5 Questions to Ask Your Social Media “Expert”

The term “social media expert” is thrown around and debated so much, it has nearly become a punchline.

Someone told me once that when the economy recovers and the bartenders and waiters get their old jobs back, the number of social media experts will be cut in half. And I keep reading lately that a lot of advertising agencies are starting to embrace digital media as one of their new offerings.

Meanwhile, there are real social media firms who have been using the product for more than a few weeks, don’t limit their Facebook time to playing Farmville and Pirate Clan, and don’t think that ROI is the name of that Canadian goalie playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

So when you go to hire your next social media consultant, ask them these questions, and pay careful attention to their answers.

1. How long have you been blogging? How often do you publish? The correct answer is anything longer than a year. People who write about a particular topic have to know something about it. And your social media expert can and should be blogging about some aspect of social media. Basically, if they’re not blogging, they’re probably not doing their job correctly.

They should also be publishing at least once a week. More is better, say, 2 – 3 times per week. But if they go for a few months without publishing anything, they’d better have a good reason why. “We’ve been executing some national campaigns for our clients, and I barely have enough time to sleep” is a pretty good excuse. A blank stare and a mumbled “I dunno” is not.

2. What blog platform do you use? The correct answer is “WordPress dot org. If they say WordPress.com, Blogspot.com, or anything else, ask them why. Anyone who has the technical knowledge to use WordPress.org will have the technical know-how to use the other tools you may need for your campaign.

I say this as someone who has different blogs on different platforms. I really like Blogspot.com for my personal blog, my favorite short blog platform is Posterous, and I will acknowledge the existence of Joomla. However, I embrace my elitism and snobbery when it comes to WordPress.org for client blogs.

3. What are some automation tools that you use? You don’t really care what they say, you just need to hear that they have an automation process. They should talk about things like Twaitter.com, Twitterfeed.com, Ping.fm, TweetDeck, and HootSuite.

If they carefully craft each blog promotion (i.e. including yours) by hand, they either don’t have enough work — which means they’re new, and they’re going to learn how to do this on your dime — or they’re inefficient — which means your work may fall through the cracks.

4. What analytics package do you use? For measuring blog or website traffic, if they say “Google Analytics,” that’s acceptable. We use Google Analytics quite a bit on our client blogs. However, better yet is “Yahoo Analytics” or “Going Up,” or one of the many other professional-level packages. For social media tracking, if they say “you can’t measure social media effectively,” thank them for their time, and ask them to leave. If they say “Google News Alerts,” give them a B– for trying.

The real social media experts will either cobble together their own system (B+/A–) or use a paid service like ScoutLabs or Radian6 (A+). Just keep in mind that those services are pricey, so if you want top-notch analytics results, that will be added to your budget.

5. What kind of ROI should I expect? Trick question: they shouldn’t be able to answer right away. Anyone who promises you a specific increase is just guessing. We’d love to tell you that you’ll see a 25% increase in sales, but we can’t. We’d love to say that you will see amazing growth in just a few months, but we can’t. The truth is there are too many variables to make an accurate prediction, just like with any marketing. We can’t predict the future, but we can measure it when it happens.

Follow up question: What kind of ROI have you gotten for other clients? While you would like to see significant numbers, what you’re more interested in is whether there are any numbers. A good social media practitioner will be able to track what business came from their campaigns.

Most of the social media poseurs will not be able to give you a good answer to most of these questions. Your true social media expert will have more than just a deep understanding of the tools, but will understand how to find your target audience and be able to create the right messages to reach them. But they should also be able to answer these five questions satisfactorily.

Photo credit: Pro Blog Service generated by Wordle.net
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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He co-authored three social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

    Comments

    1. Courtney Hunt says:

      I just wrote a long post in response to the criticisms Peter Shankman made in his recent diatribe against “social media experts.” It offers a different perspective on his arguments, articulates the need for social media expertise, and provides guidance for hiring individuals and organizations (consultants, contractors, and employees) to help with social media initiatives. I would love for you all to read/comment on what I wrote (esp. Erik), including a link back to this post and/or other resources you think would be valuable.

      The post is entitled “Social Media Experts: Yes, they Exist. And Yes, You Should Hire Them. But Do Your Due Diligence” and can be accessed via .

      Thanks!

      Courtney Hunt
      Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

    2. Ruben Licera says:

      Social media (or collaborative technology, as some now prefer in the enterprise world) is deeply woven into the fabric of both my work and personal life. On the IT journalism side, I use social media to find sources, provide live coverage of events, gauge sentiment, distribute content, track news and fact-check stories. When I’m not focused on work, I use social media to stay in touch with friends, family, former colleagues and classmates, find out what’s happening around whatever city I’m in or check on the status of events or government services. I try to use the various platform to get smarter.

    3. @John, I’m definitely not dismissing Google Analytics. I use it on my own blog, and we’ve been using it on several other blogs as well. It’s just that the once-every-24-hours updates can be a pain. We use Yahoo Analytics when we want real-time results.

      @Ricky, there are several social media experts in the world, and Gary Vaynerchuk is one of them. I think we’ve been frightened off by the naysayers who acted like the kids who weren’t allowed to sit at the cool table. I can think of one particular person here in Indianapolis who made a large stink last year about there not being any social media experts using some poor logic. The social media expert understands two things: social psychology and message creation. They know how to create an effective message, and they know how it will affect their chosen target audience. The tools are just a means of doing that, they’re not the medium itself. I think the whole “no social media experts” argument is specious at best, and I think Gary Vee is being unnecessarily modest when he doesn’t consider himself an expert. If this is true, he shouldn’t accept money to give talks at conferences.

    4. Jon Buscall says:

      Definitely some good strategy here. I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to dismiss Google Analytics. Avinash Kaushik’s Web 2.0 analytics shows you how to really get the most out of GA with custom reporting. Personally, I found it the most useful tool out there for figuring out how customers were succeeding.

    5. That might be the smartest thing I have read all year. First off, thank you for writing that.

      You are right, the term social media “expert” is being passed around in every circle I can find. If not “expert”, something of that sort. There are a thousand different variations. My favorite is “social media scientist.” Of course, I respect this person and his position, and I feel that this is a genius way to market yourself and to stand out above the crowd, but I am not so sure that anyone can be a scientist in this field. As a matter of fact, I am not sure that there is such a thing as an expert.

      I recently had a good heart-to-heart with a buddy of mine, Gary Vaynerchuk. If there is such a thing as a social media expert, I would say he fits the mold. Yet when I asked him what his thoughts were on all of these so called social media experts, he sort of took a more serious tone. He stated that it almost bothered him the way the term was being used and that it didn’t matter what you were, that hard work and dedication to the serviced available to you would eventually force all of the true talented people to the top. He said, “Let the chips fall where they may.” He does not consider himself an expert. And neither do it.

      Social media has been around for a long time. But I just think there are too many people out there who have figured how to make a quick buck from it. I want to see where these people are in three, five, ten years. Because just like MySpace (still a major player in the market, as much as people want to discredit that service) Twitter will be replaced with something else. Twitter alone has a fraction of the active users as Facebook. I think if I were writing this list (a great list mind you) I might add another questions. Where do you spend the most amount of your time? Facebook or Twitter? If they answer Twitter, well, perhaps they are not truly an expert.

      Thank you so much for posting this. That was a great read and I appreciate the ability to comment on it. I look forward to seeing where these experts are in a few years and what the next hot topic service everyone gets attached to. It looks like foursquare is the current trend. Perhaps all of this is a trend. In the end, social media (I like to call it online brand management) is just a piece of marketing. I could go on all day! Thanks again!

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