Drawing from over 200 client experiences
Although I am in government now, I have worked at the intersection of social media and external communications for more than 15 years, so that probably adds up to more than 200 clients over the years. Different businesses, different industries, different personalities. Small businesses and very large businesses.
Most of the time, the difference between the big dogs and the little dogs is the amount of human and fiscal capital they have to throw at establishing, maintaining or defending their online reputation, as well as the consulting partners they choose to work with. And guess what, Mr. and Mrs. Small Business Owners? The same is true for the big boys.
Having worked for Fortune 50 companies as a consultant, I can assure you that one of the first steps that smart people take is to hire smarter people when it comes to social media. Nike may be great at making athletic apparel, but that does not make them experts at using the web to either sell merchandise or tackle online reputation management issues.
5 tips for hiring social media talent
So whether you are Great Dane or a Chihuahua, here are five important things to keep in mind when selecting the partner that you work with to make the best use of your human and fiscal capital.
- Know what you want to accomplish. Sell widgets? Get yourself on or off the first page of Google search results? Establish thought leadership for your executives? No consultant worth his or her salt is going to develop a social media outreach plan without a) figuring out your objectives and how to articulate them, and b) knowing how to integrate what you do online with what you do offline.
- Take your time and pick the right partner. Were I choosing a firm, I avoid “big thinkers” who tent their fingers and speak in platitudes. The right fit for any organization is a partner (or partners) who are intellectually curious about your business, smart, accessible, good communicators, better listeners and willing to work hard on your behalf and with your budget. Being the most recognized person in the room does not always make for the best consultant.
- Don’t get seduced by shiny new objects. It was and is my job to know the latest and greatest technology (although I am still struggling with how Google+ makes sense), but work with a consultant who understands and can demonstrate that the magic is not in the technology – it’s how it fits in with your communications objectives and helps you accomplish what you have set out to do in item #1. Back in the old days, I remember clients saying, “We have got to get a Web site/MySpace account/Twitter account!” My first question was “Why?” Perhaps this was not the best way to generate revenue, but just because something is new and shiny does not mean that it will make sense for you and your organization. The wrong tools for the right objectives make for unhappy people.
- Know that your tactics may change frequently. The beauty of social media is that for the most part, you can change horses in mid-stream – it is a process. Is your Google Ad not performing the way you want it to? Work with your consultant to mine the data and change the ad. Is your Web traffic not what you think it should be (and is reasonable)? Again, look at your Web statistics and find out a) the keywords that people are using to find your site, b) which are the most popular pages, and c) how you can refine the content and keywords on your Web site to drive more (and better quality) traffic.
- Define and measure success. When you work with a consultant, as a big or small company (and especially on a tighter budget), set out how you are going to define success, but more importantly, how you are going to measure it. Phrases like “We will leverage and deploy a vast array of social media tools to enhance your image with key constituencies” should be a red flag. You could win an entire B.S. bingo game with that one sentence. There are many very smart people like Katie Paine who have written volumes on how to measure online and offline public relations efforts. It’s not always easy, but when you are making critical decisions on how best to spend money, you have to be able to define and measure success.
Size matters not if you don’t know your goals
The expected result of setting up an effective social media plan is that finding the right consultant can, in fact, help you do what you set out to do. But more importantly, the first step is finding the right partner. And this is the same if you are a Chihuahua or a Great Dane. Be smart, know what you want to do and pick the right consultant.