Well, after Jason’s last emotion-charged post, I’m afraid this one is going to seem a bit tame by comparison.  However, I’m going to press on and deliver part 2 to this series.

Last week, we talked about figuring out where Social Media fits in your overall communications and marketing strategy, including determining how deeply your organization is already unofficially involved already.  Now we’re going to talk about Creating an Effective RFP.

According to a recent Cymfony study, marketing executives realize the importance of leveraging social media.  But one of the top barriers to adoption cited is a lack of time and resources to devote to social media participation.   The study also notes a failure on the part of marketing service providers (including traditional and digital advertising agencies as well as public relations firms) to provide adequate expertise and assistance in helping companies learn to understand and apply social media to their organizational goals.

An effective Request for Proposal (RFP) can help your brand or organization pull in outside help.  That help may be a technology partner for social media monitoring.  It might also be an agency or consulting firm to help initiate a social media strategy, or possibly provide the necessary manpower in some cases to help you maintain that social media participation over the long haul.

As is the case with any request for proposal, clarity and thoroughness are key.  If your early internal planning has resulted in a fairly complete set of goals and plan, then all that remains is determining the specific roles and responsibilities that your marketing service providers will need to fulfill.  However, if your early internal planning hasn’t netted your company a workable plan yet, it might be a good idea to bring in objective outside help to break through the internal gridlock.

If you’re going to hire an agency or other outside vendor to assist with developing and implementing your social media strategy, creating a solid Request for Proposals is critical. With the explosion of social media (and social media “experts”) in recent months, an RFP can make sure that your organization’s needs and requirements are going to be handled capably.

Some things to consider as you’re developing your RFP:

  • Request their social media track record. While a vendor may not be able to provide some proprietary details about their previous social media clients, they should, at a minimum, be able to provide a list of clients, as well as a general description of the services performed and what kinds of results they were able to achieve.  Detailed case studies, if available, as also good information to request.
  • Find out how well they work with others, and be detailed about roles and responsibilities. In all likelihood, your social media plan is going to touch many different aspects of your overall marcomm operations.  Ask if the provider in question has worked with other providers on integrated marketing initiatives successfully in the past.
  • Make sure your objectives for social media are clearly outlined. I probably can’t stress this enough.  Assume nothing is implied–spell out what you expect as explicitly as you can.  Social media is an incredibly new field; there are no real “standard practices” as of yet.
  • Provide a solid due date. And give adequate time to develop a complete response.
  • Request information about their methodology. Again, this goes back to the still-innovative nature of social media marketing.  Methodologies and philosophies regarding the how and why of corporate social media participation vary significantly between different providers.  YMMV, obviously, but make sure that the general approach is a fit between the vendor and your internal team.
  • Get to know their people. Don’t be afraid to ask for biographies for their principles, and for detailed information about the resources and staff they would be able to dedicate to your account.  Also, make sure that an in-person presentation is part of the process.  Your social media vendors will be your team’s marketing partners, exactly as your other agency partners are.  Make sure they’re people you feel good about working with.

On a related note, make sure you do your homework before sending out the RFP.  If a vendor or service provider is any good at social media, it should be fairly simple to find out a great deal about them on the web before you make contact.   Get some recommendations, narrow the field, and you should get a better response.

Next week, we’re going to be talking about something that some of you folks have hinted at in previous comments: integrating social media with the rest of your marketing communications and advertising, and more specifically, making sure your various partners can work together easily without stepping on each other’s toes.

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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