So you’ve decided to dig in, you realize that social media isn’t going away but you really don’t have the time or inclination to learn an entirely new marketing genre. But every where you turn, someone claims to be a social media expert. How can you tell them a part (besides the huge swing in cost) and should you work with them.

I’ve put together 5 questions to ask a social media consultant. These aren’t questions designed to trip-up an expert, they are designed to help you determine if the expert your choosing is right for you.

What metrics do you use to track social media success?

The answer to this question may vary slightly depending on your objectives. However, if they only measurement tool your social media expert offers you is the number of followers, this isn’t an expert. Conversely, you shouldn’t require number of followers to be your only measure of success either. Ask this question well in advance, so you can discuss ways to track success and define your objectives.  Many people want to rely on the number of followers only, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, you social media expert can help you devise metrics that work for you. Simply having lots of followers doesn’t guarantee that your followers are the right type and getting an audience for the sake of getting an audience is sort of like running an advertisement for calculators on The Kardashians TV show-a waste of money and effort.

What other types of marketing have you done in the past?

Presumably, your social media expert has some experience in other forms of marketing. Its hard to find a social media expert that hasn’t done something related. Find one who understands the other types of marketing you do. Social Media Marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so you’ll want to hire someone who can integrate your strategy with your other marketing campaigns.  For example, if you’ve invested in SEO, you’ll want someone who understands at least the basics of SEO so your Social Media campaign can support your SEO efforts. Further, if your sponsoring an event, you’ll want to be able to utilize social media to activate your sponsorship, someone with a working knowledge of event marketing would be helpful there. Also, they should be asking you questions about overall marketing strategy. They’ll likely want to know more about your campaigns to develop programs that support your other efforts.

Have you worked with Social Media in a professional capacity?

Most of people have SOME experience as social media practitioners on a personal level, at the very least, with a LinkedIn or Facebook profile, but that’s not what makes an expert.  You want a social media strategist who is interested in your overall marketing program. A social media expert who works with you to develop a plan that works for a professional organization. They should be asking you questions about your other initiatives and open to working with you to create campaigns around your various initiatives and programs.  Look for something out of the box, because the typical Twitter and Facebook options aren’t the only ones available and they might not even be the best for you.  Be open to tools that you might not be as familiar with; after all, that’s why your hiring an expert. Lots of companies just want to jump on the band wagon, but your social media expert should be able to advise you on the best tools for your strategy and its likely that it should include at least one other tool besides Twitter and Facebook.

Where can I find you in the social media sphere?

Your social media expert should be using the social media for him or herself. Ask for their profiles (hint: if its not in their email already, you should ask why) and review and follow their profiles. What are they talking about? Do they engage their audience? Also, be on the look out here for people with just a Facebook and Twitter account, ideally you’d want people who are familiar with business uses for LinkedIn, social bookmarking sites, blogging and YouTube to name a few frequently by-passed networks or tools. Be sure to follow it for a week or more to make sure your comfortable with their presence.

What mistakes have you made in social media?

No one is perfect, but experts learn from their mistakes. Every campaign or strategy is different, ask your social media expert what mistakes they’ve learned and what they do differently as a result. You should be more afraid of the expert who claims to have never made a mistake; that’s someone who isn’t analyzing their work or isn’t pushing the envelope or isn’t professionally performing social media. Why? Because even talented, smart people make mistakes – perhaps ESPECIALLY talented smart people make mistakes. Hiring someone who can’t stand up and learn from their mistakes is like advertising bikini swim suits during the Deadliest Catch, even if you can afford it.

BONUS Question:

What is their social media philosophy?

Openess and engagement and listening are the keys to social media, so be looking for ways that your social media experts adhere to these ideals. Simply having a presence isn’t enough, your social media expert should be able to show you how to listen and  engage your audience.

Most consultants will meet with you to discuss your goals and plans, make the most of the opportunity by getting to know them and their social media expertise.