Social Media Experts?

Amber Naslund’s recent post crystallized some of the thoughts bouncing around in my brain the last few weeks about the responsibility of social media consultants/marketers/coaches toward their clients. Remember the reaction when Skittles launched their social media extravaganza? Oh the outrage. Everybody speculated whether it would have a positive or negative effect on business. One thing for sure, it got a lot of buzz. Skittles took a huge leap of faith, and traffic skyrocketed for a while (so did off-color comments on the now highly visible Twitter stream), but when consumers go to the site now, do they get it? Did Skittles do it right?

I agree with Amber that people should take risks and make mistakes. That’s how we learn. Sometimes we get to learn from other people’s mistakes and that’s a whole lot less painful, but if you’re not taking chances and falling on your face once in a while you’ll always be behind the curve. You should only be so lucky the biggest of them go relatively un-noticed before you catch it and destroy the evidence. Smart marketers can see the value of social media and find the people and tools to make it work.

Where I disagree with Amber is where she says ”We need examples of lousy results and scattershot tactics because the people that are really digging deep to do good work will eventually look that much more brilliant, and their results will be that much more compelling.

OK, I don’t disagree completely. I relish the exposure of the snake oil salesmen and measuring up truly good work against the hacks as much as the next girl. But do the companies that hire the shills deserve what they get? Maybe, if they have the capacity to do their own due-diligence and really look before they leap, but some companies are too small or too new to social media to be able to evaluate the quality of work or the resume of the person they’re hiring. They easily believe a magic wand will wave and they’ll instantly be engaged with happy hoards of followers who will spread the word far and wide about their product without them lifting a finger.

Good gads they’re even certifying social media coaches so they can show they’ve taken an on-line course or two. What institution honors them with said certification is a whole ‘nother discussion.

It makes me crazy when a new client comes to me with stories about paying $XX,000 for a Facebook page built by a “social media expert” and the magic didn’t happen.Then I have to help repair the damage and explain that actual work is involved and justify the balance of time and energy with real engagement. It’s an uphill battle that could have been so much easier if the client was well informed in the first place.

We spend all this time going to social media conferences and events and talk to each other. Sure, we learn from each other and new ideas spark and it’s all a lot of fun, but who’s educating the potential clients? More people in the industry need to do education for the benefit of of future clients so they know how to find reliable vendors and how to qualify them. We need to show more of what’s up our sleeves so it’s easier to understand.

I’d like to think that people just getting into social media will take the time to look around a bit and find resources to help them understand what to look for and what to expect. It’s likely though they’re in such a rush to not miss the bus they aren’t going to take the time. It’s up to the social media community to make the information they need to hire and measure results intelligently highly visible so they don’t get taken their first time ’round the track. Then we can spend our time educating from the get-go instead of having to repair the damage done by charlatans.