There’s a lot of controversy about who qualifies as a social media expert these days.

The point is, anyone can do it! That’s the whole beauty of social media marketing. It’s really the simplest way to get your business moving and, to me, everyone in business should be applying these fantastic tools to their marketing strategy.

As in any new trend, people will claim to know more than others or to be better at it than others but, truthfully speaking, no one has the right to say that they are the best at it or the only expert in the field. Some cotton on to social media usage really quickly and understand the nuances of using it and others just can’t see the big picture.

It is hard for a business to determine who has the experience, knowledge and talent to offer this service as there are no real parameters for judging SM experts at the moment. I think what is important is that you, the business owner, feel comfortable with the person or company that you have employed to develop your SM marketing strategy for your business.

There are some obvious questions that you can ask before you commit though.

1. How long have you been using Social Media?

A professional consultant should be able to explain that this new form of marketing evolved from the concept of one-to-one selling and through the use of direct response marketing techniques that, when applied to the internet evolved into a plethora of social interactive sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The theory of social media has been around for ages but pursued in a more traditional marketing approach.

2. What background does your chosen “Expert” have?

My experience shows me that people without an understanding or experience in traditional marketing will struggle with the concept as they do not see the bigger picture of how social media can assist them. Each application has it’s place and may not pertain to all users. Like TV, radio, press and direct mail, social media is a marketing tool and needs to be applied to an overall strategy.

3. Are they using these techniques themselves?

A good consultant will obviously be using a blog as it forms the hub of all SM marketing activity. They’ll also be familiar and up to date with how to use the various applications like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Articles, online PR, bookmarking applications and others.

4. Do they have any Case Histories?

Nothing proves the point more than solid working experience and your SM consultant should be able to talk you through the case histories of clients that they’ve worked with or are developing. Recommendations can be found on LinkedIn – just ask them for the link to their recommendations.

5. Explaining what they know

An SM consultant worth their salt will be willing and able to train a prospective client. If they really know how and when to use the applications available and are willing to share the knowledge by offering training as part of their service then you’ll know that they must be at ease and immersed in the topic.

6. Search out your nearest expert

SM experts are found online sharing information and connecting wherever they can. One simple way to source a consultant is to simply Google their name eg: Jane van Velsen – and see where and when they last published, what they are saying, what clients they represent, read their blog posts, look at their connections, follow their Tweets for a while and you’ll soon build up a picture.

7. Are all Social Media Experts PR people?

No! Absolutely not! Public Relations is one part of the overall marketing picture and is used in marketing strategy as is social media but the two are not the same. The same can be said of web designers and copywriters. An SM marketing consultant should have a diverse background in marketing covering all aspects of advertising and marketing to offer best advice coupled with writing talent. (Their own or hired help)

8. Ask the Questions

Don’t be shy to ask your SM consultant how and when they started offering their services. When did they start using Twitter, Facebook and how many blogs did they have to start before mastering the art successfully? Are they using Pingfm. How are they segmenting their ezine/eshot offerings to various audiences they target for themselves and for their clients? Why do they prefer Blogger to WordPress? Do they use mobile access? How up to date are they on applications?

9. Are they a Registered Supplier?

Consultants who really know social media and it’s uses will be registered businesses, not fly by nights. Ask for their affiliations eg: Business Link, Chamber of Commerce.

10. Do I need to understand SEO to implement social media?

This is a double edged sword but from where I stand, yes! Traffic is sourced from search engines for blogs just as for static websites and a good SM content manager/writer should understand the fundamental of SEO to ensure that their client’s blog enjoys the benefits of SEO. The basic principles apply to the various social media applications where content is published in the same way so a lack of SEO content will only hamper your SM efforts. This is where an SM consultant with strong writing and marketing skills comes to the fore. After all, what use is a website or a blog without search engine traffic?

These are just a few of the questions you can ask to clarify whether or not the person, company you intend using to manage your social media is the right one.

Jane van Velsen – The Right Writer offers clients a full social media marketing service including training, researching, writing, distributing articles and posts, conversion into press releases for online distribution and to hard copy publishers, creating databases for social media use, creating website site maps, content and overseeing set up, business blogs from inception, design and content to monetising, 3rd party advertising and guest authors, sourcing articles, and linking to social media for maximum visibility online, client service between client and other service providers such as web designers and SEO experts, Pay per click advertising, Facebook advertising campaigns, review of analytics, strategic input.