Commentary: Be wary of hiring social media 'experts'

By Debbie Goldberg

I just have to get this off my chest. It's seems that at least once or twice a month I hear that so-and-so has decided to open their own business as a Social Media "Expert." Ugh.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, asserts in his book that in order to become an expert or a professional in any field – be it sports or business – you must study or practice for at least 10,000 hours. Say it with me – 10,000 hours.

10,000 hours = 417 days. Whole days. Like 24 hours straight times 417 days.

Do me a favor? The next time someone approaches you, a small business owner, and tells you that they are a social media "expert," ask them how long they've had their Twitter account. Ask them how long they've had a Facebook Business Page.

Yah, I thought so.

Here's the thing – as a small business owner – I get that your time is incredibly valuable. I also know that money is probably tight. The lack of money and time makes it real tempting to consider turning over the reigns of your Facebook page and Twitter account to a so-called expert who can do it for you. I get it.

Here's why you shouldn't do it:

1. Your customers want to hear from you. Period. End of story. They want to know they are chatting with the owner of the company when Tweeting or posting on Facebook. It matters.

2. If you feel like you don't know what you are doing or you don't know how to do it well, there are resources out there to help you. Many Chamber of Commerce groups and networking organizations run social media marketing seminars – often for free or at a low cost. (For example, my friend Ann Evanston runs an amazing course that walks you through the entire process of Social Media Marketing.)

3. While I'm not dissing the entire field of social media marketing "experts," I have personally experienced this at a small business level:

Many have had limited success with their own business and their social media marketing. These experts may have done some social media marketing well for their last boss or their business, but it doesn't mean that their techniques will work for you. Many of these people often run two or three businesses at a time (like MLM type things) hoping that one of these endeavors will succeed. I believe your time and money is too valuable to hand it over to someone who is experimenting with a second career. If they don't do this full-time, run!

And, a note to those who call themselves "experts," check and see what your potential new clients' Facebook and Twitter accounts look like. I triple pinky-swear to you about this – every single person I've met with who claims they are a social media expert and that they could help our business never, ever checked our Twitter or FB acct. I'm serious. I asked each and everyone if they had and they'd sputter and say "no," but I will after this. Guess what? Our Facebook page (California-based Fresh Brothers Pizza) was noted by Inc. Magazine as one of "20 Awesome Facebook Fan Pages," alongside national brands. Shouldn't they know that ahead of time?

Before ramping up your social media marketing efforts and recruiting an "expert" to help, ask yourself first why you're not doing it on your own.

Here are some other important questions to ask before making the hire.

Debbie Goldberg and her husband Adam founded Fresh Brothers pizza in 2008. The company now includes six units throughout the Los Angeles market, and has been named "Best Pizza" by the LA HotList. Goldberg manages the chain's social media campaigns and also runs her own personal blog, Manhattan Beach Momma.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Paul Segreto
    Bingo! You're spot on and I couldn't agree more! Great post! Did I use enough exclamation points? LOL
  • SMO Nawed
    Well, I've been running the Pizza Hut, Dhaka ( fanpage for the last 3.5 years, consistently. Howz that?
  • Ruth Ann Barrett
    Excellent points, especially involvement of the owner(s) in communicating directly. For some, its the hardest part. Would only add that online video presents the opportunity for business leaders to begin to express their core values, critical thinking, and sustainability initiatives to motivate and inspire their customers in a partnership of more responsible consumption. How this all ties to marketing and is integrated into the mix, of which social media is one aspect, will test owners and experts alike so best advice is to find collaborators as, ultimately, it is a creative process and two or three heads are better than one. There's proof for this.
  • Charles Falls
    "Expert" is every bit as subjective as "best", like when you claim to have the "best pizza". While anyone can make claims, the proof is whether others agree with the title you bestowed upon yourself.

    Unfortunately, most people are so unfamiliar with social media that they can easily be convinced that anyone with a little confidence and a working knowledge of the subject is an expert. Worse yet, companies want to employ someone to work on their social media simply because those on staff fear stepping into this strange, mysterious world. So the call goes out for an "expert", and many people answer the call figuring they'll claim to be an "expert" unless and until someone proves them to be something else.

    To me, you seem frustrated that you are consistently exposing the "experts" you meet for what they really are -- salespeople. But that doesn't mean there are not experts in social media. You just haven't met them. Or, quite possibly, the experts don't want or need to meet with you because the money just isn't there.

    I do not consider myself an expert in social media (the subject is way too big for me to get my hands entirely around), but I do know how to use what I know to get more out of it for my clients than about 80% of the people I come across or compete with.

    Quite simply, I make my clients about five times the money they invest in me for my service. I don't argue with people about what they do or how they do it, nor do I defend what I do or how I do it. There are many ways to make social media work for you. I do what I do and keep trying to get better.

    If that makes me an expert to some, so be it. If others say I'm not, that's fine too.

    Oh, and your line that customers want to know they are chatting with you, the owner, is NOT true -- unless your account says it is you, the owner. Customers want to chat with a PERSON within the company, so they have a direct line for problems/concerns, promotions, inside information, etc. It helps if that person is the owner, but it helps more if whoever it is takes an active interest in communicating through the social media tools on a consistent basis.
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