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Choosing a Social Media Speaker

Quite unfortunately, there are no shortage of people who claim to be experts in Social Media and digital strategy.  How do you choose the best one for your conference, meeting, or webcast?  The best way is to ask some questions – here are eight to get you started…

Eight questions for hiring a Social Media Speaker:

1) How much do you really know about Social Media? A tough question, but if the answer is read all of my books, review my (published) national research, and here are example consulting clients, then the person is probably an expert.  If the clients are just “speaking” clients, then they probably don’t have much depth.  (Feel free to read all seven of my books: they are designed for professionals, associations/not-for-profits, and businesses.  I’d be happy to share my social media consulting clients as well.)

2) What did you do before Social Media?  How long ago was that? There are no shortage of so-called social media experts that previously sold real estate, vacuum cleaners, Y2K services, and so on.  While they may be great salespeople, they certainly aren’t who you want in front of your audience.  They don’t have the depth, since expertise can only be learned over time.  (I started in this field in 1994, by putting several major market newspapers online, and have worked on 100+ projects since; Social Media is a natural outgrowth of Web Strategy, and we started developing online communities in the early 1990’s.)

3) What do you know beyond Social Media? Social Media must achieve key business goals: conversion of a community to leads, member retention, recruitment, etc.  If the speaker only knows Social Media, then they won’t know how to connect it to other marketing and technology processes and systems.  (I have decades of experience developing digital marketing strategies… and also implementing enterprise-scale web sites, marketing automation systems, and CRM.)

4) How involved are you personally in Social Media? Surely a speaker who is an expert in the area should also be using the tools as well? If not, then whatever they say is probably nothing but theory.  Pay particular attention to their blog, but also check them out on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.  Here’s another way to check them out:  search for them on Google, and see how often they come up in the search results, and what sites they come up in.  (I have 600+ thoughtful blog posts over the many years that I have had a blog, and over 180 video interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders syndicated across the web.  Check me out everywhere:  my LinkedIn profile at, or my Facebook profile, or my Amazon author profile, or…)

5) Are you a professional member of either NSA (for US-based speakers) or CAPS (for Canada-based speakers)? NSA or CAPS membership means a commitment to professional development, communications excellence, and a commitment to following a code of ethics. But beyond membership, has the speaker been awarded the CSP – Certified Speaking Professional designation? This is the highest earned designation awarded by the National Speakers Association to recognize proven expertise and experience; less than 10% of the world’s professional speakers have it.  (I have been a member of CAPS for a number of years, and have served both on the National Board and as the 2010 Toronto Chapter President.  And yes, I have a CSP.)

6) Who are your Social Media presentations targeted to? Just about anyone can get up in front of a crowd and describe LinkedIn or Facebook, but the vast majority of audiences already know the basics.  A true expert adds specificity:  their presentations are targeted at specific industries or specific functional areas.  (Yes, my presentations – and my books – do this.)

7) What research do you do prior to presenting? This isn’t a Social-Media specific question, but rather a question to separate those who work professionally as speakers from those who just “speak”.  A huge amount of time must be spent beforehand to properly customize the presentation, so that your meeting objectives are met.   (Once engaged, I will ask that you fill out a detailed audience questionnaire; I would follow up with a series of interviews with representative audience members and senior managers.  I will read annual reports, product brochures, industry analysis, web content, and any relevant internal documentation.  Finally, the presentation will be completely customized, with relevant, up-to-date examples.  And then rehearsed.)

8) What do others say? Read through the speaker’s testimonials, and ask for the speaker’s “one-sheet” – their credentials.  Is their client list filled with credible organizations and companies?  Finally, satisfy yourself with the speaker’s references, either through online testimonials, or by asking for the reference’s contact information.  (Check out my testimonial page, read even more on my LinkedIn page, or ask me for references – very happy to help.)


Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and