Many people are calling themselves “social media consultant” these days, but how do you tell the real deal from the snake oil salesman?

social-media-graphicI’ve been seeing social media consultants pop up like dandelions, especially as the economy gets tough and people turn to consulting while they look for other work. I do some social media consulting myself. My focus is on helping companies build online communities, and social media usually plays some part in this strategy. However, I’ve started to avoid using the term social media consultant because of the negative connotations that seem to be building around the term. Some social media consultants are the real deal while others have very little to back up their claims, and it’s important to be able to filter out the snake oil salesmen to find the ones with real experience.

Jeremiah Owyang points out that you need to:

“recognize there’s a few different types of social media experts, those have have done it, and those that say they can … anyone who has been using social media tools for personal use could brand themselves as having social media skills and experiences for corporate –yet we know it’s often very different.”

So how do you tell who is the real deal and who is the snake oil salesman? If you’re planning on on adding social media consulting to the services you offer, what experience will you need?

First, it’s important to think about how personal use of social media technologies is different from corporate use of the same technologies.

  • Thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook friends on a consultant’s personal accounts doesn’t help your company unless there is significant overlap between those people and your company’s customers.
  • Having a Facebook profile is not the same as managing a company’s Facebook page and presence on Facebook.
  • Writing a personal blog is very different from corporate blogging where you need to manage groups of contributors, content roadmaps, calendars, and messaging, all while training the employees to communicate in a conversational, yet professional tone.
  • Monitoring, metrics, and responding to mentions across the web are part art form, part science, and many people don’t do robust monitoring or measurement of personal accounts.

Here are a few things that companies should look for in a good social media consultant:

  • Past experience managing social media programs as an employee of a company or years of consulting experience and a robust portfolio.
  • Get the URLs for corporate blogs where they contributed and ask them how they managed the content roadmap process.
  • Ask for the names of Twitter accounts they managed, and review the tweets to see if the style is a fit for your company.
  • Get an example of a monitoring dashboard they would use with a client and ask them what metrics they would measure to determine success for your company.
  • Have them provide URLs for their other social media accounts and community participation.

Companies should run away quickly if:

  • Their experience is based entirely on personal use.
  • You don’t see past job titles that are relevant to social media.
  • Their tweets and blog posts look like they were written by a four year old.

Think very carefully before adding social media consulting to your list of services if your experience doesn’t match these criteria.

What’s the worst example you have seen of a snake oil salesman posing as a social media consultant? What else can companies do to find people with the right experience?

  1. Good points. I like the fact that you are, unlike a lot of people, not slamming people that would like to get into to consulting, but rather are saying that there’s really a difference between having experience with social media and having success with social media in a business setting.

    Jeremiah is definitely right that there are different types of social media consultants. I see myself as more of a creative consultant, better at engaging user groups, but I’m now and then asked to consult on technical aspects (still within the field of social media) that stretch my abilities.

  2. This is a great list of things to look for in a legitimate “social media consultant”, and reminds me of a tweet I posted a few weeks ago:

    “Just because you have a popular blog, don’t go thinking that’s enough to qualify you as a social media expert. But it’s a start :-)”

    There really is a lot more to it, and your post is a good challenge for those of us who have been successful with our personal blogs, to branch out and also blog at a corporate level where possible.

  3. This discussion reminds me of many I’ve seen applied to SEO consultants – another area, that to clients, appears to be some mix of technology and voodoo. Obviously, the effectiveness of some social media tactics can be hard to quantify, but your consultant shouldn’t be afraid to identify those gray areas and provide discrete examples of those tools than can be quantified.

  4. [...] Media Consultants By Echo Communications Dawn Foster has added to the conversation in what qualities you should look for in a social media consultant. I hesitate to use the [...]

  5. Hi Dawn,

    Totally agree with your sentiments about checking claims out, no problem there.

    I am disappoined that you feel you can’t call yourself a social media consultant. You know your stuff, right? People consult with you, right?

    I explained more here in my blog: http://echocommunications.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/social-media-consultants/


  6. [...] Update: Dawn Foster has some good points on how to find out who’s a real social media consultant. [...]

  7. [...] Continued here:  WebWorkerDaily » Archive Social Media Consultant or Snake Oil … [...]

  8. Up until 3:30 today I was doing SM on the inside of a start-up that had to let me go because the VC’s don’t see the ROI.
    This is my 2nd go at doing SM on the inside & it is just….difficult.
    Next plan?
    Hold hands w/companies & teach them how to swim in the SM pool.
    I have been doing SM for 3.5 years & have a pretty good rep here in Boise, so I should be fine.
    Hopefully I can pay the mortgage until the whole “lottery” thing works out.

  9. Hi Dawn, thanks for bringing up the discussion!

    I believe “social media expert” is not a profession. It should be relegated to how people describe you, not how you describe yourself. The true “guru” will now only understand how to help companies, but also convince executive management to support social programs through the demonstration of tangible, business-specific metrics and ROI. They will also demonstrate a new and untenable interpretation of the law as it relates to corporate marketing/liability.

  10. I agree that social media consultant resonates with social media douchebag. You make very good points in this article, but I think you forget audacity. The social media manager should have a heavy knowledge of social media logistics, agreed. The consultant should mostly have the creativity to scratch the rust off of the marketing team.


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