Is your Agency Social? You better find out soon!

by Nichole Kelly |

I recently conducted an interesting test. I was interested in finding a public relations firm that really “got” social and could help integrate some social media and PR strategies.

So, I sent a tweet. It was something to the affect of…”Does anyone know of any good PR firms that really get social? #PR #socialPR #publicrelations”

What better way to find a firm that really gets it than to see if they find a tweet that all out asks someone from a PR firm to contact them, right? Apparently not. I got one response from an agency and one from a firm I was already doing some work with. So here is my dilemma, as brand side marketers it is easy to get fooled by the many agencies that are claiming to understand social media.  And the marketers who need them probably aren’t social media savvy themselves so they may not be able to easily see the snake oil pouring out in their presentations.

This is a problem, because the wrong agency can leave your brand in ruins. If you are lucky the wrong agency will just have flailing results and stunted growth. But if you’re on a bad luck streak, you will be added to the list of other social media catastrophes like Nestle and Chrysler whose brands certainly suffered damage and resulted in statements where they blamed their mishaps on their agencies. The big thing to remember here is that you don’t control your brand anymore, your audience does. So when you arm your audience with evidence of poor social media strategy and a mishandled PR crisis you will find yourself with an even larger crisis that will spread like wild fire.

To prevent your own social media disaster you must run agency proposals through this list of questions which can be used as a mini-BS detector.

Is the firm doing a good job at managing their own social media channels?

Twitter SearchI know this is a touchy subject for agencies. I’ve heard the excuse a million times… we focus on our clients and doing great work for them and our own channels come last. But here’s the reality. If this agency is pitching you on a brilliant idea and how social is going to make such a big difference in your company, don’t you think it’s a little ridiculous that they wouldn’t do the same thing to grow their own business? I mean, if social is everything everyone is saying , then they would be absolute donkeys not to be doing it themselves, right? Right. If the agency doesn’t have a strong social presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (at the least) then they probably aren’t the agency for you. I chose those social media channels because those are the most common places we hang out as marketers. That is where we are so, that is where they should be

Can the firm point to specific examples of client success?

Most of them will have a couple. The big question here is what was their role in those successes? Ask them what the client wanted to accomplish? Then figure out how they participated. Did they develop the strategy, source the content, send the tweets/updates, or build a full blown promotional plan? Next, ask them how they measured whether or not they achieved their client’s goal. With the wrong agency you will hear a lot of glossed over stories that don’t directly address the questions.  Finally, you should ask to speak to the clients and get a reference if you are considering moving forward with an agency. Unfortunately, too many times agencies glorify their role in the success of their clients.

Where does the firm hire their social media talent?

Ask any recruiter and they will tell you that finding good social media people is really hard. There are tons of jobs out there from brands who want to hire everything from “experts” or “strategists” to “specialists” and “coordinators.” The reality is that the demand is greater than the supply in today’s market and so many experienced social media practitioners are moving away from client-side work to open their own firms which causes the supply to continue to dwindle. Take a look at the social presence for the people who are actually going to be managing your account. Recognize that you will probably want a senior social media strategist and a person who is actually doing a lot of the leg work. Reality check. The one who does the leg work…is actually doing most of the work so it’s important that the person is qualified. You don’t want an intern or someone who is straight out of college whose Facebook expertise comes from their awesome drunken photo tagging skills to be responsible for your online brand. The person doing the talking in the pitch meeting will probably sound awesome and credible, but when you look behind the curtain you may be shocked at what you find. Make sure you know who is actually doing the work for your account.

How much of the presentation is about YOU and how much is about them?

This has become one of my immediate BS detector secrets. If the entire presentation is spent on their “capabilities” or “social media basics” and they aren’t prepared with some clear cut strategies and ideas they recommend for your brand, how can you possibly know if you want to hire them. My favorite is the PR firm that pitches the press release at some point in the presentation. Really? Do you really do press releases? Wow…now that’s impressive. NOT! These kind of basics should be included in your contract as they are standard PR activities that we would expect, but they are not the criteria you use to decide on the best firm for your social or in my case, the social PR strategy I was looking for.

Now, I know this is tricky for agencies too. They don’t want to give you their ideas until they are hired. Here is my perspective. I’m not going to hire you unless you show me you have good ideas and understand my business.  And I’m an honest person that would never steal your ideas and give them to another firm. So holding the best until you get a paycheck will ensure you never get a paycheck from me. I understand the concern, but the reality is most honest business people will not steal your ideas. And if they do, you didn’t want them as a client anyway.

If you are active in social channels already you can spot the signs a mile away. But if you are new and  looking to find someone to help you integrate social media into your company you may need some help navigating the waters in the beginning. If you need more than the tips here reach out. I’d be happy to give you some pointers.

What are your tips to spot a risky social media firm or advertising firm that is selling social media services? Do you have examples of snafus or your own agency pitch story? Please share. Just leave a comment below.

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About the Author

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole