A litmus test for social media experts

So I was thinking ealier today about writing something on how to gauge the true strength and qualifications of a social media expert. However, my inspiration for this post stemmed from reading Geoff Livingston’s blog posts on social media carpetbagging and tell-tale signs that you have a strong social media consultant and after further reading these articles, it seemed that it would be better to point to them. Then later on today, I read a tweet with a link on ZDNet on debunking social media myths and that got me thinking again about writing this post. What really tipped me over the edge was another conversation I had with a social media consultant on this topic so here it is.

I wanted to take a look at what skills, strengths, qualifications, and strategies someone who claims to be a “social media expert/consultant” would need to have or could bring to the table and still be a strong person for your team. During a twitter conversation with Jacob Morgan, he posed a simple tweet:

Who can think of reasons of why success isn’t necessarily a good metric to use to measure potential social media strategists?

An interesting question, right? My answer is that anyone who says that they’re a social media expert and throws down a list of all their successes isn’t completely honest with you. Have them describe what they went through during these campaigns. The true social media expert shouldn’t be afraid to share with you their ideas and not just their successes.

Think about it this way…would you believe someone is qualified if they said they were successful in increasing the number of followers on Twitter for a company? Or would you find the person who happened to have integrate Twitter into other media like web, Facebook, Brightkite, blogs, podcasts, etc and helped expand the areas of influence but not gain as many followers on Twitter? I’d go with the latter, not the former. Why? Because that person would be able to offer more ideas and not just what any other “expert” would recommend. Be original in your ideas helps to show that you’re growing with the field and have a true understanding of the application’s potential as a standalone product and also in collaboration with other services.

In my opinion, the people who come up with a myriad of ideas relating to social media campaigns beyond what has probably become rather cliche are more qualified, even if they haven’t succeeded based on the goals of the client. Rather I don’t see it as failure, but an understanding that these “experts” are willing to grow and learn. They’re passionate about developing their skills further and will adapt to help their clients.

But what else could you do to help filter out the “posers” and the genuine social media consultants?

  1. Ask the consultant for references and specific examples on social emdia strategies that they’ve done along with any accomplishments or failures. Check up on the references and dig until you find something bad. Anyone who has a perfect reference isn’t being honest with you.
  2. Look at the consultant’s online presence. Have them submit a list of sites where they are constantly on. If they only throw in Facebook, Twitter and a blog, then move onto the next guy.
  3. Give the consultant multiple scenarios and have them come up with a solution on the spot. I wouldn’t advise giving them the scenario you’d hire them for because that would be getting free advice & consultants may frown on that. But if in the scenario they throw in all the “bells and whistles” in the social media world and tie it all together with your non-web 2.0 programs, you might have yourself a winner.
  4. Ask them about how they communicate online. If someone says something negative about your brand or company, how would they react to address it. If engagement isn’t the answer and ignoring/censoring it is the response, run away.
  5. Have the consultant give you an example of some new startups that exist in beta form that could be of some potential to you. For example, Zannel is not mainstream as Twitter is now, but not that many people have heard of it, so why not pitch it and incorporate it into your campaign? There’s lots of potential in startups in the early stage – no one has done it before. Risk is worth the reward.
  6. Blogger relations is important. Does the consultant make you feel that they have a good understanding on how to strike a rapport with influential bloggers in your industry? Scratch that…does the consultant even know how to find these bloggers?
  7. Does the consultant offer you quick results or do they give you realistic estimates and understand that certain aspects of social media won’t generate instant gratification, but a period of time to help accomplish a goal?
  8. A genuine social media consultant will know that marketing numbers are not the sole judge of a social media campaign’s success. They understand that there’s more to it, like followers, trends, comments, influence, and also are capable of tracking it all.
  9. Your consultant will not be the individual that won’t hesitate to drop names. While it is good to have a consultant who is connected with some of the major influencers in the industry, the consultant you have isn’t a great one, but more of a pompous one. No one wants to constantly hear how they were shmoozing with Chris Brogan or Geoff Livingston at a tweetup and they’re working on this major project. However, companies should be interested to know that the consultant won’t hesitate to reference these people privately and not with much flair and circumstance when he or she needs help or insight.
  10. Lastly, your consultant understands that all forms of social media will not work in all cases. Rather, it’s determined by the industry and company.

Do you think that your consultant passes the test? I suggest you read Geoff Livingston’s blog posts on carpetbagging and strong social media experts for more info. What other things could you use as a way to test your social media expert in order to make sure you’re getting your dollars worth?