Some people fantasize that being an independent social media consultant would be the perfect dream gig; but in reality, it can be one of the most demanding, stressful jobs in the world. For all the time people spend starry-eyed & cheering about “social media revolution” – very few rake in big bucks by advising others how to participate.
The cold truth is: what most social media consultants get paid – in return for all the hours and effort they put into their online game – is pretty meager compared to many other professions.
- The pace can be overwhelming. Your social media knowledge, your connections, and your published content all quickly become obsolete – and constantly need upgrading. If you get slightly unplugged for even a month or two, by accident or by choice, you’ll have missed out on some fairly major developments… and you’ll have to scramble to keep up.
- Social media friendships can be demanding. The larger you grow your network and the more online presence you have, the more well-meaning people will randomly request and demand things of you. You’re hit with more e-mails, more interview requests, more offers to get together pick your brain for the price of a coffee, more stories to vote on, more mindless chit chat to respond to – or else people will feel snubbed.
- Success is ephemeral. You can be rocking the socks off of the social media world and cranking out the content and new connections like an Uzi – but the second you take your finger off the mouse trigger, people will forget about you pretty quickly. They’re all after the new guy, the new site and the new trend.
- It’s very competitive and there’s no barrier to entry. Every man, woman, and child with a Facebook account is now a social media consultant. No matter how much time and effort you put into researching your technique, content and presentations – you will still be competing for gigs against the hot girl with 6 months experience or the “Senior Social Media Manager” at some big company with 39 friends. Even if you’re honest and straightforward about the extent of your knowledge (or lack thereof), you’ll still have to compete with sales hustlers and shameless self-promoters who might not be.
- It requires lots of unpaid overtime. Social media is really fun and glamorous when it’s just for kicks, but it can to feel a lot different when you’re “working it” on the other side of the bar. In addition to spending 30 to 40 hours a week on profit-producing business development and client contract tasks – I usually spend an additional 30 to 40 hours writing content, managing my blog and responding to comments, reading RSS feeds and commenting, building accounts, helping with my friends / connections, following links on Twitter. When you’re feeling it, it’s still fun, but when you’re not – it can feel like a grueling overtime burden that eats into your nights, weekends and your business workday.
- Some people expect you to know everything. No matter how intensely you study and practice your social media skills, clients will need help or guidance in areas that you just don’t know anything about. If you are honest about what you don’t know – some clients will think less of you, and will look for an full-service “agency” who claims to know about “everything.”
- Egotism is rampant. Independent social media consulting requires that you build up a strong “personal brand” – or professional superego. The emphasis on status, self-promotion and cult-of-personality brings out the ‘worst’ and most self-serving parts of some people. Social media also attracts a disproportionate number of people with narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve met some snobs, hob nobs, and flakes who would probably feel more at home at coke parties, socialite society balls, or on American Idol – had they not discovered Facebook and Twitter.
- Social media is unpredictable. No matter how good of advice you give, or how much time you put into content or a campaign – sometimes it just doesn’t catch on. This can leave you biting your nails and leave the client doubting your skills. A designer can guarantee they will deliver 3 design proofs within 30 days – but a social media consultant CANNOT guarantee even the best content or ideas will be well received by the community. The volatile nature and fickleness of the community cause a lot of stress and pressure to work overtime when something doesn’t “catch on.”
- The pressure to “sell out” is intense. At the low end, there’s tons of cool companies and people who need help – with $500 budgets. But the ones willing to pay good money to consultants are usually huge corporations. Sometimes, but not always, they have uncool products and services that aren’t a natural fit for social media – but they’re hungry for a way to ‘leverage the new media trends for profit.’ Consultants need to get paid – and it can cause both parties to ‘fall in love’ based on incompatible needs – and end up in awkward, uncomfortable professional relationships.
- The pressure to “have no life” is relentless. Working non-stop through evenings, weekends, holidays and the wee twilight hours are all fair game – if you want to even try to keep up with the rockstars on Twitter and the digerati on Digg. If you are determined to keep your work contained within a normal workday or workweek – you may find yourself at a huge competitive disadvantage because many of your peers are willing work much, much more.
- Clients want results, not strategy. In theory, you can just offer people “consulting” or advice. But to keep clients paying each month, they usually have to see successful results. This often can’t be outsourced or whipped up – it often requires the client’s full, active participation and willingness to change their business culture. Many of them aren’t willing to actually follow the only strategy (involvement and active participation) that will likely provide them with the results they want. Catch-22.
- You can never stop hustling. No matter what level you make it too, you can never kick back and coast along – earning passive income as a consultant. If you’re not hustling and making enough noise that people don’t forget about you – you’re not getting paid and you’re sinking. If you’re a natural-born power networker this can be exciting – but it can quickly get fatiguing for some personality types.
Social Media Consulting is Hard, Hard Work
There are some incredibly hardworking, almost superhuman people who have made a good name for themselves and provide excellent value as social media consultants. Who have set things up so they make good money without being on a hamster wheel 24/7.
But for every one of them – there are dozens of people who will try, fail and get ground into dust by the intense pressures and unique challenges that new media presents. I think there are a lot of ways to make a living with your passion for social media – but the consulting model is one of the most demanding, least stable and least lucrative ways. So just make sure you really, really love the extra hustle that that social media adds to the networking and self-promotion demands that all types consultants face.
What’s been your experience with social media consulting? What do you love or hate about it?
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Brett Borders, the author of this article, is a professional copywriter who specializes in increasing website sales and signup rates. I'm available now to write for your website and optimize it for maximum sales and profits. Please contact me now for a free consultation.