Hiring a Social Media Consultant? Here's All the Tips You Could Want
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 knowing who to entrust 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 advance in the critical field of social media.
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 first 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