Beyond the five questions to ask a "social media expert"

I recently read a post by Jim Storer, entitled Five Questions to Ask a Social Media Expert which identified five questions you would want to ask of a so-called socail media expert before engaging them to help you with your strategy, or I supposed before hiring them to work for your company.

The five questions were:

  1. Do you have a blog?
  2. How many comments do you average per blog post?
  3. Have you ever managed a community?
  4. When did you get started in community/social media?
  5. Should I have a blog?

Commenters then added even seven more, including:

  1. Why are you positioning yourself as only knowing one facet of business/communications? (from Jennifer Leggio via Twitter)
  2. How long have you been on Twitter and how do you use it? If they say to sell things, then don’t talk to them further. (from Jason Peck)
  3. Who have you worked with in the past? Were they successful? (from Sean Bohan)
  4. Do you have an “war stories” from your past clients? (from Sean Bohan)
  5. What tools do you use regularly? (from Alex Jones)
  6. What tools have you seen or used that didn’t quite make it and why do you think it happened? (from Alex Jones)
  7. What are the top 5 social sites you would say are essential to know about in social media? (from Eric Mertz via Twitter)

While I think these are all interesting questions, I’m not sure I understand why the information request for social media should be any different than for any other type of consulting or advisory type engagement, albeit with some slightly different twists for this specific subject.

If taking this approach, then the questions I would ask expect to be asked would include:

  • Who are you? Why do you feel you are uniquely qualified to be helping us to address this issue?
  • Why should we be considering the use of social media?
  • What is the breadth of your capabilities and experiences?
  • Specifically, in which area(s) of social media is your expertise? (e.g., SEO, community development, community management, vendor selection, strategy, business case development, feasibility analysis, assessment, design, implementation, measurement and monitoring, business intelligence, systems integration, marketing, online marketing, operations and use of business intelligence in operations, enterprise applications, etc…)
  • Where have you done this before?
  • What was the impact?
  • What is the extent of your network to bring additional resources to bear?
  • Do you have access to peer benchmarking data?
  • What do you expect to achieve?
  • What is your point of view on the areas in which you have demonstrated experiences and success?
  • What reports/thought leadership have you published? What was your point of view, what positions did you support or refute? How did you support your research?
  • What is your availability?
  • Are you the same people that will be delivering the work or are you just a customer service/account management person?
  • Are you part of a team and if so who is that team comprised of?
  • In which industries and sectors have you applied your services?
  • Fees, Rates, hours, etc…?

I think all of the personal stuff asked above about your activity on the web is interesting fodder for conversations, but it is secondary to the services you’ve already delivered and your actual experiences. Even more important is understanding and describing the impact your services have had, because that shows that you are vested in their success. In short, where you have done the same or similar work before and what was the result?

Perhaps it’s because this space is still so new and so many folks don’t have actual experiences that they need to rely on a more general description of awareness of social media – and by definition, that means that you aren’t an expert, you may be a knowledgeable enthusiast, but you are not an expert.

I am an expert in exercise physiology and endurance training, and I am an expert in business strategy and strategic communications and I can provide solid and compelling responses to the questions above in those areas to support that. I can have a targeted conversations backed up with analytical reasoning and quantitative support around those issues – it goes far beyond cocktail conversations and enticing rhetoric.

As a part of business strategy and communications, I have had numerous conversations with organizations on how to begin to incorporate social media into their overall strategy, but I do not consider myself to be an expert – I invite the experts into the conversation – the right ones for the right conversations, for example, how many reading this actually know what to do with the information that they collect in an online community? How to set up systems so that the information is incorporated into an overall business intelligence strategy? How to systemetize this into the organization’s current Oracle or SAP implementations? How to build in specific security and identify management plans to ensure the integrity of the system?

Individually, you don’t have to be an expert in all of these areas but in today’s business discussions, I find it increasingly apparent that you need to “bring” experts to the table in more of, if not all of, these areas when you are talking about social media and business. That means that I’ll bring a community management expert into the discussion if that’s the issue we want to address, or I’ll bring a network analysis expert to the table of that’s where the conversation goes. But I’ll bring the experts, not just the enthusiastic participants.