Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

From the draft archive: The social media consultant is doomed

This is a post I wrote in 2008, and for some reason I don’t remember, I never posted. I’m fairly certain I just didn’t like the final paragraph, decided to think on it, and then forgot about it until now. Since words in a draft folder don’t do much for anyone, I thought I’d post this here. I don’t want to say “I told you so,” but I definitely meant to.

When I started my business, I wrestled with the question of what exactly to call the stuff I was going to do.  Social media was really starting to gain acceptance with the brands I was already talking to, and more and more clients were asking for it – though few knew what it was.  Having written and read about the subject for years, in addition to my experience at public relations and interactive firms, it seemed like branding myself a social media guy made the most sense, but the concept always rubbed me the wrong way.  Social media, at least in terms of marketing, is just a vehicle – and one that should come out of an organization’s strategic goals.  So, after giving it a lot of thought and talking to a lot of people who are a lot smarter than me, I decided to eschew the “social media consultant” moniker, and focus the business around the broader web strategy and digital PR.

After a few months in the business, and spending a lot more time than I ever have talking to businesses about social media, I’m happy with the decision I made – not only because it better fit what I ultimately wanted to do, but because while there may be a gold rush now, more and more, I feel the “social media consultant” is a doomed profession.

This isn’t to say that social media won’t gain acceptance within the enterprise.  To the contrary, I’m sure that its use among corporations will continue to grow and part of the reason I continue to dedicate my efforts to continual education in the social media space, and the reason that agencies are beginning to do the same.

Right now, social media consultants serve a useful purpose for businesses.  Their principal role is to educate, train and help their clients understand how to use tools like blogs and Twitter to engage their audiences.  However, as I talk to more and more businesses, the trend I’m seeing is that savvy marketers already understand that they should be listening, and that Twitter is an important channel for business conversations, and they didn’t need to pay anyone to tell them that.  As the economy worsens, and times get tighter, businesses for whom Twitter is a good fit will figure out the tools themselves, and what they will need is a multi-channel strategy that will need to be based on situation analysis and market research.

The clients I’ve talked to who were interested but still skeptical required something else.  They needed a holistic view of how social media fits in to their entire enterprise – from advertising to HR, how it would affect their internal resources, budget and

The best social media consultants – the ones who have a classical background or education in public relations or advertising, will likely need to join or start an agency to deal with the depth of work required from major clients.  Those who lack such a background will find fewer and fewer businesses requiring the basics, and will need to focus on small businesses and organizations, or adopt internal roles as community managers and content developers.

Finally, while the traditional agencies with social media practices are for the most part maligned within the social media realm, you can bet that as soon as there is major cash to be had, every interactive agency and every PR firm with a significant digital practice will not only have their own social media practice, they will get damned good at it, and they will be able to deliver at a level of detail and service that no independent consultant will be able to acheive.  I’m already starting to see this trend emerging.  Most of the agencies I’ve spoken with either have a burgeoning social media practice, or it is on their plate for next year.

“But Ryan,” I can hear you say.  “You’re an independent consultant, so how can you think this way?”  Honestly, I’m not writing this post to get more clients.  I’m writing this post to explain how the things that I’ve seen in the few months of starting this business are affecting my business strategy going forward.  I’m 100% sure that I could make a decent living as a social media consultant for the next few years, but I’m also sure that if I want to play in the social media space, I need to provide more than just advice.  Businesses may need their hand held through the scary world of blogs and Twitter right now, but soon, necessity will force them to figure it out for themselves.

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