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What companies need to ask when hiring a social-media consultant

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Social Media

Letting an outsider influence your brand’s social-media presence can be a scary thing. You’re giving a consultant or an agency an enormous amount of power over your brand — and probably paying them a pretty penny. You know you need help to make your social-media efforts bear fruit. But how can you be sure you’re bringing in the right person?

At the 2010 BlogWorld Expo, panelists shared their takes on the social-media hiring process. As the panelists — each of whom is no stranger to the process — talked, they returned again and again to three fundamental questions that companies need to have answers to before confidently bringing a consultant or an agency on board.

What do we really need to accomplish? Jim Tobin said that company need to start the hiring process by asking themselves a tough question: “What do I mean when I say, ‘social media,’ and what do I want out of it?” Too often, companies come into the process with unrealistic expectations, such as demanding a viral video, he notes. Make sure you search for a consultant is driven by realistic, clearly defined goals. But don’t be put off if a prospective hire challenges those goals, said C.C. Chapman. A good consultant will ask a lot of difficult questions right away and be upfront with you when you’re wrong.

What has this person accomplished? Don’t become so overwhelmed by the novelty of social media that you forget to do the basic due diligence that comes with any hiring process, said Chapman. When you interview prospective hires, don’t be dazzled by the names of the companies they’ve worked for — make them explain exactly what they did on each of those campaigns, he recommends. Don’t be shy about calling reference and confirming places of employment, he adds. Being thorough doesn’t just keep the charlatans at bay — it also helps you understand who this person is and whether they’ll be a good fit for the brand.

What can this person do for me? A consultant’s good ideas are their livelihood. You can (and should) ask for a sample of what they’re offering, but you’re not establishing a healthy long-term relationship if you’re asking them to give everything away up front. Resist the urge to load your request for proposal with every possible question, said David Armano. Ask the questions that will really matter to you brand and will define what you’re trying to accomplish. Armano added that companies should avoid asking for a five-year social-media strategy. A two-year plan is much more reasonable, he said, as long as the company understands that the framework will become more conceptual the farther into the future it projects.

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