Social Media Consultant or 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?



I see more of slamming on people who are the bad word “social media consultants” than actual education. Anyone can read this, and the more people see all of the negative, it’s like shooting not only yourself but others in the foot…all at one time. It’s like you’re saying “don’t trust them, but trust me”. And the next person is “no don’t listen to them, listen to me”. Absolute phenomenon if you ask me.
Some comments of thing being such a snap and so easy… yeah, ok maybe to you and the rest of us, but obviously out of touch with a segment of the population who barely know or have time to turn on a computer let alone sign up account and actually “get” what it all means and how it all works. We’re here making comments and we get it. But the people I teach workshops on how to use LinkedIn and they look at me with big doe eyes that twinkle like they saw a ghost ask me “what is a connection?” and “what is networking online”? I also agree this is all very new and so much is rapidly changing month to month. To put it nicely, some people need to come of their high horse…just sayin’.

Ana Lucia Novak

What’s scary is seeing a person announce that they are social media strategist when they design websites, and have no marketing background or training/education whatsoever. There are small business owners who won’t know any difference and won’t apply due diligence when looking for someone to help them with social media needs. Setting up accounts is a no brainer,although they should be set up properly for optimization-but as far as having a social media plan to execute on a company’s behalf takes someone with a marketing background as there is so much more to it then “just tweeting”

I get upset when I meet someone who claims to be a social media strategist but has only 100 followers and no online presence or influence- I think even small business owners must apply good judgement and due diligence before forking over $$$ to a “social media consultant”

Kelli Luneborg

Here we are year-end 2009 and as I read these comments dating back nine months ago, we could be having this exact discussion today. These points are as relevant today as they were in February. I think SM is young, a babe, in fact. A year has brought us only baby steps and I think we will continue to see more baby steps. I think much is left to be discovered, tested, tried. Lots of great commentary and discussion here, I agree with so many of you. My personal experience as a traditional PR practitioner is that only results count. I have spent more time and effort in 2009 educating my clients on what SM is and is not – because they are still questioning the value. Then I talk to many of my comms colleagues and friends of 20 years and the truth is that no one has it all figured out…and if we did, we would be bored already, right? ;) We love to figure it out, analyze it to death, poke holes in everything. As we enter a new year, may our work speak for itself and our reputations be rooted in measureable results. Cheers!


“As someone on the front lines of small business EVERY day, social media has a place in some businesses, but not a place in every business. Time is money folks.”

Very well said.

The trouble that I have with many self-proclaimed Social Media Marketing (SMM) “experts” is that while they talk about an evolving and changing technology where no hard and fast rules really apply, they immediately point out that anyone is not an expert if – and then go on to list said “requirements”.

Time is money. Many small companies, in fact ESPECIALLY small companies, do not have the time to put into developing SMM campaigns of the sort that will yield the results that are being touted by the “gurus”. But that said, there are people who say “you can always find the time for social media”.

Part of the problem is a clique-like feeling that permeates the SMM field. There are the “experts”, legitimate or otherwise, who attract followers by the thousand, make comments that are then shared to the nth degree and people sit back and say “WOW”.

There are variations of these power-users in any industry, they’re just more obvious in the SMM world because we’re in it (by virtue of the fact you’re reading this blog). It doesn’t mean that the same success is available or achievable to everyone else using the same techniques, otherwise what would differentiate the power users?

So, where am I going with this? I agree with what you say, Dawn, in that if someone is looking to spend money using a service, then they do need to be careful. The ROI on SMM for some companies is questionable. Products such as Twitter and Facebook have a place and can be successfully used, but they may not be a perfect fit for all.

If your SMM “toe dip” is a blog, then don’t let anyone tell you that’s not a good place to start. Do your research, try the multitude of different sites and options out there (as time permits). It’s not a race to the finish line and you are not a “loser” if you are not living and breathing social media.

The world isn’t going anywhere without you just yet.

Justin Bryant

Just the other day, I heard some guys at the local coffee shop all excited about “SEO Indianapolis” and how they were going to ‘rule this city’ in Social Media.

Further listening of the convo led me to believe they had NO idea what went behind it.

A Facebook profile does not one make one a Social Media expert.

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