Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Social Media PR Expert. Is There Any Such Thing?

I've had several conversations this week that lead me to this post... and it is inspired, in part, by one of my favorite commentaries on the subject (here), which I read months ago as I was researching and delving into the idea of marketing and public relations via social media (and which is always in the back of my mind).

So, the question: What is a social media PR/marketing "expert"? And, when this communication medium is still so unknown, how does any small business gauge whether a PR consultant (many of whom can spew babble on cue, regardless of their actual knowledge) can help them engage customers and succeed in a PR and marketing environment that is evolving, quicker than we thought imaginable, into a social media-focused world?

I encounter a lot of skepticism in my day-to-day comings and goings. I talk about Miamore Communications' services, emphasizing social media promotions, and see many a raised eyebrow and glassy eye. And, honestly, I run a small business, too, so I completely understand. I also encounter my fair share of "social media" babble in both the real world and via mediums like Facebook. Everyone is scrambling to emerge as an expert. But who really is?

Granted, I'm one of those people touting social media marketing and public relations expertise. But (and PR folks may see this as a detriment to my business, but I see it as a bonus): my background is that of a journalist. Meaning: the facts, honesty and transparency are key to me personally, and, thus, to my agency. So, if you are pondering who to hire for social media expertise, I offer my own services but, first, I offer these key pieces of advice. They may lead you to work with Miamore Communications, or they may lead you to another consultant. Either way, I've succeeded if they lead you on whichever path you choose INFORMED. My advice:

1) Understand the difference between "traditional" expertise (ie, PR 1.0) vs social media expertise. In the words of one of the foremost experts on the subject: "the business of PR IS in a state of paramount crisis". And (in my words): traditional PR and marketing folks are in fight or flight mode in an effort to survive. So, if you're seeking out knowledge, first know the difference between traditional PR and P.R. 2.0 (more here)
2) Frankly, there's reason why PR/marketing folks are known as "spin doctors". My point: trust no one at their word.
3) Check out that earlier link (here) for tips on vetting candidates.
4) Ask for references. Not references to speak to a candidate's qualifications in the old PR or marketing world, but references who can speak to someone's skill at social media promotion.

Finally, and, to me, MOST importantly:

4) Investigate how the candidate is operating their OWN business in the social media realm.

Number 4 is the clincher for me. Any 4th grader who spends 20 minutes researching social media can come up with and throw around the word: "engage". So, digging a little deeper, I'm astounded by those PR & marketing people who promote themselves (and, worse, are being PROMOTED by groups, industries, etc.) as social media experts, yet have (and these are key):

a) No blog for their own company

b) A blog so stagnant it is growing mold

c) No Facebook fan page (or a page that growing the same mold as its blog)

d) A personal Facebook page that promotes their business (a MAJOR violation that can lead to them being shut down by Facebook and, logically, to your business being shut down if you are following their advice)

e) No Twitter presence

f) A blank stare when you mention Digg, Stumbleupon, Technorati, etc.

Fundamentally, if a PR/marketing person is telling you they are a "social media" expert, check their credentials in that specific area. Any publicist can talk the talk. But when you are a small business spending valuable dollars on promotion, forget what they did in the past; make sure they can walk the walk and lead you on that stroll into the future.

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