Consultants have a tough gig. No matter what their specialty - in this case social media - they've got to walk a fine line between offering their expertise, deferring to the client, and getting what they need to help the client succeed.
Unfortunately, many business owners have an unclear understanding of the consultant-business relationship, causing them to sabotage their results and then blame the social media manager for being ineffective.
It's the worst case scenario for any consultant - because nobody is happy, and of course the goal of any social media manager is to - at the very least - make the client happy. But it's even better when everyone is happy with the relationship and the work being done. Especially since consultants rely on the good word of their current clients to acquire new ones.
Allow Time for the Learning Curve
So what does a successful social media manager-business relationship need? A good bit of patience on both ends is a good start because there's always a learning curve with a new client/consultant. You both need to get to know each other.
The way you like to work, your preferred methods of communication, your expectations about the process based on pre-conceived notions or previous experience - all of these things are new for both of you, and it will take a bit of adjusting on both sides to figure out how you'll mesh most effectively.
Additionally, unless your field is their niche, your consultant probably needs to learn a bit about your industry. Good social media managers will do their part to get up to speed, but clients need to remember they're the subject matter experts, so they need to provide resources to guide understanding of the space before the social media manager can work their magic.
No work should begin without clearly defining the scope of the engagement - what will be posted when, where, how often, etc. A contract is recommended (it doesn't have to be fancy, just clear), but both parties also need to remain flexible, because social media isn't an exact science. Sometimes the platform you think will work best for you doesn't quite pan out, and something else you hadn't considered (like adding a blog) takes off like gangbusters.
It's perfectly fine to change your mind about the approach you want your social marketing to take (particularly when things are working well it's natural to want more), but clients shouldn't push for more than what is contracted - unless they're willing to pay for it. Consultants' time is no less valuable than yours, so don't expect anything extra for free.
Monitoring social analytics and communicating what is working or not working so adjustments can be made is a client-side responsibility - though a good social media manager will always ask about your results so they can change course if needed.
Clients may have an expectation that social media managers are a world unto themselves, running their company's social profiles without need of input or assistance, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The ongoing relationship requires mutual communication about various aspects of what's being put out on social media, what's coming back, and how to proceed based on any number of variables - many of which are time sensitive. Clients who are too hands-off or difficult to reach put the entire operation in jeopardy - because the one thing social media requires above all is consistency.
Clients must do their best to answer questions, provide feedback, and respond to communications in a timely fashion - and of course the same goes for social media managers. If lack of an answer will bring things to a grinding halt, be clear about the steps you intend to take barring an answer so that your client understands the plan for moving forward and can chime in if there's a problem.
Professionalism is Your Best Tool
Above all else, remember to keep the tone of all communications professional - whether you're the social media manager or the client. Don't take things personally, and remember that things like humor/sarcasm don't always translate well via email.
If something comes through that incites your ire, hold off on replying until you can respond calmly and professionally. Anyone can have an off day, or hit the send button before they've thought better of it. Take a deep breath, walk away, and reply only when you're sure your emotions aren't doing the talking.
Working with a social media manager should be a rewarding experience, professionally, of course, but it can be on a personal level as well. As long as both parties agree to behave respectfully, professionally, and keep the lines of communication open for the sake of social media success, you and your social media manager can look forward to a successful working relationship for many years to come.
Do you have a story about a great consultant experience? Or a horror story? Share it in the comments!