The New York Times recently reported how many companies, brand ambassadors, celebrities, and even journalists purchased "fake" Twitter followers as a means to inflate their social media numbers. Many claimed to be pressured by social media firms, but the results were a PR black-eye that could possibly damage their public reputation.

Social media can be a powerful marketing and communication tool for business, and nowadays there are multiple platforms from which to choose. When thinking about this area of your business, it's important that you have a well-developed plan of what you want to control versus hiring someone else to do it.

While the power of social media is huge for marketing your business, it's essential to invest in the right kind of expertise. This way you are not fooled into thinking you are getting results when you're actually not.

Here are four basic questions that I have learned to ask based on my own experiences as a business owner when vetting experts to help with social media.

1. What are your business goals and objectives for utilizing social media?

It's important to first understand what goals you have with your social media marketing so you find the right fit for your business. When I first opened my yoga studio, I hired an agency that I paid monthly to create social media campaigns and accounts to reach potential new customers.

I quickly noticed that they did not take the time to learn my customer base. Instead, they provided a vanilla service that wasn't tailored to my business. If a firm only wants to discuss their services and not your business, that is a major red flag.

2. How do they develop content?

Will they work with certain people on your team to create new content? This point person would also need to keep the social media firm updated on new developments like the introduction of a new product or service or other related business news.

You also need to know how the content review and approval process will work. The firm is the expert on how social media should be written and presented, but you will need some oversight to ensure quality control.

I learned this the hard way when posts went out with pictures that I didn't approve and had the wrong branding. Until you get to the point where you feel comfortable with the person assigned to post on your behalf be sure to have this oversight in place.

3. How do they measure success?

As the Twitter story showed, having a large number of followers is not a sign of success if those followers would never purchase or influence your target market to try your services. 

Ask any potential expert you hire about what they consider a successful social media strategy and why. For instance, ask them: what type of people do they plan to target and why based on your business goals, what type and how much social engagement (likes, comments, sharing, recommendations) do they want to achieve, and the number of new business leads they plan to obtain. Also, ask them what they look for on a weekly and monthly basis so you can monitor the results.

When I used the firm I mentioned above early on in my yoga studio business, their marketing was focused on reaching potential customers who were looking for a "deal." Once the timeframe of that deal was over, they were not a long-term fit for the yoga studio. So, it ended up costing me more by bringing in these customers because the reduced price never converted to full price.

4. Can they provide sources?

Get names of  the social media firm's current clients and talk to them about what they like and don't like about the company's services. Even if they are happy overall, there will always be something that they wish were better. This information will provide you with the right level of information to protect yourself from signing on with an agency that's not a good fit.

I have gone through many iterations of this from enlisting a social media marketing firm to hiring staff experts. There are advantages to both. An outside agency is up to date on the latest trends and, if they are good, can recommend new ways to reach potential customers. With an in-house hire, you can better control the frequency of content and when it's necessary to make immediate postings.

Social media is an evolving form of marketing and communication and used the right way can help promote your services to existing customers and potential new leads. Hiring a social media agency can help, but do your own homework. Know what outcomes you want and have a communication cadence set up, so you get the most from your investment.