5 Questions to Ask BEFORE Hiring a Social Media Consultant

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I believe that many businesses in 2011 are as confused as ever about how to maximize their social media presence.  There are some that are finally looking to take social media seriously this year, while many have had a presence for a year or two but are still trying to determine the ROI of their efforts.  Some businesses have been implementing social media for several years, but even they are still trying to figure out how to get more engagement from their followers or perhaps plan new campaigns to try to leverage their social media fan base.  The net result is that 70% of marketers are planning to increase their social media budget by more than 10% in 2011.

In consulting with businesses, I find that those companies looking for social media expertise from an outside consultant are either just beginning to strategically plan their social activities or have been doing so for the last several months and want to do a “reset” or something different to try to get to the next level.  This is why the professional social media consultant exists: To allow enterprises who lack in-house expertise to utilize the knowledge of outside experts to quickly help get them to the next level with limited risk.  In other words, a successful engagement with a consultant should provide at the least significant time-to-market advantage for those companies hiring them.

The problem, as you can all imagine, is who should you entrust in hiring as your social media consultant?  That’s why I am writing this post, to give you some advice as to some questions you should be asking to make sure you are choosing someone of the right pedigree and experience to be helping your company in something so critical to your company as social media is.

5 questions to ask before hiring your social media consultant:

1) Have They Ever Had P&L Responsibility?

Does a social media consultant need to have had P&L responsibility working for another company?  If you think I’m crazy for saying it, think about it: If they haven’t had that magnitude of responsibility in the past, how can they be experienced enough to be consulting with you on how social strategy maps in to your corporate strategy?  (Note: If you think that social media is just about marketing, think again: It will affect your entire organization over time.) How can you ensure that they have an ROI mindset when they begin consulting with you on social media?  And how do you know that they have worn enough hats within a company organization to be able to consult with you regarding social business outside of their own core expertise?  If your “consultant” only understands social from an academic (i.e. webinars and books) perspective or has only done it for their own brand without having actual broad business experience to apply their social media expertise to, be forewarned that you may not be getting as truly strategic of expertise as you might be paying for and expecting.

2) Is Their Main Business Social Media?

You always want to be working with a specialist, but now a days it seems that every Internet Marketing, SEO, and Web Design company is selling social media services.  Everybody sees social as being the new trend which they can monetize in an economy that is less than robust.  But if social media isn’t their main, or only, business, do you think your company will get 1st priority when they get busy again with their traditional “bread and butter” services?  And do you think they really have the expertise they are talking about or are they merely trying to cash in on the latest fad?

3) Is There a Conflict of Interest?

All sorts of advertising and digital marketing agencies as well as PR firms are selling you on social.  They want to help you with your social media strategy, but what they really want is to get your budget for a long-term retainer agreement or expensive social media campaign.  Think about it: If you proceed in hiring these companies on a consultant basis, isn’t there a conflict of interest because they will tell you that you need to buy their services as part of their recommended strategy?  The oldest trick in the book…

4) Can They Explain What They Would Do in Clear & Rational Terms?

This is my favorite.  For the price that you are paying, what exactly are they going to do for you?  What are the specific deliverables?  Does every answer they provide raise more questions?  If they are selling you a social media black box that you can’t learn from nor help manage when necessary, run for the hills!

5) Are They Experienced?

You don’t want to be the guinea pig.  Your consultant should be able to give you referrals to their past clients.  If not, and you want to be the guinea pig, understand that in advance and negotiate for an inexpensive, or even free, deal in exchange for providing them the experience.  Better yet, stay clear of truly inexperienced social media consultants for they could potentially do more harm than good.

There are obviously more questions that you should be asking any business consultant before you do business with them, but because social media is so new and so many are trying to capitalize on the buzz, you need to be extra careful before you sign that contract.

If you are looking for some other perspectives on questions to ask before hiring a potential social media consultant, check out these related blog posts as well:

6 Tips to Hiring a Social Media Consultant from Sysomos

10 Tips for Choosing a Social Consultant by Larry Brauner

20 Real Tips for Hiring a Social Consultant by Pam Moore from Social Media Today

Has your business had a negative experience with a social consultant?  Any other questions that you would add to the list?  Please chime in!

About the Author:

Neal Schaffer, Founder and Editor-In-Chief

The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professional strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professional strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

@nealschaffer

Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker | 日米ソーシャルメディア専門家|G+: https://t.co/BqaJvubiP8
RT @TerrySullivan: Do You Charge What You're Worth? - Dawud Miracle http://t.co/K7R1qcD9jb - 1 hour ago
Neal Schaffer
Social Fresh West

Comments

  1. says

    Great article. I like your comparison about a “black box” and consultants running for the hills! Thanks for sharing!

    Business Etiquette Coach in New York, Lyudmila Bloch
    (link deleted by administrator)

  2. says

    Neal, you make some great points here.

    While many businesses can benefit from hiring a social media consultant/expert, the pros know going in that businesses should assume some level of responsibility for implementation and results. The real conflict of interest arises when agencies and consultants refuse to admit they are not necessarily needed forever. The best ones transfer so much knowledge that their clients probably *could* do it at some point, yet many choose to continue to retain the professional because they have proven their worth. As an analogy, I could hire Michael Jordan to teach me to play basketball, and after a few years I might be pretty good (certainly I should’ve improved dramatically with practice)—yet I know I’ll still never be as good as he is!

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Brandon. Yes, you are right, and I agree that the best ones will naturally transfer the knowledge. If a company feels good in retaining them knowing that they can do the work themselves but don’t have the resource and/or can’t do it as efficiently, more power to both parties.

      The thing that I believe distinguishes social media from the basketball analogy is that I believe it is too strategic to outsource the actual implementation of. Bringing in outside advisors to help in the creation of the strategy and retain as a strategic social media advisor over the long term is a sound strategy. But you can’t rely on Michael Jordan forever because, after all, at the end of the day Michael is playing for his team, not yours ;-)

  3. says

    It’s no brainer to see that social media is here to stay for good. Given vast variety of the existing channels to choose and stick with, it’s time for such a hot space to enter into a new category. There is a need for a portal to provide a quick and intelligent decision for both the consumer and the enterprise about their online connections.

    A Platform to Help us to Distinguish Our Quality vs. Quantity Friends, Fans, Followers, and Companies

    Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Flickr and others have been doing a decent job of providing additional marketing exposure and even in some cases, additional revenue. However, as more and more social networking sites pop up, how do you manage your brand across all these channels? Maybe more importantly, which one of these sites should you select as the one that will help you best reach your target audience? The proliferation of the social media avenues is becoming overwhelming.

    This glut of information reminds me of the early 90’s when WWW was adopted broadly by the general public. Every company rushed to have a presence, to the point it became literally impossible to find the right information on the Web. That’s when a better generation of search engines – at first the Yahoo! and then Google – entered the market and helped us find the most relevant information by just typing simple keywords in their search box. If you had asked before Google launched, if there was a need for another search engine – most would have said no, we already have those….

    Then came Web 1.0 & 2.0 – Youtube, Flickr, myspace, Facebook, Twitter and countless others have turned everyday people into content producers, influencers and experts. We basically tripled down on the information overload How do you know which channels to select for deploying your social media strategy? How do you know which one is the right channel to let your fans and followers to find you, your products, and services? Most importantly, who is Joe Smith that is recommending that person, that company, that product?

    I hope my awesomize.me can accomplish such a mission. The site is not another social networking platform. Yet the portal to all your existing social media channels. The platform helps you, your fans, your potential clients to make an intelligent decision as to which company to connect to or follow via which social media channels and why? It’s free!

    Elias
    CEO & Founder
    http://awesomize.me

  4. says

    The main point you stress is that everyone nowadays claims to be a social media consultant/agency/whatnot. That’s very true, I can see it in my business as well and I notice that some people I’ve known for a long while suddenly add “social media” among their skills. While I am not here to question anyone’s real skills, it’s something that should make us think.

    • says

      Yes, “social media” is being added to peoples “skills” because there is a perception that it is of high value. Once people start paying these people what they are worth, not of their perceived value, the market will correct itself ;-)

  5. Kenneth Michael says

    Content Curation will soon correct all of this. That process has alrady begun. The question is, will it be fair and partial, or just another hurdle for small businesses?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Hiring someone to help you get set up on the networks and get started can save you a lot of time. You can then choose to continue using the consultant or get your full-time staff trained – they can also learn by simply observing what is being done. But as a very thoughtful reader observed in a comment to my earlier post, offloading social media activity to an outsider is a bit difficult as the conversation with followers, connections, friends etc. must be formal and personal at the same time. Can the social media consultant capture the essence and philosophy of your business? Neal Schaffer provides some excellent questions that can help you hire a social media consultant. [...]

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