A social media consultant is essentially the eyes, ears and voice of your company online. That means you need someone who can raise your brand awareness, deliver traffic to your website, and boost your bottom line -- all while keeping your company's reputation top-of-mind.
So how do you hire just the right person? Here are 10 key questions you should ask prospective social media consultants:
1. How successful are you in your own social media networks? It's important to know how actively engaged consultants are in their own personal and professional social media networks, says Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner and host of the Social Media Marketing Podcast. If they can't effectively market themselves on social media, they probably can't do it for you either.
Stelzner suggests observing consultants on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to see if they promptly and appropriately reply to people who engage them and regularly share valuable content. Also, look out for red flags: If consultants share offensive tweets, status updates or photos, for example, don't do business with them.
2. Do you understand my market? Social media consultants should thoroughly understand your industry and your specific target market, Stelzner says. You can quiz them to gauge their general knowledge of your market, as well as determine whether they have written any significant white papers, case studies, articles or blog posts about trends in your industry.
3. How connected are you to influencers in my industry? Ideally, consultants will already be connected to industry influencers, who can help build awareness of your products and services. To find out how well connected consultants are, check out their list of Twitter followers and people they are following. If they have a Facebook Timeline, scan their "likes" and the people who have "liked" them.
4. May I have the names of your clients? Qualified candidates should readily share with you a list of existing and past clients, says Aliza Sherman, co-author of Social Media Engagement for Dummies (Wiley, 2013). "People usually only point you to past clients that they know were happy with their work," Sherman says. "So, directly calling or emailing their current clients to find out if they're pleased with their services is paramount."
5. Where can I find current and past examples of your work? Sara Sutton Fell, founder of telecommuting job site FlexJobs.com, suggests requesting links to current online examples, as well as past portfolio samples, so you can evaluate social media initiatives that the consultant created or played a central role in. Look for engaging campaigns that resulted in quantifiable increases in brand exposure and sales leads and seem suited to you target market.
6. Which tools do you use to measure the ROI of your campaigns? It's important for social media managers to back up their accomplishments with metrics and analytics that quantify return on investment. You want to go beyond simple tallies of likes, followers and fans and actually analyze lead conversion rates.
Fell suggests asking consultants whether they use their own custom tracking methods or popular tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and Klout. Also ask how they monitor and improve Facebook EdgeRank and Twitter re-tweet rates.
7. What are some social media campaign ideas for my business? Without showing all of their cards for free, candidates should be willing to discuss the types of social media strategies they could develop for you, Fell says. How would they spark social media actions, reactions and interactions on your behalf to benefit your business? What kinds of Facebook ads, Pinterest contests or Twitter hashtag campaigns could they roll out and when?
8. Which social media do you specialize in? It's important to be as specific as possible during the hiring process if you hope to focus on a certain social network. For example, if you're especially interested in encouraging Pinterest users to pin memorable images of your products, you don't want someone who excels mostly at Facebook coupon code promotions.
9. How would you handle a social media crisis? Social marketing campaigns backfire all the time, as was the case with #McDStories and other hijacked promotional Twitter hashtags. It's crucial to know how consultants would react to a social media disaster, as well as how they would avoid one in the first place, says David Gerzof Richard, a social media and marketing professor at Emerson College in Boston and president of public relations and social media firm BIGfish. He also suggests asking about consultants' policies for responding to negative tweets and Facebook comments.
10. What are your payment terms and are they negotiable? You need to know whether consultants get paid a retainer or simply charge by the hour or by the project. Other payment-related questions: How often are invoice payments due--every 30, 60 or 90 days? Is there an interest fee for late payments? Do consultants offer a discount for referring additional clients? Do they require a minimum contract period?
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