Choosing A Great Social Media Agency (Without The Cattle Call RFP)

Let’s face it. There are so many last gen’ advertising agencies and PR firms hanging a Johnny-Come-Lately social media shingle, that’s it’s getting hard to discern posers from real-deals. This post offers standard selection criteria for choosing a social media marketing agency

Don’t Do Cattle Call RFPs
First, it is pretty likely that any social media agency cool enough to work on your account, does not respond to RFP group-send email list cattle calls. RFPs are most often somehow tilted and only take place because the company seeking an agency needs to retain multiple service quotes to satisfy internal rules. The best of best social marketing agencies won’t respond to your RFP.

These are not the old days, where Mad Men weigh in with custom creative and custom marketing plans up front, to get the gig. That’s doing the work to get the job. These dynamics are long gone at the highest level of the online marketing industry.  Look for an agency that explains how they arrive at the marketing plan and their process, not specific plans tailored for your individual company. An agency that responds to cattle calls is probably not the best agency for the job anyway. Be respectful and ask agencies for specific pieces of general information.

Check Key Players’ Personal Social Footprints
It always cracks me up to see so-called social media marketers who don’t personally use various channels.  Sure seems like everyone uses Facebook these days so start with that. Ask the community managers to accept your friendship, and have a look at how this person, ostensibly the community manager who’s going to manage YOUR social media profiles and handles him or herself.  Check for tone, literacy, and sensitivity as to the actual usages.

Then check other channels. Does the potential community manager spam Twitter? What about the ratio of followers to followed?  Does the CM have a history of testing emergent channels like Pinterest or is he/she a classic blogging monster with deep StumbleUpon history? Ask yourself, are these really the people I want in charge of my social media reputation or training my staff in how to handle ourselves in social.  Know this: I’ve never met a truly great social media community manager who did not totally use the tools personally and has been for years in various channels.

Vet Agency’s’ Community Building Track Record
Now that you’ve had a look at the agency’s individual social media talents, ask to see one or two clients social profiles.  Are community members active and engaged on the brand’s Facebook page? Are social feeds broadcast-only or do the users interact with the brand and each other? Is there overt selling going on, or are users “sold” by the quality of tasteful sharing offered by the brand over time. Imagine your brand being managed by THESE people and do a gut check. Is this agency really good enough?

Demographic Research Examples
Great social media marketers profile their audiences in specificity.  Does the agency you’re considering start each project with demographic research? If so, what does it look like? Do they profile influencers, interests and concentrations of users with a proven affinity for the conversation you wish to extend? What channels are they studying? Does the process begin with competitive analysis? Show me the deliverables.

Nobody would ever undertake an SEO or PPC project without doing keyword research.  It’s ridiculous to launch a social media initiative without social research.  This much is crucial. Whether your tactical approach will be to run Facebook Ads or participate in LinkedIn groups (paid or organic) or whatever/wherever, great social media marketers need to understand where the users are, what they are talking about and with whom.

Does The Agency Understand SEO?
Does the agency truly understand classic and emergent mashups of social, content, and search engine optimization?  These days it’s getting harder and harder to separate social and SEO. From Google+ to Twitter signals, Facebook Open Graph, SEO and social are inexorably intertwined.  Personally, I would not trust a social media agency without them possessing deep historic confidence surrounding SEO because social KPIs are so enmeshed with search engines.

Does Agency Understand Paid Friend-Of-Friend-Marketing?
Facebook pioneered the second-degree-0f-seperation math. LinkedIn and Twitter are following suit. The reality is that social media “Mentions,” paid and organic, tendered with the endorsement of their friends, carries a whole lot more weight with users.  In other words, seeing that a friend has engaged with a brand is very compelling stimulus. These days that takes an understanding of paid social marketing…even to accomplish organic (community management)…especially to accomplish organic.

Essentially Facebook charges for that sort of lift, if you want it to occur outside of the tickers of those in your community already. Twitter’s fledgling D.I.Y. ad platform pushes tweets to users who do not follow your profile and interested in the same things you tweet. LinkedIn is rolling out new options along the same lines.  It is said that the best organic social media is “Paid-Organic.”  Any social media agency that does not have a total literacy in Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Twitter D.I.Y. and premium ad units in all, better have a partner that totally understands the game.  Otherwise, very few users will see your social media content, no matter how great it is.

What Do Social Analytics & Reports Look Like?
I think it’s very telling to ask an agency what their standardized reporting looks like. Are they regurgitating Facebook Insights and screen captures of Twitter API services? Or, do they have a proprietary reporting environment that aggregates salient channels? Chances are that the answer lays somewhere in between. Ask to see the reports.

What are the KPIs (key performance indicators) the agency shoots for? Are there any conversions? Are things monitored in a true attribution analytics model, so that social gets proper credit for conversion assists? Can the agency crank out custom reports for additional data slicing? Have a look and decide if the reports at hand are sufficient to quantify your investment over the long term, from a business perspective.

Ask What Thought-Leaders The Agency Follows
I would always ask which thought-leaders the agency follows, and then check to see what those thought leaders preach. What conferences does the agency attend and/or what is their internal training regiment?  What publications do they read on a daily basis? Though this may seem like a subtle point, I’d ask anyway.  Just think about what happened to Sara Palin when Katie Couric asked her, in the last presidential election, what newspapers Sara reads.

Channel Fluency & Diversity
Social media is MUCH more than Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. There are topical niche’ forums and blogs, specific to certain industries.  YouTube is highly social. Look for depth and breadth in any agency’s understanding of channels and what they are used for. Look for an agency that really understands the social universe in addition to mastery of the mainstream.

There are, of course, many other ways to vet a social media agency.  Here are a some others:

  • Example Publication Calendar & Associated Content
  • What Tools Do They Use to manage profiles?
  • Does Agency Outsource To Other Agencies?
  • Request Earned Link & Earned Media Examples
  • What Tools Do They Listen With And How Is Chatter Filtered?

Start with those mentioned in this post and extrapolate. Happy hunting and may you find the marketing company of your dreams!


Images: © Fotolia,

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