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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Social media experts: To hire or not to hire?

Of late I’m only publishing a truck load of photos in this blog with minimal text. This post is an attempt to get back to serious writing.

There were some nice debate recently, with Peter Shankman saying “I will never hire a social media expert and neither should you” while Rand Fishkin defending ‘why one should hire Social media experts’.

Last year, in one of the conferences meant for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) I noticed that industrialists were very eager to know about the potential of social media, but were clueless how to go about it. They were willing to spend a small amount on Social media related marketing, but were finding it difficult to chose a right consultant/agency.

This post shares my thought on the need for hiring social media experts and what and what not to expect from them.

PS‘s article refers social media expert’s task as “taking bread out of refrigerator”, meaning it doesn’t need any specialization. I would say, the role of a social media consultant is similar to that of a fitness trainer. A fitness trainer may give lot of tips and can guide you how to do an exercise. But end of the day, it is you who need to do the exercise in order to get a long term healthy body. It is very much possible to maintain a healthy body without hiring fitness trainer, if you learn how to take care of your body and exercise regularly.
There’s not much formal education on social media and nor many recognized certification programs. Since the social media industry itself is yet to mature, there’re no fixed standards for the service, rates, ROI etc. Everyone defines it in their own terms and unsuspecting customers can be easily taken for a ride by every other person who calls himself as ‘Social Media expert’.

In general, social media experts are of two types- I may be wrong or there can always be exceptions:


Young and Energetic 20+ guys: fresh out of college or with few years of experience, who’ve chosen the freelancing or entrepreneur paths. They’re usually tech savvy, quick to learn new developments and might have worked on SEO and internet marketing assignments earlier. These guys might have very little knowledge of any industry or business, but with some pointers, they’ll be quick to learn the basics and be ready to offer social media based solutions.
People who’ve adapted from similar fields: Media, Advertising and PR professionals, who were quick to spot an opportunity in social media consulting and have managed to master it in short time and offer Social media based solutions to challenges which were dealt traditionally so far. These people will have sufficient industry/business knowledge, owing to their previous work experience, but may not be too geeky or innovative in social media space.

Let us understand what Social Media Experts and their teams can do and can’t do:
What social media experts can do to help you:
  • Train you and your staff on social media concepts, technologies and best practices
  • Advise what strategy or approach might work for your business or stated objectives
  • Provide you with tools, technology (such as analytics, facebook app etc) related to social media to achieve above objectives
  • Execute certain resource intensive tasks on your behalf- such as generate good content for your blog, do link building for SEO purposes
  • Manage some social media based events on your behalf (like a twitter contests)
What Social media experts can’t:
  • Change your reputation/popularity overnight. Social Media is no magic wand and social media experts are not magicians. They might have some ideas that can click, but you need to have a commitment towards the implementation of the same and need to execute it properly over a period of time.
  • Serve as a replacement for quality product/service/customer support.  Social media experts will not have full industry knowledge in your area of operation. Your customers wish to connect with YOU and not a twitter account or a 3rd party agency managing your social media portfolio. When an individual raises a question about your company, using your company’s social media channel, some credible face within the company should be able to come forward and respond to that concern. External agencies will not have the depth and authority to handle all queries.
  • Promise an increase in sales
Steps to follow before hiring a social media expert/consultant/agency:
If you decide to adopt social media into your business strategy and feel the need for external help, I suggest adopting following step by step process:
1. Spend some quality time understanding basics of social media yourself- attend a training/workshop or hire a trainer r learn by reading/observing what constitutes social media and how others are using it. You won’t become an expert overnight, but you should get the basics.
2. If possible, put together a team of employees who are active on social media. Brainstorm with this team- these guys will have an idea what will work and what will not. With the ideas generated in this session and with discussion among senior management, identify a tentative plan, budget and objectives for your company’s social media mission.
3. Decide if you need external help or can be done internally- basic activities like creating social media profiles and maintaining it can be done by couple of enthusiastic folks within the company, but you may need help in other aspects-conceptualizing and building an application, extensive promotions and SEO activities, regular quality content for your blog, advanced analytics etc. You may not always have resources and expertise for these, hence can be outsourced
4. Now go ahead and invite proposals from various agencies and experts, for the stated objectives and budget. Keep an eye on measurable outcomes.
5. Social Media assignments shouldn’t be outsourced 100%. Put together a small internal team of social media enthusiasts to oversee the work and give external team the input it needs, ensure that atleast few of the top management is active on social media, to ensure that your brand has a personal face on the net, should there be an escalation or a customer wishes to communicate with a real human and not an account manned by unknown people.
6. Identify what all can backfire: No one will buy your product just because you have a page on facebook. Whenever your customers make genuine complaints/enquiries through social media channels, ensure that they are attended to. Trying to suppress negative opinion can backfire heavily. Also not responding to a question in time can result in loss of a prospective customer. Social media is not a cover up for bad product/service.


How much to spend on Social media?
There’s no definitive answer for this. A simple approach can be to divert a part of your traditional advertising and marketing budget and try it out on Social media, to compare the results with that of traditional advertising and marketing. Social media returns can be measured by No of fans, followers, blog visits, comments, video views and so on, but none of these ensure an increase in immediate actual sales. You can also measure % of leads or enquiries coming from online channels, money saved on customer service or reduction in complaints, increase in brand recall and identity. Do not expect overnight change. Keep a window of 6-12 months to assess the impact of social media initiatives and if it is really worth pursuing.

Related posts: Social Media for students: my talk at CII event * SEO fundamentals * Travel Blog Social Media case study * Social Media for SMEs * Relevance of Blogging- My talk at LIBA * Club Mahindra Social Media case study * 6th year of blogging *

3 comments :

magiceye said...

very interesting and objective analysis

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Deepak

Christena said...

Mashallah very interesting objects.