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The evolving role of social media consultants: a chat with Mana Ionescu

Mana Ionescu

As organizations move from debating  whether to get involved with social media to a discussion about how to do it, the role of independent consultants in the social marketing space is evolving. With more consultants than ever offering to help businesses build relationships through blogs and social sites, I got a chance recently to chat with someone who has a proven track record of working with brands to create conversational presences on the social Web that further real-world objectives.

Mana Ionescu, founder of Lightspan Digital, will be presenting “Crowdsourcing the Brand – How to Get Social Media Buzz Through User-Generated Content” at the @Midwest conference in Bloomington, IL on July 7. I will present “Assessing the Relevance of Social Media Metrics: an Approach to Goal-Oriented Measurement”.

Jay: In the time you’ve been helping businesses develop their social presence online, do you think marketing professionals have become more comfortable with the social Web?

Mana: Yes I think more and more professionals are learning about social media and there is certainly an ever-growing pool of professionals who offer social marketing services.  Many specialists are emerging, some who prefer working with B2B companies, others who prefer social media for social good, others who specialize in LinkedIn, or restaurants, or you name it.

Jay: Are you finding fewer people questioning whether social platforms represent an important channel for marketers, or are there still a lot of wait-and-see attitudes out there?

Mana: I think more and more businesses are seeing the value in social media, and others that continue to wait. Some simply don’t have budgets for social media work, others don’t have staff and can’t afford outsourcing the work. In the past year how to go about social media work has been a bigger challenge to businesses than the mere acceptance that they need to engage with customers online.  That’s one of the areas that we’re trying to address with our services – not just painting a map, but actually walking our clients down the roads they need to take to be successful.

Jay: What should PR and marketing pros look for when hiring a social media marketing consultant? How can you tell whether someone who wants to help you build a social strategy will really benefit your business?

Mana: First I’d look to see if they truly understand social media.

1. Do they get social media is about people or are they quickly promising 10,000 Facebook followers by the end of the year?
2. Do they understand the different between being on Twitter and Facebook for personal reasons and social media marketing designed to serve business objectives?
3. Are they social? I often get asked what makes for a good community manager (employee to tweet and Facebook). Some of the most successful community managers I know are genuinely friendly and many are natural networkers, unafraid to talk to strangers and very positive about the outcomes of online interactions.

Secondly I’d look to see if they’re good marketers:

1. Do they know how to plan, manage and deliver a campaign? This skill-set is universal, not related to social media work. It separates those who just do the talk from those who can themselves or can show your business how to walk the walk.
2. Do they understand math? There, I said it. And by math I mean data and analytics as it relates to marketing not 1+1 makes 2. And not necessarily an analytics wiz, but you want someone who will know what key performance indicators are relevant to the channels you will use, and know how to translate data into marketing recommendations. And it’s definitely a plus if they have the right tools or partner with analysts and companies, such as Cision, that can help them measure results.
3. If they get social media and are good marketers, from there on it’s just a matter of personality, approach and cost.

Jay: You’ve told me that you think it’s important for brands to be conversational and direct their messages to individuals as much as possible. How do we measure that and set benchmarks to ensure we’re not being overly self-promotional?

Mana: Yes, we recommend a conversation/content distribution ratio of 70/30. In other words, of all the communication we distribute through social networks, 70% should be conversation and only 30% self-promoting content. Of course there are exceptions but the 70/30 rule works for most businesses that are looking to grow their online fan base.

Most smaller or newer businesses have to take a grassroots approach to become known. A grassroots approach means we look to connect with people online and make them voluntary spokespeople for our brand. People connect through common passions and interests and those commonalities are discovered in conversation either via tweets directed at people, or through blog comments, questions that drive conversations posted on Facebook, online chats and interactive events etc. The conversations can range from mundane ice-breakers to serious, in-depth commentary. The other 30% of the online presence can be broadcasts about the business.

Jay: What will you be covering in your session at @Midwest?

Mana: I will be discussing a very powerful reality in social media marketing, the crowdsourcing of brands. These recent years have brought about a change in consumers’ role in business to consumer interactions. Consumers used to be audiences, somewhat passive, and definitely classified, tagged and “interrupted” (watch this ad, open this email, click my banner! – the “interrupted” reference comes from a Hubspot article). Today consumers are participants – they classify and tag brands (they yelp and tweet) and commune with each other online. They participate in building or ruining brands, no longer passive or interrupted.  My presentation will be about understanding this change and how to employ this knowledge to fuel the growth of brands.

 

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