Consultants – do we need them?

I ran across an interesting post today titled “Why you don’t need Social Media Consultants” on the Brains on Fire Blog.  The main thesis of the post is: “social media consultants provide little value…they do nothing more than you already know how to do so you don’t need them”.

In the article, Spike Jones says:

If you listen REALLY closely to their [social media consultant's] advice, you start to realize that most of it you already know. Because you have all the basic tools you need: Your humanity. Your ability to communicate with people around you. And your intuition. Because when you think about it, using social media is just a natural extension of yourself. Asking questions. Listening. Responding. And remember, social media apps are tactics. And tactics are tools. Sure, you might need some guidance on how to use that bandsaw, but you picked up a hammer and pretty much got the gist after you hit your thumb a few times.

In other words, we’re getting all worked up about (wait for it, wait for it) common sense. Common courtesy. And the best way to find that is to take off your marketing hat and use the hat you were born with – being a person.

Emphasis mine.

I have an issue with this statement.  Most organizations don’t know how to be human anymore.

Before I continue…I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of Spike’s argument (i.e., we already know how to be human) but I would argue that most companies have removed much of humanity from business.  Many organizations have been built to remove the human side of the business and have replaced it with processes and management…I’ve written about this before in a post titled Humanity and Business“…jump over and read that post for more on the subject of bringing humanity back to business.

Take a look at Jay Baer’s comment on the above article.  In the comment, Jay makes a few valid points…one of them is:

What social media consultants do best – at least those focused on tactical agnosticism – is to help companies connect the dots, align internal resources, and understand not that social media is about more than tools and pressing buttons, but about a cultural shift that manifests itself up and down the organization.

Amen.  Re-read that (and Jay’s entire comment)….did you catch the powerful stuff there?

A good social media consultant should help an organization bring about cultural change. That’s exactly what any good consultant should do….help the organization understand how to change to adapt to new realities. Whether that reality is purchasing a new software platform or using social media to build relationships with clients.

Back to my original question: Do you need consultants? Hell yes you do.

Why?  Here’s a few reasons:

  • Consultants bring an external view
  • Consultants bring experience
  • Consultants bring expertise
  • Consultants bring relevance
  • Consultants bring authority

Whether you like it or not, consultants are a necessity.   Perhaps most organizations don’t need a social media consultant…but most organizations do need help understanding how to be more human.

That’s what a good consultant (social media or otherwise) sh0uld bring to the table.   A good SM consultant should help organizations understand how to be more human while building relationships with their clients.  A good IT consultant should help organizations bring humanity back to the IT organization by helping the organization understand that IT is more than processes, workflows and reasons ‘not to’.

Do you need consultants – yes you do. If you’re looking for a consultant, find one that ignores the technology, buzzwords and tools (at the beginning) and talks about your organization, your needs and hopefully they will also talk about being more ‘human’.  Find a consultant that talks about ‘humanity and business’ and hire them on the spot.  You’ll not regret it.

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  • http://www.igobydoc.com igobydoc

    Great post, and reply to the original. Totally agree with you here.

    Doc

  • http://ericbrown.com ericbrown

    Thanks! I definitely appreciate the feedback.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://twitter.com/GeneDeLibero Gene De Libero

    Good stuff, as usual. Listen, I'm right there with the 'be human' line of thinking, but no matter what you do (business, parenting, relationships, auto repair, plumbing, etc.) there's always room for consultation. It's simply a way to fill gaps in your knowledge (or confirm what you already know.) I'm consulting right now! (no charge.)

  • http://ericbrown.com ericbrown

    Agreed Gene.

    You know this but I'll tell ya anyway – my issue is with those consultants that deliver a solution before knowing the problem. Of course we need consultants (heck…I made my living in the past as one…and may move back into a consulting role in the future).

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    The answer's in the description, Eric – “consult”. A great consultant – whether it's marketing, image, design or (whisper the words) social media – all consult with the client. It's not, “You will do this”. It's, “Here's what we'll do together”.

    You hit the nail on the head with the “human” quote – no matter what business you're in, it all boils down to the people. Without people – employees, customers, sales folk, marketers, investors, etc – you don't have a company. Get the consultant that recognizes this, has a solid strategy for how you mix your human voice and people with your business aims and the tools relevant for that, and you're on the right track.

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  • http://twitter.com/DavidJCMorris David J C Morris

    Great article: speaking as a consultant, this article hits the spot perfectly (ouch, who threw that?).

    Aside from their particular expertise, I believe that good consultants need to do these three things:

    1) listen/consult: to understand what's really at issue here, sometimes to challenge themselves to accept that the answer is not always the service they provide, to be honest and ethical about their advice

    2) tailor: to ensure that any advice and recommendations provided are appropriate to the client's situation – their issues, culture, budget, etc.

    3) add value: to do more than just 'borrow the client's own watch to tell the time'.

    The main value in using a consultant is to bring in the fresh pair of eyes; to pull up from focusing too tightly on process and certification; and to remember that there are people here working with other people and that the dynamic can affect the outcome as much as systems and skills.

    I may not be a super [...] awesome social media guru (search YouTube, if you want to understand that reference), but for me the clincher is in:

    good consultants help the organization understand how to adapt to new realities

    If consultants don't or cannot do that, then the answer has to be “No, you don't need that consultant”.

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  • http://ericbrown.com ericbrown

    Hey Danny – Thanks for stopping by.

    Right on. A consultant should be someone who can bring a human voice back to business and you'll be headed in the right direction.

  • http://ericbrown.com ericbrown

    Great stuff David.

    I like your 'three things'…listen/consult, tailor, add value. Great way to describe what a consultant does.

    How many times have you seen a consultant come into an organization with “the answer” and never really do anything significant for the organization? unfortunately, I've seen it happen many times and people can't understand it because the consultant (or consultants) knew what needed to be done.

    No consultant can walk in off the street with the answer. They need to understand the organization, the business, the people and then help create a solution that works for that organization.

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  • http://www.bluefiremediagroup.com Blue Fire Media

    A good example of this comes from the book What Would Google Do? In this book Jeff Jarvis uses the example of Dell. They had terrible customer service. People started posts and web sites complaining about them. In fact, when you did a search for Dell, a blog post with the title Dell Sucks showed up in the top 5 on Google.
    Finally, Dell got the gist of it after talking to some social media consultants. They began reading blogs and communicating directly with unhappy customers. They monitor twitter and join in conversations. And, now they also follow through on making customers happy.
    My point is similar to yours. Most big companies have no idea how to be human. They think they can just ignore social media, or use it as a soap box and this is not the case. Hiring consultants can do wonders for improving the companies image and in return their bottom line.

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  • http://ericbrown.com ericbrown

    Great stuff…thanks for stopping by!

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  • http://www.mymarketingperson.blogspot.com/ tracydiziere

    Thanks, Eric. I have a lot of respect for both those guys, and it's easy to see both sides. For me the question here is (and has always been) who is the “YOU” we're talking to (and who is the “we” in the title)? For small businesses with assigned in-house marketing resources, I agree with you–and Jay. They probably need the support of specialists in areas such as social media. For microbusinesses without any internal or external marketing resources, they might be better off with a DIY approach to social media (esp. if budgets are thin to null) as Spike suggests BUT as a complement to a marketing consultant who's a generalist. So yes, businesses need consultants–in general areas when they can't staff up and in specialized areas when they need to use new tools/tactics and it doesn't make sense to hire or train internally. (P.S. I like your other post too about turning around the stigma about consultants in IT by solving the problem. After working in SaaS companies who go about it all wrong, it's nice to see that you're educating buyers and getting it done right.)

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  • http://ericbrown.com ericbrown

    Hi Tracy –

    Great feedback. Thanks for stopping by!

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