Do You Need a Social Media Consultant?

In an industry so new, it's not easy to know how to choose someone to manage your social strategy–or to know if you even need one at all.
October 02, 2012

Social media is not easy for everyone. Between Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and Tumblr, there are so many ways to connect with fans, followers or customers it’s hard to know which is best for your brand and how to best use it to grow your business.

A true social media expert can help you understand those social networks and maximize the value of social media. Finding that person among all the “experts” out there isn't easy, however. By taking some careful, thoughtful steps, you can find a social media expert who will help your business grow.

Gotta Have a Goal

This is where so many social media hires go wrong. Companies need to have an idea of what they want social media to achieve in terms of sales, customer service or awareness. "I think you need to know where you want to go with social media," says Raghu Natesan, director at Xalence Human Capital Management Solutions. Then you can look for someone who can achieve those goals.

Search for Skills

Once you understand what you want to achieve, you need to judge candidates on whether they can help you.

"The social media professional you hire will still need to be able to implement the strategy, have excellent writing and communication skills (and) some personality," says Penelope Singer, a communications designer at Syracuse University. It's not a job for tongue-tied introverts.

In addition, a social media expert needs to understand data analytics because there is plenty to measure. It's not just how many friends or followers your brand has. There is so much information available on the people you want to reach—who they are, what they want and what their habits are.

The data also can tell you if your social media campaign is reaching its goals.

"No doubt about it, the path to meeting goals and objectives can and should be measured when it comes to social media," says John Loughran, vice president of business development at Netplus. "The company you hire must know how to tie metrics back to what matters most to your company. Furthermore, they must be able to draw insights from the data and make recommendations for a stronger future."

Proof in the Pudding

The good news is that most social media consultants demonstrate their skills constantly through their own social media accounts. How they represent themselves is a pretty good indication of how they are going to represent you.

"Check to see if they practice what they preach," says Caley Van Cleave, co-founder and vice president of FeelGoodNow. "The best possible person is one who showcases their knowledge of social media and online marketing...online.”

Other consultants agree. "I don't expect my clients to just take my word for what I can do," says Richard Sink, a social media strategist. "My existing online presence is evidence—such as a portfolio of my work, testimonials and written case studies of solutions I've delivered in the past."

Try Them on for Size

Before you hire, interact with candidates via social media. This will give you a strong demonstration of their language skills and online personality. It's not only a test of their skills. It's also a test of whether you can be comfortable with someone who may represent your brand.

It's not unreasonable for clients to expect a social media expert to be likable. "[Clients] also consider aspects of my personality, like how I might fit with their team or how easy I am to work with," Sink says.

You also need to agree on the strategy that's right for you.

"Pick an expert whose thoughts in terms of how businesses can leverage social media gels with your vision or can articulate why your vision may not be right," Natesan says.

Outsource

Sometimes we only need a little help or advice.

"Consider coaching services as well," says Hania Whitfield, a social media consultant and owner of Whitfield Consulting. "Social media translates better when coming from the source. So hire an expert to get you started and to coach you or your selected personnel who will keep it going."

Think Twice

Because maybe, just maybe, this whole idea of needing a social media expert is unnecessary, argues Peter Shankman, the entrepreneur who founded HARO. He writes that social media should be about authentic communication and integration with your whole marketing plan and not a steady stream of comments and updates on platforms your customers may not be using.

In other words, maybe you don’t need a social media consultant. Maybe you need a marketing consultant.

Read more on social media strategy. 

Carl Natale is a recovering journalist who now blogs about how small business owners can develop and improve their businesses. He shares ideas and tips on CarlNatale.com and as @CarlNatale on Twitter.