NinjaOne really important thing to keep an eye out for when contracting someone for social media training or services is overblown language. “Guru,” “expert,” “ninja,” and “maven” are only a few of the self-consciously hip titles adopted by many who wish to work in the field.

All of these words are warning signs. They generally denote someone whose approach to social media is akin to that of anyone wholeheartedly invested in a “get-rich-quick” scheme. Either that, or you get people who think that because they update Facebook 20 times a day they have a professional level skill set to offer. Usually starting a  discussion about Return On Investment (ROI) will send most of them either screaming into the wilderness or soft-pedaling into a realm of fuzzy, imprecise language.

“Social Media” is far too extensive a field for anyone to truly be an expert. A pro knows the platforms he or she uses inside out, has a solid learning curve, and is an effective communicator. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or an online forum — it all comes down to communication. This is true whether you are engaging conversation or dispensing discount codes. Anyone claiming to be an expert is worth further scrutiny. Sometimes they will turn out to be legitimate, but many do not. Here are a few tips for spotting the bad apples.

When looking for a contractor or employee in the social media field, ask for references from prior clients. It is extremely telling when a self-proclaimed “ninja” cannot produce proof of effective prior campaigns. If case studies are presented, look for tangibles (i.e. increase in Google ranking correlated to upturn in online sales). If these things are missing, warning bells should ring. When the hemming and hawing begins, it is usually a good sign that you should look elsewhere.

If the prospective expert immediately dives into describing a campaign approach that does not begin by defining objectives, it is a bad sign. There is no way to determine what to measure or how to calculate ROI if the basic goals of the campaign are not laid out in solid terms. For instance, if an increase in sales is the main point of the campaign, then simply increasing Web traffic is not the correct central strategy. Increasing Web traffic in a fashion that encourages purchases is.

Determining the goal of the campaign also allows you to devise the proper metrics to measure. If the majority of the conversations relevant to your client take place on forums rather than Facebook, then a dedicated Facebook page is not the best vehicle for your message.

“Gurus” have a lot of catchphrases (and all too often an MLM scheme or two) at their fingertips. A pro has clients instead, and, if he or she is a good one, he or she has happy clients. There is a gulf of difference between the two.

If you’re planning on bringing in someone to do social media work for you, be a smart shopper. While social media is still shiny and possessed of that “new car smell,” a professional is a professional. Don’t let glitzy terminology and hipster slang obscure your vision.

I always encourage potential clients to check the recommendations on my LinkedIn page and contact some of my prior clients directly. I could easily be blowing smoke — of course I think I’m great. Ask someone impartial before you decide. (Someone with no actual body of work will usually blanche at the idea.)

There are people who are brilliant at this, like Jeremiah Owyang, who wrote two years ago about his hopes that the recession would weed out the less capable. He also noted the following:

Aren’t I being a hypocrite myself? Yup. I’m no longer a practitioner as a community manager at a large corporate, nor do I work at a social media vendor helping brands, so in many cases, I too, am looking in the mirror. I write this with a lump in my throat, and it’s a constant reminder that if I’m going to give advice it’s important that I back it up with fact, data, insight, for business people to make business decisions.

That is the attitude I start my day with. Just like with any other job item, the numero uno needs to be providing value for your clients. Demonstrable business value.

Source: “Expulsion of the Social Media ‘Gurus’ – Impacts of the Recession,” Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang, 02/25/09
Source: “Biggest Mistakes Made by Social Media Gurus,” Mashable, 10/21/08
Image by Seth W. (Seth Werkheiser), used under its Creative Commons license.

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