13 Ways to Tell if a Social Media Expert is the Real Thing

Here is a copy of a column that I recently wrote for the Australian Financial Review on ways that marketing and public relations managers can tell a real “expert” from someone who’s not quite there yet. This was written slightly in jest, so feel free to leave a comment if you have other suggestions.

Do a quick Google search on “social media expert” and you come across a plethora of sites with comments such as this: ”Half the people on Twitter claim to be ‘social media experts’. Where did they all come from and what is the criteria for expertise?”

It is a fair question, particularly as so many companies are seeing (and being told by a growing army of “social media experts”) that social media is the shiny new toy for strategic communications. So what are the criteria for expertise? How do you pick the real expert from the person who has just decided that his pastime should be his profession?

Here’s a checklist that might help:

  1. The person must be able to show demonstrable results that involve real metrics, not just the number of followers they may or may not have on Twitter or friends on Facebook. Hint: Kyle and Jackie O have a lot of Twitter followers. Do you want to let them loose on your marketing?
  2. They should be able to point not only to other people’s success – Obama’s election, Telstra, Dell, JetBlue and so on – but some of their own. Hint: ask them if they have ever been faced with a campaign that was not working and how they turned that around.
  3. They must have a methodology and strategy tailored for your company. Hint: if their plan solely consists of setting up a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a blog, then be very, very scared.
  4. They must have been active in the social media community for a long time. Six months on Twitter makes you a beginner, not an expert. Hint: check how often their blog is updated and how active they are at responding to posts.
  5. They must have a system for measuring the effectiveness of any campaign - and followers or friends or hits isn’t it – and the ability to change strategy if things are not working. Hint: if they look blank when you ask them about Plan B, ask them to shut the door on the way out.
  6. There needs to be a support team to monitor your brand and your program. Hint: if your “expert” is doing it all, then you are either paying too much or your expert is a one-man band living on hope.
  7. They must be able to define social media. Hint: talking about Twitter, YouTube and blogs is not the correct answer.
  8. They need to tell you just how much work is required by you and/or your staff to ensure that social media contact is effective. Hint: everyone will talk about conversations; the real expert will talk about the necessity for frequent, meaningful conversation that rarely involves promoting your business or your product. Yes, it is time-consuming and that is costly, but done properly it is close to being the best research you will get.
  9. Make sure they know the strengths and weaknesses of the major tools that are available. They should know when to use Buzz Numbers versus Radian6 versus Kaava and not be wedded to a particular technology. Hint: ask them about Nielsen, Buzz Numbers, Radian6 and Kaava. If they look blank, do the door trick again. \
  10. Be wary if they extensively quote the Cluetrain Manifesto (the equivalent of the Old Testament) or Seth Godin or give you 50 complicated slides running on about tribes. Hint: this means they are still learning about social media, which is good for them but bad for your campaign. 
  11. You constantly see their names in the comments section of marketing blogs bashing other people’s campaigns, or other people in general. Is that the type of person you would feel comfortable representing your brand in public?
  12. If the answer to your question about what to start in social media is anything other than “Listen“, keep looking.
  13. They must not call themselves a social media expert/ninja/jedi/guru. The social media landscape changes so quickly that the term social media expert is something of an oxymoron. The space is continually changing. Expertise in one area may be valuable one month and totally outdated and useless the next. Hint: not so long ago people were raving about – and paying $US580 million – for MySpace and now it is sooo last year.