Social Media Consulting Can Be Extremely Valuable

It’s all the rage these days to say that “social media consulting” is nothing but over-priced advice dispensed by know-nothings to insecure companies about obvious things like communicating authentically online. Sometimes these critiques are funny (or very funny) and some people are trying to defend their practices. There’s been so much of this going on in the last week alone that I decided to respond in a post here. Update: I retweeted a link to this post two months after writing it because of this smart post by B.L. Ochman making the rounds today.

There is no question in my mind that my consulting, at least, is extremely valuable and non-obvious. Check out the page of feedback I’ve received. Below is one example of a valuable project I’ve done for a client.

I worked with Sun Microsystems last year to build a blog search dashboard tracking the most recent and most-discussed blog posts concerning a list of their products, during the Java One conference. People loved it and only an outside person with my experience and skills would have built it. It was social media consulting that wasn’t obvious or just about “join the conversation.” Here’s an in-depth explanation of exactly how I did it.

Then I did an audit of the company’s huge network of blogs, their wikis, their podcast portal and developer forums. I researched their competitors’ work in those areas and interviewed specialists in each of those fields who looked through the Sun sites with me. I gave a rapid-fire presentation to an executive team that blew the minds of some very serious and capable people.

They brought me back five times to work on different projects there, sent me 20% of my income for last year and invited me to meet and interview my childhood hero Neil Young when he spoke at an event.

So is social media consulting just a joke? Not in my world, it’s not. My contact info is in the right-hand sidebar, if you’re interested in getting in touch.

  • I think the field of social media consultants is much like any other field in that there are good consultants and bad consultants. The current environment reminds me much of the environment of “web designers” during the dot com era. There were those that really knew their stuff, and there were also a lot that just hopped on web design as the latest fad that could bring in a quick buck. When that bubble burst, the ones with skills kept on doing web design while the wannabes moved onto something else, unable to cut it in the new market. I expect that the field of folks doing social media consulting will play out in a similar fashion: those with original ideas, skills, and the ability to be thought leaders will have success, while those who simply read a book and decided to become a consultant will fizzle and move on.

  • Marshall

    Thanks for that perspective Aaron, I hope you’re right. In the mean-time it sure is frustrating.

  • Good post MK. I think the “social media consultants are full of crap” meme comes from two key problem areas:

    1) Huge companies spending a lot of money on extremely simple stuff. I know a Fortune 100 company who spends $20K per month to monitor Twitter. I know of Big Media brands who spend similar amounts just to “get set up on Twitter and Facebook”. It’s much like “HTML consulting” back in ’95. But that will all come to an end soon anyway…

    and 2) SM Consultants offering “routine” advice (“listen to the conversation”, “make a facebook fan page and engage with your customers”) without giving specific, useful strategies. I think this is particularly compounded by an overflow of people with little-to-no “real world” business experience all of a sudden being called “gurus” at anything. Considering “social media” as an industry is ~5ish years old, it’s pretty hard to claim “guru” status at anything other than personal branding (which quite a few do quite well)…

  • rick

    I agree with Jeremy, but the other thing that your post made me think is that your Sun project wasn’t just consulting in the sense of pure advice, it was getting down and implementing stuff that delivered value. That demonstrated value does a lot to drive the point home that there’s something to this in a way that advice can’t.

  • As a person who has participated in the “we hate social media experts meme” (I was an early adopter too 😉 – I will say this.

    There are good and bad consultants. I have no doubt that you are a good one. Your writing alone proves it.

    The problem, as Jeremy notes, is that it is really easy to claim “social media expert” status. And there are some snake oil folks out there that give the general advice: “start a blog and be in a conversation” and that doesn’t help folks.

    But the good ones, like you – are why this profession won’t (and shouldn’t) vanish into thin air. It will end up making it a more competitive market because folks like me (semi-technical – the most dangerous type of technical) will be cautious before we hire one.

    p.s. You rock.

  • Depends on who’s giving the advice. Advertising agencies don’t know what they’re doing and they’re who first comes to mind when marketers need help. Read “The No Duh’s of Social Media” for more information.

  • Tom Foremski

    Social media experts bitching about each other just brings down the whole bunch of them. You’d think being social media experts they would realize that this would be the effect.

  • I am frequently followed on Twitter by “social media experts” who have SEO, Social Media, Facebook, etc. plastered all over their account background. My philosophy is that if you have to say that you are a guru, you probably aren’t.

    Good consultants rarely have to tout their ability / services as the work generally flows in on its own via referrals.

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  • Marshall,

    A couple of thoughts. First, I just linked over to the “very funny” video and loved it.

    Second, Social Media is great for tech companies because people NEED this information.

    However, too many Joe-Bloggers use it to say nothing at all thinking that they’re site will rocket to popularity.


  • How could you pay someone to teach you to ride a bike, that’s easy. Yeah, when you know how to ride. For those that don’t, it’s not so easy and they do need help. There are good car mechanics and crappy ones. I don’t worry about any of this. My clients refer me to others. When they stop, than I’ll know I’m full of shit.

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  • Aaron’s comment is amusingly accurate. Back in July of ’08, I said “Social Media Experts are the New Webmasters”.

    The hardest part of actually trying to impact a company as a third party consultant in this area is separating yourself from the noise. The next time I call myself an SME or Guru or whatever is the first time. Do the job, and do it right, on a professional level. I have no doubt you know what you are doing, and the noise just needs to be ignored.

  • From @armano

    Self-proclaimed social media “gurus” multiplying like rabbits.

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