Spotlight illuminating a cluster of social media icons

If your Facebook page keeps getting dropped from your priority list, or you post to Instagram when you happen to think about it-which isn’t often-your business’s social media marketing efforts are likely running along in a flat, low-value line. The solution? Hire a freelance social media consultant. But how do you find a professional you can trust to be the voice of your brand on social media? Here’s a look at how you can get the process started and narrow your search to someone who will be a great ambassador.

What does a social media pro do?

In most cases, the main role for a social media pro is to actively use social networks on behalf of a business. You aren’t paying someone to play around on Twitter all day, however. Their value comes from their marketing know-how, their deep understanding of the social networks that are most relevant to your audience, their knowledge about connecting with that audience, and their passion for the dynamics of such a fast-paced environment. Depending on the needs of your business, a social media freelancer is typically responsible for:

  • Representing your business on social networks to customers, partners, prospects, and the public.
  • Keeping your audience engaged by regularly sharing relevant news and information, both your own branded content and from other sources.
  • Responding effectively to customer questions or feedback, comments from competitors, or news that impacts your audience.
  • Creating original content, which may include writing, images, photos, or video.
  • Actively monitoring news, trends, and best practices-both in general and for your industry specifically-to generate actionable insights that can improve your marketing efforts.
  • Being strategic about the use of social media by creating an overall strategy to reach your target customer, as well as managing short-term campaigns and using paid social advertising when effective and appropriate.
  • Analyzing results to fine tune efforts going forward and report back with metrics that are meaningful for your business.

Pro tip: One thing a social media consultant shouldn’t have is the keys to your online kingdom. Don’t hand over full control of your social media accounts. Start by reviewing all posts before they go up. Make sure you have permissions in place, so you are in control of your channels at all times and no one can lock you out of your own accounts.

Why do you need a social media specialist?

Social media helps you get found online, deliver top-notch customer service, and stay competitive. However, what that looks like for your business can vary widely from other businesses, including your competitors. Before you begin your search, identify and prioritize what your business is looking for. For example:

  • How mature are your social media efforts? A business that has no existing presence or in-house knowledge will have different needs than an organization that has a marketing team and an established online community.
  • What’s your brand? Your online presence is an extension of your existing brand-not just its appearance (e.g., logo and color scheme) but also the tone and experience you want people to have when they interact with your business. The person who supports your social media efforts will often be the first point of contact for a potential customer, so it’s important they reflect the same qualities.
  • What’s the scope of work? Marketing projects often start with a creative brief, a document that outlines all the information needed to move forward, such as a description of your company, the project, your audience, and any specific needs your business has. An international company, for example, may need someone who can coordinate efforts across time zones, languages, and cultures. Consider starting with a narrow goal or project in mind, rather than “Manage my social media presence.” The more specific you can be about what you want to achieve-e.g., increased web traffic, more social engagement, better customer support—the more likely you’ll be to succeed.
  • What are your objectives? “Going viral” is a lofty goal that typically isn’t realistic; it takes time and consistent effort to see meaningful results. While a social media professional should help you reach your marketing and business goals, take time to research baseline expectations: Look at industry leaders to see what they do, and check out your competitors to see the sort of engagement they get.

Use your job post to attract the right freelancer

Detailed and well-researched job posts are more likely to attract the top talent you’re looking for. Using your creative brief as a starting point, make your job post as specific as possible; for example, you may want to:

  • Outline the scope of work, including the challenge you want to solve and the level of expertise needed.
  • Explain the skills you’re looking for.
  • Include any timelines or target dates that are relevant to the project.

Check out these examples to learn more about what works (and what doesn’t)

Narrowing the list of potential contractors

When you’re ready to narrow the list of qualified freelancers, here are some of the key qualities to look for:

  • Enthusiasm for social media. Being a “digital native” doesn’t automatically qualify someone to be a great social media consultant. What it does take to succeed is a real passion for the work. It takes energy not just to be consistently active on social media but to keep up with the constant evolution of online marketing.
  • Knowledge of how social media works from a business perspective. It’s one thing to share your weekend with a group of friends on Facebook, and another to run an effective campaign on a business’s Facebook page: They need to understand the admin features, individual channel algorithms, how to optimize posts, and how to drive activity to help reach business goals.
  • Creativity. Whether you’ll rely on them to be a content-creating magician or not, a social media manager should have the curiosity, humor, and spirit to be interesting and engaging.
  • The ability to multi-task. Life happens in real time online, so while planning ahead is critical-and having access to the right tools helps-sing social media well often means being in the moment, juggling multiple conversations, questions, and networks at once.
  • Ask for samples of work from past clients. Consider the tone of the posts they’ve written and how they’re positioned. Do the examples show an understanding of how business and social fit together? Will they be able to write in a way that aligns with your brand voice?

Pro tip: Check out the public social media profiles for people you’re considering to get a sense of their approach to social media. However, using the size of their audience as a deciding factor (e.g., followers, likes, or connections) can be deceiving: Some social media pros have sizeable personal brands, while others focus their efforts on the companies they work with.

Prep for the Interview

Once you’ve narrowed the list of candidates, use the interview process to find the perfect social media freelancer. What questions can you ask to learn more about the person behind the proposal? As marketer Emad Abou Elgheit highlighted on Quora, focus your questions on how they approach social media rather than numbers they’ve racked up with other clients. “Numbers alone aren’t enough because it can be due to other factors such as strong PR, personal brands, and big advertizing [sic] budgets,” he said. Start your list of questions with some of the top social media marketing interview Q&As, and consider including the following:

  • “How would you grow our audience?” There’s only so much someone can tell you without knowing more about how your business works, and don’t expect them to deliver your new strategy for free. However, they should be able to discuss general tactics like listening to your audience, using keywords and hashtags, or optimizing new content. They should also indicate that they understand how to reach your particular target audience; getting more followers only matters if they’re relevant to your business.
  • “How do you stay on top of trends, news, and social media activity?” Time and information management are critical for this role. There are numerous tools available to help manage social channels, RSS feeds, and monitoring-listen for indications they’ve developed a system that works.
  • “How would you respond to [insert situation here]?” Whether dealing with tricky situations or seasonal spikes in traffic, learn how they’d respond to the types of inquiries you face on a regular basis by drawing on your own conversations and other FAQs.

Pro tip: As a final check, engage your top two candidates for a paid smaller project. Ask them to write a series of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn posts for a piece of content from your website. Hire the freelancer who does the best job.