Top ten ways not to choose a social media consultant

I’ve just come from a breakfast meeting with Thomas Gensemer, the managing partner of Blue State Digital (BSD) and Joe Rospars, partner in BSD and Barack Obama’s former new media director. My post was inspired by a comment from Gensemer who said: ‘the notion of anyone being an expert in this stuff is bull shit." This echoes something that I’m constantly saying when I’m speaking at conferences ‘the easiest way to find out who not to work with is someone who describes themselves as an expert.’ I like Thomas’s version better!

Inspired by this I’ve come up with my top 10 ways how not to choose a social media consultant (actually it’s 11 as I couldn’t edit it down to ten!):

  1. They describe themselves as an expert. This space is so new and changing so rapidly it’s impossible to be an expert, at Wolfstar we only claim to be ahead of the curve.
  2. They think advertising, marketing and public relations are ‘dead’ and that online is where it’s all happening. Traditional communications isn’t going anywhere, but equally you can’t afford to ignore online and new media.
  3. The first thing they talk about isn’t how to integrate social media into overall corporate communications strategy or public relations plan. Just like traditional public relations or marketing communications you’ve got to focus on the business objectives and what communications can do to achieve them.
  4. The first thing they advise is you should start a blog or Facebook group. Focus on the business and what you want to achieve and then think about the tools and the technology.
  5. They’ve only been blogging for a year and don’t have many comments or inbound links from other blogs, or much of a personal or corporate presence within other social media and networks. How can they do it for you if they can’t do it for themselves?
  6. They equate measurement with evaluation and ROI. Online campaigns and social media are incredibly easy to measure with lots of numbers available, but that’s not the same as evaluating ROI which can be as hard online as it is in ‘real world’ public relations.
  7. They tell you how they can help to control your messages in social media and social networks. You can’t control the message online and it’s a myth that you ever controlled it off-line, but you can listen, respond and influence.
  8. They don’t have a track record of success in both online and traditional public relations for clients and themselves. Lots of PR, advertising and digital agencies are claiming social media as a service, but that doesn’t mean they can do.
  9. They talk about talking to or at people rather than with people. It’s a conversation you can’t jump in and interject your message, you’ve got to participate and think about what you can bring rather than what you can get.
  10. They promise you quick results and instant success. Online, social media and social networks are all representative of how society and the economy is changing, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.
  11. They think social media is new. It isn’t, it’s simply about relationships, which is why it’s called public relations and not advertising or digital marketing.

That’s my 10 11, please feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://www.pr-media-blog.co.uk Rob Brown

    Stuart this is great stuff, but I beg to differ with a couple of your assertions. There are many experts http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expert in the field. You are one, David Meerman Scott, Todd Defren and Chris Brogan are too and there are many others. There are also people that describe themselves as experts who are not. 'Twas ever thus.

    Secondly the fact that someone has been blogging for a year or maybe even doesn't blog at all does not mean they can't operate within the social web and have valuable experience to share. It has always been possible for PR people to advise and promote clients and not have to self promote to prove they can do it.

    Apart from those two small points I think you are spot on.

  • http://www.paulseaman.eu Paul Seaman

    Dear Stuart,

    Your ten points are sharp, very sharp. Experts in this field are experts are until somebody thinks up something new and shows us all how to make it work. PR is a creative art.

    Point number 11 is spot on (but, then, so are most of the others)

    I was not sure before what to make of your blog. Now I am a fan. You bring depth and insight to the table.

  • http://prstudies.typepad.com Richard Bailey

    Excellent. Number 11 is vital: it pretty well summarises all the preceding 10 points.

  • http://www.paulseaman.eu Paul Seaman

    I do hope you’ll allow me a second comment on your excellent post.

    Modern (Web 2.0, online, digital) communication techniques do not substitute traditional ones; they complement them.

    For instance, at my home, the TV, radio, email, SMS, IM, blogging, social networking, POTS and Skype are virtually going on at the same time. Each serves a different purpose.

    Moreover, those who argue that online strategies must be nice, non-judgmental, and inclusive have got it wrong.

    All meaningful relationships, like all brands of value, are exclusive. They have boundaries and values, which define and demarcate them and give them meaning. Identification with a brand – or a declaration of the status of a relationship – can be nothing but a judgmental action.

    Nevertheless, niceness as a behavioural-trait can be maintained even in the midst of battle. That’s why British and German soldiers once played football together and sang Christmas Carols to each other during a lull in fighting one glorious and much-remembered Xmas during the First World War. But niceness should never be confused with affiliations, values, attachments or actions as such. What we seek to tap in to runs much deeper than that.

  • http://www.prbristol.co.uk Matt Anderson

    I have always found that when I am looking for experts to work for me in certain areas of web 2.0, I put out a Twitter request.

    The best will find you the others are simply in the dark…

  • http://www.sixtysecondview.com david brain

    Halleluah to number 7 . . . .

  • http://www.spotlightideas.co.uk Eamon

    Like the list.

    Would, also, like to add that they should reference certain ideas to case studies. Not to mimmick others, but that they have studied the work of others (and are, of course, creative in coming up their own ideas).

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0105368ee718970b Eamon

    Goog list.
    Would, also, like to add those who don't reference general ideas to case studies. They shouldn't mimmick others, but they should be able to demonstrate a broad knowledge of what others are doing.

  • http://wannabeadman.blogspot.com Will

    Completely and utterly agree – so much so that I think I wrote a similar post (only more semantics focused):

    http://wannabeadman.blogspot.com/2008/12/semantics-recession-and-merging.html

    Nice blog, btw.

  • http://toughsledding.wordpress.com/ Bill Sledzik

    I'm with you (and Richard) on No. 11. If you think this social media thing is "new," then you are either 1) under 30 or 2) completely unaware of what public relations is all about.

    My thoughts on it here: http://toughsledding.wordpress.com/2008/09/25/symmetrical-pr-meets-the-cluetrain-manifesto/

    Thanks to Judy Gombita for pointing me to your post.

  • http://www.spaceofwaste.co.uk Lucy Toman

    I laughed out loud at number 4. It's serious point – when I go looking for help on social networking all I find is people talking about tools. Yeah, got a blog, got Twitter, got Facebook – so far so really obvious. Let's move the Web 2.0 discussion on from tools to talking.