“Social Media Consultants are on the Rise” Business Insider declared in an opaque post this week. It didn’t give any substantiation of an increase in the number of social media consultants, or even discuss what specifically a social media consultant does. But it did get me thinking…..
Let’s assume for the moment that a social media consultant is a subject-matter expert that informs strategy and perhaps training for a business. A gig like that is probably pretty tough without some sort of afterwork, but for the purpose of this thought experiment let’s keep it simple.
So is the act of objective strategy setting helpful to businesses and is there a market for an increasing number of social media consultants?
Throwing rocks at girls
Last night, my family and I went hiking on at a trail near our house. On our way back we were passed by some middle-school aged kids, and my wife commented that one of them had thrown a rock at her. Examining the kids more closely, the rock that hit my wife wasn’t intended for her but for the girls in the group. The boys were throwing rocks at the girls, presumably in a misguided attempt to communicate their romantic intentions.
It occurred to me that when using social media platforms, nearly everyone throws rocks at customers with misguided intentions. There’s a learning curve to any of these communities, and we do some crazy stuff when getting up to speed. A social media consultant setting strategy and conducting training could help a business avoid the initial awkwardness of establishing a community on a social platform (theoretically).
The joy-sucking ROI zealots
I had a conversation with a community manager recently who shared that she was disappointed with her job. The outreach and interaction that she had envisioned she’d have with customers was usurped by uninvited calls to action and constant justification of her work. This highlights a common attitude among businesses, whose expectations of social media may be colored by the myriad creative calculations for social media ROI or by companies who have used social media advertising and called it “community.”
The reality of social media is that it is dependent on scale, should be integrated with other marketing activities, and should be engaging. Brands that “participate” in social media but don’t agree with the basic thesis of Gary Vaynerchuk’s great The Thank You Economy probably have unrealistic expectations of how social media can help their business.
It seems to me that a good social media consultant should be able to help a company understand whether their expectations for social media would be better suited for an AdWords campaign. A social media consultant should help a company avoid building a community that they’re going to abandon in six months.
The work behind the strategy
Right now I’m reading Laura Vanderkam’s great book 168 Hours. The premise of the book is to think of your time in blocks of 168-hour weeks and consider if your time is spent doing what is truly important to you. In it, she discusses that work should be considered a waste of time if I doesn’t reflect what’s valuable to you. It’s a provocative thought and it’s especially true for businesses that participate in social media.
A social media consultant should be able to help a business target customers, but also to help businesses understand what social communities they will sustain a presence in. If a person hates Facebook for personal use, odds that they will sustain a Facebook brand page are pretty small. A recent Fast Company article suggested that social media consultants should be knowledgable enough to recommend niche social sites such as Polyvore for their clients. I’m not suggesting that (Polyvore has significant upstream and downstream traffic to Facebook and Pinterest, so many of the same users are on those sites as well). But if you’re devoting a portion of your 168 hours to promoting a business online, you ought to enjoy the community. I suppose a social media consultant could recommend a community manager, too – possibly a source of the aforementioned afterwork.
Are social media consultants necessary?
It depends upon the circumstance.
Many businesses would disagree with Gary Vaynerchuk’s assertion that social media has shifted the power back to the consumer. They probably shouldn’t be in social to begin with, and a social media consultant probably couldn’t help them too much.
A lot of businesses have phenomenal social presences that they have built on their own. There is more than enough information on the internet to get a business started, and hands-on experience can help to vet the platforms that a business can manage for the long-term. Time being the great equalizer, this may not be realistic for a business to accomplish.
But people with specialized skills can bring value to any enterprise. For businesses that see the value of outreach (and aren’t looking for an enhanced AdWords campaign), it seems the right person could help to build a sustainable online community by helping to choose the appropriate strategic platforms and content to deploy in those channels.
If there truly is a growing population of social media consultants informing the businesses of the world, more power to them. The less rocks thrown in the world the better… especially when those “rocks” are banal status updates.