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When It's Time To Hire A Digital Strategist, Beware Social Charlatans

Digital Strategists

Let's put it right out there, shall we? There are LOTS of "social media strategists" online these days - and at least half of them aren't worth their weight in retweets.

Anyone with a working knowledge of Facebook, a bit of blogging experience and some social tech speak can bamboozle an unsuspecting brand or business - unless you know what to look for. And I'm going to lay that out for you very clearly. Ready?

How to tell if someone truly knows their stuff online:

They practice what they preach. Coulda, shoulda, woulda - don't accept excuses. If THEY can't find the time to "do social," they obviously can't show YOU how to find the time. No brainer here and eliminates half of the useless half referenced above straight out of the gate. A huge part of digital strategy is strategic management. If they haven't mastered this, move along - quickly.

If they're peddling blogging, they demonstrate best practices on their own blog. I'll share some best practices, because fakes can't consistently duplicate best practices no matter how hard they try (because it's not as simple as it looks). Blog posts should be short and sweet mostly (approximately 300 words), unless they need to be longer to make fantastic points. The writing should be lively, the voice strong, the angle original - and they should never be boring. Save the ho-hum stuff for your Holiday cards. Or diary.

And blogs need to be consistent: Consistent in tone, tempo, length and publishing schedule - until it makes sense to change it up. REAL strategists can pinpoint those times.

Beyond all of THAT, one needs a solid social strategy for pushing out this content - which brings us to the next two points . . .

If they're peddling social strategy, theirs is solid. The questions below will help you sort THIS one out, no worries.

If they're peddling content marketing, they can take the conversation beyond buzzwords. This one is interesting. "Content marketing" is a phrase tossed around as often as Facebook, with little thought to its meaning. What IS content marketing? It's simple, really: It's leveraging great content online to build communities! Clear as mud, right? Exactly.

Taking content marketing beyond the buzzwords is tough for many. They may stress the importance of being "authentic" and will talk about "organic" growth (versus paid) - and many won't even get THAT far, but when pressed to explain what any of it really MEANS they'll circle back to something like "leveraging great content to build communities." See what I did there?

I'll share some best practices, as again - fakes can't handle the long game.

Content marketing means figuring out what your audience is talking about (that entails being able to FIND your target audience) and creating blogs, Infographics, Vines - all kinds of digital collateral (as appropriate - and where your clients will find/interact with it) that will position YOU as a thought leader. It's making you the go-to for industry insight using smart digital strategy - and it's different for every client. Anyone offering a prepackaged box of baloney is a one-trick pony that needs to be put down. Or just sent prancing on its merry way.

If they have a vague answer for every question, they're full of it. Someone who knows what they're talking about isn't afraid to say they'll get back to you with an answer. Someone who doesn't will attempt to deflect and leave you confused because they know they can't answer the question. (And they sincerely hope you'll just pay them and not ask such things again.)

And finally, although it isn't fair to ask them how they would create a solid digital strategy for you online (that's what you'd be paying them to sort out and anything beyond a generic response would be unreasonable) - it IS fair (and telling) to ask the following.

Questions to ask:

  • Speak to your businesses' social strategy online. What are your strengths? Would you characterize your businesses' social strategy as lacking in any areas? Explain.
  • What does YOUR day look like online? --They should have a LOT to say here.
  • Where can I find you online? Where are you most actively participating? --If they're not active and haven't taken the time to build an online presence, take note.
  • Where can I find your business online? Where is your business most actively participating? --It's easy to check both of these bullets, so make sure you do.
  • What does engagement look like to you? --Say nothing else. Let the uncomfortable silence take hold, like the cold, dark condemnation it is - and you'll hear fakes grasp at the air for purchase.
  • Who manages your firm's social media? --If this isn't the person you're speaking to, ask to reschedule with the appropriate person. If they outsource, you're obviously talking to the wrong company. And if they've assigned an intern to man their social channels - run!
  • Describe the life cycle of a blog post - not in general (that's a coulda/shoulda/woulda), but for YOUR business. ---Meaning, once they post a blog, what happens next? There should be a strategy at play here (and one that's easy to speak to because they've done it so often, it comes naturally). And then be sure to follow up and check that they really do what they say with their own blogs.
  • How long has your business been sleuthing social strategy online?
  • How do you measure online efforts? --And after they talk about social shares and Google Analytics, ask if this is how they measure their OWN efforts and what they look at specifically and why.
  • Describe YOUR growth over the past few months. --Again, if they aren't paying attention to their own proof points, they really don't understand anything about measuring online efforts and won't be able to provide any valuable feedback to support yours.
  • When will I start seeing results and what will it look like? --It takes two months to ramp up and see results
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, rate your team's digital strategy savvy. --If they're pitching others to work on your account, you need to know how socially savvy THOSE folks are as well. And be sure to ask for links to where you can find these folks online too. You shouldn't be paying for someone's learning curve. Be warned: At this point, the social charlatan may possibly pass out from anxiety.

Anything you would add to this list?

*Not every strategist fond of buzzwords is a full of hooey. If they can back up their words with specifics and they can answer the questions above, you're in good hands.

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Join The Conversation

  • Courtney Hunt's picture
    Sep 20 Posted 3 years ago Courtney Hunt

    Both posts have now been updated and moved to our new website/blog. Here are links to each:

    I added a comment to the second post linking back to this piece.


  • Courtney Hunt's picture
    Aug 23 Posted 3 years ago Courtney Hunt

    First of all, *suggestIONs. Spell much? Sheesh.

    Glad you like my ideas too, Mary. Funnily enough, I just had a conversation along these lines this morning with a client for whom I am conducting a digital engagement audit. He wanted to understand the differences between Tumblr and Pinterest, and whether their group should be on Instagram. Although the question originated in confusion, it was quite a brilliant question to ask!

    I told him that all three were good channels for "leveraging great content to build communities." :) Just kidding!

  • MaryCLong's picture
    Aug 23 Posted 3 years ago MaryCLong

    Fantastic! Yes, please do. I love the "tell us about X platform and whether it's right for us" idea. And seeing if they can speak to platforms beyond the basics is telling as well.

    Thanks for sharing =)

  • Courtney Hunt's picture
    Aug 23 Posted 3 years ago Courtney Hunt

    Great advice, Mary. I tackled this subject myself both in 2011 and 2012. Here are links to two pieces I published in the spring of 2012 that complement your post:

    Social Media Experts I: Why Organizations Need Them

    Social Media Experts II: Hiring Guidance for (Rookie) Buyers

    I need to update both pieces and move them to our new SMART Blog. When I do, I'll be sure to link back to the suggests you provide here!


  • MaryCLong's picture
    Aug 22 Posted 3 years ago MaryCLong

    Thanks very much, Jo Lynn! And yes, social moves SO fast - if you're not a great curator, there's no way to keep up. 

  • MaryCLong's picture
    Aug 22 Posted 3 years ago MaryCLong

    Exactly! Great point.

  • Aug 22 Posted 3 years ago Julia fBrambleBuzz

    Great post! Sadly not enough of those that need to see it will do so.

    Another question I would ask of a prospective social media supplier would be how many leads and clients they bring in to their own business from social media. If they can't do it for themselves, how can they do it for you?

  • Jo Lynn Deal's picture
    Aug 21 Posted 3 years ago Jo Lynn Deal

    This is honest and very in depth, Mary.  One thing I can add is to ask what influencers they follow and what was the most valuable training they've received this year.  A year is really way tooooo long for the time span, because the true experts are learning every day.  They can tell you new information and statistics they just learned from this morning's daily read. It's what you have to do working in such a competitive, ever-changing field.

    I love your witty tone!

  • MaryCLong's picture
    Aug 19 Posted 3 years ago MaryCLong

    Almost replied twice! (Guess I just did ;) haha!

  • Ava Cristi's picture
    Aug 19 Posted 3 years ago Ava Cristi

    Thanks for the tips, Mary. It’s not that hard to engage ourselves in social platforms—that’s true because we’re a casual part of the community, that’s why many people wrongfully think they can just immediately be experts social media. But when it comes to content marketing, you don’t post things about you anymore or keep track of your own friends. There’s data management, analysis and trying to keep up with relevant discussions on your company’s favor. It’s hard work and we need hard working legitimate people that are confident with their abilities and experiences to do the right job.

  • MaryCLong's picture
    Aug 18 Posted 3 years ago MaryCLong

    Thank you! And it would make it less of an uphill battle to have businesses recognize the value of solid social strategy (and those providing it ;)

  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    Aug 18 Posted 3 years ago Randy Milanovic

    Fortunately, unlike those fakes, my site has earned more than 100 RELEVANT page one rankings. I doubt their empty promises can beat that proof of performance. #findability proof: The rankings and the string inbound links that go with them have been earned over time following a content marketing "attract" approach. Check out the Infographic:

  • MaryCLong's picture
    Aug 18 Posted 3 years ago MaryCLong

    Right! Because not only is it expensive for the client, it makes everyone's job harder - because now they're jaded about "online" and there's NO way that won't land on you. So you're not only cleaning up someone else's sloppy work, you're starting out with a trust deficit. Good luck!

  • Aug 17 Posted 3 years ago Stacey B

    Great article Mary. If more business owners followed these tip we could weed out the imposters. 

  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    Aug 17 Posted 3 years ago Randy Milanovic

    I'd say that snake oil salesmen are a pet peeve, but it's FAR more serious an issue. One prospect recently opted to go with another online firm... the result: exact-match-domain, keyword stuffing, paid directory link submissions, and site wide links. The prospect has come back to me, suspicious the other supplier wasn't quite making things work. I'll say! So before we can get him marketing online the right way, we need to do damage control. Very costly, in more ways than one! 

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