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Social Media Consultants, Experts & Gurus – Oh My!

Posted on May 31st, 2011
Written by Lee Odden
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    Most of the people that I know who are really making an impact for companies in the social media space see themselves as marketers, vs. singling themselves out as specific to social media. Obviously the demand for social media specific expertise is high, so one must self-identify with that area of focus.

    But when it comes down to providing social media consulting, it’s part of an overall online marketing strategy that involves social media, SEO, email, display, PPC etc as appropriate to reach business goals, not just “social media”. Granted, there are changes in social consumer behavior and technology that must be accounted for, but an adaptive online marketing strategy accounts for those changes anyway. Focusing solely on social media or as an independent activity is a disadvantage.

    Like many bloggers that have started to experience increased influence, credibility and authority, so too have consultants that work with social media applications and communities. Jason Falls pointed out in his BWE NY presentation that while this newfound importance seems significant to the individual, it’s nowhere near what most brands find useful.

    There has been a bit of “big fish, small pond” syndrome going on with a lot of the consultants and agencies that self-identify as experts or gurus in the social space, when really, they’re more like super users vs. social strategists. Not only is effective social media marketing strategic, it’s also a team effort.

    Being a “super user” of social applications is a very valuable skill and essential for many roles like Community and Social Media Marketing Manager.  However, social media application super user skills are most valuable when directed by an approach of aligning target audience needs with business goals – i.e. a sound marketing strategy.  They’re mistakenly useful when used to create uncoordinated Blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Bookmarking and other social destinations.

    For example

    Brand: We need a Facebook Fan Page, our competition has 1,500 fans already.  Let’s hire a social media expert.

    Social Media Expert: Let’s set up a landing page for people who haven’t “liked” you yet, add “like” “share” and “send” widgets to your website and start a few contests and promotions to attract fans. Schedule useful posts at ideal times of the day and run Facebook ads to drive traffic to your page. We can also run a few promotions to your prospect or client email list to attract fans.  You’ll be at 1,501 fans in no time!

    What’s wrong with this example? As a tactic, not much. But when you extend this process between a brand and internal or external social media experts, each setting up social applications for the company and focusing on superficial KPIs like Fans, Friends and Followers without coordination between them, lack of ROI or competitive business value is inevitable.

    Many social media experts (but certainly not all) will respond to the brand’s request and make them exactly what they asked for – without seeking to understand where the tactic fits within the overall strategy or what business outcomes should occur as a result. Why? The social media consultant doesn’t want to lose the consulting project, they don’t know how or don’t have the backbone to push back and take a position to educate the brand about a more strategic approach.

    Another example:

    Brand: We need a Facebook Fan Page, our competition has 1,500 fans already.  Let’s hire a social media expert.

    Social Media Expert: Why?

    From there, the brand and the social media expert can have a discussion to understand  what the brand is really after. Is it really 1,500 fans or is it being useful and creating more value for a quantity of qualified Facebook community members?

    What happens at 1,500? What about 15,000? What business goal will be affected? Is Facebook the best way to achieve that goal? Can Facebook work more efficiently and effectively in concert with other social promotions to achieve said goals? Who will be involved internally? How will you measure? What are the benchmarks and milestones? Who will sponsor? What are the short term and long term wins? There are many questions to answer and if your social media consultant is weak, they’ll pooh pooh the need to think about the bigger picture in favor of “crack-like” spikes in FFF counts.

    What I’m getting at with this post is simply: Companies that want to explore and succeed in social business can approach it as a series of disconnected experimental tactics and evolve through social media expert “super user” expertise. Or they can approach their social media marketing efforts as a component within the overall marketing strategy with coordinated and connected efforts that are designed to directly achieve and/or influence business goals both in the short and long term.

    From the brand point of view, this can feel like more than what marketing departments can get approved, so they go after tactics instead – hoping some measure of success can justify increased budget and program growth.

    From a consultant point of view, going through a few siloed tactical implementations are necessary to gain the brand’s trust in your social media marketing expertise so you can grow the program into something more strategic.

    Can we have our cake and eat it too? Can wise social media marketers provide both tactical execution advice to build a business case at the same time as strategic marketing and change agent services to determine where social fits within overall marketing strategy?