Why the whole “you can’t teach social media unless you participate in social media” myth is busted

“Why should I hire this consultant to build/manage my Facebook page–he can’t even run his own Facebook page.”

We’ve all heard the argument by now. If you can’t do it yourself, how are you going to tell your clients how to do it?

It’s been a common thread among social media-types the last few years. And, at some times, I’ve actually bought into it a bit.

But now, I’m here to tell you it’s a load of crap.

Which is a little odd, to be honest. Because, I’m the guy who comes in and says “you should value my advice because I’ve done this and that.” I don’t actually say it exactly like that, but I pride myself on being a consultant who practices what he preaches, so to speak.

But, I’m here to say those who preach but don’t necessarily practice aren’t incompetent. Not in all cases.


Let me paint two pictures for you.

First, think about your typical digital, advertising or PR agency. They’re busy with work–after all, it’s still a billable business model, right? They’re focused on meeting client needs. And, delivering new business. The last thing on their radar is their Web site. Or, their social profiles. Sure, these are part of the new business work, but what if the new business pipeline is full? Just because the agency isn’t participating online–does that make the agency incompetent?

Now, think about your typical VP in an agency or corporate environment. What’s their day like? They’re stuck in meetings for 80 percent of it. The remaining 20 percent is probably spent with their teams, managing their inbox and cranking out a little work, right? Remember, some of these people have lives and families outside of work, too. So, how in the heck do they have time to be sharing 15 posts on Twitter a day. Or, re-pinning content on Pinterest? I’ll answer that for you–they don’t. They’re spending most of their day doing their jobs–and some of that may involve coaching clients (internal or external) about social media. Since they’re not on Twitter all day, does that make them incapable of giving clients advice? Nope–not at all. You know what it does make them? In demand.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. The bottom line is this: Just because an agency doesn’t have a Facebook page with multiple tabs or a Pinterest page with 16 boards or an Instagram profile with 1,000 followers doesn’t mean they can’t consult on the topic/issue. It’s almost ridiculous to think that.

Instead of focusing your time and effort on what the agency is doing on their own social profiles, what you SHOULD do is your due diligence. I’ve got a few tips:

Look for senior-level experience

Really look into the agency’s experience. Do they have real experience with social, or is their experience amount to a bunch of junior-level associates doing all the work? Look at the senior level folks. Dig into their LinkedIn profiles. Even though you might work day-to-day with the junior or mid-level folks, it’s the senior-level counselors you’re going to rely on in times of great need.

Look for results

Do they just help brands “build” Facebook pages (I would think we’re past this stage by now, but who knows?), or are they helping clients realize REAL business results through social channels? I’m talking clicks, leads and actual business.

Look for *some* social proof points

They don’t have to be on EVERY network, but I think you need to see *some* proof that they “get” social themselves through their personal or agency interactions online. If the agency has NO profile online, then yeah, that’s a bit of a red flag. Just look for enough to make you feel comfortable.

What do you think? Is the “you can’t teach social media unless you participate in social media” myth busted? I’d love to hear what you think…

Note: Image courtesy of Paula Marttila via FlickR Creative Commons.

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12 comments on “Why the whole “you can’t teach social media unless you participate in social media” myth is busted

  1. problemwhitegrl says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more! Our agency esveegroup is currently hiring someone whose partial responsibility will be to manage our community – mainly because of the pressure to be so socially active!  Meanwhile, my partners and I are working all day consulting and managing social media for our clients.  The conversation comes up often in sales meetings and I completely understand the client’s POV. I agree that it’s not necessarily an indicator but it does seem like the agencies that do have a strong social media presence have an edge in the eyes of a client.
    Great analogy with advertising agencies. You don’t see advertising agencies advertising themselves.

  2. Ari Herzog says:

    A phone call today with a national web company who was interested in hiring me to talk about social media (and not about them or how they use social media) to their prospective clients backfired when they asked me if I use their service, when I responded I use a competitor personally but use them with nonprofits I manage online, and when they responded back they can’t work with me if I don’t personally use them — which throws your theory out the window, Arik. Now I know they will only hire speakers who use their products.

  3. arikhanson says:

     @Ari Herzog That’s a different conversation, don’t you think? I’m talking about companies that hire agencies/consultants to help with digital/social efforts. You’re talking about a company who’s asking you to speak (and probably sponsoring the event). I don’t think those are the same.

  4. JulieZ says:

    I completely agree with you @arikhanson & @problemwhitegrl My company manages online marketing & social media for my clients, but it’s just me. I don’t want to grow my company/add employees, and my working time is spent on my clients. I haven’t done a shred of advertising or social media building because I’m happy with my current business level. So I always advise “do as I say and not as I do” if you want to be successful, but there is a clear demand for social proof!
    On another note – when I see consultants on twitter/facebook all day promoting themselves, I think it’s a red flag. It’s obvious how their billable time is spent, and I wouldn’t want to be the one writing those checks.

  5. AndrewNWilliams says:

    Great post Arik; however, I worry that the “Look for *some* social proof” is just a hedge. Lets think about this in a slightly different way. Suppose an architect had *some* proof of quality and professionalism. She had one or two nice buildings. But, her other buildings were disasters. Slightly different, she had several small buildings, all of which seemed quite nice, but, her most influential project–the Twitter global headquarters–fell over, killing everyone inside. Now, stepping back from the analogy, in the social media world it might be okay to lack a profile on newly developing mediums, but if your company is underrepresented or under-performing on key social medias, why should anyone listen to you? Perhaps that doesn’t translate directly into followers, however shouldn’t their be some clear online presence or influence? Maybe this is what you were thinking with the *some* proof line, but it seems you could be more direct and just say “tweet or get out.”
    I would love to hear your thoughts. 

  6. JenKaneCo says:

    I wish this were true, cause then I could kill my blog and be a much happier lady 🙂 But sadly, I have found that my clients not only expect me to be quite active in social media, they actual study what I do and then ask me questions about it. It’s a tough task, as we maintain dozens of accounts and some of them are bound to get neglected (cough…LinkedIn…cough) especially since we don’t automate anything and can’t spend our whole day actively community managing. Wish I could figure out an easier way.

    But I’m totally with you on the “people who spend their whole day tweeting” should be a red flag. If they’re a community manager for a company and that’s their job, then cool. If not, it says to me that they don’t really have any work. I know firsthand that it’s nearly impossible to be that active and run a business at the same time.

  7. Emily Jones says:

    Very true. It’s like you are talking about my agency. We have worked on social media campaigns that are killers (our fan pages fan numbers are still in the top 10 of the country), we are constantly working on come client’s social mediums, and we barely make time to work on ours…. 🙂 🙂 🙂 
    GREAT POST! I’m glad someone understands…

  8. Edward2256 says:

    I have to agree on this blog post that we should look for senior experience and look for some valid social proof of their effective result. You made some excellent points. I’d love to follow this site closely for more good stuff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN0My9FQICc

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