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.