small__7910370882A common question I hear from clients and random folks looking to build their business online is “what do social media consultants do?” And more frequently, that’s coupled with another question: “should I hire one?”

My answer? It depends. What are you trying to do? Build sales? Handle customer service? Build a community around a cause? “Social media consultant” is a really broad title, and can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. What you get from a consultant depends a lot on what your goals are and the skillset of who you hire.

Goal: building sales

If your goal is to build sales, you should find someone who has experience hooking into analytics and can quantify how they helped increase sales in the past. They should be eager to understand how your business works and be able to see ways to convert potential customers through social channels.

This type of social media consultant should really be a marketer, and it’s especially nice if they use that word. After all, social media isn’t all that different from older marketing channels—you have a message, and it’s being pushed out at people. The major change is that social media marketing is opt-in, with the ability to talk back, but the same marketing rules tend to apply.

If your social media consultant can’t prove, with data, that they’re increasing sales, you may want to look elsewhere. Social media may not have a quantifiable ROI, but it’s definitely possible to show how it’s contributing to the bottom line.

Goal: managing customer service

If you’re looking for someone to handle social media customer service, you want someone good at connecting with people and quickly solving problems. They should be available consistently and on a set schedule, and able to provide answers and make customers feel cared for.

“Everyone else is doing it”

If you’re just thinking of hiring someone because you think you should because other people are doing it, you need to go back to the drawing board and get a more concrete reason. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up with a snake-oil salesperson who isn’t really benefiting your business at all.

Above all, make sure you absolutely trust whoever you hire. Aside from actually meeting in person, social media is probably the closest relationship bridge between you and your potential customers. You need to make sure whoever is handling it is reliable, friendly, and reflects the values of your business.

By the way, it’s worth mentioning that this is something that Joel Kelly and I discuss quite often on our podcast Not a Real Job. Joel is a social media marketer (and one of the best, I’d add) and has a lot of great thoughts on the subject. You should subscribe and listen. Check out episode 1, episode 6, and episode 8 in particular.

N.B.: this post was inspired by a question on Reddit’s /r/consulting subreddit. I answered the question there, and thought I’d adapt it into the above post.

photo credit: Jason A. Howie via photopin cc

Published by Chris Van Patten

I'm an entrepreneur and product lead, and owner of Tomodomo, through which I help companies build their digital publishing platform.

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