Sunday, March 29, 2009

Will the real social media expert please stand up?

Let's say your company wants to hire a social media consultant to launch a blog for you. You're down to two candidates, one has a list of 12 different clients that they say they have helped developed blogging and social media initiatives for. The second consultant doesn't list any clients, and appears to be brand new to consulting.

So you naturally want to go with the first consultant, right?

But what if you check the consultant with the multiple clients, and notice that their blog has almost no comments, and the newest post was 27 days ago. And their SiteMeter link says their blog averages 29 visitors a day.

Then you check out the consultant with no clients, and see that their blog has an avg of 4 new posts a week, every posts gets at least 5 comments, and their blog averages 500 visitors a day.

Now who do you hire to create a vibrant blog for your company? The consultant that claims to have done this for multiple clients (but that has a dead blog), or the consultant that has no clients, but who also has a vibrant blog?

Who's the real social media expert here? Do we place more importance on client list, or what the person has actually done with social media?

This post is partly based on this post by Josh Hallett. Josh's main point is that if a social media speaker can't produce a list of clients for their work, then there's no reason why we should listen to that person. The big problem I have with this stance is that it implies that a list of clients is all the social media speaker/consultant needs to then be credible. In fact, I often see people speaking on blogging and social media that claim many well-known clients, yet you scan their blogs and presences on social sites, and virtual tumbleweeds are flying by.

But the MAIN reason for this post/rant is this...

Over the past several months, I have had the 'why aren't you consulting/speaking?' talk with several incredibly SMART people in the social media space. People that are clearly experts in creating social content that resonates with others. People that have vibrant blogs, people that have hundreds/thousands of engaged Twitter followers. People that truly understand why social media works, and that could make a good living teaching companies why social media works.

But most if not all of these people are/were hesitant to start consulting. Often because they didn't have a client list, and felt that people would think that they shouldn't be hired as a result. Nevermind that these people knew more about creating compelling blog content than most of the so-called 'experts'.

And then there's the whole issue of self-promotion. I had this talk with one friend and they told me 'but if I promote myself as being available for work, I am afraid that people will think I am calling myself an 'expert'.

This is how warped our idea of who a social media expert really has become. We are so scared to death of self-promotion that the REAL experts are afraid to promote themselves at all. Lisa Hoffmann is exactly right.

Can we stop the insanity? Having a list of clients you have performed social media work for doesn't mean you know the first thing about the social media initiative that my company wants to launch. And not having a client list shouldn't mean that a potential client would automatically eliminate you from consideration. Social media being utilized by businesses as a tool to reach their customers is still very new. Yes having a robust social media client list is VERY important. And perhaps even more important, is whether or not you actually understand why these tools work and can demonstrate that.

Pushing my soapbox back under the bed. I hate to launch into a rant, but when I see really smart people that are afraid to start consulting/speaking because of how they feel they will be viewed, or if they will be accused of claiming they are an 'expert' (and not if they are talented enough), then something's amiss.

Pic via Flickr user jgarber


Keith Burtis said...

I'll tell you something that I know to be 'Fact'. There are tons of so called social media experts doling out terrible information to their corporate clients. These people are way better at promoting and selling ice to an Eskimo than most.

The folks out there that 'are' social media experts need to step up their promotion to let individuals and businesses know that they exist. One of the ways I have done this in the past was to do free individual consulting sessions on skype. I took at least one hour per week to help someone that had an interest in getting into the social media space. 90% of the time I was referred to someone that needed my information or that individual would ask me to continue with them.

I was always forthcoming and honest with them. I never told them the things that I thought they wanted to hear unless it were true.

I have met at least 5 individuals in the past 6 months that are working with major companies drawing large fees handing out complete crap information. This is too bad, because it looks bad for the folks that give out great information.

Do you practically 'live' in this space? Do you spend hours talking to others and researching? Now it's time to get into the 'Doing' mode. Their are many businesses hungry for this information. Do your thing!

Wade Kwon said...

You may be right. So much going out there with experts, gurus and pretenders all bunched together. I don't know how companies are supposed to tell them apart, and I'm not entirely sure whether I belong in any of those categories.

But I do want to deliver quality information tailored to a client's needs. I want it to be win-win every time.

I'm just starting out on the consulting end, but I may eventually figure out how to promote myself without sounding like a con artist or a fool.

Jesse Liebman said...


I think the trouble these experts have found is proving their success.

It's all how you frame things. While having a great client list, with mediocre results, may not be the best for the job those that have produced results, for themselves personally, don't have anything to show for it. It's as if the client list is a security blanket that shows they are dependable.

I think the approach you're coming from is the outside the box type thinking that most companies do not engage in. After all a reputation can only get you so far. In the end it's all about results.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion, Mack, Keith, Wade. Thanks for continuing the dialogue Josh and Lisa started.

I think prospective clients should also ask:

"How does [insert consultant] see social media promoting my business goals?"

The ability to tie social media interaction paradigms to customer service, marketing, lead generation/identification or whatever else a client needs and explain campaign structures and priorities can help companies distinguish potential service providers.

A client list of clients without results reflects an ineffective consultant, one whose fees have zero or negative ROI and incur high opportunity costs.

Another question companies should ask:

"Does [insert consultant] put my needs, as a client, first?"

I've had clients and/or prospective clients come to me wanting social media and I recognized their needs were better addressed by an Information Architect, a UX designer, or something that was tangential to my power alley. Proposing a project that recognized their needs and pulling in the right people makes the "expert" question less important.

Instead of focusing on "experts" vs. "non experts" maybe companies can focus on working with those who do the right thing, have integrity, and deliver as expected.

Josh Hallett said...

Gotta disagree with you on some of this. I'll point to client success over personal success any day of the week. Like many folks that are working their ass off for clients, it's tough to maintain personal presence everywhere.

Of course there is a big difference from a list of clients and a list of client work. Many folks that list a bunch of clients are on a bunch of first dates. That is they've met with a client, done a one day boot-camp on social media....and that's about it.

What firms should be looking for is long-term, measurable programs...not one-off strategy sessions or quick flash-in-the-pan projects.

Spike Jones said...

I'm with Josh on this one. I think a client list is important, but what's even MORE important are results for those clients. Case studies, if you will. Show me that you can replicate your success.

I truly don't care if you - the social media expert - has one of the most widely read blogs around and 50K followers on Twitter. This shows me that you're damned good at brand YOU. As we all know, there's a ginormous difference between building a SM strategy for an individual and building one for a company.

So I agree, Mack. I don't really care about your client list unless you can point to the success you made for those clients. We all know folks that have jumped from client to client and never produced results. But if you can say "This is what I did for client X and these are the results," then you've got my attention.

Mack Collier said...

Great comments everyone. An, I love your points about tying social interactions back to business goals, and if the consultant has the best interests of the business in mind.

Josh I can't follow you on doing a lot of work and that meaning less time for a social presence. My workload is probably triple now what it was this time last year, and I am probably spending more time with social media. Many of my friends that are doing social media work regularly are also more active. I think it's more about where your passions are, than how busy you are with work.

I agree that companies should prize consultants that can point to many long-term, successful social media initiatives that they can point to for clients. But I strongly disagree with the notion that if they don't see several, successful long-term social media initiatives, that they should stop looking. VERY FEW consultants can point to years of successful initiatives that they have launched. Companies that only look at this group are going to omit a lot of qualified consultants that might not have the client list that the top consultants have.

Spike I want to touch on something you said here:

"As we all know, there's a ginormous difference between building a SM strategy for an individual and building one for a company."

Here's where I think a BIG clarification needs to be made.

This assumes that Stan the Social Media Consultant has a vibrant social media presence because he is actively leveraging social media as tools to promote his personal brand. This also makes the BIG assumption that every social media consultant without a client list is doing the same thing that Stan is.

From my experience, many of the people that are either just starting out in SM consulting, or are considering a move, are HORRIBLE self-promoters, and do a terrible job of leveraging social media to build 'Brand You'. But they do have very vibrant and healthy social media presences. They easily connect with others, have vibrant blogs, and add Twitter followers by the bushel.

Why? Because they understand the FUNDAMENTALS of why social media works, and how ideas spread in this space. They don't care about using these tools to shine the light on themselves (in fact to many of them, the thought of self-promotion literally repulses them), they are only interested in creating value for others.

THESE are the people that companies need to be talking to because they understand the core elements of why social media works, and how it can be leveraged as tools to communicate and connect with others. But if we follow the 'show me the results' mentality, companies will never contact these people. And that's a damned shame, because they are often more qualified than even the 'experts' that can point to years of solid results.

And let me close by again repeating that being able to show that you have launched multiple successful social media initiatives for large corporations is HIGHLY valuable, and companies should place a BIG premium on consultants that can do this.

But clients should also strongly consider what these consultants are personally doing with social media. They should check their reputation, do they have 15,000 followers on Twitter because they follow 20,000 people and use the site to promote themselves, or do they have 15,000 followers because they are considered by the Twitter community to be a social media expert?

There is no cookie-cutter solution to this. Companies need to consider ALL of the above when selecting who they will hire to do social media work for their company.

Nicole de Beaufort said...

Mack, this is an excellent post because it brings to light the issues that a lot of us face no matter what our field. It's easy to sit back and let self proclaimed "experts" put their stake in the ground. Fact is, some of the "experts" are really and truly great and their expertise is inarguable. But I also agree with your essential hypothesis: that many of us don't like to toot our horns because it's as they say in Minnesota "a bit braggy" and besides as people constantly evolving and learning, how can we be experts when we're always adding new ideas and practices to our knowledgebase. New Media Lisa helps with her definition of expert: A person who has a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a certain subject. In the field of new media and online communities, we're all still learning so much. Some have more expertise than others and yes, success. Expertise shouldn't be measured by quantity of clients or followers, rather by quality of the practical application of that knowledge and skill that makes us experts at something.
Finally, as a former aspiring attorney, I laugh at the term "expert," because for trials we used to joke that an expert is someone you bring in from 50 or 500 miles away to talk about a subject (no matter how good they are at it). Thanks again, Mack. Provocative piece. And look at all the comments you're getting. ;^)

Kellye Crane said...

I've been thinking a lot about Lisa's post lately, myself. Self-promotion is a necessary part of being a consultant, and those who are best at social media need to get over being squeamish about it. Companies are truly hungry for socmed advice, and many are going to hire the first "expert" who comes their way.

For consultants who have limited client experience, partnering with another organization (such as a PR agency) is an excellent way to practice your much-needed skills in the real-world. Many who are knowledgeable about social media simply lack the necessary contacts in corporate America, and partnerships can be the key to getting in the door.

Gerard Babitts said...

Amen. For a medium that is only a few years old and changes so rapidly, I do find the term "expert" to be unfounded. Many of those tagged as experts are more interested in ginning up consulting business than in helping clients truly respect and understand the culture of social media.

The best example was the recent gathering of social media digerati at P&G. In the excitement of the moment and the ego stroke of being invited to P&G, almost all in attendance enabled P&G's spamming of Twitter and social media with an experiment-disguised-as-a-charity stunt. Amazingly no one stood up to P&G and said "this is wrong" -- instead, most of the experts patted each other on the back.

Here's what I blogged about in early March -
How Proctor & Gamble Duped Social Media

Chuck said...

I agree with all that's been said here and the general tenor of your post, Mack. As a consultant myself, it's a delicate balancing act between positioning yourself as a thought leader (I'm refusing to use the term expert for the moment) that's interested in helping your client convey complex messages and just being downright dishonest.

Given the work that I do, I'm comfortable talking about social media, PR research and Investor Relations. Am I a thought leader? Definitely not. Am I educated about the subject matter? Absolutely am. However, I'm never going to step into a situation where a client would ask me to comment about employee communications, or crisis communications or insert your communications discipline here.

What this post, and the subsequent commentary suggests to me is that there is a serious problem with professional credibility and ethics. Some consultants are in such a hurry to gain a piece of the "social media pie" that they don't stop to consider whether or not they are educated enough about the subject matter to offer an informed opinion. Believe it or not, if your client asks you a question that you aren't totally sure of the answer to, it is OK to tell them that you'll find out the answer and get back to them. They'll know you have their best interest at heart and are interested in giving them the best counsel, not just capitalizing on their naivety.

I am reminded of a line in Jurassic Park - in such a hurry to show that you could, you never stopped to think if you should.

nemockpicblog said...

Great article. This is probably the first I've read that treats this issue from a rational point of view vs other articles that are used as little more than link bait.

If you can serve others, step up and do so. There is no magic wand, and no one on Earth has any authority, to anoint you as an "expert."

Eric Brown said...

Hey Mack,
I wanted to weigh in here. I see and appreciate the various points of view.

I also, and I am speaking mostly about the apartment industry because that what I follow, big property management companies starting to enter the Social Media arena being sold a bill of goods. Sadly, it seems a lot of those efforts may not play out so well. The result in their mind will be that Social media doesn't work. And, some of these folks are speakers, pretty scary.

As a business owner, I feel much better with someone with a track record, OR someone who I am just flat out impressed with, and I am willing to give them a chance.

It appears that everyone is in line these days to become a Social Media Consultant, yet few have many clients. In my opinion, the number of followers you have and or the amount of time you spend on twitter has little bearing on the value that they deliver. I know you likely disagree with that.

Perhaps the best question is, What SM Projects have you started and finished, and what were the results? Who has hired you and who has fired you. After all, Social Media is about Running Around Naked and practicing Transparency, at least that's what the SM Pundits preach,

Tom Martin said...


Couldn't agree more. I think the one key point that you should add is, how upfront is the consultant with no client list about the fact they have not client list.

If they are up front, acknowledge that you are their first, second or third client, AND they seem like the know what the heck they are doing, then yes, I think you are correct, worth taking a dive on them.

One other point I'd note - not sure even traffic, comments, etc., to the non-client list consultant is a good barometer of quality. They could be quite brilliant in SM thinking but no one has found them yet?

At the end of the day, listen to consultants and ask yourself, do I feel confident that they know what they are talking about and can I trust them. Together, you'll likely create compelling and effective campaigns over many, many years.

Charity Hisle said...


Bottom line, I think companies should hire the consultant that brings the most value to the table. Determining who to hire should be based on both client lists and recent activity. However, it would seem more important to hire the team/person with the right plan.

Other things to consider: Does the newer 'expert' have credibility? Does the team with the 'list' have enough time (our most valuable resource) to dedicate to the plan?

Mack Collier said...

"In my opinion, the number of followers you have and or the amount of time you spend on twitter has little bearing on the value that they deliver. I know you likely disagree with that."

Eric I won't disagree with this. I think the difference is, are you proclaiming social media expertise based on how many followers you have on Twitter, or do you have a lot of followers on Twitter because people on Twitter identify you as an expert?

I don't follow the notion that what you do in using social media personally does not and cannot transfer to professional success. In fact, I think the people that are the best at connecting with others via social media on a personal level, are often some of THE best people for companies to hire to help them use social media as a professional tool to connect with their customers.

IMO the best social media consultants are the ones that can communicate to and teach companies how to use social media as their customers (the people they want to reach via social media) are. At the end of the day, that trumps a professed client list, and your number of Twitter followers. Your clients and followers should be a BYPRODUCT of your expertise, not what you are using to try to establish your social media expertise.

Justin Kistner said...

A good consultant would have a solid presence themselves and around long enough to have helped other clients. Without clients, you lack the experience of helping someone else grow their own presence, which is *quite* different than doing it for yourself. And, if you haven't been successful with your own presence, it's hard to help anyone with theirs. So, I would have said that I needed to find more candidates. :)

John Moore said...

Social media experts are, unfortunately, a dime a dozen. It is critical to find someone who has experience growing socially-driven sites and has demonstrated success.

In my opinion, you first have to determine if the person can articulate a vision for building social sites. If they do this without ever discussing the goals and strategies of your company, throw them out of the door as a great social strategy is but one component of your overall corporate strategy. Yes, they have to understand social, much in the same way as we expect our engineers to know C# or our e-mail marketer's to understand CAN-SPAM. However, all must be done within the realm of your vision.

Finally, if they get your vision and can articulate a vision for socially driven sites, can they help you define actionable metrics that you will use as you grow this portion of your business. Blogging, tweeting, and all other social communication vehicles are merely a means to an end. If they can't help navigate you to that end, don't both using them.


thewikiartist said...

As it is such a new field I think the most effective way to devise SM strategies is in teams. Yes individual consultants will have an interesting perspective and case studies of varying relevance to back up their ideas, but social media is always about the collective.

Therefore, in my opinion, the best way to approach SM strategies is by engaging and talking to as many of the people you eventually want your campaign to reach, as possible. If I'm one of them then great!

Mark Ivey said...

Nice post, and great comments. It takes more than knowledge, however, to work with some of these corporate clients. We've been working with Cisco, for instance, almost three years--developed some of their first internal blogs--and I've seen some outside "consultants" struggle coming in. Why? They can't adjust to the culture, the speed, the subtleties of each different organization, and so on. The good ones succeed because most have worked in similar climates and they adjust very quickly--there's no time to learn and no one has time to teach you. It's also about relationship building--it takes time and solid work to build a managers' confidence. Someone coming in off the street--even with great knowledge--is unproven. I'm not saying it can't be done, only that you need to be aware of the barriers/challenges--and the unique proposition you bring to the table (ex: specialized expertise in certain area). The best consultants break down the barriers, the others wait on the sidelines.

Digital Biographer said...

Brevity being clarity: -

1) Good post

2) Lengthy comments

3) Customer lists can be 'non-specific' as to the role undertaken, or the customer, allowing greater credibility to show through.

4) Everyone's making this up as they go along, because it's all new. Anyone who says otherwise is a big fake and is kidding themselves, and you.

Regards, David

David Griner said...

Mack, I agree that client work isn't the single most important trait in a social media professional, but I'd have to say it's near the top.

This field is flooded with all-talk consultants who've rarely, if ever, been in the trenches of managing a non-personal social media effort. As you know, it's a very different beast.

I don't run my personal life the way I would recommend running a business, and that fact carries over to online. That said, I should be expected to be comfortable with social media tools on both a personal and professional level.

Nice post, Mack. Good thought-provoker.

Justin Cresswell said...

Great rant-post Mack. I am reminded of something that happened when I was looking for an apartment back in my renting days. After getting a tour of the place, and talking with the owner about my life, job, and generally getting to know each other, I asked him if he wanted some references.

He said "you're just going to give me a list of people who will say nice things about you, right?" I said yes, and he replied "well, don't worry about it. I have a good feeling about you, do you want the place?" I think I gave him a check for first and last month's rent right there, and we were done.

What good would have a list of references done that owner if he didn't have a goot gut feeling about me? Much to Mack's point, what good is a client roster if you can't show a prospect that you are practicing what you preach?

In our particular market, there are many, many firms running into the social space. Clients and prospects are having trouble telling who can help them, and who is just jumping on the wagon to generate billing. It is the authentic firms, the authentic campaigns that will succeed - and decision makers should make their vendor selections with that in mind.

Mack Collier said...

David I'll say again, having a solid portfolio of social media work that you can point to is HUGELY important. I'll also agree with you that if this isn't the top consideration, it's right up there. But it should never be the ONLY consideration.

But back to Josh's 2 questions in his post; if I were listening to a speaker talk about how to build a successful blog (for example), the second question after asking for a client list, would be to ask for the URL to their blog. If you are trying to sell me on your ability to create a vibrant blog for my company, you'd better be able to point me toward your OWN vibrant blog.

IMO, companies should look for BOTH the professional AND personal use of social media, when they hire someone to do social media work for them. Both are important.

Lewis said...

My first client said it best when he said that I "understood what our company was about and what our people were about" while their other marketing channel vendors were trying to oversell them on everything social. I do think that it's your results rather than the client list you have which will win over new clients.

David said...

I like this post a lot. I saw something recently where a blogger asked if you could take a firm seriously about social media if they didn't have a company blog, and then listed my company as one without a blog. (I'm thinking he missed the huge link to our company blog on our company homepage.)

social media is one of the most overhyped and over-explained product offerings I've ever seen - and I'm a "social media expert." (cue the laughter.)

it's not about technology tools, or client lists, or how many goofy PR conferences you pay to present at. It's not about paradigm shifts or twitter followers or trying to fool bloggers into thinking you read their blogs every day so they'll write about your client's product for free.

It's about building meaningful and valuable relationships with influential people, and prompting them to act.

If you're good at that, you're good at social media.

Lisa Hickey said...

The best thing about Social Media is that it allows you to *demonstrate*:
--your skills
--your values
--your personality.
This is true whether you are a corporation or an individual.

This means that if you are a Social Media consultant who doesn’t want to “promote” him or herself, don’t. Do great things in the space, be smart and helpful, and watch as other people do the promotion for you. It’s awesome.

On the other side of the coin, if you are a corporation, it’s really up to you to be able to clearly articulate your business goals and then find people who are thoughtful and creative in the way they propose solutions to those problems. People who get you as a brand and who understand your business challenges. If you need someone who has a robust client list in order to be comfortable with them, know that from the start. However, someone who is smart, engaged, has done *something* in the space and is creative in thinking about your particular problems can often do wonders. Just make sure they can answer questions about "worst case scenarios". There are certainly mistakes that can be made as more companies enter this space. Especially given the fact that it's all changing so fast that expertise in one area is apt to mean you behind the curve in the another.

Thank you for continuing to bring these issues to the forefront, Mack.

Matt Scherer baseball nerd said...

I am slowly getting into the consultant side of social media, but I realize I have a long way to go before I would ever consider myself an expert. Someday, I might be as competent as I am in other areas of public relations.

Social media is a communications tool where there are a lot of growth. For someone to say he or she is an expert would cause me to doubt them.

Thanks for an excellent post on this topic..........

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts. As a soon-to-be college grad, it's nice to know that these thoughts are being tossed around. I'd consider myself an ALMOST-expert on social media but have to recognize that there is a lot to learn about the utility of my networks as they aren't related to a business setting. Translating the idea of social media's value into actual value is almost certainly the next challenge.

LYF108 said...

Hi Mack,

Thanks for posting this and for the conversation that follows.

As someone who is currently a social media consultant, I've found success both in providing real examples and results of the work I've done, and in my own personal online presence. I don't promote my Twitter or blog on my resume, but I don't have to. I would venture to say that most employers conduct a Google search of you, and all of that information is open and online.

If you're considering consulting, think about the work you've done to help your current employer get engaged online. You don't have to have a robust client list, but you do need to show value and knowledge of what social media can do for your (potential) clients.

A few factors go into being a successful social media consultant (IMHO):

Experience in different industries -- ability to jump between nonprofit, forprofit, tech, politics, etc.

PR-agency experience -- juggling multiple clients w/ different goals and understanding the broader comm/mktg/PR plan of client.

Understanding that effective social media is much more than "shiny objects" and flashy promotions.

Teach your clients how to use the tools. Tell them to listen. Engage. Partipate. And, do the same yourself.

~ Larissa

Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

Those successful people who don't call themselves experts know something that's actually rudimentary. "Social media" is a means not an end. They got good at social media because, during the course of work in some area of true expertise, they found these great tools, used them, and learned their power along the way.

Liz said...

I've been told the "you should be consulting" line before. But just because you're successful communicator on a blog or networker on a social network like Twitter doesn't mean you could replicate this success for a client.

At best, I could tell someone what I did but I'm an individual, not a company. I'm not sure personal experience is enough to base a company's social media decisions on especially when there are so many professional marketing/pr/media people out there who have years of hard-won experience.

I will say that this is a period of flux, without clear standards, which creates opportunities for those who have experienced some success. Exactly what form these opportunities will have still eludes me!

Thanks for writing a blog entry on the subject though. I've never known how to respond to people who make this suggestion to me.

recruiteresq said...

In terms of SEO, I think one also needs to consider the subject matter of the blogs.

It seems like the first candidate you describe calls him or herself a social media expert but fails to achieve results for clients. If this is the case, ideally, the clients will start to question the candidate's failure to return an ROI and the lengthy client list will dwindle.

On the other hand, a candidate who can drive 500 hits/day on his or her professional site may not have the ability to do the same for clients.

To speak about social media and to implement social media for a client - i.e. speak the client's jargon, attain hits based on the client's business model and business strategy - are two different tasks.

Granted, both tasks may have similar goals - engage with the audience, drive site traffic, increase return visits/reader or brand loyalty - but it's hard to assume that the strategies for achieving these goals will be the same. Therefore, it's hard to assume that just because you're good at one, you're good at the other.


Lee Odden said...

If a marketer can't effectively promote themselves, then how in the world could they effectively promote someone else? A marketer that walks the talk AND has a list of clients that will give references is the way to go in my book.

Kimberley Le Sueur said...

I definitely agree with you and loved this post. Thanks.

Steen Seo Öhman said...

Fine post and comments. But I think Lee Odden is right on the money.

I do marketing (as a marketing director) and on the side some SEO consulting, and I must say.

If you are not able to market yourself, then how in world should I trust you with my budget.

Eric Matas said...

More on "experts" from Robert Scoble (many great comments there too):

Beth Harte said...

Mack, thanks for this...

I am a new consultant, but I have over 15 years of experience helping other companies with their marketing. I also have a "vibrant" (as you described it) blog and social network. Does any of that count without a client list or case studies? You'd think not.

Being a new consultant I don't have the huge client list that agencies and other long-time consultants do. So, where does that leave me?

I think this is a real catch-22 and the only way out of it is to have relationships. When someone knows and trusts that you know what you are doing and that you are passionate about helping them meet their goals/objectives only then will you click with them. Or am I being naive?

The problem is, as Lisa pointed out, a lot of these companies don't know enough about social media and they are being bamboozled by social media charlatans. So who is going to win this game... 'cause that's what it is.

And finally...when it comes to case studies, I haven't heard about one social media consultant or agency who has truly turned a company around using social media. They have only done social media "campaigns" or have gotten the marketing team on Twitter. That said, most of the social media experts who are turning companies around...are ususally employed by those companies (thinking about Dell, Comcast, Zappos, etc.). If there are consultants out there that have turned companies around have implemented social media as a culture change...I'd love to hear about it.

Anonymous said...

Very good and interesting post, especially the part about self promotion. I recently LOST a client when another "social media expert" accused me of being a "self promoter" because I tweeted a few times about a guest post I wrote for

Was I promoting myself? Only indirectly as I was promoting the post itself. Did it benefit ME to promote the post? Of course, and there's nothing wrong with that. Did I over do it? Are 10 tweets out of 200 over a week too many? Apparently for some people, & I payed the price for someone else's jealousy.

Bottom line is if you don't get the word out about yourself, no one else will do it for you.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

JasonBreed said...

The difference between mediocrity and Greatness (Expertness) is not someone telling you how great you are, it's you actually believing it.

There are many even in our ranks who were not on the radar a year ago. People told them how great they were and they started believing it. Now they have "ghost posters", don't answer their own phones and the quality of work has stagnated.

Don't strive to "get" somewhere, strive to keep advancing. On the flip side, this is who you need to be hiring. Someone who is talented who doesn't think they have arrived, rather someone who still enjoys being on the journey.

Rock on!

Michelle Tripp said...

You have such a great take on this issue. It's a perspective that really needs to be heard.

Clients, conference organizers, and even hiring managers need to step back from the social media frenzy and realize that they need to be searching out the talented marketing strategists with social media affinity instead of "social media experts." In a lot of ways their hiring decisions and speaker selection decisions will either bring the talent to the top, or encourage more amateurs, more one-trick ponies, and more non-marketers to claim the expert title.

Not to mention, as Alasdair Munn (@ajmunn) said in a comment on the Harte Marketing blog, professing to be a social media expert (a narrow segment) exposes your limited scope. That simple statement is truth. Claiming to be a social media expert reveals the gaps in your repertoire. A well-rounded marketing pro would have a hard time putting themselves out as a social media expert. Marketing is 360. Social media is just a tool.

As the number of people claiming to be experts increases, clients will need to be more critical in evaluating the total background of the people they trust for social media marketing, or to represent social media in general. Or we'll all suffer the consequences.

You might also like: "Social Media Experts Are Scary"


Internet Strategist said...

Excellent discussion. I would like to add a few points:

Regardless of what type of consulting we're talking about I have found that Corporate Clients prefer dealing with large agencies and large agencies suit Corporate accounts best. They have similar tempos and methods of doing business. If you wish to work with Corporations, getting hired by an Agency is the best route to take.

Independent consultants get along better with small businesses because THEY have similar styles and methods of communicating. When I see an opportunity I prefer to work with the owner who can immediately evaluate it so it can be put into action right then - not after half a dozen meetings.

It is imperative for everyone to have reasonable expectations elaborated in advance. Agree on how results are to be measured and what your KPIs (key performance indicators) are going to be.

One reason hiring a Social Media expert is so fuzzy right now is the challenge of measuring the results. Has anyone come up with KPIs specifically for Social Media yet? I haven't come across any. I would be very interested if anyone has.

What are you going to measure? Traffic? Followers? Comments? Leads? Sales? Affiliates recruited?

The most important result is conversions and tracking those all the way back to Social Media is unreliable because no one can truly say which interaction is THE one that made the difference in closing the sale.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your Social Media person who developed relationships on Twitter with bloggers in your niche, then recruited them as affiliates, assisted them in adding your data feed, taught them how to use anchor text and pre-sell your products, and drove traffic to their efforts that THEN and ONLY THEN finally generated sales for your company?

If you're a small online retailer do you appreciate the time they spent offering suggestions on improving your conversions, pointing out errors in your store, and going through your inventory to make sure your products are correctly categorized?

What about the time they had to spend editing and reorganizing your feeds before they could even start to feed them to blogs promoting your products and before other affiliates could be recruited for you?

How long do you think it might take to make the above scenario happen? How long will you wait before judging your Social Media consultant on their efforts?

Do you realize how many skills they must have and how many hats most small consultants are expected to wear? Ideally a business would have different specialists for SEO, Analytics analysis, and Social Media. Often though we end up doing our best with all of it.

The most talented specialists I know rarely work for agencies because they don't conform to being told how to do things by those who know less than they do.

Who they are is obvious to me and I regularly recommend them in my blog. I share proven strategies that REALLY work which I know because I tested and measured them. I can tell you that I do not feel that I am currently reaching the small businesses who would most benefit from this information.

I can also tell you that those exceptional specialists almost never get contacted by small businesses. Perhaps they truly can not tell the difference between brilliance and mediocrity. Many do not realize how complicated this all is to do well.

Those who want to know the truth can drop by my blog, contact those brilliant people and read their blogs. What we do is not scalable and we are not good at telling people what they want to here. Some may benefit greatly from working with us.

We sometimes collaborate but "we" are all independent specialists who can recognize other experts - REAL experts - when we come across them.

Unknown said...

A social media expert is kind of like a web optimization expert. Both can show snipits of proof but both can't prove the proof. You see at my company (dormbuys) if you search 'dorm supplies' we are organically 1st, but I'm not an expert at optimization, I'm an expert at best practices.... Same for social media someone may have twitter followers, facebook friends & YouTube most viewed video.... But what if it's because they have more free time to create the social following? What if the true experts have no time to do twitter because they are too busy actually being an expert. I think these insecurities are human nature and perhaps just devil's advocate on my part, but it is something to consider in the conversation of why social media 'experts' stay away from consulting. By: forkfed (look me up on twitter)

Another reason could be: Taking the fun away from social media by doing it for a consulting fee could mean destroying the sanctity of the reason for social media to begin with.

Don Lafferty said...

True enough, Mack, but the challenge to social media consultants, practitioners or whatever you want to call 'em is as old as craftsmanship.

We've all heard the adage about the shoemaker whose own family walks around with holes in their shoes.

I myself am married to an excellent hairdresser - a leader in her field - and I ALWAYS need a haircut.

It makes her no less an excellent hair stylist, just a customer-focused hairstylist whose clients drive great distances to pay insane amounts of money for her services.

And in twenty-five years, I've never heard her refer to herself as anything other than "an operator".

I see a common thread in the comments here, that is, we who are in the trenches of social media need to do a better job of self promotion, even the example practitioner in your piece, and we can't wait around any more for the new 25 hour day; it just ain't happening any time soon.

Alaina said...

This is a brilliant post.

One thing I'll add... a social media "expert" with a short client list is more apt to give you the attention you need, they're not stretched so thinly.

I think every marketer considering social media should read this post.

Mike Elliott said...

Mack, I couldn't agree with you more. There are clearly some people who are better at selling and some people better at doing. The trendiness of "social media marketing" has created a flood of sellers that are overshadowing the doers. The sellers may be better at telling companies what they want to hear to get their business but the doers are the ones that can actually deliver because they can speak from experience. It sort of reminds me of the late 90s when everybody wanted to be a stock broker/financial advisor or more recently when everybody wanted to be a real estate agent/mortgage broker. The simple truth is if you're not actively participating on these platforms AND doing research to stay abreast of changes in the marketplace (which occur faster than ever before) you aren't going to be able to truly help clients over the long haul. Simple example: 1 month ago having 10-20 thousand followers on Twitter might have impressed somebody. Within the span of a week that metric no longer matters. As sellers of these services try to come up with the latest "marketing tactic" the rug is most likely being pulled out from under them as shifts in technology, apps, and platforms make it irrelevant. To truly understand that the only constant in the world of social media is authentic 2 way conversation you have to be a part of that conversation. Sorry about the long comment but you hit a nerve with this one.