Six Tips to Hiring a Social Media Consultant

With social media emerging as more of a mainstream corporate activity, there is not surprisingly plenty of demand for social media consultants to provide strategic and tactical insight and counsel.

In a recent blog post, Chris Kleff outlined nine different criteria to evaluate a social media “expert”. While the list offers some good ideas, there is too much focus on numbers as opposed to critical thinking.

For example, Kleff suggests a social media experts need more than 1,000 Facebook friends, a Klout score of more than 30, more than 500 connections on LinkedIn, and more than 2,010 Twitter followers.

To me, these metrics are secondary considerations when evaluating a social media consultant. All they do is confirm someone is walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Simply because someone has a large social media presence doesn’t mean they offer good strategic and tactical advice; it just means they’re active and engaged.

So if numbers don’t provide a good way to judge a social media consultant, how should companies do it? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Ask for real-world examples of how the consultant has provided social media services to clients, and the results of this work. It could be the size of a company’s social media footprint, the traffic it attracted, or the number of leads or sales. Look for tangible metrics to put the spotlight on their success. It also helps to ask for references.

2. Ask for insight into their approach and methodology to social media assignments or projects. Are they just providing tactical services, or does the consultant also focus on strategic and big-picture issues? How do they manage their assignments and projects? What are the deliverables?

If it’s only tactical services, it may be enough to get a company’s social media efforts jump-started if there is already a plan in place. If a company is starting from scratch, it is important to hire a consultant who can offer strategic and tactical services.

3. Look for someone who can deliver perspective about other areas such as communications, marketing or sales. Given social media doesn’t operate in a silo, it is important to work with someone who understands how different parts of a company’s operations can be aligned with social media from a strategic and tactical basis.

4. Look for someone who has knowledge of the world beyond YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and a blog. Try to get more insight into the social media services are emerging, and how they could be part of a long-term roadmap, as well as any niche services that a company could exploit. Challenge a consultant on why only the largest social media services should be embraced.

5. Get a handle on how a consultant’s connections and network. This will provide insight into how they could attract other kinds of services beyond social media. What often happens during a social media project is other needs emerge. It could be the need for a refreshed Web site, better messaging or blogger/media outreach. A good social media consultant will recognize these needs, and offer people or organizations who can help.

6. Finally, review a consultant’s social media presence but do so by looking beyond the numbers. On Twitter, for example, look at the kind of tweets they do. Are they informative and valuable, or inane and silly. If a consultant has a blog, what kind of insight and intelligence do they offer? Check out whether the consultant has a Facebook Page or a Facebook profile, as well as what kind of updates they provide. On LinkedIn, who are their connections, and what are the common connections that you share with the consultant.

These considerations should provide solid information about whether a social media consultant can provide good and valuable service. By just looking at the numbers of followers, connections or Likes, you’re really just getting a picture of how well and/or how frequently someone uses social media services.

(Disclosure: In addition to being Sysomos’ director of communications, I’m also a social media consultant.)