Lee Odden

Social Media Consultants, Experts & Gurus – Oh My!

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

Photo Credit: ISD 191 Performing Arts Programs

Most of the people that I know who are really making an impact for companies in the social media space see themselves as marketers, vs. singling themselves out as specific to social media. Obviously the demand for social media specific expertise is high, so one must self-identify with that area of focus.

But when it comes down to providing social media consulting, it’s part of an overall online marketing strategy that involves social media, SEO, email, display, PPC etc as appropriate to reach business goals, not just “social media”. Granted, there are changes in social consumer behavior and technology that must be accounted for, but an adaptive online marketing strategy accounts for those changes anyway. Focusing solely on social media or as an independent activity is a disadvantage.

Like many bloggers that have started to experience increased influence, credibility and authority, so too have consultants that work with social media applications and communities. Jason Falls pointed out in his BWE NY presentation that while this newfound importance seems significant to the individual, it’s nowhere near what most brands find useful.

There has been a bit of “big fish, small pond” syndrome going on with a lot of the consultants and agencies that self-identify as experts or gurus in the social space, when really, they’re more like super users vs. social strategists. Not only is effective social media marketing strategic, it’s also a team effort.

Being a “super user” of social applications is a very valuable skill and essential for many roles like Community and Social Media Marketing Manager.  However, social media application super user skills are most valuable when directed by an approach of aligning target audience needs with business goals – i.e. a sound marketing strategy.  They’re mistakenly useful when used to create uncoordinated Blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Bookmarking and other social destinations.

For example

Brand: We need a Facebook Fan Page, our competition has 1,500 fans already.  Let’s hire a social media expert.

Social Media Expert: Let’s set up a landing page for people who haven’t “liked” you yet, add “like” “share” and “send” widgets to your website and start a few contests and promotions to attract fans. Schedule useful posts at ideal times of the day and run Facebook ads to drive traffic to your page. We can also run a few promotions to your prospect or client email list to attract fans.  You’ll be at 1,501 fans in no time!

What’s wrong with this example? As a tactic, not much. But when you extend this process between a brand and internal or external social media experts, each setting up social applications for the company and focusing on superficial KPIs like Fans, Friends and Followers without coordination between them, lack of ROI or competitive business value is inevitable.

Many social media experts (but certainly not all) will respond to the brand’s request and make them exactly what they asked for – without seeking to understand where the tactic fits within the overall strategy or what business outcomes should occur as a result. Why? The social media consultant doesn’t want to lose the consulting project, they don’t know how or don’t have the backbone to push back and take a position to educate the brand about a more strategic approach.

Another example:

Brand: We need a Facebook Fan Page, our competition has 1,500 fans already.  Let’s hire a social media expert.

Social Media Expert: Why?

From there, the brand and the social media expert can have a discussion to understand  what the brand is really after. Is it really 1,500 fans or is it being useful and creating more value for a quantity of qualified Facebook community members?

What happens at 1,500? What about 15,000? What business goal will be affected? Is Facebook the best way to achieve that goal? Can Facebook work more efficiently and effectively in concert with other social promotions to achieve said goals? Who will be involved internally? How will you measure? What are the benchmarks and milestones? Who will sponsor? What are the short term and long term wins? There are many questions to answer and if your social media consultant is weak, they’ll pooh pooh the need to think about the bigger picture in favor of “crack-like” spikes in FFF counts.

What I’m getting at with this post is simply: Companies that want to explore and succeed in social business can approach it as a series of disconnected experimental tactics and evolve through social media expert “super user” expertise. Or they can approach their social media marketing efforts as a component within the overall marketing strategy with coordinated and connected efforts that are designed to directly achieve and/or influence business goals both in the short and long term.

From the brand point of view, this can feel like more than what marketing departments can get approved, so they go after tactics instead – hoping some measure of success can justify increased budget and program growth.

From a consultant point of view, going through a few siloed tactical implementations are necessary to gain the brand’s trust in your social media marketing expertise so you can grow the program into something more strategic.

Can we have our cake and eat it too? Can wise social media marketers provide both tactical execution advice to build a business case at the same time as strategic marketing and change agent services to determine where social fits within overall marketing strategy?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. A lot of clients don’t care to hear the ‘why’ – they just want the numbers to go up. Although more and more companies are willing to become active in ‘social media’ not all are willing to do it the correct way.

    • I’m not entirely convinced there is a “correct” way, but companies are in business to make money and eventually, marketing investments need to pay off. At some point, the consultant and internal marketing contact will need to be accountable. I like to ask “why” from the start. If a business doesn’t have more than a superficial reason for social media marketing, then maybe it’s not a fit.

    • Totally agree. I find myself presenting social media plans to clients and they come back asking for statistics, numbers to back it up. I find myself trying to get them to see the link between online and off, between social media (and email newsletters and blogs and PPC and SEO) and sales, but I still get ‘how many fans do we have on Facebook?’ It’s no excuse not to be bold and keep trying to get them to see…. but still, sometimes it is an uphill battle when they STILL won’t integrate social media campaigns/tactics with the rest of their marketing. A lot of people aren’t getting the link. They just want a Facebook page. 

  2. I do agree there is certainly a growing distinction between social media strategy and the brute force of a social media super user.  It really comes down to what the brand is trying to do, with a great social media strategy the brand can grow organically until it’s profitable and sustainable but with the help of a super user it can super charge a dead campaign but better yet is able to get it profitable quicker.

    The downside to the superuser is they can become bored quickly and may upset fans/followers as they hijack the brand they are meant to be growing/supporting.  

    The real advantage is a carefully planned campaign that is successful is they stop talking about growing from 1,500 fans to 3,000 but start saying how long till we get to 30,000.  It’s great to see that kind of long term view but it’s rare to have such a buyin so early in a campaign without them getting out the calculator to work out at $0.50/fan that’s like $15,000…. ignoring the $50,000/month they spend on AdWords driving one off interactions.

    • I agree, a super user (or team) can super charge a brand’s own social campaign – when coordinated. Along the lines of calculating costs/value, most companies need to get creative with forecasting, as you say, according to what it is they want to accomplish.  

      I still like the overlay of social program expense on top of overall business metrics to see if there’s a correlation. At the same time, there’s measurable value for PR/Media Relations, Customer Service, Recruiting and Marketing in the short term.

      • There lies the hiccup and one i’m working with on a project currently how to we add some metrics to measure, but we are lucky with social shares in that it’s instant feedback on the article/content.  Where in the past we have tried to articles/content to increase in visitors/inbound links and they data must be looked at sometimes weeks or months later.  But making decisions that much later is sometimes a bit like catching your own tail unless you have some basic social metrics in place along the way.

        But agree there is a overall brand lift and it benefits all areas from PR to Customer service and provides a kick to marketing campaigns. I guess the the biggest element between super user and strategist is where they are looking next… a new client or expanding their role.

  3. Its funny how many businesses think “we need to get into social media because that’s
    where our competitors are!!!”  While having that online social presents is key nowadays, the idea of it only works when it works WITHIN your business structure.

    Like you said, you get 15,000 likes…SO WHAT!? 90% of the people who liked your page
    won’t come back to view it a second time. Receiving likes is only the tip of the iceberg.

  4. Lee, I couldn’t have articulated your points any better.

    The most meaningful message that I think should be driven home is that social media is just one “channel” for creating a coordinated marketing effort.  I think where the problem lies is when small businesses know they need to be with the times—social media is of the times; however, there is no understanding of the why and how this will achieve their overall marketing strategy goals.  My company Sylvan Media strives to build consistency in branding for these small businesses who want to achieve success in social media marketing.

    Thanks for sharing your insights,


  5. I believe that the only thing that really counts for a business is profits – bear with me, I’m not trying to be coy.

    As marketers, our job is to increase revenues and the number of likes is not necessarily the way to do it. It may be, but without a complete marketing strategy in place, and a concern for the ideas behind Continuous Process Improvements (Think, Plan, Do, Measure and Repeat), how would one even know if the number of likes makes any difference? If you don’t measure the results in the right way, how do you know anything beyond the fact that people clicked like to get the free offer?

    There are no shortcuts. Design a strategy. Implement it. Measure the results and determine what they mean in terms of revenue growth and reduction in marketing expenses. If profits increased, you’re on the right track. If profits decreased or remained flat, “Think” about why and design a new approach, then “Do” it and measure again.

    • It’s so straightforward and as close to common sense (for marketers) as you get, but why do companies continue to chase shiny objects vs. business value?  I think it has a lot to do with companies not holding marketing accountable for revenue. What do you think?

      • Agree totally.

        In fairness to both the company executives and marketers, until recently it’s been difficult to hold marketing accountable for anything because we have not been able to measure our results much (if anything). But the move to Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation, or what we call Inbound Marketing Automation, makes it possible (and easy!) to measure the direct results of campaigns.

        Finally we can answer the old adage of, “50% of my marketing budget is wasted, but I wish I knew which half”.

        By the way, for those wishing to calculate Return on Marketing Investment or ROMI, our site has a really easy to use calculator which does just that, and it provides prompts and help on where to find the numbers you need to do the calculation. Not sure if I’m allowed a link here to the tool, but my profile does…

  6. some people get in to social media for the wrong reasons, also they assume that social media is going to produce results instantly…. not so. It is something you have to work and grow in time. I do not think that social media directly even effects one’s profits. It’s silly to think it would unless you are marketing a product and it is a part of your job description, in  which case that should be an online marketing job.

  7. I totally agree that social approaches should be part of an overall marketing strategy, aligned to business goals.  Nothing has changed here.  But i do feel that our emerging social habits represent a fundamental shift – social is not just another channel.  To think so, is to not understand it properly.

    Part of the problem here is that many marketers dont understand the potential of social and, dare i say it, neither do many agencies and social ‘experts’ that say they do.  Marketers need to become more participative in their audiences, which social allows, to fully understand it.  Im also amazed at how many agencies – including that new breed of ‘conversational’ agency – who are not even present in the social space themselves.  

    Im getting work because of my business background first, then my marketing expertise which is made attractive because i understand social – and how to blend it in appropriately.  Im not a super user either.  Many super users i come across also dont actually use the tools/options properly and, worse, peddle solutions based on totally the wrong justification.

    Social is changing the way we do business, and the way we live our lives.  It’s a game changer, make no mistake.  However, to the authors point, marketing is marketing, and the basic principles still apply.

  8. Avatar Moriokfutai says

    Hi guys,

    Nice post

    I believe Social Media should be PART OF YOUR STRATEGY.
    To do Social Media you have to define:
         – final objective (and increase sales … never works on FB)
         – how will this integrate in your existing efforts
         – Advantages and Disadvantages of doing Social Media (related to your existing marketing strategy)

    In regards of the customers – I believe:
         – you need to come up with a set of 20-30 questions that will allow you understand his business BEFORE offering a solution
         – all tough the Scene presented in the article may apply to many companies – the landing pages as well as the final objectives must differ based on the complete strategy

         – if a company’s main strategy is email list – then use FB to add new people to the mailing list
         – if a company’s main strategy is direct traffic to the sales pages – promote their blog on FB so people can be funneled into the site, then into the sales pages
    ETC ….

  9. A social media marketing plan should only be a part of the overall marketing strategy.  Just piecing out the social media to an outside person/firm – guru or not, is not the best way to do it – but yet, that’s what’s happening in many cases.

    You wouldn’t let just anyone write your press release – the same should go for your social media plan.  It doesn’t mean you can’t use contractors to implement some of the pieces – but the strategy and plan needs to be internal, and fully integrated with your other marketing activities.

    When working with my clients, we work together to lay out the plans and strategies in line with their goals (short term and long term) – and then I make sure those plans are implemented.   I think that’s the piece that gets most confused – there is a distinct difference between the planning and implementation of social media activities and the people that should (or should not) be involved.

  10. It looks like most of us marketers are on the same page. I completely agree with the post and comments. However, I have found that a lot of companies have marketing departments that have no idea what to do with social media.  If hired simply to start a social media campaign, I think it is important, at the very least, to sit down with the marketing department to make sure everyone is on the same page. 

  11. This is what most so called Social Media Consultant did – increase Facebook Fan page fans, increase Twitter followers, increase connections on Linkedin. The reason they use it because these numbers are the easiest to measure the successes of those social media consultants, but in actual, we need to know how to truly engage, calculate conversion rate, ROI, etc.

  12. With regard to your examples.  It seems that many businesses have what I would call “Cold War Nuclear Proliferation Strategies.”  What I mean by this is if the competition has X amount of Y, then we have to have more without regard to a comprehensive social media marketing plan.  You must always ask Why?  Why is one of my favorite questions, it gets to the heart of the matter quickly.

    Without a doubt a coordinated social media marketing plan is the way to go.

    Thanks for the insight.

  13. Well, some times is not  SM people to decide.  Some clients just want numbers. U try to teach them, educate them or simply make them realize that numbers are not all, but sometimes it just doesnt work.

    I develope SM Strategies in South America. Believe me, lots of clients dont even know what twitter is, but NEED 10.000 followers. 

    Sad, but True Story