8 Questions to Ask If You Outsource Your Social Media

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socialmedia_1.30.14In our previous post, we talked about whether your small business should outsource social media to a third party. If your answer was yes, here are eight questions to ask potential social media consultants.

1. How long have you been working as a social media consultant? How did you end up in this line of work? Even though Facebook turns 10 this year, social media is still very much new media. Twitter was founded in 2006. Instagram, Google+, and Snapchat all came about in the last four years. And while that is very much an eternity when it comes to all things online, it’s still new enough that you can’t necessarily judge answers by the length people have been playing the game.

So why ask the question at all? Because you want to get a sense of the person’s background and, yes, you want to know officially how long they’ve been at it, since that will provide other insights, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean the person who’s been doing it for five years is better or more knowledgeable than the person who has been doing it for two.

What to look for in an answer:  For someone who has been doing it a “long” time—longer than five years—you want to hear and see evidence that they’ve grown and evolved as the different platforms have grown and evolved. Facebook today is quite different from Facebook of 2004 (the fact that businesses didn’t even HAVE a presence on Facebook in the mid-2000s is an important point). The person should refer to the ever-changing landscape that is social media. Why? Because you want to work with someone who in turn can be nimble and adapt easily—and, in turn, help your company adapt easily—to changes and shifts.

For someone who is newer to social media consulting, you’ll want to differentiate hobbyist and unreliable consultant from the serious social media expert. The consultant’s portfolio will be important. It’s less about total number of clients. Focus instead on the results he or she has gotten for clients. You’ll want to see evidence that this person is serious about his/her business, so look for things you would normally look for: a website, a professional presentation/appearance, whether the consultant has employees etc. Essentially, you want to be wary of the eighteen-year-old working out of his mom’s basement. That’s not to suggest this person isn’t knowledgeable (he/she may very well be), but you need to find the balance between someone who has social media knowledge and business acumen as well.

2. Which of your own personal social media accounts are you most proud of and why? You should definitely review all the social media accounts for the consultants you’re considering. Do they suffer from “cobbler’s children” syndrome where they’ve neglected their own accounts? Or do they have well-written profiles and engaged fans and followers? In other words, do they practice what they preach?

What to look for in an answer: While you could forgive the mechanic who drives an old beater, don’t forget there are other ways to judge the mechanic’s business: how busy the shop is and how friendly and capable the front desk staff is. For social media consultants, you need to think of their different social media profiles as different aspects of their workspace, albeit virtual. If they can’t make their own online presences look good, how can you trust them with yours? The best consultants will likely be eager to share—even “show off”—their favorite social media account.

So what should you look for when you’re reviewing the consultant’s social media accounts?

  • Activity. You don’t want to see a Twitter account that’s been quiet for months, for example.
  • Engagement. Don’t be impressed by huge follower or fan counts, since those things can be easily inflated and manipulated. Instead, look at the level of engagement. For example, does the social media consultant get a healthy number of likes and good dialogue going on his or her Facebook status updates?
  • Professionalism. Note the tone and the way the consultant interacts and talks with fans and followers. Is it professional?
  • Personality. Professional doesn’t need to mean “boring.” The key to social media is being social, and that involves having a healthy dose of personality.
  • Creativity. Maybe the consultant is running an interesting contest on Facebook or has created an interesting daily photo series on Instagram. You want evidence that the consultant not only knows the nuts and bolts, but also has the ability to think outside of the proverbial box.

3. Can you provide a couple examples of client accounts that you’ve turned around… and details regarding how you went about doing it? Anyone you interview should be incredibly forthcoming and be willing to share client success stories. No, you’re not asking the consultant to reveal the complete roadmap, just some highlights from the trip.

What to look for in an answer: You want to get a sense of the consultant’s approach and social media philosophy when it comes to assessing challenges and identifying solutions. While every consultant’s style will be different, there are certain elements that all styles should include:

  • Does the consultant emphasize “white hat” approaches, which means playing by the rules, no spam, and no attempts to game any system?
  • Does the consultant talk about one of the first steps to any account is getting to know the client’s business and goals/objectives?
  • Does the consultant provide concrete examples in a way that’s easy to understand and verify?
  • Does the consultant go beyond the basics—such as profiles, tweets, and status updates—and talk about things like traffic, click-through-rate, conversions, and other analytic data? Does the consultant talk about how he or she measures ROI?

4. Can you provide three references I can contact about your work? Yes, the consultant is only going to give you people who will sing the consultant’s praises, but you still need to ask.

What to look for in an answer: No. Hesitation. At. All. Any serious, ethical social media consultant will happily provide references. Don’t stop there, however. CALL THE REFERENCES. Questions to ask them:

  • How’d you like working with the consultant?
  • What concrete results can you directly link to the consultant’s work?
  • Would you use this consultant again? Why or why not?
  • If you could change one thing about the consultant or the work he/she did, what would it be?

5. What social media trends are worth considering right now? Where do you see social media in the next year or two? Social media consultants—the best ones, anyway—tend to have their fingers on the industry’s pulse and are constantly reading and educating themselves about their craft.

What to look for in an answer: You want the person you ultimately work with to be passionate about what he or she does. The person should most definitely have an opinion on the state of social media along with predictions.

6. Have you worked within my industry before? If not, how would handle the learning curve? It’s great if you can find a social media consultant with experience in your industry. But if you click with a consultant who doesn’t have experience within your industry, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a deal breaker.

What to look for in an answer: If the person has worked with clients within your industry, then he or she should be able to talk the lingo, point to industry influencers (and show connections to these folks), and probably offer some off-the-top-of-the-head ideas on where to take your social media.

If the person hasn’t worked within your industry, you want to listen for an eagerness to learn, and to learn quickly. The best consultant will likely have done his or her homework and will anticipate this question all along and have a plan for overcoming this potential obstacle. If, on the other hand, the consultant who has limited industry experience makes it sound like this isn’t a big deal because “all social media is the same,” then run the other way.

7. Who are some of your go-to resources for knowledge and inspiration? As we mentioned in #5, social media consultants should be passionate about what they do. Because the landscape is constantly changing, they should be keeping up on the latest issues, trends, algorithm changes, and so forth.

What to look for in an answer: The person should not hem and haw. He or she should be able to rattle off the names of blogs, thought leaders, and publications that he or she follows.

8. How do you work with clients? What’s your process? Remember, a consultant’s qualifications are just one piece of the puzzle. You want to make sure the person’s process will be something you’re comfortable with.

What to look for in an answer: The person should be able to easily outline his or her process, starting with the terms of the contract, the kick-off, the discovery phase, the work phase, and the measurement phase. This is another sign that you’re working with a legitimate outfit as opposed to one that’s operating out of mom’s basement on nights and weekends.

Bonus: Listen to your gut. If someone looks great on paper and says all the right things in person, yet you just don’t feel comfortable with him or her, then listen to your gut. You want to work with someone who is knowledgeable, professional, and who has a proven track record, but you also want to work with someone you’re excited to work with and who feels like the right fit for your organization.

Do you outsource your company’s social media work? Can you think of any other questions that are important to ask social media consultants? Share in the comments.

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