Gurus Need Not Apply? How to REALLY Spot the Fraudulent Social Media Consultants

Indian Sadhu in Orange RobesIn my last post, I took Business Insider to task for a seriously flawed article, “7 Ways to Avoid Getting Burned By a Social Media Fraud.” And I promised that I’d follow that up with my recommendations on how to truly spot the frauds.

So, let’s get right to it, then, shall we?

How to REALLY Spot a SM Fraud

The Business Insider piece fell way short of delivering on its promise to help readers suss out the social media frauds in our midst, as the prior post demonstrated.

And, as I admitted freely in that post, there are frauds out there — both the folks who can’t deliver SM results and who have no intention of doing so, and the so-called “innocent frauds” – folks who mean well but just aren’t capable or skilled enough to deliver true value.

So if those tips aren’t effective, how can you really be sure you haven’t hired a fraud?

Get Industry-Specific References

The number-one way to spot a fraud: ask for industry-specific references from your candidate.

You’re looking for demonstrated expertise with your kind of business, right? Stands to reason that past clients are the best source of information on this point.

If a consultant doesn’t have, or won’t share, the names and contact information of past clients who’ve agreed to serve as references, that’s a huge warning sign.

Now, it could be that you’re evaluating someone who’s new to the game and just doesn’t have a full stable of past clients — someone who’s anxious to get that experience, and has to start somewhere. Newcomers like this aren’t necessarily a bad choice. In fact, sometimes, they’re better choices, given their internal motivation to build a good reputation and learn the ropes.

So if this is what you’ve got, then look closely at what the consultant says. When they readily admit something like this …

“I have no experience in this field, but I’ve done a lot of research and I’m really keen to get some quality experience. I’d love to work with you, and I realize that you’re taking a chance on me, so how about if we work on a discount, probation basis for a few months? If you like what I do, then I can raise my rates back up. If you don’t, I’m fired.”

… that’s one thing. If they give you the runaround, that’s another entirely.

Insist Upon and Evaluate a Specific Scope of Services

Look carefully at what the consultant is offering to do for you.

Is the proffered scope of services specific and explicit? Or is it vague and meaningless?

I don’t do a lot of social media consulting anymore, and when I do, it’s always for existing clients whom I know well. But even then, we hash out a very specific scope of services that I’m going to provide. Our agreement explicitly states exactly what the client can expect from me:

  • How many tweets per day or per week
  • Specific services for a Facebook page redesign — cover image, who provides the source image, how many revisions they get, etc
  • How many Facebook status updates, and what percentage will be oriented towards their content as opposed to other relevant content
  • LinkedIn updates and questions — whether it includes participating in groups, which groups, how often, etc.

A clear scope of services is absolutely necessary, and if your candidate isn’t able to specify these things, run. (Politely.)

Analyze Their Own Profiles Carefully

This is a good way to figure out what their general approach to social media is. If their Twitter feeds are full of self-serving, spammy links, run. If their own Facebook page hasn’t gotten a cover image yet, run.

Also think about what the profiles tell you about the candidate’s personality. You’re going to want to work closely with this person, so it’s only appropriate for you to find the person you think you can get along with, not the one who’s going to annoy you endlessly with off-color humor when that’s totally not your thing.

By the same token, be wary of folks whose profiles are completely devoid of any personality whatsoever. Social media has to be social, if you want to succeed in creating relationships that are meaningful for your business. If the consultant doesn’t even get that very basic principle, then you can assume she’ll take the same approach with your profiles, too.

Guaranteed Results? Run Like Hell

Let me be clear: anyone who guarantees you a certain number of followers, a specific ROI, or any specific result from social media work is at best not someone you want to be working with, and at worst — a fraud.

The reason is simple: Social media is just too new, and too “soft,” to lend itself to specific, guaranteed results. We’re all still learning this new medium, and anyone who pretends to have it all figured out is lying either to you or to himself.

Sweeping Platform-Specific Statements and Recommendations

Some examples of what I mean by this …

“Every business should be on social media. If you’re not, you’re leaving money on the table.”

“You have to be on Pinterest. Everybody needs to be active there.”

“Stay the hell away from LinkedIn. It’s just for lawyers and other stiffs.”

By the way, I’ve heard either first- or second-hand each and every single one of these statements from so-called SM experts in the last year or so.

Especially where not preceded by an in-depth analysis and demonstrated familiarity with your business, statements like these betray a fundamental misconception about social media. In one sentence: Social media is not advertising, and isn’t remotely like advertising. It’s just not susceptible to sweeping generalizations like these.

Whether your business should be on any specific platform or channel — Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, or any other site — depends wholly on two things:

  1. Your business goalsAND
  2. Your targeted clients & prospects

Anyone who makes a recommendation without taking these into account is simply exhibiting their ignorance. Again: Run.

Self-Pronounced Gurus and Experts

Yep, last on the list for a reason. I’m leery of calling this one a deal-breaker in all circumstances, but yes, I do agree that there should be some alarm bells going off in your mind if a consultant proudly declares himself to be a “social media guru” or “expert.”

Why? Simple: Again, this medium is simply too new for anyone to represent themselves as an expert.

So What Should I Really Be Looking For, Then?

In my next post, I’ll share some tips of my own and some of the SM consultant/colleagues whom I trust and respect. Check back on Saturday!

And in the meantime – have I missed anything? What would you add to this list? Comment below and let me know!


Photo credit: Sam Segar

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kellie Leigh? July 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Absolutely love this post, Annie.  Especially the “guru” part.  I personally don’t like the word, but when they are self-professed gurus, I find it funny.  Your point about results is also true.  There are all types of businesses out there, and sometimes audiences take more to one more than the other.  There’s never a guarantee.  Thanks for this!

Sheila Hibbard July 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Annie…you nailed it.  So many small business owners don’t bother to ask any questions of the strangers walking into their stores and businesses.  This is true of people peddling social media services, web design, media reps, etc.  If the person is alive an breathing and is willing to do for a less than reasonable cost…they’re hired.  Great pointers here. 

Lori Cain July 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Yep, you absolutely nailed it. And these pointers and guidelines will work in any industry – whether you’re searching for a SM guru or a qualified Realtor. 

Lori Cain July 25, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Yep, you absolutely nailed it. And these pointers and guidelines will
work in any industry – whether you’re searching for a SM guru or a
qualified Realtor.

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