When you search Google for “social media consultant” there are about 10,600,000 search results. Yeah, really. Go check and come back.
That’s more than two times as many search results for “marketing consultant” or “pr consultant” (about 4m each). Those industries have been around a lot longer, yet the hype has attracted even more content focused on social media.
The ease of publishing online has made it correspondingly easy to lay claim to expertise that is often subject to some curious interpretation. There are some smooth talking folks out there with great communication skills that haven’t done more than count Tweets, comments and mentions. See the recent post, “What does social media success really look like?” for more on measuring social media success.
To me, the biggest disconnect is that being a competent user of social media sites is not really the same thing as being a competent social media marketer. Marketing implies there is an offer for a target group of customers and an intended objective. That means knowing more than how to setup a Twitter or Facebook account. It means knowing customers social behaviors and preferences, social technologies, explicit and implicit social network rules and how to measure outcomes.
From a PR perspective, knowing how to DM a pitch to a blogger on Twitter and social bookmark a press release are very different skills than being able to monitor a targeted group of bloggers and journalists’ social activities for moments of opportunity and being useful through social communications in the right way and when it counts. That and creating signals of credibility and influence through social content and networking for the purposes of persuasion is another set of skills outside the realm of many self-professed “experts”.
My point is that it takes more than being a “user” of social tools to influence business outcomes within a company or for clients when it comes to something like the social web. Sure, there’s a need to understand the technology and of course, being a first-hand participant gives you insight that others just jumping in won’t have. But most companies can achieve that level of experience pretty quickly on their own.
It seems to me that a Social Media Marketing or PR Consultant is far more valuable as a social technology “super user” and more importantly, a sort of social media (sociologist, social psychologist, anthropologist) as well as someone with marketing or PR skills.
Picking up on social trends & technolgies, analyzing data for insights that you can act on and being able to identify opportunities within the sheer mass of noise produced by a deluge of updates, Tweets, comments, tags, blog posts, videos, images and other social content being published every second is essential.
Is there room for competent users calling themselves social media marketing consultants that focus on helping individuals and small businesses setup social profiles? Sure there is. Will that kind of activity help those social media neophytes become successful?
Showing up doesn’t mean you’ll win the game, so I’d say in many cases, no. It takes more. And as time goes one, it will take even more to stand out.
Maybe I’m just being grumpy or maybe this post is just a jab at a friend who bragged about ranking on Google for “social media consultant”. That aside, I think there are some valid points regarding user vs. professionals. What do you think?
For buyers, have you hired a consultant only to find they know just a hair more than you? Have you hired a social media consultant that was able to provide insights and strategic direction that actually facilitated business goals?