Thursday, April 02, 2009

Diving into Social Media Marketing? How a Social Media Consultant Can Help

Interest in social media marketing is surging, with several recent studies showing that a majority of companies, of all sizes, are now using social media in some form for business purposes. I've also seen dramatically increased interest in hiring social media consultants. But if most companies are already using social media in their marketing/PR mix, why is a consultant necessary? After all, isn't social media primarily about conversations? And aren't those conversations best engaged in by internal subject matter experts? And aren't the tools pretty easy to use?

While the answer to each of those last three questions is "yes," a knowledgeable outside adviser can nevertheless provide significant value, helping companies maximize the value of social media efforts while minimizing costs. If you're inside an organization on the hiring side, here's how a social media consultant can help your firm. If you're a consultant, here's what you have in your bag to sell.

According to MarketingSherpa's 2009 Social Media & PR Benchmark Guide (PDF), while 76% of marketing and PR professionals "agree" or "strongly agree" that social media marketing is changing the way their organizations communicate, the two most significant barriers cited to social media adoption were "lack of knowledgeable staff" and "inability to measure ROI." These are among the key benefits a consultant can provide:
  • Focus on using the right tools and prioritize efforts (i.e., don't talk in places where no one is listening);

  • Avoid false starts and do things right the first time (e.g., someone who's never set up a blog before is guaranteed to make mistakes, probably several; consultants aren't perfect, but can be expected to make far fewer);

  • Utilize proper tactics and etiquette for each type of media; and

  • Measure results to help optimize efforts.
More specifically, these are some of the services a social media consultant can offer:
  • Research—determine which venues are most important for a specific industry and company, and map out the key influencers in that space.

  • Strategy—help identify how social media fits with existing activities such as SEO, PR and event marketing.

  • Tactics—develop plans for media to be used, content needed, assign responsibilities, and core messaging/values to incorporate (e.g., Wal-Mart and Apple have very different corporate personalities; their social media activities should reflect that).

  • Setup—while social media and networking tools are designed to be easy enough for almost anyone to use, having a social media consultant create new profiles, and review existing ones, can help assure a consistent, professional presentation across various sites.

  • Monitoring—set up a monitoring system to track conversations about your company, competitors and key industry topics across social media sites, and the results of your social media marketing efforts, using either free tools or professional applications such as Radian6, Techrigy or TruCast.

  • Content production—content in the form of blog posts, white papers, reports, video, presentations, podcasts and images is a major component of social media marketing. A social media consultant may in many instances be able to supplement your internal resources to produce link-worthy material.

  • Content promotion—from social networking and social bookmarking to Twitter and blogs, social media tools offer myriad ways to promote your content. An experienced social media consultant can help you more fully exploit these opportunities.

  • Prioritization—participation in social media is time-consuming; you can't be everywhere and jump into every conversation. Through monitoring, mapping the key influencers in your space and an understanding of the social media landscape, a social media consultant can help you prioritize your efforts for maximum effect.

  • Outreach—social media offers powerful ways to communicate your messages to key influencers in your industry, who then spread that message and lend credibility to it. But outreach has to be done properly—it isn't just traditional PR using different tools—or it will fall flat (or worse, damage your reputation). A skilled social media consultant knows how to use various tools to maximize the effectiveness of outreach.

  • Updates—finally, the social media landscape is extremely dynamic. Some of the sites and tools viewed as highly promising just a couple of years ago have virtually disappeared, while others (e.g., Twitter) have come out of nowhere to rapidly gain large followings. Because they live and breathe social media on a daily basis, often for clients in a variety of industries, social media consultants are well-positioned to stay current on the latest trends and tools and apply this knowledge to help keep your social media efforts on track, productive and relevant.
In short, while any company can incorporate social media into its marketing and PR practices without any outside help, a knowledgeable social media consultant can help make those efforts more effective and efficient, while avoiding missteps and false starts. The ongoing, day-to-day effort will fall on your internal marketing and PR staff, executives and subject-matter experts (who can be just about anyone in your company), but a good consultant can assist in getting these efforts off to a productive start and help keep them on track.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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