Social media is maturing as a marketing discipline and mainstream business owners all over the country are asking for help on how to best implement social media strategies. Some are savvy and have been experimenting in the space for years, most are just waking up to the possibilities and promise.
Social media consultants don't have their own section in the Yellow Pages, on the contrary - even if there was a section - you'll most likely find one using Google or another search engine. How do you choose who is right for you or your company?
First, you have to answer these questions:
- Do I need individual coaching or coaching for my business or both?
- Is my company a Business-to-Consumer (B to C) operation? (like a restaurant)
- Is my company a Business-to-Business (B to B) operation? (like a software wholesaler)
- What is the budget? (a ballpark estimate is fine)
- Are there any restrictions to social media success? (a restrictive legal team, an unconvinced CEO or industry precedent) If there is unresolved internal conflict in your company, it could be a deal-breaker, or you might just need some strategic leadership, which a good consultant can provide.
Once you have these basic questions answered, you can begin your search. Once you find a few companies or individuals you'd like to work with, there are some questions that might help you choose someone who is right for your particular situation. Here are the ones I'd start with (and have already been asked of me on numerous occasions).
- Length of time in the social media space: How long have they been blogging, using Twitter, or helping others create a social media presence?
- Influence: How many people are following them on these social networks?
- Reputation: How are they regarded among clients? (ask for references!) Checking their LinkedIn references is another idea.
- Results: Has anything they've created in the social media space earned results? (ask for case studies or results summaries)
- Philosophy: What is their philosophy about controversial issues such as "ghost blogging" and astroturfing?
- Listening Skills: Can the consultant create a customized plan after listening to your specific needs, or do they seem hung up on one aspect of social media based on their own experience level?
- Company status: Is their business incorporated? Why or why not?
- Insurance: Does the consultant or company have business liability insurance?
- Business Partners: Does the company have its own support services (like PR, graphic design and SEO services) or does it partner with other organizations? If "subcontractors" are involved, who are they?
- Integrity: Does the business have a record of integrity and a spirit of service to the community?
- Teaching: Are they involved in teaching or spreading knowledge on their blogs or in other settings? Do they participate in seminars for which they are not being paid?
- Membership in Professional Organizations: Do they belong to their local Social Media Club or another professional organization that can provide them with ongoing educational opportunities?
These are just a few questions to get you started, but don't forget that a gut feeling is worth just as much as a fancy resume or business card. Chemistry is important when working with consultants! They will be entrusted with sensitive information about your business and must have high integrity. Even after your choice is made, don't be afraid to ask questions and challenge their assumptions!
I'd love to hear about your experiences in finding a good social media consultant. Did you run into any obstacles?