIO, Inventor Education
Thanks for initiating the discussion. Marketing and PR is at times hard to measure. Sometimes everything you touch turns to gold.... and then you hit streaks where is seems everything is hopeless. Social Media is an emerging art... so putting 'years' into it is somewhat misleading. I think for a lot of us, we have been in social media for a decade, if you include Internet marketing, digital customer optimization and integration. I think certain metrics are important, but what I always like to tie to the strategic objectives are:
+ Length of the campaign
+ Budget ($$ size)
+ Percentage of conversions
+ Revenue (ROI)
+ Page Rank
Anthony DiMaio - Digital Media/Brand Management Executive
I always like to know what is the ratio of set goals to achieved goals. And then the follow up would be how do you measure if the goals were achieved?
I do think there needs to be criteria qualifying social media consultants.
There are a lot of self proclaimed social media consulting experts out there.
Sheila Clover English - Chair of Social Network Committee at International Thriller Writer's Organization
I agree with all you have said Andrew.
As a social media strategist myself, I also think it is critical to build a strategy that is right for the business to whom I am consulting. I don't believe all business is the same or needs the same strategy and all too often I see an "off the shelf" solution rolled out. Sure, there are some sites that lend themselves beautifully to many, many businesses, but some need something more specialised or targeted, particularly if they are in a very or highly specialised market or niche.
This can only be determined if a strategist takes the time to sit down and audit the business and their requirements (in my opinion!). I also think that the process can (and in many cases, should) be outsourced but this does not mean a client does not get involved.
For instance, I hand all my accounts over to my accountant for processing and posting, but I have to be available to discuss some of the receipts, invoices etc.
Social media is the same - as a client, it is important that you put some time into the strategy, with the consultant. We charge a very modest, low fee to post 10 facebook posts a month - but this is discussed in advance, for around 30 minutes, at the end of the month before to ensure we are getting good quality info out there.
So whilst a consultant or strategist in many respects can be a "set and forget" strategy and we report back - I think as the strategists, we are accountable and the client has some of the responsibility.
Trust this helps also, regards
Meredith Collins - Director at Video.Social.Marketing
Criterias 1. and 2. are a point of difference, but I'm more interested in what you've done lately. With the constant changes and evolution of social media Criteria 5. is more telling, especially if your greatest accomplishment occurred a decade ago.
But ultimately picking a social media consultant is no different than picking a marketing consultant (or any salesperson), it comes down to personality and your level of confidence with each of the candidates.
Darren Roubinek - Creative Director at Fasone & Partners
There is a new Association that is offering a certification program and much more:
With Co-Founders and Speakers who are well known in the industry
SIgn up! There are several levels of membership.
Leigh Ann Stouffer - Marketing and Management Consultant
VA Classroom also has a Social Media Consultant training program that's quite in depth. http://www.vaclassroom.com/
Kathleen Cleary - Baby Boomer Direct Response Copywriter, SEO-Web Copywriter, Online Marketing Strategist
Definitely this would have to be a business certification with focus on leveraging the current (and emerging) tools, FB, Twitter, MySpace, SMS, RSS, etc etc to engage customers. As a business owner myself, I find that most of the "classes" out there are very superficial and there are no real best practices to follow.
Joy Kramer - Media, Marketing & Events Professional
I love social media. I have been playing with facebook, twitter, plurk, for over 3 years and blogs for at least 6 years. Web 2.0 is Web Deux or Web DO (as in Do something.
That said, I am skeptical. To build a viral buzz seems to be the goal of many social media consultants and it is akin to trying to capture lightening in a bottle. When done purposely, it almost always misses the mark.
How do you overcome insulting the intelligence of your user and make this a viable asset? Social media is not social marketing and I hope many the social media consults don't think the two are the same.
My suggestion is to tell the users they are being marketed too and act accordingly, while added some value. That is the real question, what is the consultant of social media campaign that is a value add to the user.
Jeffrey Abbott - Creative Problem Solving Facilitator, Software Engineer, and Business Management Consultant at Kinetic Thoughts
Thanks for posting Andrew. One thing that frustrates me about the current marketing environment is the reliance on interns to work on social media campaigns because more seasoned professionals are intimidated by the technology. I see social media and the latest in emerging technologies as another tool to connect with consumers. The foundation to any promotional campaign is an understanding of the principles - authentic and transparent consumer conversations that translate into purchase - no matter what the tool to make that connection.
I work on several social media projects for clients and my first disclaimer is that I am 10 year marketer implementing what I have learned into the social media space and my second is that I am a practitioner. I direct them to the accounts that I manage and explain my strategy.
Looking forward to reading future posts and insights.
Barbara Maldonado - Business Development Manager and Social Media Strategist
Andrew, thanks for sharing this. I think these are important questions to ask not just for social media consultants but when one is considering any coach, consultant or person to help them. The number of so-called "gurus" out there who do not disclose their credentials but market through a lot of hard-sell squeeze pages continues to astonish me. It's great that you reminded people of the basics.
Jeanne Grunert - Freelance Writer * Direct and Online Marketing Consultant
That's a simple question really. How long have they been doing it? Are they actively engaged? What results can you show me that prove you're someone I need to hire to help me with my social media program.
Don Martelli - Just a dad, moonlighting as a PR exec, photographer and civilian journalist.
As social media is a component of a larger strategy, it should never be executed in isolation, randomly, or sporadically. My questions would be discovery across the number of conversations generated over the long-term, ways they demonstrate how they do it for their own success, are they a recognized major player in at least one aspect, and case studies how their strategies were a success: did they support an offline effort, how did they enhance branding or prove an effective messaging venue for crisis/damage control. And, of course, there are references that can speak to good deliverables, budget creep, and timeliness.
Susan Crawford - Internet strategist, human-centric designer, stats analyst, Web author, geocacher