There should be an image here!Q: I attended your small business Social Media 101 workshop and learned a lot; one of the things I learned is that I need to get some outside help. My question is how do I go about researching or evaluating the stockpile of consultants that seem to have popped up everywhere? — Jacob

A: As we discussed in the workshop, social media as a communication tool is dramatically changing just about everything.

This disruption in traditional methods of communication is evolving at an incredible speed and even those that work in this arena every day are having a tough time keeping up with the daily changes.

With this in mind, the reality is that there are no “experts” in social media in my opinion, because I don’t see how anyone can be an expert in an evolving, unknown world.

There are certainly a lot of smart people that have a good handle on various aspects of the social landscape, but my first word of advice is avoid anyone that presents themselves as the all-knowing, all-encompassing solution to all your social technology needs.

Finding specialists that have social media experience in your industry would be a good starting point. Social media for law firms is quite different from social media for ice cream stores, so be sure to look for those with general business knowledge is in your world first. This can avoid wasted time trying to get them to understand the fundamentals of your business.

Actually, unlike most other business services, social media consultants are much like photographers, artists and Web site designers; you can look at their past work to determine if they have experience in the areas in which you seek help.

If a company or individual is professing their knowledge in social media, you don’t have to take their word for it; you can very easily research their ‘portfolio’ with a handful of free Web sites (BTW, these sites are also excellent for researching potential employees, business partners, vendors, etc.).

Many of the tools that we discussed during the workshop to help you get started in building your social presence are also helpful in researching consultants and firms and how they go about being social themselves.

Addictomatic.com Put the person or company name in this search engine and you will get anything posted by or about them across many social media sites such as Twitter & YouTube as well as blogs (use quotation marks if there are more than two words in the name for an exact search).

Klout.com This site measures social ‘influence’ of Twitter users. You can dive deep into the numbers or use it as a simple way to compare two different companies or people.

HowSociable.com If you are working with a company, this site will measure the ‘visibility’ across many social networks, so not only can you get an overall perspective, but you can see exactly which networks they have been able to generate visibility on. If, for example, they are pitching you Facebook services, then they should have a visibility score for the various Facebook categories on this site.

SocialMention.com This site is an intensely granular social media search engine. You can do a search on a person or company based on a specific social media network (over 80) or by content type (blog, video, etc.) or all in both categories. If, for example, someone is pitching blog services, you should be able to find their blogs and how active they are in the blogosphere in general as well as their writing style and approach to generating buzz.

None of these tools should be used as the sole decision maker, but any or all of them can certainly help determine the differences when you are comparing two companies or two consultants against each other.

One thing is for certain: if you can’t find any information on the company or consultant on any of these sites, buyer beware!

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show