Before you hire those Social Media Services

Social Media, an in demand service, spurs traditional vendor offerings
There are more and more advertising, interactive firms, search engine marketing firms that are starting to offer social media services, but be warned: before you buy, do your homework and check out if they are walking the talk.

[Many traditional marketing service agencies are now offering social media services, often as a bundled service. But before you buy, do your homework and do a thorough background check]

A few years ago, I was developing and evangelizing the social media program at a large company. I was a full time employee, and was a low level web marketing manager. We started to kick off the CIO blogs, and the advertising agency and their partners got whiff of this. To their credit, they were one of the first to whisper the idea into the VP of Marketings’ ear, yet, I’m not sure if they understood what it would take to make the program work.

Vendor offers $110,000 blogging solution
Eventually, we hired one of their partners to do social media measurement, in fact, they did a pretty good job, however, it soon lead to a new proposal where the ad agency and the social media measurement company came into HQ to give a fancy 2 hour presentation to the Directors and VPs of marketing.

All of this is fine, they were proposing a full blogging solution, which included measurement, design and hosting, and strategy recommendations for $110,000. Back in 2005-2006, this seemed like a lot for a grass roots effort, but I’m sure that there are now proposals in the million dollar range, that include full consultation. In fact, in Josh and Charlene’s recent presentation indicate that the overall cost of ownership for GM’s FastLane blog to be over $100,000 per year (with a positive ROI).

Outsource when your company doesn’t have the skills
All of this is fine, in fact, I frequently recommend to clients to seek outside expertise as often, these skill sets are not native to many organizations, and the change in communications is so radical, often outside help can really pull towards success.

But make sure the vendor walks the talk
So what was the problem? The problem with the Ad Agency and their Media Measurement partner was that they didn’t have ANY experience with social media, in fact, they couldn’t even show they had a blog, either work nor personal.

[The proposal for the $110,000 full service blogging strategy and solution looked good on paper, except that the vendor didn’t even have a blog, professional or personal]

So how could we trust them to build a program if they weren’t walking the talk? While I’m sure there’s many firms that are smart enough to figure out social media without ever doing it, there’s a matter of experience and credibility that comes along with actually doing it.

Recommendations:
I’m seeing more PR, Interactive, Search Marketing, Advertising, and other Marketing firms offer social media services (often at a hefty price tag) but before you buy, do the following:

1) Check online to see how they are using social media. Is it authentic, are they part of the conversation? are there trackbacks indicating they are conversing with others?
2) Get referenced from their clients, since many of these programs are public, you can easily find out who’s involved, either with or without the vendor.
3) Ask the social media vendor to clearly state their expertise, and demonstrate a strategy plan, ask for examples and details.
4) Ask them to answer the tough questions, the ones you’ll have to answer to your COO and CFO.
5) Get more than one proposal for work, aside from traditional marketing services, also get a proposal from specific social media agencies.
6) Get recommendations for vendors from social media platform vendors, find third party reports, and join user groups with your peers to get objective opinions.

Related Resources
For related data, read my colleague Peter Kim’s thoughts and report on The Connected Agency. And for what it’s worth, both the agencies are still in business, and have adopted the tools, I wish them both the best.