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Social media consultants: A call to action

Guest post by Jennifer Leggio, Read her blog | Follow her on Twitter

Source: Shutterstock

If you’re dubbed a social media expert these days it’s almost like getting marked for professional death. It’s become even more popular to deny social media expertise as it has to claim faux expertise. Which means that the snake oiliest of the social media expert types have tried to give themselves a bit more oomph: they use the term consultant.

Social media expertise in general has become a joke, sadly, as there really are people out there who understand social media and how it relates to business. Unfortunately they get buried by the noise of the fakers. So I’m here to pick on those fakers, those consultants who make it harder on the good guys. Not all consultants are bad. Some of them actually do good work – Maggie Fox and Olivier Blanchard are two folks who do good stuff. But there are thousands of others who are simply… online.

The best quote I’ve heard came from the host of this blog, Brian Solis, at a Girls In Tech event I participated in this summer. He told Kara Swisher that the way some consultants talk, “you’d think they invented the conversation.” It’s true. Many consultants these days are making a fortune telling companies that they need to (gasp) talk to their customers. And because these consultants have a strong social media presence of their own these poor schmucks (aka companies) are listening.

You know the types. They call themselves innovators because they created a Twitter hashtag or have thousands of followers. They throw around buzzwords like “authenticity” and “transparency” and “presence.” They think that all social behavior occurs on popular social networks. They’ve never lead a business.

What separates the good from the bad? A few simple things:

  • Proof of experience and demonstrated results. This comes in the form of a case study that shows how social media tied into the larger business strategy. It is not a discussion around tools. It’s not just a marketing discussion, either.
  • Business leadership, not necessarily thought leadership. The latter is wonderful but it is abstract and not always completely applicable. How does it apply to your business?
  • Dig deep into a consultant’s background and social media presence. Is he or she simply good at promoting him- or herself?

It’s overwhelming, isn’t it? You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to find a consultant with those three things, but it is. And those are the only ones to which companies should give their money.

So I’d like to issue a challenge to you, good consultants. I would like each one of you who claim to be savvy and really helping businesses with their social programs, to tell us here in the comments why you’re a viable option for businesses. Either link a case study or talk about your proven results or your business acumen. If you read this and think, “I have nothing to prove,” well, you’re wrong. You need to prove everything in order to be a bona fide, non snake-oily consultant. What’s stopping you?

Jennifer Leggio aka Mediaphyter claims only to be an expert at causing a ruckus at hockey games. She writes ZDNet’s social business blog and is an active member of the network security community. She can be found on both Twitter and Facebook.

103 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Social media consultants: A call to action”

  1. 40deuce says:

    This is a fantastic post.
    I look at a lot of the people who are claiming to be social media experts or “gurus” and sometimes laugh. While there are some people who I think are in the forefront of understanding how to link social media with business, most people aren't. I think that the medium is too new to have so many people as experts. People on both the business and consumer ends are still figuring out how to use social media, there are no for-sures yet, yet everyone claims to have the for sure answer.
    I do not claim to be one of these people. I would consider myself to be a social media enthusiast and hope to one day be an expert. I'm currently getting my masters in professional communication and I'm hoping to combine that with my enthusiasm for social media in a couple of months when I'm done.
    I will however, not claim to be an expert off the bat just to get work, but hopefully one day I will be.

  2. Great article. Tweeting this now. A Call to Action – Social Media

  3. Unless they've spent 10,000 hours doing something? I'm not inclined to call them an expert.

    Social media isn't so much about how you understand how to use the tools as much as it is being able to effectively integrate those tools into pre-existing marketing/public relations problems (and solve them).

  4. hjortursmarason says:

    Your post and the video is spot on. There's so much talk and so few cases.

    The thing about social media is that we're replacing volume with value. So it's the value of the connections and relationships, whether of the social media “expert” or the company that matters, not the number of followers or views generated.

    A lot of my work is confidential so as a proof of value I created “” with two of my friends where we managed to get over 800.000 people from 213 countries world wide to vote the next president of the United States in only a few weeks, without spending a single penny. We only used social media for promotion and PR.

    For me (and my clients) social media has proven to be very effective for PR and customer support. Viral marketing can be very good for awareness and branding. The SU or digg buzz can generate some nice looking traffic stats, but more often than not, it's of very little value.

    Oh, and if a client has a crappy product, there's absolutely nothing I can do for them. The quality has be on that side too 😉 There has to be pull in both the product and the way it is communicated.

    • I found the video through my Twitter friend David Oro on Friday. I kindly asked Brian to include it here… he obliged. I thought it was funny, albeit a little vulgar.

    • Markham says:

      I may have to track all the threads of commentary that have included my video – considering it was whipped up in an idle half hour on Thursday, the response and counter-response to it has been absolutely astonishing.

      And it's vulgar, can't deny it. But so, some would say, is the proliferation of those whom it lampoons, particularly when those rotten apples ruin the whole basket.

  5. sherryheyl says:

    I have spent 4 years focused ONLY on social media. Not PR, not marketing, not SEO but social media and how it impacts ALL areas of business. Here is my capabilities packet

    I have worked with over 30 companies of various sizes and from various industries. I have spoken at over 50 events and have put together 3 un-conferences.

    Most importantly I dive in head first to experiment and learn for myself before making recommendations or providing consultation to my clients.

    Personally I try to avoid the us vs them conversation re: people who have been active in social media consulting for a long time and those who are just starting to talk about it. I remember when I was new to the industry and trying to get business and was shunned by those who have been in it for a couple of years, but at the same time…I agree there is a lot of snake oil being sold.

    • I think you make a good point, Sherry. It's not necessarily “new” versus “old.” I know brand new PR people who are more savvy than those in the biz for 20 years. I think it's a matter of a mix of business understanding, communication savvy, and a willingness to learn. Add that to some business experience and you have capability on your hands.

    • sherryheyl says:

      That is a GREAT way to put it Jennifer. I am personally tired of hearing people talk about “listening” (although I have it as part of our tag line :P). Listening for what? What are you going to do with what you learn? What experience and knowledge do you have to apply social media strategies to REAL business needs? People with thousands of followers may know how to promote themselves, but do you know how to translate those skills to helping your clients sell more, serve more, and attract and retain top talent?

  6. Miguel says:

    Great post. I actually had someone on Twitter follow me that had “Social Media Expert” on their profile background. I blocked them…is that wrong? haha.

    • Haha, no comment. 😉

    • LauraH says:

      What gets me are the social media experts who talk about how your Twitter content, your online interactions will get you followers. Then they go ahead and game for autofollowers by following several thousand people, not answering DMs, and unfollowing those shleps who don't follow them back. (Which is done to keep their ratio look good.)

      So yeah. I don't see a problem with what you did. 😉

  7. mikepascucci says:

    Love the video and have actually heard that exact conversation before and had to laugh. There are so many posers out there that it is very frustrating for the actual “experts”. And I am not talking about those “self proclaimed” experts, I am talking about those that have been recognized by their peers. Looking at an individuals background and experience when companies are trying to find some assistance is so very important. As someone that has been building and managing online communities for the last 11 years, hearing someone that has been doing it for 6 months and thinks that they know everything is extremely frustrating. Thanks for the post.

  8. tomob says:


    I like your call to action – and I am here to share our (not my) creds.

    Company: MotiveQuest LLC

    We have been in business for over 6 years and have completed hundreds of SM research projects for a who's who of F1000 brand and agencies. You can see some of our work on SlideShare here:

    We are a marketing strategy research/consulting firm that uses SM as the raw material for the work. We gather and analyze millions of online conversations to understand core human motivations, drivers and issues in a category, across categories or around a brand. We provide clients not only with understanding, ideas and insight – but also specific actionable recommendations.

    I wish we had more I could share publicly, but the output of our works feeds into business strategy, and is generally kept confidential. We have helped our clients understand some of the following questions – and also provided specific recommendations with how to leverage this understanding. A few examples

    – How to position my brand vs. the category leader? SWOT analysis of us vs. competition.
    – What matters most in digital entertainment, then by category, TV, MP3, etc.? How is my brand doing against what matters most?
    – What is the meaning of value today? How are we doing on what matters vs. the competition?
    – Where are the advocates for my brand? What to they care about? How can I increase advocacy?
    – What is the relationship between advocacy and sales?
    – Is our brand advocacy rising or falling and why? How about or competitors?
    – What is the meaning of service? What should we do to improve on the Business Week service rankings?
    – What new product opportunities are there in the dairy category? How can my brand take advantage of this?
    – How have consumer food purchase behaviors changed since the recession? Hpw can we leverage this understanding?
    – What motivational positioning does our truck own? what about our competitors
    – What do methamphetamine users talk to each other about? How can we use this knowledge in our anti-methamphetamine use campaign?
    – What are the choice drivers for Hospital choice? How can we incorporate into our marketing plans?

    While many of the recommendations for our clients are not SM media specific, we do know that online brand advocacy is a metric that is strongly co-related with sales.

    So there you have it. We (MotiveQuest) are experts in USMRTOB&CS (Using Social Media Research To Optimize Brand & Communication Strategy) but I would not call us Social Media Experts!

    Tom O'Brien
    MotiveQuest LLC

  9. chsu21 says:

    This post is spot on. I've never claimed to be a social media expert or claim to have any expertise, nor do I expect to any time soon. I see myself more as a viewer and enthusiast and hope that social media will become a more respected media.

    To those who claim to be “experts” prove it and show your results. I would love to learn and see what you're doing.

  10. Hilarious and so true! Far from an expert, but I hope to get there someday. I don't think a person can be qualified to represent your business or brand through social media if they lack the ability to connect the dots with other ongoing business objectives. It cannot stand on its own.

  11. {Karla} says:

    fantastic post. lots of so-called social media experts out there. I can call myself whatever I want. Doesn't make it so.

  12. jdheit says:

    Where I get confused/frustrated/disappointed is is this concept that there is some delineation between “traditional PR” and “social media.” As if the difference in how people take in information through various forms of media requires some unique set of principles and guidelines. Development skills, yes. Communication skills, well, that is a different story.

    If you are focused on “social programs” and not looking at the broader business objectives (which you smartly call out) either as an in-house corporate marketer or as an agency person or consultant, well then you've already lost…

    I'm often dismayed by how many companies are still keeping these elements separate. What's worse, they often don't even communicate with each other, causing redundancy and inefficiencies that cost the business real dollars in the long run. This is the counterpoint to your concern above, whereby companies are not realizing actual performance gains through social media. Oftentimes, their ineffectiveness in communicating internally is costing them more than is conscionable. A good example are those using different monitoring systems for PR, Marketing and Sales, when all could be housed under one roof and shared industry-wide.

    I have been involved in social media since before it had a name. From working with the guys at eUniverse as they were set to spin off yet another website, this one set to unseat Friendster by allowing fake profiles (that was MySpace) to a meeting in the server room of an overstuffed San Mateo office space above a pizza place that resulted in a three-year engagement and helping to manage communications leading up to and beyond the ultimate sale of that company to Google (that was YouTube), I do think I have enough experience to speak knowledgeably about the subject. I'm also old enough to know I don't know half of what I think I know.

    We recommend comprehensive programs that include social media implementations (or don't, if the audience isn't right) but what I'm most proud of is one of our smallest current engagements. When PF Chang's wanted to reach the “mommy bloggers” with its new kid meals, we knew that approach, while important, just wouldn't be enough.

    Our team's (like most experienced social media experts I, of course, don't have to do any of the actual work — as my clients who work with me most closely will attest) ability to diversify the message to work not just for the most influential culinary and regional bloggers, mommy or otherwise, led to a direct bump in traffic — actual traffic, not web traffic — to the restaurants. We have worked closely with the client (as someone else mentioned, without a client who is truly engaged and on-board, the entire effort is a waste of time) to maximize our results across a variety of social media platforms, new and old, and have extended to bloggers who happen to be Dad's as well.

    Some of this might seem obvious, and most often the devil is in the details and the execution, so spending $5K on a team to manage and maintain, provided they've provided mutually-agreed upon benchmarks for success and achieved or surpassed these goals, is actually quite a bargain…

    Good general rule of thumb — NEVER, and I mean never, just give money away to an animated British avatar. Especially one with a goatee.

    Thanks for writing the blog post I've wasted months trying to spit out but never have! For more of our work, visit

    Full disclosure — we work with Futureworks (Brian's agency) currently to help launch GOOM Radio, an exciting new online radio company that smartly is turning over every stone in their own social media efforts.

    Keep up the great work!

    Jonathan Heit
    SVP, Digital Media & Technology
    Allison & Partners

  13. bloqhead says:

    I'm SO glad people are discussing this more openly and more up front. I'm tired of being bombarded by followers on Twitter that claim to be a social media “guru”. It's such a scapegoat “profession” for the person that wants to make the most money and gain the largest following with the smallest amount of overhead and hard work. Meanwhile there are teenagers that are probably more talented in “social media” than they are.

    I wrote a post about this in May but it was more in regard to the “gurus” that inhabit Twitter. It's a bit vulgar and more of a rant than anything else:

  14. joeciarallo says:

    Brian Solis, in a PRNewser interview from last week, “I am on a big anti-case study crusade in the new media landscape. I think it is confusing and polluting what they [case studies] do.”

    Jennifer Leggio, in a guest post on PR 2.0 (this blog) today, “Either link a case study or talk about your proven results or your business acumen.”

    Just sayin' : )

  15. Couldn't agree more, Brian. It's a difficult ask but an important one. I've just embraced the same thinking on the new version of my site (as an ad guy) breaking out social media proof point and case studies. Here's what I did in case its useful to anyone:
    I agree that we can't represent ourselves as leaders in this space or serve our clients responsibly unless we challenge ourselves to articulate our credentials so clients can have confidence in our direction. It's in all our interests to do so.

    Thanks for keeping us honest, Simon Mainwaring

  16. Dave Kerpen says:

    Good post. We have 12 case studies posted @

  17. jonathanstreeter says:

    My strategy is to nail down with the client who they expect to be reaching with this media. As great as these networks are, not everyone's ideal customers are involved. But for those who are, my goal is to help my client become an information provider, a trusted source, and someone who “delights” with interesting ideas/facts/links/etc. There also has to be a tie-in to increasing sales, or else there's really no point.

    Just my two cents.

  18. Sam Eder says:

    Can't there just be some sort of tattoo or secret pass word (I thinking like the Mason's here)? 😉

  19. Dave Jones says:

    I have a feeling variations on this post will be written on a regular basis. “Show me your work!” is a whole lot better of a rant than the “how to tell you're dealing with a social media snake oil salesman”. Your thought that the below the radar folks are doing the best work is more than likely true. In Canada, I've tried to unearth these folks by creating a wiki to capture local social media examples. It's there for those to share their work with their peers so we have good Canadian examples.

    Check it out at I even put in a section for consultants to link themselves to their work. It's not exhaustive but it's a start.

  20. LauraH says:

    Thanks for this post. I've had several conversations lately with people about how there many social media folks out there who talk a good game but very few actually provide information on what they have done, case studies which demonstrate a return on investment, provide real numbers to show why social media and other online interactions are important for companies to know. Where people do provide numbers, they often provide examples where the company is not an equivalent match for industry and size. (Sorry. Dell is not relevant for a small candy store in the suburbs of a major city.) Or they will say “Facebook can get you more traffic than Google. I get 10,000 visitors a month from Facebook.” (That's awesome… but how much time do you comparatively spend on both? What type of engagement are you doing on Facebook?)

    I would love to get in to this area (and the area of market research) and my acquaintances were very much of the mind that I need to demonstrate some skill and knowledge related to that. I can talk an awesome game but it doesn't really matter to businesses unless I can show them what this means. Tried to do that at . The problem is that getting attention for some niche market research and related social media is that the audience you write in, that you do research in is often the group most interested in your topic. It doesn't necessarily translate into automatic attention by potential clients and employers. At least, coming from popular culture and fan communities, that is my problem. I can do the research. It is taking it to that next level that is the problem. (Or put more simply, I can do the research or I can do the marketing of myself. Finding the balance is a bitch.)

    • LauraH says:

      Badly replying to myself. What have I done?

      Market Research / Reputation Management

      * Documented the history of fan communities across fandom including different social networks, cliques, relationship pairings, fansites, television shows, music groups.
      * Advised company on using fandom friendly wording for a marketing campaign for a contest they were running.
      * Developed lists of key influencers and influential sites and groups in specific fan communities. Detailed which members of those lists were worth contacting and which ones could lead to potential public relations problems as a result of different philosophies in the fan community in how they deal with commercial interests in their fan specific spaces.
      * Generated data sets for activities taking place in the fan community. This included number of new stories posted to several fan fiction archives, and activity levels LiveJournal communities, LiveJournal clones and mailing lists.
      * Explained what analytic data generated in fandom meant in the context of a company’s business interests.
      * Monitored what the fan community said about a company. Analysed what this meant for the company, their public relations and advised the company on how to respond.
      * Researched privacy issues in fandom and what conflicting ideas regarding privacy mean for people and companies operating in the space.
      * Advised fan fiction archives on strategies to increase their traffic and what sort of content they should be seeking in order to grow their market share in the fan fiction community. Advised on making fandom friendly policy decisions and how to handle the issues of advertising on fansites.


      * Assisted in organizing RecentChangesCamp.
      * Created privacy policies for Fan History Wiki.
      * Created organizational principles for a wiki with over 750,000 articles.
      * Advised other wikis on how to do Search Engine Optimization and use social media to increase the number of contributors.
      * Assisted Police Wiki in choosing the appropriate copyright policy.

      Social Media / Community Outreach

      * Implemented Twitter and strategy to increase Fan History’s visibility. Have over 4,000 followers and 17,500 updates on Twitter. Have over 1,100 updates on
      * Consulted with an entertainment wiki regarding developing a Twitter strategy.
      * Contacted members of the fan community on blogs, LiveJournal, Quizilla, FanFiction.Net, Xanga, orkut, bebo, MySpace, FaceBook, Yahoo!Groups to ask them how we can better help serve the fan community and to solicit their help in improving content on Fan History in order to work on Fan History’s mission of documenting the history of fandom.
      * Reached out to the fan wiki community to inform them about events going on that would be of interest to them and solicit their help with Fan History.
      * Used Yahoo!Answers as part of being a good neighbour, increase our visibility, develop good will towards Fan History.
      * Created a blog which offers advice to the fan community on how to increase traffic to sites, provide news about what may impact their fannish experience, report on fandom news and inform members of Fan History’s community about plans for the site.

      Search Engine Optimisation

      * Implemented link building plan for Fan History Wiki increased traffic from 600 search engine related visits a day to 1,700 to the site in the period between June 2008 and February 2009. Focus was on using social bookmarking sites and entertainment related sites such as AnimeNewsNetwork, IMDB, FanPop, LiveJournal, InsaneJournal, Chickipedia, Wikia, Quizilla, etc.
      * Targeted for specific keywords on Fan History when fandom news broke which resulted in increase in traffic to those pages. Examples of fandom news optimised for included the Open Source Boob Project, Twilight movie release, Barack Obama fan fiction, FaerieCon, and Jorja Fox pregnancy rumors.
      * Implemented plan to improve content to increase traffic. Articles included Sakura Lemon Archive, Galbadia Hotel, Bandom, Quizilla and FanLib.

  21. LauraH says:

    Can you link to them? I'm looking at… which I THINK is a case study… but it seems like three paragraphs of we did some stuff. It was successful. Because it was so successful and kicked major ass, WE EXPANDED! YAY! AWESOMENESS. Do you have links to direct PDFs or word docs or blog posts which go into more depth? Because I'm looking around and I can't find them. 🙁

  22. LauraH says:

    What gets me is that people act like getting a few thousand followers is difficult. It isn't. I think, with a little work, I could probably get in 2,000 followers in 24 hours at this point.

    1. Get a new twitter account besides your main one. (In case you get suspended for this and because you need your primary one.)
    2. On your primary account, wait until a spam follower follows you. Spam followers will have 1,000 + people they are following but only 5 to 150 followers in return.
    3. Follow everyone who follows the spam follower. Those are likely to be people who autofollow or who are following in return in order to boost their follow count.
    4. Unfollow people who haven't followed you back when you reach a point with 300 more people you're following than are following you back.
    5. Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 until you get 2,000 followers. Continue to step 6 when you're bored.
    6. Go to Twitterholic.
    7. Pick major cities, states, countries like Chicago or India and follow anyone with 1,500 plus people who are following where there is more than a 200 follower gap between the people they are following the the people they are following back. (More follows than followers.)
    8. Unfollow people who haven't followed you back when you reach a point with 300 more people you're following than are following you back. Consider using FriendOrFollow to do that.
    9. Repeat steps 6, 7 and 8. Mix it up with steps 3, 5 and 5 when you get bored.
    10. Follow everyone on the list at SocialNewsWatch in order to get an easy 237 new followers.
    11. Find other lists of people who autofollow and follow all the people on those lists.
    12. Join SocialToo.
    13. Set your SocialToo account to autofollow anyone who autofollows you.

    People who make out like this is a hard process, or that the number of Twitter followers has real meaning, are people who you should avoid as they really don't know what is going on.

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