Lately, the blogosphere has begun an outcry against the “social media experts”, mostly by other self-described “social media experts”. I recently found myself laughing out loud when one such expert claimed outrage in her blog, asking her readers to “out the fakes” by sending her their horror stories about fake gurus…an interesting approach to convincing others of her value, to say the least. Somewhere, someone is busy crafting Scarlet ‘E’s for the offenders.
I admit to having a natural skepticism of the words “expert” and “guru” – years of working in software engineering left me with a definition of expert which leaves few able to pass the threshold. In spite of my prejudice regarding use of the word, I think the current debate needs reframing. I find it more alarming to see such a preponderance of business consultants and experts who do not understand social media or worse, those who dismiss it as irrelevant to their consulting work. The issue is not whether there are too many experts. The real issue is that anyone who charges for products or services that affect the customer experience MUST be conversant in social media.
If you are a business owner, don’t ignore the debate about experts but don’t become dizzy over it. It is my belief that you should not hire any marketing professional or web professional who does not make it a priority to understand how your customers are using social media and how those same customers expect to interact with your business using social media. Such professionals must have a broad understanding of what is happening on the social web and how it affects consumers. Their priority must be on your customer and your business vision, not their obsolete process or proprietary solution.
How can a PR pro or an advertising consultant create an effective campaign for your business without consideration of social media? How can a website designer ignore how social networks can be utilized to drive web traffic to your site? How can a strategist create a plan for you without considering a content marketing strategy? In this day and age, ignoring social media is akin to professional malpractice.
So, how do you evaluate the self-described experts? Social media marketing is still a young field but most of us talking about it have a back-story. Before the advent of social media, what did the expert do? A resume should be available on their website or upon request. Are they bringing the perspective of an experienced brand marketer? A corporate executive? A successful entrepreneur? A technical website developer? A graphics or creative web designer? They must have more depth than a resume of 1000’s of Twitter followers or Facebook friends can avail.
Be wary of the expert who is selling you proprietary solution along with their social media expertise. There are countless solutions providers who mask “strategy” under the cloak of their proprietary software or advertising solutions. They ask leading questions which always direct you to their custom solutions with great promises of Google page rank. Local coupon sales, local ad sales, canned websites and FB pages, local online directories, software packages that “automate” your social media methods and new business networking sites are just a few examples of applications being sold under the broad umbrella of social media marketing. Such solutions should be investigated thoroughly to ensure the result applies to your unique business and whether other alternatives exist (possibly free), especially since many of the above require ongoing subscription fees or hefty up-front costs.
Keep in mind that profitable social media implementation is 80% strategy and 20% technology so make sure your strategy is well-defined before you sign on the dotted line. Stay focused on your goals and hire experts who share your commitment. Ultimately, the labels don’t matter as much as whether your goals are achieved by working with these folks.