The following article is from American Express Open Forum’s April 13th, 2011 edition:
You may not have a social media consultant, but that’s ok. Chances are you have at least thought about how tools like Twitter or Facebook might help your business. Perhaps you have even created accounts for your small business on those sites. It is not uncommon for the first steps you take with social media to be unassisted. Creating those accounts, after all, is free—so why not experiment?
Whether you have taken the plunge or not, there will likely come a time when you will consider getting some professional help at least to understand what your small business should be doing. While I spend my days working with larger brands through my role at Ogilvy—I participate in plenty of events and communities where I interact with small business owners and have the chance to speak to them about where and how they are getting help with social media.
I see them working with people who offer good advice, and those who offer bad advice—and the problem with hiring a social media “expert” is that sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. How can you tell if you are getting someone who actually has the skills to help you, or just found some overnight success with social media and is trying to cash in? Here are a few questions to ask to help you uncover whether you are working with a real professional or a self-inflated guru who will take your money and offer you little in return.
1. How long have you been working in social media and the Internet? Not that a new entrant into the area will not be qualified—there are many self anointed experts who have only focused on social media in the last year. Make sure that if your expert does seems green, they prove their experience in some other way.
2. Can you share an example of one small business you helped and how you did it? As you might suspect, case studies should be king. A great case study isn’t necessarily one in the same industry as your business, though. Just make sure that the experiences that your expert has had are directly relatable to your business needs.
3. What is the biggest mistake you have seen small businesses make with social media? The heart of this question is to understand whether your expert pays attention to what is happening in the marketplace. A good expert will be able to share some examples of social media done wrong and how they might have helped you do it differently.
4. What do you think we should do first? Focusing on the first steps that your small business should take in social media will help to determine two things about your expert. The first is whether he or she has done their homework about your business and what you might already be doing (Do they mention the Twitter account you already have, or do they have no idea that you even created one?). The second is that you want to make sure the expert is not just a professional theorist and that they are actually skilled in getting stuff done.
5. How will I know whether your/our efforts are working? This question is about how you will measure success, of course, but it is also a hidden test. If your expert focuses your metrics for success on volume (ie – getting 1000 Twitter followers), they probably have no idea what real business impact looks like. If, instead, they talk to you about how you can map your social media efforts back to your business goals—it is worth continuing your conversation.