"How would you determine whether a social media agency was any good? What questions would you ask them?"
This is a terrific question; fortunately, the answer to this question is significantly easier today than it was 10 years ago. Today, the simplest way to judge a social media agency is by a five-part framework I use:
The five-part framework most social media agencies must be able to address is the unpronounceable SCDAM:
Let’s delve into each of these pieces.
When evaluating a social media marketing agency, ask them what their most impactful strategies and frameworks are that they use on a regular basis. The best agencies will offer a blend of proven, public strategies combined with a few specialized or proprietary offerings.
For example, nearly every social media marketing agency should be able to intelligently speak to SWOT, PEST, and Growth Matrix frameworks; these are proven, effective business frameworks. I would not consider any social media marketing agency which lacks these basics.
For the proprietary frameworks, look for something that makes logical sense. I use the 8C framework for enterprise social media strategy based on my many years dealing with corporations and agencies trying to figure out who should do what in social media.
The next area for evaluation is creation. What creative capabilities does the agency in question have? Great social media agencies should offer capabilities and/or strong partners in:
- Writing and text content, short and long form
- Drawings and illustrations
- Photography, including post-production
- Audio, such as podcast production
- Video, such as video editing and publishing
- Development, including mobile and social apps and integrations
It’s unlikely that an agency will be incredibly strong in all these categories, so decide which you need most and judge agencies by that sub-category. Inquire heavily about their partner network and subcontractors to see if they have a trusted stable of partners to close gaps in their own capabilities.
The third area a social media marketing agency should be able to speak to is distribution, the process of spreading content. Distribution is all about operational excellence. Strategy is why; content is what, but distribution is all about how.
How does the agency help you choose platforms? Their counsel should make logical sense. Ask about tests like the fresh Gmail test.
How does the agency decide when to publish content and interact online? What data and methodology do they use to make those determinations?
Who is the target distribution audience? Ask how the agency builds its understanding of your audiences and segments. A good agency should be able to provide counsel and execution in broad buckets, but also require your help to refine targeting. Beware any agency which promises instant, turn-key effectiveness. No two social media plans are so alike that they can be executed without thought and research.
As anyone who has ever tried to market on social media has experienced, "publish it and they will come" hasn’t happened since the MySpace era. Today, content needs activation; in the words of Mark Schaefer, content requires ignition.
Ask the agency what its activation capabilities are. Smart social media agencies should have strong capabilities in at least one of three activation channels:
- Paid: social media marketing agencies should be fluent in paid advertising to boost awareness, engagement, and conversion with social media ad platforms, using techniques like lookalike audiences, custom audiences, retargeting/remarketing, and behavioral segmentation.
- Influencers: social media marketing agencies should be able to speak to their influencer management capabilities. Can they find, groom, and activate influencers in your vertical and industry at responsible prices?
- Employee advocacy: For all but the smallest companies, employee advocacy is a powerful channel for activating and igniting content. Which platforms does the agency have experience with? Have they successfully run such programs in the past?
Activation helps content catch fire. A great social media marketing agency should be capable, with sufficient resources, of accelerating the spread of your content by at least one of the three above channels.
The final area to ask questions of a social media marketing agency is around measurement. If an agency shows its weakness anywhere, it will be in measurement.
The first and most important question to ask is how does the agency measure success?
Their immediate response, if they’re any good at all, will be to ask what business goals you want to achieve. Do you want awareness? Purchase consideration? Lead generation? Ecommerce sales? If an agency begins to offer up metrics and analytics without asking what your business goals are, show them the door immediately.
Once you’ve ascertained that they care about your business goals, then listen and probe about how they connect their activities to your goals. Ask questions about their measurement technology stack. Do they intelligently connect tools such as:
- Social media analytics
- Web analytics
- Marketing automation software
- Sales CRM
If all they provide are top-level, shallow social media analytics such as the number of followers gained or the number of likes on a piece of content, they’re not able to help you drive your business goals.
On the other hand, if they are able to demonstrate a chain of evidence or advanced analytics such as regression analysis to connect their work with your goals, investigate carefully. If they’re for real, you’ve found a winning social media agency.
A Word About Budget
One of the factors that comes up in evaluation of agencies is budget. Obviously, we can only pay for what we have resources for; as much as I might want to drive a Tesla, if all I can afford is a Yugo, I’m driving a Yugo.
However, if you have to choose between paying a mediocre agency what you can afford or not investing, choose not to invest in an agency and instead build the capability internally. It will take much longer, but it will pay off in the long run, enough that you can later afford the Tesla equivalent. Since reputation is such a key part of social media marketing, a mediocre or poor agency can do nearly irreparable damage to your brand.
Recall the cliche “fast, cheap, good: choose two”. Your reputation falls under good and should be non-negotiable. Thus, if you need results fast, you will need to pay for a sizable, high-quality program. If you need results inexpensively, you will take much longer to achieve them. Whatever you choose, always choose quality when it comes to your brand.
With this outline, you should have the basics needed to judge whether a social media marketing agency is good or not.
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