In defense of social media consultants

It’s not easy being a social media consultant these days.  Between the bashing of some social media “experts” and the viral what the **** is my social media strategy blog, you’d think that every social media “guru” is a quack.  I thought it was about time to clear the air and stick up for my profession and the need for our existence, and I am glad to see that Shannon Paul just did something similar by writing an excellent blog post on why we still need real social media strategists.  Yes, there are professionals with years of successful sales, marketing, public relations, human relations, customer service, and business development experience that are out there helping businesses who are behind the ball or just lack the experience or expertise in understanding how to integrate social into their organization. 

While some who call themselves “social media consultants” may be engaging in less consulting and more sheer “implementation” of their client’s Facebook and Twitter accounts without any strategy in hopes of obtaining an endless retainer, I look at what I do as being less about pure marketing and more about management consulting to get an organization up to speed and to help them start thinking strategically about new media.   After all, social media can and will be utilized by most departments of a given company, not just marketing.  And often, in order to get the ball rolling, it involves executives from most departments to understand social media and be on board in implementing strategic decisions.

So what does a social media consultant do?
I inform my clients that I am versed in the tools of utilizing the various platforms for business objectives, have worked on social media strategy creation for more than a dozen companies, and work to personally guide my clients to merge social media with their corporate strategies and objectives.   This requires creating a custom strategy for how they should approach social media as well as a great deal of education on the platforms, tools, and best practices to allow each client to be self-sufficient after my engagement ends.   While there is a social media strategy created, it is a mere subset of their entire organization-wide strategy.  And it is a consultative process, because no strategy can be created without understanding more about each particular company and their products, industry, competition, history, culture, corporate strategy et. al.

Why do companies need social media consultants?
Just like the emergence of the Web two decades ago, those in the decision making positions at any given company are also those who may not have had enough time to understand social media, see sites like Facebook as a huge time suck, or even think that social networking sites are helping to corrupt their children.  Well publicized cases of Facebook bullying only serve to reinforce the image to some that social media is something some executives actually wish would just go away.  I recently spoke to a group of 30 CEOs for small to mid-size businesses, and apparently 20+ something of them did not see much value in utilizing social media at their company until after I spoke to them.  I have also met many Vice Presidents of Marketing at SMBs who confide in me that they just haven’t had time to educate themselves or keep up on social media but know that they need to.  A professional and experienced social media consultant can help them.

Facebook and the like are obviously not going away – they are becoming a ubiquitous part of our lives. “Status updates” permeate our communications, social networking is more popular than email, and we now have a habit of sharing news over social media. The average American is spending 23% of their online time in social media, and since we spend almost as much time on the Internet as we do watching TV, that is a significant amount of time that cannot be ignored by any business.

While I cannot stand up and vouch for every social media consultant that is out there, there are some professionals who are dedicated to helping educate our clients and work with their Management Team hand-in-hand in mapping social to their corporate objectives.   For those “consultants” with no experience or business background who are merely rehashing blog post content and trying to convince every company that they need to do this or that without any rational business logic, it is only a matter of time before companies start asking the right questions to properly qualify candidates and weed them out of the system.

Are there any others out there that agree with me here?

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