Tips on hiring a social media agency/ consultant/ ninja/ guru

  • Eight key things to consider when deciding which social media agency or consultant to work with
  • For one, never look at social media on a short-term basis where there is no tie-in to a long-term plan

Tips on hiring a social media agency/ consultant/ ninja/ guruI’M a social media ninja and I’ve got a bag of tricks, hire me!
I’ll get you 100,000 fans in one month, hire me!
Whilst with CIMB, I must have met at least 15 agencies (local, regional, international) which came to pitch. Many were shown the door rather quickly, whilst those that were strategic and spoke sense eventually did great work with us.
You could be either one of two types of clients – the ‘noob’ or the ninja slayer. The noob will fall for fan-chasing nonsense whilst the slayer will pepper-spray the ninja and kick him out.
In my previous article, we discussed the growing importance of social media in business and the challenges brands face when starting out on social media.
This week, I will highlight eight key things to consider when making a decision about which social media agency or consultant to work with.
Consider this:

1) Agency size
Admit it, when you consider working with an agency the FIRST thing you ask is “How big is your agency?” or “Do you have at least one billion employees to serve my every need?”
I, for one, looked at that metric in the beginning! Folks, size doesn’t matter. It does to a point of ensuring service levels are prompt, but you don’t need an agency with an army of workers to do well on social.
Ask yourself -- do you want to work with 10 people who don’t know what to do, or five who do?
Instead, you should consider if the account director and account manager know how to develop strategies, implement plans and campaigns, measure success, etc.
2) Specialist or generalist - Boutique agency or big-boy?
In selecting an agency, you have two options: A boutique or a big-boy. Neither option is better than the other; it just depends on how you like to manage your partners.
The benefits of big boys is they also do media, public relations (PR), and all the other stuff you need so you only need to pay and deal with one company (saves the paperwork headaches!).
The advantages of a boutique agency are usually the price point and for some organizations it makes sense to vary their vendors from a business risk perspective.
3) Depth of knowledge
Here’s how you do it: Keep on asking “and?” to everything the agency says in the first meeting.
That’s a simple test to see how deep their thinking goes. If they finally stop and give you a blank look, or laugh it off and try to switch topics – bring out the pepper spray (don’t fall for the smoke bomb!).
The agency must clearly demonstrate that it understands your needs and objectives, has done research and thought through strategies that are aligned to your KPIs (key performance indicators), is capable of executing plans and campaigns, and understands how to measure success.
If an agency defines success as “growing client X’s fan base by 20,000 in one month,” switch off and play with your BlackBerry. However, if the agency defines success as “increasing (insert KPI) by X% through social,” then please stop playing with your BlackBerry.
4) Ability to create a long-term plan
The agency must be able to develop a three-year roadmap with KPIs for Years 1, 2 and 3. This must be supported with what needs to be done, how it will be measured, what corrective action will be taken should KPIs be missed, and how much all this will cost (at least an estimate).
NEVER look at social media on a short-term basis where campaigns are planned individually, with no tie-in to a long-term plan.
Now would also be a good time to manage your expectations; don’t worry if you don’t see immediate results in social media, it is a LONG-TERM plan that requires hard work, passion and perseverance.
5) Can create content
Content is not just King. It’s Jack, Queen and King! I hope I made my point.
Let’s digress – the bedrock of being on social media is offering value in a relevant manner. How do you do that? With content or functionality (more about this in another article).
It is therefore important that the agency understands this and has people that can create engaging content – even better if they have someone on the team who has writing experience.
6) Integration
Social media cannot be implemented and managed in isolation from all other marketing and communications activities. It must be part of the initial planning stages, not a by-the-way-let’s-do-something-for-social effort.
In fact, social can even lead the way for suitable campaigns! The agency must understand how other forms of media and communications work and be able to add value and integrate social media … which brings us to the next point.
Tips on hiring a social media agency/ consultant/ ninja/ guru7) Can play nice
If you’re hiring a boutique agency, then you need to ensure it has good work ethics and can play well with other agencies.
Yes, I understand nobody will be able to spot this before actually working together, but at least do your homework: Ask around and get market feedback, speak to its current clients, assess the personality of the agency’s leaders, etc.
When I was with a boutique agency, it was critical that we worked well with the other agencies to ensure the success of our client. It’s tough and requires great people skills (check your ego at the door)!
8) Ability to say no
This is easier said than done but it is really important. It took me some time to learn how to say no to crazy ideas that clients sometimes come up with.
What you need to do is be cognizant of how your agency responds to all of your ideas. If the agency’s people agree with everything, then you should be worried because either they don’t care and just want to earn as much as possible, or they don’t know any better (then why are you paying them?).
As a client it may be hard to accept a ‘no’ or you may be tempted to feel ‘I know better than you’, but let’s agree that you hired an agency to guide you, no?
Weed ‘em out
I hope these eight points will at least help you with your decision-making process by weeding out the ninjas.
If you have gone through this process and have other parameters, do share it in the Comments section for all to learn.
Jagdish Singh is an ex-banker turned marketing and communications specialist with a deep interest in brands using technology and data to meet business objectives, and has been on both sides of the client/ agency divide.
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