The End of the Social Media Consultant?

Shel Israel had an interesting blog post last week about how many social media consultants within his social circles are accepting full-time positions.

When Shel asks them why they decided to jump back into the corporate world, the answer was “it’s time” – to which Shel wrote: “They’re absolutely right. It’s time because the times have fast-evolved”.

Shel’s observation is bang on because it reflects how quickly the social media landscape is changing. In simple terms, social media as a standalone activity is coming to an end.

For the past few years, the emergence of social media has generated a lot of interest and demand by companies looking for information about what’s happening and why/if they should get involved.

It’s been a great time to be a social media consultant because there is such a thirst for knowledge. But as companies gain more insight into social media and have employees who are social media savvy, there is less need to hire social media consultants.

This is not to suggest that companies no longer need social media consultants but their roles will be different and arguably less in demand.

If you are a social media consultant, you need to be really, really good at providing strategic counsel, as well as have in-depth knowledge of the tools and services need to execute tactically.

For everyone else, they will need to offer than just social media strategic and tactical services. Instead, they have to offer services that embrace communications, marketing and sales strategies and goals.

In other words, it will be the people who are multi-dimensional and able to offer insight about big-picture issues who will thrive.

More: An interesting read is Peter Shankman’s post on why he wouldn’t hire a “social media expert”, which offers some more thoughts on how these kind of people are uni-dimensional. Again, it’s not a bad thing to be a specialist but I think there will be less demand as companies become more sophisticated and educated about social media.

12 Comments on “The End of the Social Media Consultant?”

  1. I think the reason there is less need for social media consultants is that most companies are hiring a social media manager or an entire social media team to actually do the work! Owners and managers realize that there is so much involved with “doing” social media and doing it right that it can’t just be an afterthought or an added duty for themselves or another staff member.

    So while it may not be a great time to be a social media consultant, it is an excellent time to be a social media manager.

  2. Agree with your comments Mark. However we find that customers are making decision without the clear understanding of #SocialBusiness #ROI!

    @iGo2Group recently declined to bid for an engagement and I have extracted part of the reasoning (to the client) below (also protected the innocent).

    “After much consideration, we have decided not to respond to the brief. However, we didn’t want to not respond without explaining some of our reasoning nor appear presumptious but:

    1. It seems to us that you have a very exact idea of the services you want, and at the outset they may be great tactics – but they may not be – and we prefer to work from a more strategic perspective with our clients. We find that organisations who focus solely on tactical campaigns generally do not do succeed with their social media initiatives and are disappointed in the returns on investment (ROI). Any business today demands an ROI and that requires a strategic approach. Perhaps you have this covered, but its not really evident in the brief.
    2. Indulge us, while we give an example – the stated goal is x000 fans or “Likers” on Facebook. Obviously an easily measured objective. But why? What does that give you? How does it create new customers? – we find there is a huge difference between someone who likes a brand and who is or becomes a customer. What we like to focus on is how it shifts loyalty, generates revenue and improves repeat business? Operational metrics like numbers of fans do not necessarily mean effective social media and more importantly lead to improved business results.
    3. To that end why Facebook and Twitter? It is likely these are important in your social mix but there are other platforms and networks which may be equally important. We would first research your brand, your target segments, your competitors etc to ensure that these are the right platforms to begin your social media journey.
    4. We also generally advise against a third party actually updating the networks. The social media world is littered with examples of failure using this approach. Social business requires transparency, honesty and commitment by the business. As a rule we believe organisations should post their own updates – no one knows the business like you do, no one is as passionate about it as you, no one believes in it like you do, and that needs to shine through in your engagements. The brief does talk about building relationships with your customers and markets as an objective, but it seems there is a disconnect if you engage a 3rd party to affect your conversations! Having a third party engage in those conversations, respond, retweet, answer complaints – says that the brand wants to keep doing what its always done and someone does the SM ‘thing’ for you. No buy in, no commitment, often no result and a PR nightmare if something goes wrong. There is no issue with 3rd parties handling difficult and routine work like monitoring, which frees up your people for engagement – the execution part of the strategy. You then effectively buy a service with no on-boarding costs, no management overhead, no exit costs and focus on “talking” to your networks.
    5. Setting up social media properties, monitoring those properties and providing strategic analysis and advice are all excellent items to solicit third party help and we applaud this initiative – and wish you well on those endeavors.

    In conclusion, we see some real dangers in the balance of your approach and as such we feel it would be unprofessional of us to bid for those services and not deliver the outcomes you want for your business at a budget you would entertain.

    Once again, thanks for considering @iGo2Group. We wish you all the best and if you would like to discuss a different approach at some stage please do not hesitate to contact us.”

    Clearly Mark Sysomos provides significant value in defining a strategy ….and then monitoring and measuring outcomes.

    There is a good blog post with learning’s here that @andrewgoodlace will be working on for us.

    Regards, Mike

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  4. I work at a very different level than most SM consultants (i.e, with solos, small business owners, artists — basically, people who are running their businesses either by themselves or with a small, part-time staff and a very limited budget). For these folks, they need some hand-holding and some direction, but if I start to get the sense they’re “doing the SM thing” because they feel they “have” to — i.e., without a clear sense of what they want, where they’re going with it, what it will do for their bottom line (the ROI issue Mike mentioned earlier) — I have a little heart-to-heart with them. Sometimes that results in a loss of income, but I’m not going to get anywhere I want to be by grasping and providing clients what they don’t need. Or think they need. I’m concerned about the implications for small business owners & solos/freelancers – they can’t afford to hire consultants as full-time employees (nor do they need to, to be sure). Are they going to figure they’re just priced out altogether? (Then again, I guess that’s on me.)

  5. This is what I responded to on Steve Rubel’s post:

    * As someone has already alluded to, in early adopter sectors (e.g. tech) this may be the case but in numerous other sectors it is not. In the last two weeks I’ve spoke with people from different sectors (charity, housing and retail to name a few) and they are way off.

    * Social media is not *just* about PR and marketing. A social media specialist by definition should be working with the HR department, the customer services department and, to some extent, the legal team, as well as PR and marketing.

    * I don’t need to tell Steve Rubel the rate of change in social media is phenomenal. No more than five years ago there were huge two-day conferences dedicated to just blogging. Because five years ago blogging *was* social media. Look at it now. It’s so advanced from that (in hindsight) primitive state that no doubt in another five years time we’ll look back on today and laugh at our naivety.

    Regular nine to fivers find it difficult to keep up and there will always be a need for that person on the bleeding edge who eats, sleeps and breathes social media.

    * If Steve Rubel and Chris Pirillo believe something expect it to become mainstream in a minimum of five years. Steve you were talking about lifestreaming circa three years ago and even now we’re not totally there yet (although you were bang on the money with your prediction).

    * How much of the US PR industry is using Twitter in either a personal or professional capacity? To be generous I’ll say 40% max. That’s still 60% who are still not even on Twitter yet. Obviously this is not scientific but if they aren’t using Twitter either professionally or personally one could assume they’re behind the curve in terms of their knowledge and understanding of social media.

    * What about social media specialists who have operated in and understand multinational markets? Given their deep knowledge of social media in international markets are they irrelevant too?

  6. Will there ever be enough with one social media expert for a medium large business? And will there ever be possible for small businesses to hire a social guru?
    The reason why the market will need good consultant agencies today is:
    – The social circle is to big for one person to handel alone.
    – For small businesses it’s cheeper to turn to an agency.
    – You need a team to spin the best ideas.

    My conclusion,the age of social consultants will live as long as the “social media” will live!

    1. Bjorn,

      I think there’s a role for social media consultants but it will evolve as large companies become more sophisticated about social media, while smaller companies looking for people who can help with with a variety of marketing and sales goals, including social media. Thanks for the comment. Mark

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  11. Mark, I think there’s more to this than you suggest. There’s the marketing side of social media – hooking your organisation into the global information flows of Twitter, Facebook and the rest in order to read the customer base better and interact with them in a more pervasive way than before. And then there’s the communications aspect of social media – using social media tools to make your organisation work more effectively, not just within itself but with partner/vendor/customer organisations too.

    I commented on LinkedIn a few weeks back that the term “social media” has a limited life – it may be today’s hot buzzword, but it’s really a fluffy term to describe a set of ever-evolving tools. In terms of organisational communications, we had “Unified Communications”, we had “Collaboration”, now we have “Social Media”. In fact, we still have all three, they merely vaguely refer to subsets of the communications toolkit. So I see the term “Social Media”, as the fluffiest of the lot, disappearing over time as blogging, forums, tagging etc become the normal and it simply becomes “communications”. That opinion on LinkedIn met with the expected response – protestations – but I stand by it.

    Anyhow, the relevance here is that whilst in the marketing space social media may now be well established, companies have started to embrace it and understand it, and consultants have perhaps ceased to specialise in it, consultancy for companies needing to improve their image is still needed as much as it ever was.

    But for my own space, of organisational communications, social media is still a dimly-perceived vision. Yes, many enterprises now have in-house solutions for blogging, tagging etc, merging in document storage and IM, but when we look back in 10 years time we’ll realise just have fledgling it really was (or is). Building effective communications channels based on social media tools integrated with unified communications, collaboration, TDM/SS7/ISDN/Centrex or whatever names you want to use is still very much a challenge for even the smartest organisations.

    And I fundamentally disagree with Shal’s contention that: “consultants are for new waves of change.” Consultants provide expertise to people who don’t have expertise in an area, a fresh view to people who need one, sometimes just approval of a chosen direction, and sometimes opinion to stimulate thought. None of that relies on a new wave of change, though it’s always easier to appear smart when you have specialist knowledge in a new area.

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