Finding Savvy Social Media Consultants

joe_isuzu_2 Chris Brogan and B.L. Ochman had outstanding posts last week providing guidance to companies looking for social media consultants. In B.L.’s post, she writes, “How do you tell the experts from the snake oil salesmen?”

I cannot tell you how timely these posts are. Marketing organizations are increasingly interested in social media, and to keep their businesses going, marketing and PR consultants are hanging the social media shingle out their doors. But they have no or little experience, and have not done the hard work to learn their lessons.

Here in the Washington region, many PR and marketing firms claim to offer social media services. Consider some of my experiences with some of them over the past 6 mos:

  • Competitor offering full suite of social media does coffee. We offer to train them, they say they don’t need our help. Then competitor blogs the conversation — without permission. Competitor only updates blog once a month, little readership, and a technorati authority of 1.
  • A second graphic design firm promises a blog template, but has not heard of WordPress
  • Local “outsourced CMO” suddenly turns into a blogging expert… With no successes or track record.

The list can go on and on…
Separating the Wheat from the Chaffe

Some folks believe newcomers shouldn’t be allowed to the table. I disagree. Social media tools can be learned in several months, but it has to be processed and experienced. Most folks get out there and participate on their own name before applying lessons to others. Don’t let a consultant experiment on your dollar. Ask good questions to discern whether or not they’ve done it.

It’s a mistake to accept someone as an expert if they have a blog or have written an article or two. Consider my local competitor that blogged our conversation. They were recently featured in a top PR trade pub offering an “expert opinion” on video social media. You have to dig deeper.

B.L. suggested working with:

– People with clients who actually pay them to create social media campaigns.
– People whose ROI-driven campaigns actually produce traffic and sales.
– People who create campaigns that are more than a clueless ad agency’s flash in the pan, gimmick, soon forgotten stunt or just plain dim.

In addition, you can augment the initial qualification process with the following:

  • Some social media campaigns are designed to brand and educate as opposed to creating sales. What kind of measures where used? Dive deep and ensure the conversation was predominantly positive.
  • If they only talk about blogging, drop them. Social media is much more than just blogging.
  • Similarly if they sell Facebook apps as a panacea, stay away from them.
  • Ask them if they’ve heard of second-tier social network services like Utterz, Seesmic and Ning. A blank face means they are not staying on top of trends.
  • Everyone claims to be successful. Look at how they treat their own social media efforts. Do they have a Facebook profile with significant numbers of friends? Successful Second Life or Twitter initiative? Where is their blog ranked on Technorati? Is anyone linking to them, and if so, positively? Again, dive deep.

Lastly, before signing on a consultant, examine their clients’ social media efforts in depth, and demand client references. Don’t ask, “What did you think?” Get into the campaign and find out what really happened and how it impacted their business.

P.S. For those of you who do not know B.L. and Chris, BL is the #1 ranked female marketing blogger on the Ad Age 150. Chris is one of the first established bloggers (since 1998), and a premier social media mind.

P.S.S. Yes, I know Technorati is not a precise measurement tool. Radian6 and BuzzLogic are better services if you can pay for them. Know of a better free tool? Tell us below.



  • Geoff – thank you so much for the links. You’re so right that writing about social media and actually creating successful campaigns are not always related. Social media marketing has progressed way past experimentation. High-yield ROI-based campaigns are what companies should be looking for.

    Lauren – boy are you right! keeping up with trends sure can make your head spin!

  • Thanks, BL and Lauren for coming by. I appreciate the comments, and BL thanks for your leadership with last week’s post.

  • Wow! I’m in a post written BY a superstar, and mentioned in the same breath AS a superstar? Pinch me. No, really, pinch me. : )

    Thank you.

    It’s funny, because my post about Snake Oil salesmen was partially because I was called out for using the term “expert” on my blog. I call myself a social media and social networks expert, or I did, until I read the upcoming David Maister book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker. He says that he prefers “advisor” to “expert,” because expert seems like someone who always has to be right. So, upon reading that, and/or upon giving some consideration to how snooty it sounds to call oneself an expert (even if I am), I figure I’ll call myself an advisor. : )

    And with regards to Radian6, I’m hoping Santa gets me one for *.holiday.

    I thought my Technorati rating was pretty good, until I was standing there when Shoemoney put HIS blog in there. Me? I’m in the thousands or something, and I still have no idea what it means to my overall bacon.

    Happy Monday!

  • We’ve had some problems with mobile monitoring of the WordPress today and comments. Please excuse this. “Con von Hoffman” left a post, “If a consultant tries to talk you out of having a blog he or she is worth his/her weight in gold. You might even want to hire that person as a snake oil detection service.” Con’s web address is

    Also, Lauren Vargas commented as you can tell by BL’s remarks. Lauren basically agreed with the post, and said you have to experiemnt on your own time before engaging with clients. You can read her views here:

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

  • This is an outstanding post, Geoff. It’s good to read about some of criteria and “things to look for” that smart folks feel are important, as it helps us all gauge where we might fit in this constantly changing and hard-to-gauge world.

    I have one question, though – a matter of practicality: If a person knows to check a so-called “expert’s” Technorati authority and the quality of the links pointing to said “expert’s” blog, and that same person knows to investigate the “expert’s” awareness of Utterz and Seesmic, and that same person also understands the concept that social media is about much more than blogging, why does this person need an “expert”? This person sounds like an expert – or at least a damn savvy person.

    Now, of course, this savvy person could have gained much of that intelligence from reading this informative blog post, but even to find this blog post and to be vaguely familiar with the likes of Geoff Livingston, BL Ochman and Chris Brogan indicates a very basic level of familiarity with social media.

    Sure, a true “expert” or adviser could help improve upon this basic knowledge, but aren’t the people who really need our help the ones who have no idea how to even begin investigating the credibility of the snake-oil peddlers? I guess this is taking me away from your ideas above; you’ve certainly laid out how to investigate a consultant’s credibility. The next question, then: How do you make sure people make sure to investigate?

    Longest. Comment. Ever. It’s late and I ramble.

    Thanks for the post.

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  • Thanks for the article. I found it rather informative and it made me think of some things differently. Thanks again. :)

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  • Thank you very much for this post you give a very good synthesis of social media.

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