I’ve had my fair share of social media consultant experiences. Some of them worked with clients of ours, and some I’ve worked with myself.
“I’m not sure what the return of this person’s work is.”
Gulp. That statement, unfortunately, is what a lot of those clients have said. Including myself.
Let’s lift the hood on how many social media consultants operate, and how to match yourself with one who’s perfect for your needs.
The Purpose Of Your Social Media Consultant
A social media consultant who is worth their salt is usually (and by usually I mean 99.99% of the time) hired to provide one or more of these four major themes.
- A strategy to solve the pain points you’ve laid out in the hiring or vetting process.
- Tactics that will help you meet the goals of your strategy.
- Actionable items that you — or you and your consultant — need to complete in order to get your tactics and strategy ready to run.
- Execution on all of the above.
Each of these items could be a project on their own, depending on who you hire and what your budget is.
Strategy, at all costs.
To start, strategy should be a part of any consulting program. After all, this is why people hire a social media consultant; you’re looking for a documented solution for your pain point.
Cost wise, some consultants will have a project or strategy creation fee, and some will have an hourly rate. Some offer both.
I witnessed one situation where a client was paying a monthly retainer of around $10,000, and then were suddenly told they needed a brand audit that cost an extra $10,000. While they were caught off guard, they believed in this consultant so much that they paid for the report.
When it came time to review said report, it was shockingly bad.
Instead of addressing the brand’s need for a strategy with a new product line, it had basic stats around the product’s category and went on to say the company should consider changing their company name. The case studies the consultant used were old, tired, and not relevant to the brand’s new product line.
Needless to say, this consultant does what many consultants do; they talk about their personal experiences over and over as a way to convince the client that anything is possible if they put the work in. If you ask me it was more like, if they put their dollars in. As an aside, I would not recommend a retainer structure unless you’re absolutely sure this person can deliver and you’ve seen examples of their work.
This consultant put no stock or time into fully understanding their — the client’s — needs. I want to help you avoid that.
A reliable social media consultant will be champing at the bit to dig into your company’s story, your company’s wins/failures, and the numbers behind your company’s performance.
This is your strategy, after all. Not some stage where you’re paying for motivational speeches and grandstanding.
Tactics & Actionable Items
Contrary to the horror story above, I’ve seen what a good consultant can do.
In fact, I’ve had the pleasure of reading over several MIND BLOWING strategies that top-notch social media consultants have created. I’m talking jaw-dropping, crazy-amazing solutions.
But, while the strategy was everything the client wanted and more, they wanted … more.
This is why tactics and action items are incredibly important to deliver with any strategy. Just because the wildly-successful consultant knows how to execute on their strategy, doesn’t mean the client or their team will have the knowhow to implement all parts of the strategy.
For example, if your problem and strategy is written about acquiring new customers from social media, your tactics may look like this:
- Identify your digital touchpoints on social media
- Audit your social channels to see who interacts with your touchpoints
- Take a note of the types of interactions happening on touchpoints (e.g. requests, complaints, feedback, etc.)
- Associate triggers with touchpoints; what triggers each stage of your customers’ journey
*I know these tactics well because they’re part of a strategy I deliver with our Care Squared Training and our online courses.
When you’re the focus …
Recently, I worked with a consultant on building a sales playbook for B Squared Media, Samantha Stone.
Not only did she talk with me about our strategy needs, she talked to our CSO/CFO, Project Manager, and two of our clients! She said she would have talked to a past client as well, but luckily for this new service and strategy we’ve had zero client churn in over five years.
This is what I mean by choosing a consultant that is eager to understand your story. Samantha is not a social media consultant, but as a marketing and sales consultant she made us feel comfortable with every deliverable she sent.
Needless to say, we’re 100% thrilled with the strategy, tactics, action items, and execution she provided. We never had to question what the return would be on her work.
When vetting consultants, make sure you ask if tactics or an action plan is part of what you’ll receive with your strategy. Then, make sure you have a team that can execute on those items. Because you if you can’t, your strategy is next to worthless.
Which brings me to …
It’s All In The Execution
Some of you know that I originally created B Squared Media to be a social strategy company. That is, I thought I’d be a social media consultant; I’d build social strategies for brands and they’d execute.
However, I quickly realized this isn’t what my customers needed most. The hardest part for them was the execution! So, I had to quickly pivot, and within six months B Squared became an outsourced partner for execution, not strategy.
Funnily enough, this is still major trend with companies now. Nearly twelve years later!
Think about it: You get your strategy, you get your tactics and action items, and then you realize something.
My team can’t execute on these things.
I realize this is easier said than done. But, as you think about your pain point and the perfect consultant outcome, you need to look ahead. Will you need a consultant who can also help execute? Many times, I’ve found this is the case.
That means you’re not only looking for a social media consultant, you’re looking for a practitioner. This person should be able to not only provide the strategy, but also the execution. This could be team training, or outsourced help, an analyst, or an ongoing strategic consultant.
Take Samantha, for example. Once she delivered the strategy, tactics, and action items, she offered to help us hire for our need. In other words, she was also ready to help with the execution of the plan we spent months building.
And, without asking, Samantha got a quote from a service company we may need. I didn’t have ‘proactive’ in my list above. Needles to say, this quote inquiry from Samantha is what being proactive looks like from a consultant.
Avoid A ‘Zero Results’ Social Media Consultant With These Questions
Everyone will tell you to “do your homework” when searching for a good social media consultant. I’m going to take it a little further and show you exactly what to look for. I’m also going to give you example questions you can swipe from me.
Dig deeper on experience.
Plenty of we social media consultants (me included!) have worked with some well-known brands. However, just because these brands are showcased on our websites, doesn’t mean they represent current, relevant work. Ask questions like …
- I see [brand] listed on your website. Impressive! When did you work with them and what was the project about? Can you share some of the results of that project with me, both qualitative and quantitative? May I speak with them for a recommendation?
- When was the last time you helped with the execution of your strategy with your clients? (Some will say never, and that’s okay if you don’t need help executing.)
- Can you provide examples of social media strategies you have implemented within the past year?
- May I see a sample report dealing with [thing you’re looking to solve]? **This would have saved my client a huge headache — and cost — with that shockingly-bad report I mentioned early on.
For practitioners, by practitioners.
In a galaxy far, far away (or a really long time ago), a consultant was often hired to come in, give a bunch of rah-rah motivational speeches and let the internal team handle the rest. That doesn’t work anymore. Since 2020 (and the dreaded COVID), marketers, consultants, and anyone/everyone in social media is being pushed to show results.
But how do you know if someone is truly results-driven? Try these questions…
- Can you describe a recent [social media/marketing] challenge you created a strategy for, as well as the tactics and actionable items used to overcome it?
- Can you describe how you actively track and analyze the performance of [social media/marketing] campaigns, and how you would use those insights if you were in charge of informing real-time decision-making and optimization? (Hint: If the consultant doesn’t say they’d need to know what your goals are first, beware!)
- [Follow-up question to the above]: Do you provide a plan for tracking and analyzing the performance of strategies you build?
- What kinds of return-on-investment (ROI) have you created for past clients?
Don’t let pomp & circumstance fool you.
TEDx speaker. Forbes contributor. Author. I have three of three if you consider speaking at events like INBOUND as noteworthy as TEDx. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to make a great consultant for you. All of those accomplishments are about me, not you.
So, if you want a consultant who’s going to focus on your story, your needs, and your results, take these types of accomplishments with a grain of salt.
A few ways to combat the “But I’m well-known!” consultant types:
- Most speakers are booked on their stage presence; the ability to keep the attention of the audience. While that’s an admirable talent, it doesn’t mean a lick about being a results-driven consultant.
- Forbes. AdWeek. LinkedIn. Yes, I’ve been featured on each of these sites, but that only means some content I produced sounded smart or solved the problem of said site. This is another case where you’d want to ask, “I see [site] listed on your website. Impressive! When did you work with them and what was your article about? **Look for recency here. If it’s 2+ years old, it’s likely irrelevant.
- THEY HAVE A MILLION FOLLOWERS! Cool. That’s a vanity metric. If the social media consultant (or any consultant, for that matter) leans on their followers as a reason to hire them, RUN. A results-based consultant wouldn’t dare lean on an arbitrary metric like this. The exception to this rule would be if you’re hiring said person as an influencer to sell your thing to their audience. In which case, use the eight questions listed in two sections above.
- More vanity metrics … podcast subscribers, newsletter subscribers, etc. and so on. Again, unless you’re hiring this person to be an influencer who is going to monetize their audience on your behalf, these numbers are useless.
I realize that I have all of the “accolades” mentioned above. Besides a million followers (would that be good or a nightmare … can’t decide). But that’s the point.
Of course I’ll use those things as social proof on my website! But those things do little to show how I’m a results-driven social media consultant. Instead, check out my case studies, my unique research, or my testimonials.
Even testimonials can be a sham! Plenty of well-known consultants use their friends to offer up 5-star reviews or testimonials that seem vague. Pay attention to that last part … if the testimonial isn’t results-driven, that could be a clue.
Hiring A Results-Driven Consultant
When you know what you want, this all should be easy for you. If you care about spending money and getting results, this is your guide.
To avoid the disappointment of working with a ‘Zero Results’ social media consultant, it’s crucial to prioritize practitioners over mere strategists. By asking the right questions, you can ensure the consultant you choose is not only knowledgeable but also actively involved in the day-to-day minutia of social media and marketing.
Success in social media requires more than just a well-crafted strategy; it demands a practitioner who understands the nuances of the ever-evolving digital landscape. And they must be committed to achieving tangible results.
By taking the time to find a consultant who walks the talk, you can set your marketing efforts on the path to success and unlock the true potential of social media for your business.
FAQs for Avoiding the ‘Zero Results’ Social Media Consultant
- What is a ‘Zero Results’ Social Media Consultant? A ‘Zero Results’ Social Media Consultant refers to professionals in the social media consulting field who, despite their promises or credentials, fail to deliver tangible or meaningful results for their clients.
- How can I identify a potential ‘Zero Results’ Social Media Consultant? First, look for red flags like a lack of verifiable case studies, an absence of genuine client testimonials, unclear strategies, and an over-reliance on buzzwords without substantive explanations. Additionally, it’s also wise to be wary of those who promise unrealistic results in an implausibly short timeframe.
- What questions should I ask a potential social media consultant to gauge their credibility? Consider asking about their past campaigns and results, the strategies they consider most effective and why, references or case studies they can provide, and how they measure success. Their answers should be clear, concise, and backed by evidence.
- Are there any certifications or qualifications that can assure the competency of a social media consultant? While there are certifications available, such as the Hootsuite Social Marketing Certification or Facebook’s Blueprint Certification, it’s essential to remember that real-world experience and a proven track record often hold more weight. Certifications can be a good starting point, but they shouldn’t be the sole determining factor.
- How can I ensure I get value for my investment when hiring a social media consultant? Begin with a trial project or a shorter contract term to evaluate their capabilities. Set clear objectives, deliverables, and KPIs from the outset, and maintain open communication throughout the duration of the project. Always ask for regular reports and updates to ensure alignment and progress.
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