How can you tell a real social media guru from a fake one?

A recent post from Jeremiah Owyang got me thinking about how you actually define someone who has social media capabilities vs. someone who just spends a lot of time in the space. Everyone seems to be talking about how social media platforms can change your business and there is no shortage of advice. But who can you actually trust and what qualities should you look for?

Here are some quick thoughts:

1. Do they have a presence in the space?
I think that conventional wisdom starts with, as David Armano put it, looking at their digital footprint. Do they have different profiles? Do they create content that’s meaningful to the industry? Do they come up first when you Google them? Although I find this a basic qualification step, it’s still a valid one. If I can’t find you in five seconds and understand a bit about who you are and what you’ve done, we’ve got an issue.

Now that you’ve found a bit about them, really look at what it is they do. One of the telltale signs for me of a classic “I’m a social media expert but I don’t really do anything” is the amount of conferences that they go to in a year. I’m astounded by the people who go to a different conference every week just to talk about the space or re-quote their other social media friends who are all after the same thing. While I’m a huge advocate of learning, I’m not a fan of using conferences as an example of how savvy you are in the space. Anyone can pay to go to a conference and talk about how brands have used social media. Few can actually advise those companies and set them in the right direction.

2. Do they work for a reputable company?
And if they do, does the firm they work with have their last name in it? It’s OK if it does, as long as they have a client or two that you’ve heard of. I’m shocked by the number of [Insert Last Name Here] Social Media Consultant companies out there.

Remember, it’s really easy to create a blog and write a couple of posts. It’s easy to create a “beta” site that is going to launch in a few years but is currently only available to a special few to see. Don’t take these to be credentials. They are nice things to discuss, but not to bet your business on.

3. Case Studies: Theirs or someone else’s?
You’re comfortable with their digital footprint and the company they work for. So you pick up the phone and arrange a meeting to go over their capabilities. They tell you a bit about themselves – the number of followers they have on Twitter, the conferences that they’ve spoken, the latest eBook they’ve published and the huge mailing list that they’ve amassed over the years. All excellent points and you are impressed.

You ask them about their cases. And instead of telling you about how they have helped brands achieve their communications objectives, they tell you a ton of great stories of other brands that have used social media to help them. They sound knowledgeable and they know what to say, but they don’t have their own examples. Their own projects. And really, their own clients.

This is a big red flag. It’s the difference between someone who has lived it – writing a strategy, getting it approved by a client, implementing it, managing it and learning from it vs. just talking about it after it’s been successful.

4. What is their revenue model?
Are you paying for their expertise or for them to manage a program for you? Or to create a short-term promotion or building a long-term community? Prior to engaging anyone, consider what the objective of your brand is. And remember, if you’re brand isn’t something people are dying to be a part of, building a community around it is going to take a lot more than launching a Fan page on Facebook.

Be wary of people who will “put a strategy” together without implementing it or standing behind it. Get someone who wants to help you for the long term and who recognizes that the first challenge with social media is helping your organization re-align to handle it.

5. How would they define the success of your program?
I’m constantly amazed at the number of times metrics get left out of any digital discussion. They seem to be an afterthought but they should be anything but. When you are briefing your expert on your goals, let them give you a few thoughts on how they would define success (hint: it goes beyond how many clicks your link received or how many followers your Twitter account has).

Do they have experience with CRM programs? With evaluating the actual revenues generated from a program? With identifying High Value Tasks to work the entire program against?

The best studies have clear success goals and benchmarks. Set yours and agree to them prior to signing on.

And always remember:

The web is less than two decades old and social media in its current form is less than five. Nobody is an expert. Nobody knows exactly how something should work. And there is no magic formula.

Pick a person who is curious, experienced and driven to help your brand succeed. And don’t worry – if you find someone but realize they’re just smoke and mirrors, you’ve just given them some more time to go to another conference and Tweet to the world about it.

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