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20 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Social Media Agency

Jim Tobin.
By: Jim Tobin  |   January 18, 2011  |   View Comments

As more and more companies look for help with social media marketing strategies, more and more agencies are following the money, professing to be experts in the space. And, since agencies are full of marketers, it's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the best and the rest.

To that end, I offer 20 questions in five categories, any of which you can ask of your prospective social media agency during the request for proposal phase, whether you're following a formal RFP or an informal review. This was inspired by a question I answered on the suddenly very hot Q&A site Quora. (If you'd like to connect on Quora, my profile is here.)

Strategies

  • Q1: For which clients have you developed social media marketing strategies?
  • Q2: What are the specific steps in your social media strategy development process and how long do they take?
  • Q3: Can I talk to clients for whom you've developed these strategies?

Why: Lots of people now understand that Facebook is a pretty big website. Even more understand that brands are interacting on it and benefiting from doing so. But not as many have figured out exactly what a specific brand needs to do in social media to drive their business objectives. You should be looking for how their process ensures that the strategy aligns with your business objectives and your marketing objectives. You should be looking for how they think about channels.

Are they going beyond Facebook? If not, why not? How are they looking at content strategy? How are they looking at community engagement? Does their process have enough depth to ensure it works? And most importantly, do the people who got one of these strategies developed actively use it?

Experience

  • Q4: When did your first social media marketing campaign go live?
  • Q5: What campaign(s) are you most proud of?
  • Q6: How did the results of those campaigns align with the client's objectives?
  • Q7: Why did you choose to focus on those objectives and why was this campaign the best way to do so?

Why: By now, social media marketing is roughly a 4-year-old discipline. If expertise aligns with time spent immersed in an activity (as Malcolm Gladwell suggests), then an agency that is focused on social media marketing should easily have a half dozen examples they can rattle off of work that is (or was) live online. So the first bar here is experience.

You should be looking for at least some campaigns that are multi-dimensional. In other words, campaigns that utilized several aspects of social to success (i.e., a microsite promotion with Facebook integration launched by blogger outreach) should be part of the portfolio. If not, the agency may be limited in their thinking. And that could be bad for you. Once you know they've done campaigns, you want to make sure those campaigns weren't just pretty and/or buzzworthy, but that they helped the client accomplish an objective.

Processes

  • Q8: What is your process for community management? 
  • Q9: How does this process differ across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blog and niche social networks?
  • Q10: What is your process for content development?
  • Q11: What is your process for campaign management (development, implementation)?
  • Q12: What is your process for monitoring and reporting?

Why: We've seen these questions really separate those who are serious about social media marketing from those who put share buttons on their digital campaigns. If an agency is managing a lot of community assets and has been doing so for a while, they have a process for it. If they can't articulate that process, it may suggest that they're not ready to jump in and manage your assets.

These processes may not be written down in great detail, and that's fine, but they should at least be comfortable discussing the major steps off the top of their heads. I'd save this one for an in-person discussion. If you ask for it in writing, everyone will think of something to say.

Staffing

  • Q13: When you opened your doors as an agency, what was your initial focus area (PR, advertising, SEO, web development, app development, social)? You can only choose one. 
  • Q14: How many staff do you have in your agency? How many of them are 100% dedicated to social media marketing?
  • Q15: Who was your first hire dedicated to social media, when did you hire them and why?
  • Q16: Who would you envision on our account and what is their social media experience? 
  • Q17: We don't just do social media marketing. How do you integrate your social staff with the other people we have doing advertising, PR, website development, etc?

Why: Agencies are rarely good at everything. Find me an amazing PR shop that also does great advertising and wonderful SEO work. They don't exist. So what you're looking for here is their core area of expertise first, followed by how immersed they are in social media marketing.

We were hired by a brand once because their massive digital agency couldn't get the "social" right in the campaign. I have no doubt that agency had smart social media folks somewhere on staff (they have thousands of employees), but the staff assigned to the project didn't know what they didn't know, and they had no mechanism to utilize the social media talent on staff. The client was quite frustrated. So you're trying to ask specific questions as to how many folks work on social media full time and how you can access them. Finally, you want to see how they'll integrate with the rest of the marketers working with you.

Immersion

  • Q18: What percentage of your corporate blog posts do you write? When did you write the first one and can I have a link to your posts?
  • Q19: Without naming your agency or any of its clients, tell me 2 recent social media marketing efforts that you admired and why you admired them.
  • Q20: Which sites do you think are going to be "hot" next that a brand should be paying attention to for potential marketing opportunities?

Why: We won a pitch once after the client asked each presenter for their blog posts on the topic. One agency (owned by one of the giant holding companies) sent three guys to pitch. The agency didn't have a blog. None of the three presenters did either. That may not be the only reason they lost the business, but my new client told me how shocking it was. Read some of the posts of the folks you'll be working with. Do they write about this a lot? Once in a while? It's hard to write a blog post if you're not staying up on the space, so it's a good sign they are immersed day to day if they're active.

The latter two questions ask them to show their immersion by citing relevant examples. For the last question, for example, some folks right now may say GroupMe is going to be hot at SxSW (and I think it is), but I'm not sure that neat utility has any future value for brand marketers like Facebook and Twitter do. Again, we're trying to get specific answers. People really in the space will be able to answer them easily. People not in the space might think you were hard on them. But really, that's a good thing to get out in the open early on, don't you think?

Summary

I'm not suggesting this become your next RFP template, nor am I suggesting you ask them all. But if you choose from among these questions, or the spirit of these questions, you may have an easier time picking your next social media agency.

Any questions you asked during an agency review process that were particularly enlightening? Share them below.


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Comments
  • http://blogs.sas.com/sascom Alison

    Great post, Jim. Some of these are good questions to be asking internally too. We're just starting to plan for a few new communities, so the community management queries have me thinking in a new direction today. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.gregoire79 Chris Gregoire

    The only problem is what happens if they are a newer agency? A lot of your questions have to do with the past. Someone's gotta be a first client sometime...
    However,from 15 up are perfect.

  • http://twitter.com/jtobin Jim Tobin

    True, Chris. Everyone's got to have their first client. And if you, as the client, know that and agree to come along for the ride because you believe in the people, that's fine. We had that experience too. It's just making sure the agency isn't hiding this fact during the selection process.

  • http://twitter.com/littlehills Little Hills Winery

    Great questions! We walk our clients through a similar process and it's very beneficial! They have no clue what's involved so having some basic standard questions - as seen from social media know hows - that's helpful.

  • http://www.worldslargest-plr-reseller.com/ Mark – worlds largest plr sell

    Few questions does sound as if you are interrogating, lol! Which means they sound for me as less prior or repeated kinda!
    "When you opened your doors as an agency, what was your initial focus area (PR, advertising, SEO, web development, app development, social)? " &
    "Without naming your agency or any of its clients, tell me 2 recent social media marketing efforts that you admired and why you admired them."
    However, to someone who wants to settle as a social media marketer, all these questions are really helpful to workout for his research and development!

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    Great tips. Everybody knows that Facebook should be a part of a social media strategy, but not everyone understands how it should be a part of the strategy. It's important to do your homework before deciding on an agency.

  • Tom

    Hi Jim,

    Really interesting post - especially your point about experience. What do you think of the argument that Social Media should not be a separate agency 'service' but a key channel through which they execute all of their work?

    We've built blur Group exclusively through Social Media, but we're not a Social Media Agency. Being fluent in online communications, and having the ability and confidence to be genuinely creative in Social Media is something which has grown organically.

    In fact, we're so convinced that there needs to be a re-assessment of what makes a good agency that we're running a 'love your agency' Social campaign.

    http://valentine.blur-marketing.com/

  • http://www.mazero.com/ Digital Asset Creation

    Thanks for the well delivered information. Those 20 questions that you've provided before hiring a social media agency is very important and required to know, for us to feel good and won't get worry of our business in using Social Media.

  • http://www.mazero.com/ Digital Asset Creation

    Thanks for the well delivered information. Those 20 questions that you've provided before hiring a social media agency is very important and required to know, for us to feel good and won't get worry of our business in using Social Media.

  • http://dcincome.com/ www.DCincome.com

    Return on Investment will become important throughout the business world. Indeed.com lists the average social media specialist as earning $47,000 annually t as of May 2011 the average salary offered for this position is 37 percent lower than average salaries for all job postings nationwide.

  • http://dcincome.com/ www.DCincome.com

    Return on Investment will become important throughout the business world. Indeed.com lists the average social media specialist as earning $47,000 annually t as of May 2011 the average salary offered for this position is 37 percent lower than average salaries for all job postings nationwide.