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Social Media Amateur Hour – When Does it End?

At some point in the future, every business will hire one (if they haven’t already): A social media “expert”. Whether it’s on a contract basis or as a full-time employee, the pressure to jump in the fray is going to build to the point that it’s unavoidable. Participation in the social web is already a business imperative. Right?

When they do finally make the decision to hire, business leaders are going to face the question of who to trust with this piece of their business, and most will get it wrong at least once. Why? Because the barrier to entry for becoming a social media expert is ridiculously low, so low, in fact, that it might as well not exist.

There is no qualification process for branding yourself a social media guru.

The abundance of available videos, blog posts and articles on the subject makes it easy for any slick talker to learn just enough jargon to be dangerous; they’ll tell you about “engagement” and “authenticity” while cashing your checks and doing essentially nothing to further your brand or bring new customers through the front door.

You may have gotten lucky and found someone that truly “gets it.” Unfortunately, they’ve got no business or management experience, no background in project management and business models that can’t effectively scale. These “gurus” will likely do more harm than good for your business. They’ll drain valuable resources and provide little in the way of real results. They are the carpetbaggers of the Digital Age. Perhaps they mean well. But if you only charge $500 a month for your services, for example, then how many customers can you effectively manage and perform online interaction and strategy for? And, if you are hiring a social media manager, what are you using as criteria for success? How do you write your job description? How do you measure their effectiveness?

What can you do to protect yourself from a bad hire in “social media?”

First of all, ask a lot of questions and don’t settle for half-baked, “jargony” answers. It’s time to pull the mask off the proverbial social media guru. Be prepared to watch them squirm as you ask questions like these:

  • What, specifically, am I getting for my money, and what results can I expect?
  • How did you learn social media?
  • Who are your clients?
  • How long have you worked with them?
  • Will you provide me with a list of client contacts, and can I talk to them about results?
  • How long will it be before I can expect to see results? (beware the “expert” who promises immediate results)
  • What happens if your efforts don’t produce results in a reasonable time frame?

Don’t let the person you’re interviewing talk over your head: If they can’t explain their answers in terms that you understand, they probably don’t understand the concepts well enough themselves. And, don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers. The real pros won’t be afraid of your questions; in fact, they’ll probably respect you more.

Social media is here to stay, and at some point you’re going to need a hand building and implementing a strategy. When that time comes, make sure you don’t fall victim to an amateur posing as an expert.

Had a bad hire or a less than productive experience? Share! It may save someone else a heap of trouble down the road.

C7 Group is a management consulting firm that provides the education, strategy and vendor and tool selection for employee and customer communities, social applications, social intelligence and social media risk management.

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