How To : Choose a Social Media Partner

Posted on April 17, 2009. Filed under: Business, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , |

expertsWith the term “Social Media Expert” being added to just about every company and consultants profile these days it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. What follows is my opinion on how to identify a Social Media partner for your business or organization. I want to explain why I am writing this post, it is the product of several conversations with people, clients, prospective clients and just friends who all asked me this question.

Disclaimer

Before going any further with this post it is important that I acknowledge that I & my company provide Social Media advice, guidance and execution as part of our service offerings as an integrated Marketing communication company. However, what follows is in no way an advertorial, I will not be promoting our services in this post.

The Basics

A quick search of Twitter profiles turned up 80 Twitter users just on one results page that included the term Social Media expert in their profile. I think most people know to be wary of “self-proclaimed” experts. However, just in case you aren’t, you should be.

So ignoring those who will loudly proclaim their own expertise how can you find someone to work with who can provide you and your organization sound advice? There are several important criteria to consider when evaluating a potential Social Media Partner:

  • Longevity
  • Experience – Doing Not Saying
  • Results
  • Shiny Object Syndrome

Longevity

How long have they actually been doing this? Some people maintain that Social Media is so new that it is impossible for anyone to have gained expertise in the space. I disagree, Social Media has only been new to those who didn’t recognize it for what it was – primarily the mainstream media. Social Media has been around a long time in one form or another. Podcasts used to be called Webcasts, they pre-date the iPod by several years (I launched my first series of webcasts in 1998). Blogs have been around at least that long, admittedly you had to have some coding skills to create one and they weren’t really recognized as blogs per se, they were referred more to as lifestreaming or online journals (posted my first one in 2002). So to state that the space is so new that no one has gained enough knowledge to have expertise seems to me to be a way of making excuses for those who, after 3 months of Twitter use hang out their shingle as a Social Media expert. As with any “consultant” check and see how long they have been in the field.

Experience – Doing Not Saying

This is where I prefer the term Practitioner rather than Consultant – its a semantics thing, and at the end of the day the job title doesn’t really matter. However, in my experience consultants are usually very good at talking about a topic, not necessarily good at executing. When considering a Social Media Partner find out if they have actually had personal success with Social Media. When I think of Social Media Practitioners I think of people like Chris Brogan who doesn’t just talk about Social Media, nor does he just consult with companies on the topic, he “does” Social Media and as such has gained recognition as a Social Media Influencer, being approached by brands to be an online evangelist for their product. At a more local level to me, here in Austin, we are very fortunate to have some excellent Social Media practitioners. One that jumps immediately to mind is the very talented Shelia Scarborough. Sheila is a blogger, Social Media trainer and practitioner. As a travel blogger she was invited to go on a tour of China to experience the growth and changes in that country. You don’t get invited on trips like that simply by calling yourself an expert, other people have to recognize your ability and your practice in the space.

Results

Does your prospective partner know how to get you results? Can they cite previous examples of having gained results for others? Remember that in this age of sometimes semi-transparent business practices, some companies demand that external consultants sign strict Non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from using the company name on any marketing materials. So don’t be overly surprised if they aren’t able to give you a name and number to call for a large project, but they should be able to produce data at a detail level such that they aren’t faking it.

Shiny Object Syndrome

If your potential Social Media Partner wants to talk endlessly about the latest new technology, new platform or widget that they think you should be using, proceed with caution. While a good knowledge of upcoming trends is essential, the habit of simply running to the latest and greatest platform and dragging you & your organization with them isn’t good for you. Remember that Social Media isn’t about technology, its about people. The platforms we use now will be very old hat in 2 years time. Being obsessed with the technology won’t lead to a successful Social Media strategy.

Hopefully you have some things with which to separate the wheat from the chaff when considering a Social Media partner. What qualities do you think I missed, what would you add to the list?

Image by Neil Rickards
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