Is Your Social Media Agency Faking It?

I originally wrote this article for the Social Fresh blog.

As a 20-year vet of the advertising business and someone who successfully built a social media practice within a traditional ad agency, I often get emails, calls and DM’s from client side marketing folks that are trying to answer this question. Given the newness of social media, clients must really be sure their agency understands and can guide the company’s entry into social media before just handing over the reigns. While there are likely lots of possible ways to understand if your agency is truly social media ready, here are six things I suggest folks look for when considering hiring their agency to guide your social media program.

1. Who is the resident social media oracle?

Agencies are like any other company in that they are looking to maximize limited resources (people) to create maximum profits. That’s why most agencies have department heads. Their job is to ensure adequate resources for their departments. Thus, if your agency’s head social media person isn’t a department head or sitting on the senior management team, when times get tough, you may or may not be able to count on the agency applying maximum resources to their social media department.

2. How stable is the social media department?

Social media talent is in demand these days. Given this fact and the fact that agencies are notoriously bad about paying entry-level employees meager salaries, be sure to check the age and tenure of the social media staff. If they’re recent college graduates and/or all under 25, they are prime targets for other companies/agencies looking to start their own social media efforts. This alone isn’t a reason not to hire your agency to do the work, but do be sure to include a “key employee” clause in the contract.

3. Is anyone listening to them?

I’m not saying the agency and/or their resident social media oracle has to be speaking at every major social media conference. And I’m not saying they have to have 10,000 Twitter followers, or thousands of readers on their agency or personal blog. But if they truly understand the space, someone, somewhere ought to be asking them to share that knowledge in a public forum. So find out where they’re speaking/writing.

4. How big is the social media department?

Unlike creative development, public relations and media planning/buying, social media is a year-round work product that demands a constant level of attention. So be sure to see who else the social media team works with and do the math. This will ensure there is adequate personnel capacity to handle your efforts today and tomorrow.

5. How does the agency answer social media questions?

There are two types of people in the world — those that know things and those that pretend to know things. To determine which kind is working at your agency, ask a number of pointed social media questions-preferably ones you already know the answers to. If you get direct answers, you’re likely in good hands. If however, you get long-winded, wandering answers that never really seem to directly address the question you asked, you might have a reason to be a bit worried.

6. Where are the case studies?

Social media isn’t something you can just read about. You have to learn it by doing it. So ask to see what they’ve learned thus far. If they don’t have those case studies, again, that isn’t necessarily reason enough to look for someone else to handle your social media work. Just know that they’ll be learning on your dollar and create a compensation agreement that reflects that fact.

Many will say that agencies have no role in social media. They say agencies cannot break decades of ingrained interruption thinking. They say that clients must do it internally or hire social media consultants to lead the charge. Me, I’m not so sure. I think agencies that really want to be in this space can and will be there. In fact, I believe agencies should already own this space… but more importantly, what do you think?

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 20+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and digital gadgets that helps digitally challenged companies create innovative and effective digital marketing strategies. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Connect with him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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