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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