Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are you sometimes hesitant to tell people you do social media consulting?

Yes and no. I'm not embarrassed by the work, because I feel I offer a legitimate service in a burgeoning and profitable field. That said, calling myself a "social media consultant" is often like calling myself an existential astronaut -- all the words in the title sound familiar, but nobody knows what it means. My business card says "online media consultant" because that's a more comprehensible term to the average Joe or Jane.

As to whether I think this is a sustainable business, I don't think so. Not because social media consulting is a scam, but because the skill set is propagating so quickly.

In 1995, you could make really good money designing even the most basic web sites, because web commerce and web marketing was so new and so few people could do it. In those days, simply having a web page was enough. Quality and strategy were optional, and while most web consultants got by offering neither, the few that did have a clue survived, thrived, and now own multimillion-dollar consultancies that are slowly being destroyed by WordPress and Google Apps. That destruction has been fueled in part by the average marketer or publisher knowing what a decent web site looks like and merely needing an intuitive set of tools to make it happen.

Replace the word "web" in the preceding paragraph with "Facebook" and you have the current social media consulting market along with its eventual future. I'd like to think I offer some quality and strategy to my clients, but the point is that eventually everyone will be comfortable with social media tools and will be able to do this work by and for themselves. The role of the consultant in social media is ephemeral and the whole notion of "social media expert" as a widespread specialization has at best 2-3 years of life left in it.