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5 signs you’ve got the wrong SMM consultant

Thanks to @Amandasena for passing this article along through twitter today.

By Dave Van de Walle

A litmus test for social media marketing ‘experts’

There's a great phrase, popularized in Texas, to describe someone who "talks a good ballgame."

"All Hat, No Cattle."

I've always liked this phrase; but in two separate discussions in the past week, others used it to describe some social media marketers and their inability to execute. So it got me thinking about social media marketing (SMM) and the phrase’s applicability—specifically when hiring an SMM consultant for your company, brand or organization.

There are telltale signs of "All Hat, No Cattle"—and brands of all stripes and sizes, organizations for- and not-for-profit, and marketers in consumer and business arenas should take note: SMM consultants are the smartest people in the room (ask them, and they'll tell you), but can they actually deliver?

Here are the five indicators that you've got the wrong SMM consultant.

1. They don't ask the strategy question. As in: "What is your business strategy?" Or, more to the point for this discussion, "Why do you want to do social media marketing?"

There's a reason that they won't ask this question: It talks them out of a job.

There's danger everywhere in not asking this question. Big agencies—and we're talking PR firms and ad agencies—need the business. They won't ask the question, because the SMM business is the door-opener. They want to ghost-tweet for you, so they can position your executives later. Then there's this huge disconnect between what the business is trying to accomplish (e.g. "sell more widgets to the auto industry") and what the communications suite wants out of Twitter (e.g. "we have to have a Twitter presence, because everyone else has one").

Small agencies, even single-shingle operations, need the work, so they're more likely to take on any project regardless of whether there’s a strategy to it.

Smart SMM consultants will ask you what you’re trying to accomplish with all this stuff. If they don't, they aren't doing their job.

2. Failure to tweet properly. This could be a thorny one, as one man's Twitter is another man's frittering away time. But you can learn a lot about your SMM consultant by how they tweet.

Telltale signs of failure to tweet properly include:

  • Bad follower/following ratio. If you're Timothy Ferriss, my personal hero and author of "The 4-Hour Workweek," you are allowed to follow fewer than 200 people and be followed by more than 59,000 people. You are also a best-selling author and are not trying to sell your SMM consulting services. Otherwise, your potential SMM consultant must follow people back.
  • You don't tweet at least once a day. This shows us that you just don't get it: If you can't find a way to do this as part of your social media regimen, you are not eating your own dog food.
  • You cannot, when pressed, give one real-life Twitter success story of your own. This is so vital, but doesn't have to be the "Dell got 10 million bucks from their Twitter stream" example. I got a business meeting with a prospect just because I had RT'd his post and then followed up. All we need is one example from your IRL use of Twitter.

3. Refusal to consider pay-for-performance.  This is not advocating moving entirely to a pay-for-performance model. What we are saying here is that if your would-be SMM consultant refuses to consider it, look elsewhere.

Why? Well, first of all, affiliate marketing has some really smart elements to it that all agencies and brand marketers can learn from. Like tracking. Ubiquity. Conversion rates.

Second, we've always advocated that traditional agencies should not "discriminate" based on how clients compensate them.

Now, the performance elements can vary—number of Facebook fans, or number of widget sales, or something else. But without skin in the game, well, there's no skin in the game.

4. Recommending the wrong tools for the job. You've asked the strategy question in point one, so this should be easy.

Don't bring a blowtorch when a screwdriver is needed.

Don't force a Facebook fan page down the client's throat when what they really need is Ning to connect their employees in a closed network.

We've actually told prospects, "Save your money; install WordPress." Meant we left some work on the table, but it was the wrong work for them, and we like sleeping at night. So should your SMM consultant.

5. "We know everything about social media." Lasso them pardners out of the room—now.

Welcome to the enormous learning lab that is social media marketing. Glad to have you here. Now, if your consultant claims to know everything, she or he is completely full of it.

Why do you think guys like Biz Stone at Twitter keep changing the terms of service? Simple: They don't know everything about their own service. That's a good thing: It proves the willingness to watch the lab, tweak along the way, make changes that benefit the greater good—all that fun stuff.

You're going to keep learning as you go—everyone should. Tell the client that upfront.

Which brings us back to our original "All Hat, No Cattle" subject for a final thought: You're working on "spec." Spec, in this case, is your own social media presence.

If you, as a social media marketing consultant, want to sell us on your stuff, you don't need to have 10,000 followers on Twitter. But you do need to be able to show up rather prominently on the social networks in a Google search of your name, your company's name, or (ideally) both.

The chuck wagon's coming: You need to have some steer.

Dave Van de Walle is managing principal of Area 224, a social media marketing and strategic communications consultancy headquartered in Evanston, Ill.