The dirty little secret of social media communications

Mary Fletcher Jones

Impressed by an influential blogger?  Or someone with thousands of Twitter followers?  Thinking about hiring that person to work on your social media projects?

The next time you check out a consultant online, or meet one at a networking event, remember: numbers don’t tell the whole story. Twitter followers are just that.  Even testimonials can be misleading.

Now, I would say this applies to a minority.  But since I know personally of at least three individuals, I would say it pays to be a bit careful.  Not everyone can be Chris Brogan, who can command a day rate in excess of $20,000/day.  More conventionally, experienced communicators who work for large firms are pulling down salaries around $100,000 a year (a figure I would love to make).  I’m sure there are a few less experienced folks who do very good work and don’t make nearly that.  And then there are consultants and self-employed indies, like myself, who are paying the bills but not exactly getting rich.

A few very notable consultants however have few or no clients. You would not know that, by looking at their social media and websites.  And those are the ones in the last category that I think you should be a little careful about. These folks can be talented. They can be and often are influential.  Perhaps they can do a wonderful job for you. But what they are not is experienced.

They are so confident, you would not dream they were less than successful, unless you had inside knowledge.  I know one veteran blogger and communicator who looks great on paper, as we used to say.  Let’s say she looks great on digital.  I happen to know her family.  To my utter shock, they told me they support her.  Completely – rent, food, everything.  It’s sad, because she is truly talented.  She just can’t get clients.  She hasn’t had billable work in months, maybe years, and has been quite depressed about it.  But a lot of people read sure do read her blog! You would never guess it.

I talked to another communicator this week who has tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and who is a frequent speaker at meetings and conferences.  She confessed to me in tears that she can’t get almost any work, and when she does get it, she has to charge rock-bottom fees for it.  Again, I was completely surprised to learn that.

So, it’s something to consider.  Do you want someone working on your next project who actually has real clients?  If experience is important to you, take a close look when hiring your next consultant.

Read testimonials with a critical eye, and get references.  Like the number of Twitter followers, testimonials do not tell the whole story.  Just looking at a few recommendations published on websites, I found some statements for consultants written by people who haven’t actually worked with them, but who are acquaintances, or who met the person at a conference.  As a potential client, you do have to read between the lines.  One recommender said she would like to work with the person — but she hasn’t, actually.  One LinkedIn testimonial said not only had they not worked together, but they had not even met face-to-face.  I would not publish a testimonial like that, myself.

I found this revealing, as well as surprising, and I’m sharing this with you, not because I’m unsympathetic to these professionals, but because I think you most likely would want to work with someone actually does have clients and real-life experience.

How can you tell if someone is legit? Well, the proof is easy to find.  On my website, for example, I list my clients, describe exactly what I did for each, and I link to examples of work completed.  My accomplishments are modest by almost any standard, but at least they are bona fide.

I don’t have ten thousand followers on Twitter, or thousands of readers of my blog, but just about every week of the year, someone is paying me to do communications or social media work.

So, if you’re in the market for a consultant, take my advice, and don’t be too awed by the numbers, like Twitter followers, or friendly blog comments. Those numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on May 15, 2011, in Client/Agency Relationship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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