I read BusinessWeek’s article ‘Beware Social media Snake Oil’ with interest because it’s a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.
Over the past couple of week’s I’ve run into a few people claiming to be social media consultants who, after a few minutes discussion, reveal themselves as having not really understood many of the fundamentals of the social web.
The article’s author Stephen Baker says, “The problem, according to a growing chorus of critics, is that many would-be guides are leading clients astray. Consultants often use buzz as their dominant currency, and success is defined more often by numbers of Twitter followers, blog mentions, or YouTube (GOOG) hits than by traditional measures, such as return on investment. This approach could sour companies on social media and the rich opportunities it represents.”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s not too hard to set up a Facebook Fanpage or a YouTube channel. You can be aggressive in acquiring a large number of contacts, followers and friends. But the truth is that counting eyeballs, hits or unique visitors doesn’t really mean that much if the actual humans behind the numbers aren’t buying, voting or behaving they way you’re trying to encourage.
So how can you avoid the snakeoil and ensure you’re getting the expertise you need? You can start by asking a few tough questions of your social media guru. Here’s a few suggestions to get you started.
1. Ask about hands on experience. Do you have your own blog? How long have you been blogging? When did you join Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter? What other social media platforms do you personally use and why? What measurable results have you achieved in your own personal social media activity? Can I see examples?
Hopefully your consultant will have five or more years hands on experience with multiple platforms. They’ll be able to explain how and why they use each channel and show you concrete results with plenty of business-related examples.
2. Ask about potential strategies and tactics. Which channels should I use? Which ones should I avoid? Why? Should social media replace my current marketing and communications activity? Will social media turn my business around? How do you measure success?
Your consultant should be able to give you some thoughtful answers that relate to helping you achieve your objectives. You’ll want to hear about a focused strategy, not about millions of eyeballs or promises of rankings. You’ll want to hear about social media as complementary to traditional marketing and communications channels, not as replacements. You’ll want to hear about added value, engagement and collaboration, not a panacea or a magic bullet.
3. Ask about costs and other resource requirements. How do you structure your fees? Who within my organisation will be involved? Are there any other costs involved? What return on investment can I expect?
A popular misconception about social media is that it’s free. Another is that it’s easy to be successful. So if your consultant foresees a low price and talks a lot about automation and bots, run a mile. If you hear the words ‘oursource’ or ‘turnkey’ think very hard before getting involved. Social web success not only takes a long-term commitment, it requires a change of mindset. This is not something you can hand over to someone else to do on your behalf. You and your team members will be involved daily. Content development will involve people with a range of talents and expertise. It will take time and money, outside of the consultant’s fees. When you consider the time, skill and talent necessary for success, you’ll see that social media is not a just a cheap alternative to advertising. But, done well it will deliver quality results in helping you achieve your objectives.
In his BusinessWeek article, Stephen Baker advises, “Think back to the dot-com boom a decade ago. Soaring valuations were based initially on promise and hype. In early 2000, when investors started focusing on scarce profits, the market collapsed. But many companies drew the wrong conclusions. Believing the fall of a hyped market was a sign of the failed promise of the Internet, they drew back on Internet investments. This happened just as the technology was on the verge of living up to much of its promise, dominating global communications, transforming entire industries—and spawning social media.
“The best way to avoid a similar backlash today is for social media’s practitioners, including thousands of consultants, to shift the focus from promises to results. It may be the only way to convert the skeptics—and flush out the snake oil.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.