Larry BraunerI hesitate to write an article about choosing a social media consultant because of concerns about bias and my obvious conflict of interests.

After writing Social Media Carpetbaggers and Snake Oil Salesmen, readers remarked that they had heard enough about the kinds of social media consultants to avoid and were ready to learn how to choose a good social media consultant.

Notebook ComputerThe ten guidelines I present below are best practices for choosing and hiring social media consultants but can be adapted for choosing an SEO consultant, an Internet marketing consultant, or another type of business consultant.

Oh by the way, when I say “he”, I mean “he, she or they.” Biased I may be, but that biased, I’m not. ;-)

#1 - Walking the Walk - Many businesses know little about social media. For such a business, choosing and hiring a social media consultant is on a par with choosing a brain surgeon or hiring a rocket scientist. If there’s no one in your business who knows about social media, enlist the help of an expert. Most high school or college kids can qualify. :-P

Here are ten ways to tell whether your candidate is walking the walk:

  1. Established Blog - He has a blog and has been posting consistently to it for at least a year, and all the recent blog posts have comments.
  2. Articulate - He writes and speaks well and will be able to help you develop and evaluate content.
  3. Blog Subscribers - The subscriber count widget on his blog shows the number of subscribed readers. The more, the merrier.
  4. Web Presence - Google him and his blog. Each search should return at least a few pages of relevant results.
  5. Linking Out - His blog ought to link out to other blogs and websites.
  6. Facebook - With everybody and his brother joining Facebook these days, I expect that you will find him on Facebook too. He’ll have many friends on his Facebook profile and fans on his page, if he has set one up.
  7. Twitter - While Twitter may not be a good fit for your business, each and every social media consultant has a profile on Twitter. More important than the number of people following him are the number of lists following him and how, judging by their names, the curators of those Twitter lists seem to characterize him.
  8. LinkedIn - Everybody in business is joining LinkedIn. There’s a good chance that he’ll be on LinkedIn and have more than 500 connections there.
  9. People Person - He needs to understand people. On his blog, Facebook and Twitter he interacts with people who respect him.
  10. Social Bookmarking - It’s probably too much for you to check whether he uses social bookmarking sites, but ask. If he’s puzzled, that’s a bad sign. Some popular social bookmarking and content sharing sites are Digg, Delicious, Propeller, Flickr, YouTube, Reddit, diigo, Jumptags, Business Exchange and Google.

#2 - Past Accomplishments - Past successes help predict future ones, even in an unrelated field. Ask for and check references. Past employers and clients aren’t likely to report any misgivings, but perhaps you can still learn something valuable. A lukewarm reference may signal dissatisfaction.

#3 - Questions Asked - Does he ask great questions about your business and what you want to accomplish, or is he selling to you like a used car salesman? Don’t choose a consultant who fails to ask meaningful questions.

#4 - Appreciating Your Business - The person who is meant to be your social media consultant will “get” what your business is all about and appreciate or even share some of your passion for it.

#5 - Chemistry - You and he will hopefully work together for a long time. Rapport, communication and comfort are essential for a good long-term fit.

#6 - Sharp Thinking - Your social media program will consist of planning, execution and analytics. Therefore, your ideal social media consultant should be strong strategically,  tactically and quantitatively.

#7 - Breadth and Depth - In order to see the big picture and master the details, not only is sharp thinking a must, your social media consultant should know a whole lot about a whole lot of things. Sharp thinking and extensive knowledge combine to promote creativity and excellence.

#8  - Money Issues - You have budgetary considerations, but never choose a social media consultant just because he’s cheap. Don’t let money impair your judgment. Find the right person to help you build your web presence and negotiate the terms with him.

# 9 - Distance Matters - All other things being equal, it’s helpful if your social media consultant is local to you or within reasonable flying time and cost. However, don’t let distance stop you from choosing the best social media consultant for your business.

#10 - Small Assignments - Don’t make a long term commitment on Day 1. Hire your consultant for preliminary planning and competitive analysis. If he performs well, let him work to develop a more comprehensive plan, etc.

We’ve reached the point in the post where you usually comment. Make me look good. ;-)

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29 Responses to “10 Tips for Choosing a Social Media Consultant”

  1. Alan on December 17th, 2009 8:17 am


    Great post. My thoughts:

    With regard to #2, this is an ideal. The field, as you know, is fairly new. I’m not suggesting that people select someone with no street cred, but the selection team needs to be cognizant that the list of accomplishments may not be as long as, say, someone who installs e-mail systems, or some other time-test business application/process/thing. Results should be there, yes, but setting an arbitrary minimum number is a fool’s errand.

    Another sign of a good consultant/adviser would be for them to review what you are asking, and see if they can convince you that they are not needed. As in, if they can partially make a case that their services are not needed, then it shows you that they are not out to make a buck (but rather make a change), and that they can see through the glitter. If they can convince you that social media isn’t the panacea, isn’t needed in ever aspect of your company, and isn’t the best thing since sliced bread - but - can convince you that it might make sense to be applied in the right places, you know you’ve got someone who can see the big picture (points 4, 6, and 7).

  2. Cheryl H on December 17th, 2009 9:59 am

    Great post as usual Larry! I agree with your point regarding the Twitter Lists. As you recall I’m quite new to Twitter but the one thing I have noticed is that the people I find through industry specific lists tend to have more relevant content and I pay more attention to them. Another point I might add is regarding timelines, are they realistic. If a consultant is claiming that he can help me get to the top of my particular heap in a month I tend to be wary. Thanks for the great information.

  3. Seth Goldstein on December 17th, 2009 10:09 am


    Great post. You point out some great points for people to find social media gurus. What bothers me is that so many don’t care about quality it’s all about price.

  4. Sharon Mostyn on December 17th, 2009 10:35 am

    Great post, Larry! In addition to the great tips on selecting a good social media consultant, what I also liked was your request for comments - “We’ve reached the point in the post where you usually comment. Make me look good.” - love it.

  5. Karin Boode on December 17th, 2009 10:42 am


    I like your list. I would like to add one more thing. I believe that a consultant should add value to a business before he even officially starts as a consultant. He should be able to give out some tips that will help you right away and give you an indication of his knowledge and understanding of your needs.

    If there is nothing more than a sales pitch there probably is not a whole lot he can do for you, or he is going to charge you for every single piece of info he provides. Neither are healthy scenarios.

  6. medXcentral (Jim) on December 17th, 2009 11:01 am

    Thank you, Larry. I appreciate you taking this direction and I hope a deep conversation on this post will help dilute bias and clarify or expand the identification process.

    I appreciate your disclosure in your opening as well as your honesty about bias.

    In this reply, I may appear negative, or at least in opposition to some/many of your points. I’m doing this to help make certain we examine and brainstorm from multiple angles. I’ll itemize to make my reply as easy to follow as possible.

    I hope others help this conversation by working with both views and then adding there own. Maybe we can come up with solid “standard.”

    I’ll try/need to be brief .. lot’s of to-do’s pending today. Ok.. here we go.. numbers correlate with numbers in your post:

    1.) Walk the walk? Agreed. | But, High-School and College kids are not likely to possess the “Breadth and Depth” you mentioned. There are exceptions depending on the business type. No offense to the younger crowd. Unfortunately for you younger folks, there’s only one way to gain experience.

    1.1) An “Established Blog” is a demonstration of one kind of past experience in generating “web presence.” However, building and maintaining an established blog require copious amounts of time. That seems to potentially conflict with the needs of the client.

    1.2) Articulate? Agreed to a point. Let’s not forget the “write as you would speak” philosophy here though. Then, apply appropriately as per specific business market.

    1.3) Blog Subscribers: (careful not to give this too much value.) A person can have a powerful influence and web-presence without a blog. See 1.1 above.

    1.4) Web Presence: YES-YES .. This one is key (IMO.) This can help reveal whether the person is making an isolated impact or if they have a more wide-spread influence. Additionally, it gives a look at how they “behave” when they are not on “their own blog.”

    1.5) Link out: Agreed. Absolutely. However, exchange the word “blog” with “web presence” or “online activity” for clarity. One demonstrates this same generosity when one links out from Twitter, etc. to content other than their own.

    1.6) Facebook: Agreed to a point. Yes, they must be on Facebook and I’d also like to see them have a Fan Page as this is the primary mechanism Facebook provides for businesses. They should know how to operate one. However, numbers of connections? Again, I’d refer to the amount of time required to accomplish this. Now, add that to my point in item 1.1 above. See the problem developing?

    1.7) Twitter: Agree with no reservation. Simply add my point from 1.5 above.

    1.8) LinkedIn: Agreed. Only challenge might be with the number of connections. Probably should have some minimum… but big numbers on LinkedIn does not prove anything (IMO) LinkedIn is a different beast. I’d look at how they have their profile set up and how it corresponds with their overall web presence.

    1.9) People-Person: Agreed without reservation.

    1.10) Social Bookmarking: Agreed.. but not sure about the various services you mentioned. Sharing links via Twitter and one’s Facebook Fan page is a form of Social Bookmarking, is it not? (I may be way off on this one.)

    2.) Past accomplishments: Agreed..of course. However, a “lukewarm” reference may be coming from a lukewarm referrer. :) It happens. Try to view the body of work performed for the referring client in relation to their referral to add clarity and context to the reference being given.

    3.) Questions asked: Agree heavily. The type of questions a person is asking about your business and your market will be a real clue into the consultant’s “breadth and depth.” This is why I challenged point #1. **But, hey.. lay off the car salesmen. *wink* .. I sold cars for many years back in the day.. used cars too.** Ouch.

    4.) Appreciate your business: Agreed. Speaks to #3 above. And, in the end, your front facing strategy needs to convey YOUR message. If they don’t “get” you or your biz, the consultant can’t convey the message and will have a hard time building a strategy aligned well with your individual passion. However, their appreciation for your business MUST be authentic…not that of a used car salesman. *grin*

    5.) Chemistry: Agreed without reservation.

    6.) Sharp Thinking: Agreed. Speaks to #3 and #4 above.

    7.) Breadth and Depth: Agreed..with enthusiasm. This is not an easy one either. It’s a judgment call. But, #3 will give you the biggest clue to a consultant’s Breadth and Depth.

    8.) Money Issues: Agreed without reservation.

    9.) Distance Matters: Agreed without reservation.

    10.) Small Assignments: I agree.. but this is tricky. It really depends on the current position of the clients overall current web presence. For best results; Getting things aligned, organized and SEO’ized needs to happen before “community management” activities begin.


    Man! I need a nap now. *chuckle* .. But this reply reinforces one my points; If I’m a consultant, and I’m contributing to this extent here, on your blog (one of many blogs in the ocean…all-be-it a very good one), how am I, the consultant, supposed to do everything else? This took me over an hour to write. Shouldn’t any web presence consultant reap some credibility capital for this activity even though it’s not on their own blog.

    I hope this stimulates many others to dig deep on this topic. It’s critical to the web presence industry as a whole.

  7. Neal Schaffer on December 17th, 2009 11:08 am

    Hey Larry,

    Excellent article! I also tell people the same as you do in your Point #1. If social media is all about sharing, and your “social media consultant” preaches this, what does it tell you if they don’t have a blog? I have found many “social media consultants” who really have very little or vague social media presence. Let’s hope that our potential customers wake up, stop wasting their money and time, and start contacting the REAL experts ;-)

    - Neal

  8. Jacobus G. Nel on December 17th, 2009 11:13 am

    Hey Larry

    Great stuff, thanx for the resources.

  9. Patrick Garmoe on December 17th, 2009 1:25 pm

    Great article. My only thought is that you didn’t mention ROI. I feel like social media consultants need to PROVE in some way how at the end of the day the company is either going to make money by using social media, or set up some other agreed upon metric for measuring results. Seems like if a consultant can’t prove that spending money on him or her will pay off, they have no business being in the consulting business. You can have a great blog full of tips and comments, and have a very active web presence, but that doesn’t mean anything, if you can’t provide value for your client.

  10. Larry Brauner on December 17th, 2009 3:29 pm

    @Alan I agree with you that the field is fairly new. Notice, I did not say past social media successes. I do, however, want to see that they have been successful at something and can provide references who will rave about them.

    Your second paragraph makes perfect sense to me but only satisfies me on #3, which might have been better labeled as “Interview Process.”

    @Cheryl You make a good point about time lines. In general, your consultant needs to be believable.

    BTW, I missed you earlier his week. ;-)

    @Seth I don’t think that they don’t care at all about quality. I think that at least in part, they don’t have the cash flow that they need to run their business properly. :-(

    @Sharon Thank you. We live in stressful times, but I haven’t lost my sense of humor. :-)

    @Karin Good comment. Let’s inject it into #3 with Alan’s remarks.

    @Jim I will address the points you have been so generous to make in a separate lengthy comment of my own that will appear below.

    @Neal ;-)

    @Jacobus :-)

    @Patrick Thank you for your comment.

    I partially address the ROI issue in my recent article, The Social Media ROI Obsession.

    Notice, however, that I did include analytics in #6. To the extent that ROI and other metrics will be appropriate, we want a social media consultant who can provide them.

    My experience in marketing is that I cannot prove in advance that a campaign will provide adequate return. I make reasonable assumptions based on past campaigns or my gut and monitor my results as I go.

  11. Gabriele on December 17th, 2009 3:34 pm

    Hi Larry,

    This isn’t just a great post of yours. It is content which leads to interesting comments.

    Indeed, they are so good and varied, that I wouldn’t know what to add myself. There is no better blog than one with first class relevant comments which complement a blog.

  12. Larry Brauner on December 17th, 2009 3:39 pm

    Thank you Gabriele. Evaluating and choosing social media consultants is a hot topic at the present time.

    From my article and readers’ comments, I hope to be able to construct a best practices guide for selecting a social media consultant.

  13. Larry Brauner on December 17th, 2009 11:52 pm

    @Jim Because I appreciate the time you spent to read and comment on my article, I have considered each of your points in turn and commented on those which I thought required a reply.

    Re: 1.) All the kids are doing is helping with the examination of the candidates’ blogs and the social networking sites I referenced for compliance with walk-the-walk.

    Re: 1.1) Every consultant allocates time to marketing and prospecting. A consultant’s social media presence and active participation contributes substantially to his marketing program. In addition, I know that many of the things I now do can and will be delegated to an employee or virtual assistant when I’m ready to free up time to handle new business.

    Re: 1.2) Agreed. I’m not saying that every social media consultant needs to be a top notch speaker or writer, but why hire somebody from the low end of the scale?

    Re: 1.3) Perhaps so. However, I suspect that the lion’s share of social media consultants do have blogs or participate in group blogs, and that those blogs have subscribers. In cases in which this isn’t true, the consultant will undoubtedly have some other hub to showcase. It might be a social network, or perhaps Squidoo or an article site.

    Re: 1.4) I agree that a web presence is key. As I see it, it’s an essential aspect of web marketing and public relations.

    Re: 1.5) I’m looking to keep the review process as simple as possible for potential clients who lack social media savvy.

    Re: 1.6) I don’t believe that I specified a minimum number of connections or fans. But if you’ve been on Facebook for a year and don’t have a few hundred friends, I’d be a little concerned. I agree about fan pages. However, you might be better off to have no fan page than one with 50 or 100 fans.

    As far as time problems developing, it’s a question of priorities. If you want to be a social media consultant and Facebook is a place that most clients need to be, then it deserves attention.

    Be careful Jim about thinking in terms of problems, even about using the word problem. What if you really attract that which you think about?

    Re: 1.8) Your visibility in searches and accessibility to free members depends up the connections you make and upon the groups you choose to join. I use 500 as a minimum, because it’s easy to verify.

    I have more than 3,000 LinkedIn connections. Every day I get connection requests, and all I have to do is accept them.

    Now that LinkedIn and Twitter are integrated, my large number of connections provide an additional way for me to leverage my Twitter tweets.

    Re: 1:10) Read my articles about list building, and you will understand the enormous value to me of Twitter and Facebook traffic.

    Of my 14K monthly blog visits, approximately 2,500 in total come from Facebook and Twitter, as do a large proportion of my new subscribers and Facebook fans.

    Re: 2.) Fine.

    Re: 10.) As part of breadth and depth, I would want a social media consultant with some knowledge of search engine optimization and an some understanding of website design issues.

  14. C A P on December 18th, 2009 11:06 am

    What if “he” is a “she”? Is she unqualified cause she is not a he? Here’s a tip for your next entry, don’t assume all consultants are male. And even if you do, don’t write it that way!!

  15. Debbie Morgan on December 18th, 2009 11:42 am

    Hi Larry,

    Great list. I will definitely bookmark this one for future use. Thanks!


  16. Larry Brauner on December 18th, 2009 11:55 am

    @C A P My article reads:

    Oh by the way, when I say “he”, I mean “he, she or they.” Biased I may be, but that biased, I’m not. ;-)

    Thanks for visiting.

    @Deb Have a great weekend.

  17. Karen Clark on December 18th, 2009 2:56 pm

    Wow! Great guidelines and comments.

    One thing I would add is that the potential clients should ask about the prior businesses the consultant has had or represented. Simply Googling their name or their current consulting business may not give them the full picture.

    My hope is that the consultant they choose will have experience promoting SOMETHING other than their use-social-media-to-promote-a-business business!

    So many people are getting excited about social media and starting a consulting business without ever having applied it to another company or product. When you say walk the walk, I think that applies to more than just their current consulting business.

    Great food for though! And I appreciate your going out on a limb! :)


  18. Larry Brauner on December 18th, 2009 3:27 pm

    Ideally it should be like you say Karen. However, as Shama Kabani has said, there are many very talented people starting out in a relatively new field who deserve an opportunity to show what they can do. As I stated in my article, “Past successes help predict future ones, even in an unrelated field.”

  19. Steve on December 18th, 2009 6:17 pm

    Larry, thanks for the great information. This sounds just like you! :)

  20. Larry Brauner on December 19th, 2009 7:49 pm

    Thanks Steve. ;-)

    Have a great week to come.

  21. SLM on December 19th, 2009 10:14 pm

    It will definitely help people in choosing their consultants for social media or SEO.

  22. Man Over Board on December 20th, 2009 12:22 am

    Larry, Tis the season to be TIRED. I am sorry to have been away for awhile, but the holiday season tends to take all your free time and blogging time away from you. With that being said, I wish you a very happy holidays and hope you get to enjoy many warm smiles with your whole family, kindest regards Glenn and all your friends at MOB :-)

  23. Latief@AnotherBlogger on December 21st, 2009 12:51 am

    Always love to read your articles bro; always have something new to improve my blog :)

    You did a great job Larry, thanks and keep sharing with us.

  24. Larry Brauner on December 21st, 2009 1:39 am

    Thank you Glenn and Latief. I appreciate your friendship.

  25. gilbert on January 2nd, 2010 2:48 am

    Good post with valuable information for all. I will recommend that my friends to read this.

  26. food consultant on January 30th, 2010 10:37 pm

    Like you said, first we try then we trust; but I also say results results results! I never got to a diploma and I’m not accredited on what I do [food & restaurant consultancy]. We tend to forget that reliability, standards, “professionalism” and coordination are not the only desirable characteristics of “rules”. Those guidelines also have to adapt to changed circumstances and market demands nowadays. Now, such flexibility is only possible in a context of individual liberty. At Consulfood all projects are unique and for that, every time, we put together a different team of exemplary freelancers. It gives us fresh minds and the edge over the stagnant waters of the bigger blue chip companies. To give you an example, Google one of the biggest companies on Earth, with the resources at his disposal should be 100 times more creative. Don’t we agree on that? We should change dramatically the way guidelines are presented; mostly used in one’s own interest, because of our ignorance of particular circumstances, guidelines as for their nature delimiting our horizons. You can advance by answering questions, but discoveries are made by questioning oneself. Let’s be honest here, all of that exists because of corrupted individuals. At the end integrity, experience and capability is what really matter and I personally wouldn’t stand behind [or in front] a seal of approval, I choose to stand out. Great tips anyway, you just gave me an idea ;)

  27. Leslie Linevsky on February 2nd, 2010 3:00 pm

    This is a great article. We hired a public relations firm on the basis of their social media expertise — or expert — who left as soon as we signed the contract. After a year and not much guidance in social media, we brought someone in-house. Our interview questions strongly echoed the points you outline. We put a strong emphasis on #4, as understanding our business is key. Always at the forefront of social media activity is the question, “Why are we doing this?”

  28. Find Your Solution on March 23rd, 2010 1:39 am

    Hey, great post, very well written. You should post more about this. it helps people to understand social media.

  29. Charlotte SEO on August 8th, 2012 8:14 pm

    Larry - Wonderful article. Great piece today, yesterday or tomorrow. Appreciate your insight!

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