First, I’m being somewhat tongue in cheek with the use of “expert” in the headline given I’m not sure anyone can claim to be a social media “expert”. The marketplace is so new and moving at such a rapid clip, that it’s difficult to suggest anyone has a super-strong grasp on everything.
That said, social media experts (or consultants, gurus, strategists, etc.) can play a key role in helping companies embrace and execute on social media. The right person can help you break out of the gates with the right strategic and tactical approach to provide a good shot at being successful.
So what should you be looking for in a social media expert/guru/consultant? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Look for someone who doesn’t think Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al are the coolest things ever. You don’t need a social media enthusiast, you need someone who understand how social media can be leveraged to achieve your company’s strategic and tactical goals. It means hiring someone with solid business knowledge, who also happens to know social media.
2. Find someone who can help create a strategic plan that reflects your company, industry and target audiences – as opposed to getting a cookie-cutter plan. These people are worth the money because they align your business needs with your social media efforts. No offense but good tactical help is much easier to find and staff.
3. Focus on someone who talks the talk and walks the walk. While you can learn a lot about someone by what they do on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs, it is also important see how active and successful they are socially. How many followers do they have on Twitter? How many “Likes” do they have on Facebook? How many blog posts do they write and how many RSS subscribers do they have?
4. Part II of walking the walk is working with people who have a track record with clients. There are lots of social media experts/consultants who are great communicators but it is also important to work with people who have hands-on experience helping companies create strategic and tactical plans.
5. Make sure a social media expert/consultant has examples of how their efforts have helped clients be successful. Get details on how their worked helped a client reach specific goals.
6. Look for someone willing to stick around after the strategic and tactical plan is completed – be it to provide hands-on training or education, tweaking your tactical execution, or, if required, recalibrating what you’re doing. Avoid anyone who takes an in and out approach.
7. Ask for references. Anyone who is any good will be happy to provide them to demonstrate their expertise.
8. Shop around. Be willing to get proposals from several suppliers to compare their approaches, goals and prices. Ask other companies for their suggestions and recommendations.
9. Be an educated consumer by reading about what social media experts/consultants do and the value provide. There’s no lack of information out there.
10. Establish benchmarks for success, and get these benchmarks in writing. Make sure that what you’re buying is well-articulated, including the time involved and deliverables.