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.
(Image from www.CGPGrey.com)