“Expert” has become almost a dirty word in many corners of social media. It’s not quite on the level of such inherently ludicrous labels as “guru” or “rock star,” but it’s a cause of consternation nonetheless.
In its purest form, expertise refers to a significant base of knowledge in a given field, relative to the comprehension level of those seeking help. Bold proclamations of unparalleled expertise may be unattractive, but assuredness—a depth of knowledge that many others lack—is both desirable and important in those we hire for advice. And that’s expert advice.
Here are 12 highly convincing characteristics that should guide you to an appropriate expert, particularly in the realm of new media:
1. Ability to answer questions
You’re going to be coming to this person with all manner of queries, so you need to know they have the required depth of knowledge. A little probing early on goes a long way to ensuring your hire isn’t all bluster.
We always feel better when others have tested the waters before us. The more positive reports of satisfied clients, the better you can feel about your expert. Don’t be afraid to ask about and even call these folks. If they’re genuinely satisfied, they’ll be happy to explain their recommendation.
3. Verifiable portfolio
As with testimonials, it’s helpful if you can easily dig into an existing body of work for reassurance that your requirements will be met. Look for examples that match your needs and creative approaches that impress you.
4. Jargon-free conversations
Overuse of industry-speak usually means one of two things: Either your expert is trying to blind you with the science of his or her profession, or the person lacks the ability to communicate with you in plain, everyday language. Neither will lead you to positive long-term results. Choose someone with whom you can exchange ideas seamlessly and who explains even complex matters in a clear manner.
5. Speaking your language
Beyond avoiding industry jargon, it’s crucial that your expert communicates in a manner that comes naturally to you. Not only does this demonstrate that he or she understands the way you work, it also means the person can communicate with your new-media audience effectively, should that be important to you.
6. Listening more than speaking
A common trait of overblown expertise is the continuation of a sales pitch long after a potential client’s requirements should have been discussed. If the first conversations don’t primarily involve their listening to what you need to achieve, how can they deliver it in the long term?
7. Knowledge about the industry
Sharing relevant articles about you, your industry, and factors that affect you in the social media world should reassure you that you’ve chosen someone who both understands and cares about the success of your project.
8. Customizing of services
Though there’s something to be said for niche specialists, new media is a broad and ever-expanding field of work. Your guide should be ready and willing to tailor services to the areas that best match your needs, whether that means expanding their own knowledge or bringing in additional help to do so.
9. Absence of self-hype
The buzz you feel about your potential consultant should largely be driven by Nos. 2 and 3, not by the expert himself. Genuine client praise and reputed bodies of work should impress. Overenthusiastic self-proclamations of rock stardom should not.
10. Eliciting a positive gut feeling
Often overlooked, that instinctive feeling you get about someone is frequently right. If something feels wrong about your expert in early encounters, chances are it will only get worse.
11. Ongoing support
It’s easy to maintain enthusiasm for a project during the sales process and early days, but the truly valuable advisers will keep that up throughout a project. If you find commitment waning in those you hire, or you hear negative reports from other sources, alarm bells should ring.
Sure, this will come in the closing stages of—or perhaps even after—your project, but diligence about check-ins and support remains a valuable characteristic. Not only will you benefit from any last-minute adjustments, late-stage insights could come in handy for future work and hiring.
What do you think constitutes an expert? What single quality is most important in selecting one?
Steve Birkett is a new media obsessive. He is an avid writer and maintains blogs at Above The Static and Heavier – Than – Air. You can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and dingy dive bars on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A version of this story first appeared on the 12 Most blog.