Blogs. Twitter. LinkedIn. Facebook. There are more channels than ever to connect with clients and prospects. The challenge is navigating and using those channels to your best advantage. Will hiring a social media consultant help?

Why you need it

Strategists can help you conduct conversations online.

How it helps

These experts can advise on, create and manage your accounts and content (e.g., explain how to craft the ideal LinkedIn page or generate blog posts).

Good to know

To figure out how much time to invest, says Randall Craig, author of the book Social Media for Business, consider three questions:

  1. Are prospects or clients using social media, or will they over the next few years?
  2. How can social media amplify your marketing and client services?
  3. How are your competitors using these channels?

If you notice social media is prevalent in your network, devote more resources to it.

And, “one mistake people make is too much self-promotion,” says Kelly Weichel, marketing specialist at The Personal Coach in Waterloo, Ont., which provides social media consulting for advisors. “Social media should be a platform to provide value-added content. You are still promoting yourself, just indirectly.”

How much

To save money, look to internal resources when possible. Some firms might cover the costs of an initial group seminar.

Consulting costs depend on whether you need help with strategy or execution. Estimates for social media strategy development and training yielded numbers of $500, $1,500, $3,500 and higher. Additional costs could range from $200 per month for someone to do your daily tweets to $300 per week for multiple blog posts.

And assess whether the consultant’s services are driving business growth using analytics and reports, says Brent Purves, CEO of Stir Communications Group in Abbotsford, B.C.

See if you have more fans or followers; likes, comments and shares; tweets and retweets; website traffic; and page views. A consultant should also demonstrate how those interactions are leading to calls, inquiries, new clients and increased sales or bookings. That will let you determine the ROI of your campaign.

Who can help

Your communications or marketing department may be able to provide support. This may include guidelines on branding and blogging or tweeting tips. Matthew Ardrey, manager of financial planning at T.E. Wealth in Toronto, has 500 Twitter followers and manages his own account. He bounces ideas off the firm’s social media expert, and submits blog posts for review.

When choosing a consultant, get references. Also, check the consultant’s own online profiles and blogs, suggests Maureen Kerr, a social media trainer in Stratford, PEI. That shows you how the person uses the tools he’s touting.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based financial writer.