“Must-have” Qualities to Look for When Hiring Social Media Consultant

In this four-part series on Social Media for Small Businesses, Social Media Consultant Alison Cummings and Marketing Technology Consultant Phil Gerbyshak talks about social media opportunities for small businesses.

Part 1: “Must-have” Qualities to Look for When Hiring a Social Media Consultant
Part 2: Why Social Media Challenges Small Business Owners and Consultants
Part 3: Why Twitter Works for Small Businesses
Part 4: How to Partner Social Media With Offline Marketing Strategy


Watch Phil Gerbyshak in action, and you see an outgoing, energetic, funny guy. Phil is an experienced speaker and trainer. He is also the  author of three books.

One subject this Milwaukee consultant is serious about: The value of social media for small businesses. And you don’t have to be in the hospitality industry to benefit from the compelling success stories he and co-authors Joe Sorge and Scott Baitinger share in #TwitterWorks Restaurant 2.0 Edition.

Phil Gerbyshak photo

Small businesses: Want advice on hiring a social media consultant? Get it straight from Marketing Technology Consultant Phil Gerbyshak.

Meet Phil Gerbyshak

Alison Cummings: I would try to put into context what it is you do and what you’ve accomplished, but it’s pretty broad. So if you wouldn’t mind doing that, I’d really appreciate it.

Phil Gerbyshak: Sure. Boy, so let’s see. Where to begin? I guess, let’s talk about what I’m most passionate about and that is I like to help people, which is why I’ve written books.

I wrote 10 Ways to Make You Great back in 2006. I wrote a book on how to be a better help desk manager with Jeff Brooks called Help Desk Managers Crash Course in ’08. And then in 2010, wrote #TwitterWorks to help small businesses and restaurants embrace Twitter, and see that it’s not as hard, and as mysterious, and as mystical, as people make it out to be.

And then right now, as of June 1, 2010, I am full-time marketing technology strategist helping organizations either tell their story, understand how to use tools, or develop strategy, typically around social media.

Prior to that, for the past 10 years I was an IT manager at a financial services company based here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. So I’ve done lots of stuff. I was in the Navy for four years. I went to school to be an elementary school teacher, and I’ve written a couple thousand articles. I like to play with computers and love to work with people. So does that wrap it up pretty good?

Advice on hiring a social media consultant

Alison: Yes, it’s great! And actually leads to my next question. You said a lot of things helped you get to where you are now, working in social media. For someone  interested in entering this career or wanting to hire someone as a social media consultant, what do you think are the most important qualities that the consultant should have?

Phil: Well, as it is social media, you have to have a very strong social background. You have to understand people … help people, and have a big heart. That’s hard to measure in an interview, but I think you can tell people that have a big heart. I think that’s important.

If you’re a company and you’re hiring someone, you need to understand what you want them to do. Is it outreach or is it customer service of inbound stuff? Is it finding new customers for you? In which case, you’d need more of an outbound sales mentality. Maybe you need someone who is in real estate or someone who is a hunter and gatherer. Or someone who’s just going to tend to the people that are already your customers. And if that’s your case, then you can go with someone who’s more into customer service.

But you definitely need someone, if you’re talking about the whole strategy, not just Twitter. You need someone who understands the whole strategy. So if they have a marketing background, that’s good, but certainly an IT background is helpful too, because the tools change really fast. And a lot of IT people have a good grasp of how to learn a new tool quickly once they understand your strategy.

So they might be working with you, first, to get that strategy. And that might take a little bit. Just like, on the other side, you can train people to use the tools. But I really think that blend of the two typically is someone who is in IT who has more drive, more initiative, who’s willing to kind of go the extra mile to help customers. And not just IT for IT’s sake, but someone who will align themselves with the business.

It could be someone on a service desk or a help desk,  a manger who typically spent time embedded in the business. It could be someone who did a really great job of writing concise memos or sending crisp e-mails inside a company. So communication is another critical skill.

Alison: I think it’s fair to say that you’re an extrovert.  You’d agree?

Phil: Yes.

Alison:  Okay. What about someone who’s an introvert that has those qualities? Has the big heart, is customer service-oriented, and a good communicator with some IT knowledge. Do you think that (being an introvert) would hold them back?

Phil: I don’t think so. To me, the definition of an extrovert is someone who gets energy from people. If someone’s an introvert, that means they don’t get as much energy from people and often they need to be alone.

And in social media, you need some alone time. You need to be able to kind of put your head down, write an article and maybe build some back links. You need to put your head down and actually do some of the work. It’s not all social. So I would say being an introvert definitely would not hold someone back as long as they possess the other skills.

I’ve had customers who have said, “Hey, I’d really love it if you’d just run our Twitter account. All I need you to do is send 20 tweets a week.”  Well, that’s not really how Twitter works. It’s not like 20 tweets is “enough.” Ten tweets might be too many.

Alison: You mentioned you’re entering this full time. Do you have any certain company profile that you’re focusing on?

Phil: I specialize in the smaller business, so someone who has under 25 people who typically doesn’t have a full-time marketing department. They might have a marketing person, maybe even two marketing people, but someone who knows that they need a Web site with a blog probably.

They probably need Twitter. They probably need Facebook … maybe their Web site hasn’t been updated since 2001, or they signed up for Twitter and it completely failed because they didn’t devote any time to it.Or they set up a Facebook Fan Page and they didn’t really do anything to cultivate it. So coming back in to reinvigorate a smaller company to help them get going.

It could be they outsource that to me, to create the content. And then eventually, I  bring them back in to show them,  “Hey, it’s not that hard. You can do this. If you spend an hour or two a day, you can make a big impact on your social media.” Because ultimately, people want to interact with the company.

For smaller businesses, it’s about helping them know a little bit more about what they want, and eventually teaching them how to transition to doing it themselves.

Certainly, if you hire someone and give them the business knowledge, you’re going to be paying them for much more than just sending 10 tweets a week. I’ve had customers who have said, “Hey, I’d really love it if you’d just run our Twitter account. All I need you to do is send 20 tweets a week.”  Well, that’s not really how Twitter works. It’s not like 20 tweets is “enough.” Ten tweets might be too many.

And by that, I mean you have to interact with your customers. If you have people that are interacting with you, you have to interact with them. It’s not numerical. That would be just like if you opened a business and said, “The only people I’m going to serve are the first 20 and the rest of you, I’m going to make it look like the door’s open, but I’m just going to ignore you.”  That’s ridiculous.

But that’s often the tact that businesses take. They’re looking for some sort of hourly quantification on that, or some numerical quantification where they say 10, 20, 50, whatever, tweets. It’s very difficult. You can do that when you talk about blog posts. You can say, “I’d like to write 10 articles a month.”  That’s possible.

So typically, for those smaller businesses, it’s about helping them know a little bit more about what they want, and eventually teaching them how to transition to doing it themselves.

Next in the Social Media for Small Businesses Series: Part 2

Phil Gerbyshak and I share views on Why Social Media Challenges Small Business Owners and Consultants.

About Alison Cummings

Business Writing, Copywriting, Content Marketing.
Communications + Marketing + Technical Expertise.


  1. I hope the interview is helpful to the folks who read your blog.

    Thanks for spotlighting me and taking the time to transcribe our talk Alison. I learn a little more about myself and my business each time I share my message, so I appreciate the opportunity.

  2. Phil, my pleasure. I guarantee there are fellow consultants and small business owners who will get a lot out of this series.

    I posted a link in my professional Linkedin Groups, including LinkedQuebec, eMarketing and Social Media Today, leading with this headline:

    “Must-have” qualities small businesses should look for when hiring a social media consultant?”
    #TwitterWorks co-author Phil Gerbyshak shares his input.
    What do you think? Agree, disagree? What “must have(s) would you add to the list?

    Will let you know if I get any feedback!

    Look for Part 2 of our interview on Monday.

  3. Great post. I have a question though.

    @Phil and @Alison

    What is your thought on a company or social media consultant managing a company’s social media accounts? Do you think that is something the business should be doing?

    Ive been in situations where the company handles social media accounts for clients but I think to myself, do they have the best answers? If social media is about transparency and relationship building, but yet the company arent the ones even doing it, how is that being transparent?

    I think that it is more appropriate to teach, than to do for social media consultants.


    • Glad you liked the post.

      I will share my thoughts on your question and have dropped a line to Phil so he can share his.

      I faced this issue as a corporate Web strategy director, and face it now as a consultant.

      In general, I think a company should take the lead and be directly involved in managing its social media accounts vs. a PR/marketing firm or consultant. This is of course, not always the case. And you can tell, as the voice is stiff and the message canned. Some companies have no choice when it comes to internal vs. external, e.g. ISO-regulated industries.

      I view consultants (company/individual) as having a key role as social media strategists/advisors helping the company understand social media and keep current on new technologies, opportunities/risks and best practices.

      And this role is highly practical and valued, having evolved into a niche market born from the recent economic crisis and the advent of social media.

      Social media is still evolving — and at a rapid pace. As Jeremiah Owyang points out, we forget that social media is still very young. But it’s clear what you, me, Phil and many others offer is a communication/marketing expertise that many companies require. And that they are outsourcing, just as they do specialized IS/IT or legal counsel.

      I agree with you, social media is about transparency and relationship building. Ideally, employees would be positioned as company advocates and identified as spokespeople when they tweet/post vs. a mysterious identity. With their personalities intact. Social media allows for this.

      But not all companies are there yet. Be they big or small. Some take the least risky approach and simply re-purpose press releases as blog tweets. But then, these companies are no different on the inside than they are on the outside: Closed. The antithesis of Charlene Li’s Open Leadership model.

      There is a very practical and necessary aspect companies must consider: Integrating social media into their overall marketing and branding strategies. Social media is now a necessary component – not only from the perspective of how to use social media platforms to communicate information quickly and effectively, but also how to use the respective platforms properly.

      As individuals it is much easier to respect the social media tenets of authenticity, transparency and engagement. But we have to acknowledge that for a company —a legal entity — it is more complicated. And the varying level of exposure and potential risk is much greater for some companies vs others. Missteps can go viral in seconds. Staff training is mandatory.

      Strategy, training, are part of my offer. As is branding.

      Building an online brand requires a higher level of involvement at the initial stages, to put theory into action. Not all companies have the budget to assume the workload 100% internally. They may need a consultant to help them with blog posts or tweets. It’s no different than being a part-time employee.

      But that role must have clear parameters that differentiate it from the roles of official spokespeople and management. Some companies are very transparent about who represents them online, listing the names of those contributing to their accounts, e.g. “@name here and @name here send out the majority of our tweets.”

      Ongoing professional development and networking are value-adds the consultant brings back to the client. In addition to his/her experience working in a similar role with other companies. Having worked inside a company, and now outside, I can say that as a consultant, I have much more exposure and have gained a lot more knowledge in a much shorter time.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to answer with at well detailed reply.

    Your answer was so good, I don’t even think there is anything else I can add! All great points.

    Looking forward to future posts!

    -Rachel Howe

  5. Alison hit the best qualities. A willingness to help, to share, and to ask insightful questions to continue to grow and redefine the role are also important qualities, as social tools are still relatively immature compared to traditional media tools.

  6. @Alison I would love to. You can chat me up by email: rachel@rmhowe.com or connect w me on Twitter: @R8chel_Marie