Back in December 2009, a search by B L Ochman found almost 16,000 self-proclaimed social media experts on Twitter. That's a lot of (apparent) expertise. If you needed social media expertise for your business, how on earth could you choose? I believe there are some very simple checks you can do to give you the best chance of finding a genuine "expert". Here are five tests that I hope will help you.
1) Evidence of success.
Rather than explaining what they might be able to do for you, any genuine expert should be able to "show and tell" a number of examples where their work has been of benefit to clients. Ideally, they should be able to quote examples of similar work to that you are asking for, and provide proof of their success. Look for numbers and financial value. If they say that their value is "impossible to quantify", be very wary.
2) Referrals from happy clients
This is similar to the one above, but your potential expert should also be able to provide contact details of past clients who will vouch for them. Ideally, they should allow you to select several clients from a list, and then provide you contact details so that you can take up references. If your expert claims that all of their work is "confidential", or "too early to tell", this should give you cause for concern.
3) Referrals from other experts
This one is a bit more tricky. In my opinion, people who are very good at what they do become known by other experts in their field. There are a number of universally acknowledged expert in social media, such as Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Amy Jo Martin, Chris Brogan and Joel Comm (yes, and some others - make up your own list). I think it is reasonable to ask your "expert", which of these people knows them and could vouch for them.
4) Online presence
Real social media experts use social media a lot. That's why they get good. It's not just about the number of followers they have (though that is significant), but it's also about whether they post regularly, engage with their connections and appear to know what they are doing. If you their Twitter profile and find they are following 2,000 people, but have only a few hundred followers, run away quickly.
5) Published expertise
Have they written a book (yes I know, very 20th century), blogs or wikis that you can look at? Do they speak often at large events? Real experts publish their knowledge widely, and are often asked to speak. It's not a guarantee of expertise, but it's another sign.
This list is not exhaustive, and nor does it mean that if they don't tick every box, you should not engage their services. But if they only meet one or two of the above criteria, are you sure they are a real expert? If you're putting your money out there, you need to be confident. Take care.