If you look at many of the profiles found on Blogs and people's ultra-short/sharp bios on Twitter, you will notice something very interesting: almost everybody says that they are either a New Media Strategist or a Social Media Strategist. What, exactly, does that mean and how can you better understand just how good they are at online strategy?
There is no doubt that when you get back to the office on Monday, everyone is going to be looking for areas to cut costs and get more efficient. Although we would like to think otherwise, Marketing is usually the first place to get hit... and hit hard. As part of whatever cost saving strategies will be implemented in your company, one question will be, "how can we better use some of these new media channels to gain efficiencies?" While this can be a slew of Blog posts on their own, most people will go online, do some generic searches or post a quick question on FriendFeed or Twitter asking their community who they should be speaking to. The reality is that when something is this new, everybody and anybody can claim to be an expert... or, at least, a "strategist."
Results speak louder than words.
Bios, Twitter feeds, Blog postings, etc... can all be great, interesting and meaty, but nothing will help you decide more than by looking at who they have worked for, what they have done and the results they have achieved. This is not about the size of the brands or the companies, sometimes the best Social Media and New Media stories are about how the local retailer was able to expand their business, create a global footprint, engage in a conversation with their customers and find some kind of fascinating business-to-business opportunity that was created specifically because they had engaged in these social channels. There's also something to be said for the individual who was able to take a not-for-profit or industry association and help them optimize the conversation between them and their constituents with little-to-no budget. If the Strategist can't show you real platforms and demonstrate how they changed, added value or affected the business goals of their clients directly, move on.
Do some snooping around on your own.
Doing simple searches on Technorati, Google Blog Search, Twitter Search, FriendFeed or creating a Google Alerts about the company that the Strategist has worked for is another very easy and simple way to see if the work they had done has had any effect. Without question, speaking directly to the client is an important part of deciding if you are going to move forward, but keep in mind that because these channels are so new, the clients may not even know (or be able to verbalize) exactly what the Strategist really did beyond regurgitating what they may have seen in a status report or heard anecdotally through someone else. One of the best ways to make the right decision on who you are going to work with is to empower yourself to use the many free tools available at your fingertips that will only take a few minutes to figure out, and pull results from them. Even doing a generic search on the client should pull some information to see if the needle has moved.
Go beyond the results to see the cross-channel effect.
It's not just about whether the Strategist helped the client start a Blog, get on Twitter or create a Facebook Fan Page. Telling someone what they should do is not understanding the client's business goals, seeing how these social channels fit into the mix, choosing the right channel, building the platform effectively and ensuring that there is ongoing nurturing to the community and beyond. On top of really developing and executing this New Media strategy, any great Strategist worth their weight should also have some kind of significant experience in Marketing, Communications, Advertising, Public Relations, etc... Because any strong New Media strategy needs to fit in perfectly with the overall Marketing and Communications strategy. Nothing works in a silo. Nor should it. Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to build, share and grow the relationship. If all of these touchpoints are not connected, all is lost. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
How good is their own self-promotion?
One of the best parts of these social channels is that anyone can take part and be published. How great is the Strategist in using these same channels to build their own business and reputation? Adding friends on Twitter and Facebook is easy. It's just a simple click. Anyone can be following or friending anybody. The real question is this: who is following them and is a friend of theirs? But even that is superficial. Some of the biggest names out there will add anybody and everybody to build their own network, community and audience. The bigger question is this: how well respected, how much authority and who looks to this Strategist for insight and information? It's not enough to have the occasional Blog comment from an a-list Blogger. Dig deeper. Check out where the Strategist ranks on Technorati for their Blog and see who links to their spaces. Google never lies. In a world of transparency, it's pretty simple to see just how good someone really is. Some might argue this point by saying that the Strategist's platforms might still be very new or that you don't, necessarily, have to have your own, successful, Blog to help a client build one. Agreed, but in that case...
Nothing beats experience and history.
As new as these social media and new media channels are, a great Marketing and Communications professional with experience and a track record of helping to facilitate communications and build community is pretty easy to identify. In a world of over 130 million Blogs (according to Technorati), even the brand new ones get a ton of attention if they are, truly, remarkable by adding something new to the conversation or simply being published by someone who is respected because of the work they do. If a seasoned professional can't get their own insights and platforms any form of attention, how do you really think they will be able to perform for you?
Remember, anybody can create a Blog or say some pithy stuff on Twitter. All of these channels lack any formal process of ranking authority, so the amateur and the twenty-year veteran both have equal footing, This is the best (and worst) part of these social channels.