How to Know if You Should Fire Your Social Media Consultant

Disclosure: I’ve been a tech guy for much longer than I’ve been involved in marketing. I’ve been building things, and acting as a consumer far longer than I’ve been the person connecting those two groups. That’s turned into an advantage as I begin to help with more PR campaigns. I’ve been able to sniff out the trouble before it happens, avoiding the need to do damage control later.

If your company, no matter how big or small, has hired a social media consultant to augment (or God-forbid, replace) your PR team, there are some things you should probably be sniffing out and identifying as red flags:

They have a “Twitter campaign”

Or any other single-technology obsession. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. I not only use it, arguably to excess, but it’s provided me with a whole lot of opportunity to extend the reach of my social capital exchanges. But if your consultant is convinced that simply putting your brand on Twitter is going to change the future of your company, show them the door. Twitter, and any other social media tool, needs to be used in conjunction with other tools, and the lot of them need to be used simultaneously.

They push bleeding edge technology

It’s easy to get “wowed” by the fact that a technologist just showed you some new techno-gadget that you’ve never heard of, that clearly, you and everyone else on the planet needs. The problem? Bleeding edge is good for two people: early adopters and bleeding edge creators. As you could imagine, those audiences are relatively small. Understanding bleeding edge technology is important for a social media consultant. But being distracted by every new microblogging/lifestreaming/mediawhoring/wasteoftiming application out there is NOT important. It’s a distraction from the things that you really should be paying attention to, like your community of users.

They use the word “conversation” more than they use the word “community”

Or worse, they’re convinced they are the same thing. I’ve written previously about my distaste towards “joining the conversation” as a technique, a meme, or otherwise. Joining the conversation means you’re adding more noise, and in an arena that’s already about as noisy as sticking your head inside a jet engine, that’s not really an effective use of your time, money, or energy. On the other hand, if community is the buzzword of choice, be sure that they don’t confuse a bazillion followers, friends, or otherwise, with community. Communities require gardening, tending and investment of more than just your marketing budget. They take time to show your customers - the people you intend to be a community - that you care.

Guaranteed conversions

This one should be a no-brainer, but I understand that the guarantee of return is desirable. However, I’d give the same warning about the SEO industry: when the conversion is based on something that’s only constant is it’s unpredictability (humans, Google’s Pagerank algorithm, etc), that “guarantee” should make you raise at least one eyebrow. If you wait to raise the second eyebrow, you’re likely to end up looking surprised. Which you shouldn’t be, when you realize that you’ve been spending money on a worthless guarantee.

They haven’t actually done anything in a year or more besides talk

This is a tough point to get across without sounding cocky or condescending, but I think it’s extremely important. Look at your consultant’s recent history. If they haven’t been in the trenches of a project sometime in the last 12 months, you should ask them why. It’s dangerous, in an industry that moves this fast, to not take time and spend it innovating. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s certainly disconcerting to me when a person spends that much time talking about a concept without doing it anymore. Something’s gotta get rusty, right?

Most importantly, though… trust your gut

Doing business by believing in your intuition is the most important skill you can have. There’s a great deal of risk being taken in the new media/social media space, and it’s important that companies are willing to take those risks in order for the space to grow. I’m nervous about some of the guidance being provided, as it counteracts the already uphill battle we’re fighting. Businesses need to be taking smart risks. If they can’t trust their consultant to pilot them through this asteroid field that we’re all flying through together, who can they trust?

Alex Hillman is a community strategy consultant and entrepreneur based in sunny Philadelphia. Alex has led and evangelized the coworking movement with the co-founding of Philly-based Independents Hall, a collaborative community focused on mixing social interaction with shared office space. Since opening the space, Alex has assisted a number of other similar group leaders in focusing and energizing their efforts. Visit Alex’s blog, or find him on Twitter.

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