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:
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.
(Image from www.CGPGrey.com)