7 Things Your Social Media Consultant Should Tell You

Anjali Mullany (Fast Company's social media editor) exposes social media consultants.

If social media consultants are doing their jobs, they should put themselves out of business. I speak as one of their kind. Before joining Fast Company last spring, I was the social media editor at the New York Daily News. So I'll say it even bolder: At some point, Fast Company should fire me. (Just not too soon, please!)

Your company will never be truly social if you silo social activity within a consultant or a staff manager. To facilitate proliferation, your consultant should learn how your company works, then create a strategy to spread social throughout your organization. But in the meantime, here's what you should be hearing from your consultant:

1 "What's your goal?" Some social media gurus think the big prize is community. That's a fine start, but for a business, it's also a means to an end--which is whatever your company's larger goals are, whether they be sales, brand awareness, or traffic. Your social strategy should not end with the creation of an online conversation.

2 "Here's the ROI." Consultants may tell you that social investments can't be justified in a quantifiable way. Wrong. The data is out there. If they want you to spend $75,000 on a Foursquare badge, they should explain how that investment will help you reach your goals.

3 "I don't care about follower counts." Companies obsess over how many followers they have, and consultants play to that. But Facebook ads and "Like this page" contests often don't boost consumer engagement. Rather, you should be courting influencers--trusted insiders with engaged followers (such as bloggers, niche celebrities, or active tweeters), who can help spread your message.

4 "Facebook and Twitter are only a start." Consultants should know which platforms are best for your businesses. For example, if you are a fashion designer and your consultant isn't talking about collage platform Polyvore, they're doing something wrong.

5 "Let's look at data." Your consultant should find smart ways to interpret data that platforms provide, and track down new data sources as well. She should also identify the best social measurement, management, and listening tools for your company's needs, so you can look up those data yourself after she's gone.

And when you're given data, double-check them. I once worked with an agency that presented steep graphs to convince me their engagement efforts had scaled. A close inspection revealed the numbers were actually low--but after repeated requests, the agency was unable (or unwilling) to provide me with specifics about the best times to post, best content to post, and who was most engaged with us. That shouldn't happen.

6 "Your website should be social." Don't just rely on other platforms. Your consultant should optimize your own site for sharing and data collection. To start, connect to Facebook's Open Graph and measure social activity--including "likes"--within your domain, in addition to measuring that activity within Facebook itself.

7 "I'm not a social media guru." Good. Because if she says she is, she probably isn't.

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65 Comments

  • Our company must be doing its job well then, once we train somebody within the company, post for the company for the first few months and then provide audits of company's posts another month - we are finished. The exception is the company who just doesn't want to deal with social media at all but wants to have a social presence.

  • IDon't know many business owners who hire social media "consultants" that care to have sm integrated into all aspects of the company. They hire consultants do they don't have to deal with the silo. Most of them are also looking for someone to just confirm their own beliefs rather than seek out a problem and solve it. So yes, I definitely agree when you say sm consultants would put themselves out of business if they did their jobs right but I would say it is the business owners that keep this occupation a thriving one. Lol. And saying #3 to them is pretty much asking to not get hired. I hope the folks reading this takes something away with them. These are definitely essential points to have in mind.

  • Andrew

    What about Chinese social media....? There's over 100m traveling abroad in 2014 and they're not on facebook. Not to mention the millions already living in the USA, Europe and other markets. You may need to ask a few more questions.... try this http://kawo.com/

  • Tkurland72

    Thank you; this is very helpful as I search for a s.m. marketing consultant for our small company.

  • Bluewatercommunications

    A good article, except for spelling mistakes and the fact that they kept referring to the consultant as a "she". As a male consultant this wasn't right

  • Sean Fleming

    Great piece. It's like reading the inside of my head! Only more articulate. :)

  • Joshua Little

    Great points, except for the fact that he never really explained why it is that he should be eventually fired, or why SoMe "gurus" should put themselves out of business . . .

  • Sean Fleming

    The reason social media consultants should aspire to put themselves out of work is that if you are doing your job properly you are an agent of change; your aim will be to transform the company you work for into a sustainable socially-aware organisation.

    You're lighting a fire, basically. If you build it properly it will burn without your constant interference.

    You can have a social media team or department in the early days but if you can't integrate its learnings and insight into the rest of the business, you've gone wrong.

    The same is true of community managers (and community management agencies), only more so. Outsourcing community management doesn't solve any problems for a business, it merely puts them in a different place.

    "We don't understand our customers! Let's hire a community management agency - they can do the understanding for us."

    A year later....

    "We *still* don't understand our customers!"

    Etc etc.

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  • Honest Feedback

    Wow. A journalist with barely any real world experience and an MFA thinks she has standing to trash others for being poseurs with no real world experience. Tacky and immature.

  • Anjali Mullany

    Hey -- the point of this wasn't to trash other people but to help business people find good consultants.

  • Lars

    Hehe half of this is a bunch of bullocks, especially the expert translation part.:)

  • Ari Herzog

    With the caveat I have not read the 45 comments before mine, but only some of them, I'd like to focus on one of your recommendations:

    "...if you are a fashion designer and your consultant isn't talking about collage platform Polyvore, they're doing something wrong."

    Maybe it's because I don't work with fashion clients but I've never heard of Polyvore -- and looking at their Wikipedia entry I see 17 million unique monthly visitors last August. That doesn't sound like a lot. I'm sure there are several other fashion sites with comparable numbers, let alone the gorilla Pinterest which caters to a similar demographic and lifestyle.Is your point about Polyvore or is your point a fashion consultant should know about fashion sites?

  • Sasha

    I'd say this is a 'quality over quantity' bit. Polyvore hits a niche market where users are highly active on the platform. It's a great place for a fashion designer to reach new fans of people who are hyper-focused on fashion. I've consulted for fashion bloggers and I would recommend this site for those who wish to be seen as models of good style.