Open Letter to Social Media Consultants: Not All Staff Are Volunteers or Incompetent


<cracking knuckles>

For who-knows-what reason (I like to think it's the acupuncture I'm now hooked on), it's been a good long time since I've felt like ranting. Well, I guess I can lay the acupuncture theory to rest since I just had a treatment over the weekend and I'm about to rant. Sorry/you're welcome, depending on which camp you're in when it comes to rants.

Today I saw someone I respect tweet a link to this post "Nonprofits Have No Excuse: Give More Resources to Social Media" and , since I do social media for a nonprofit, naturally I clicked and read. And, no disrespect intended to the author, but, boy, was I disappointed.

Let me start by saying that I have many friends who are consultants or work for PR or social firms. Let me also say I know a lot of smart people who work for nonprofits, and I myself work for an association and have spent most of my career in associations. And finally, let me say this: I'm getting REALLY tired of reading advice from consultants advising the world that the only people qualified to "do" social media are consultants.

Take the post I linked to above about nonprofits having no excuse and NEEDING to give more resources to social media. Here's a quote from that post:
" In the beginning you should bring in a consultant to help you better understand Social Media and how you can best you use Social Media. This will also give you the much needed outside prospective  that all organizations must have. This will cost you a little, but the benefit will outweigh the cost within a few weeks."
Ok, really? All organizations MUST HAVE an outside perspective? Because no organizations have competent people on staff? Here's a newsflash: some of the smartest, most competent people I know work for nonprofits. While an outside perspective is sometimes great to have, it is by no means a necessity. Also, sometimes an outside perspective is just not effective if the consultant doesn't understand the way the org actually works and gives pie-in-the-sky advice that the org won't actually be able to use effectively--or gives advice that's just plain wrong. I've seen such advice on more than one occasion over my 20+ year career. Not everyone who proclaims him/herself to be an expert is actually an expert, and expert advice is not one size fits all; mileage may vary greatly.

Then onto my favorite part:
"Once you have talked to a consultant and you know what tools you want to use and what direction you want to take your Social Media efforts, its time to get started. But you’re still thinking “we don’t have anyone who has time!”. Well I would venture that there is someone in your office that is already involved with Social Media who would love to help out your organization and drive your bus into the Social Media world. If not, there are a ton of 20 something’s who love your organization and would be thrilled to “help” your Social Media efforts.?"
Where to even begin with this part? Let me start with the resources part. Let me ask you this? How many social media consultants "would love to help " an organization "drive their bus into the social media world" for free? I'm guessing probably not many. So why the assumption that there are people on staff who are dying for this opportunity to take on more responsibility? For anyone who hasn't worked for a nonprofit before, let me break it down for you: many nonprofits are woefully understaffed. Any given employee may well already be wearing multiple hats and doing multiple jobs. If there are companies out there with staff who have bunches of free time to dedicate to whole other jobs, they're most likely not nonprofits, who are already probably doing way more with way less. Not to mention that social media consultants would probably be the first to argue that not just anyone can "do" social media for a company. Is it rocket science? Of course not. But can just anyone slap together a successful social media presence for an organization, manage it well on an ongoing basis, tie progress to existing strategy and course correct when progress isn't being made, stay on top of trends and changes to various platforms, and show results? I'm going to say in most cases, no. After all, if those people could do all that AND another full-time on job on top of that, they'd be better off setting up their own consulting businesses than working for a nonprofit. But I digress.

Then to the business about the 20-somethings who are so passionate about an org that they'd be "thrilled" to "help" implement, for free, the social media strategy the org paid the consultant to develop. As a 40-something year-old social media manager, I'm sure you don't need me to spell out how tired I am of seeing the job I do consistently referred to as a job that only 20-somethings are equipped to do. I somehow seem to be managing ok, if I do say so myself, as do plenty of others who don't have the number "20" in their age....but others have already addressed this about a billion times over so there's no need for me to re-hash.

So should nonprofits be devoting more resources to social media? In most cases, yes. But do those resources need to be earmarked only for consultants because staff and/or volunteers can do the heavy lifting for free? No. According to NTEN's 2012 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report, the top three factors for success are: strategy, prioritization, and dedicated staff. Funnily enough, "hiring a consultant"--not one of the factors. Sorry.