In the first of a series of 'How To' pieces that aim to help provide insights on how marketers can source and hire appropriate agencies correctly, intermediary The Drum Recommends takes a look at what should be considered while seeking a social media marketing supplier.
Why do you need a social media agency?
Social media is an integral part of a business’s overall marketing strategy. It does not exist in a void but instead provides valuable support in signposting potential customers to the services or products a business provides. Whilst social media activity doesn’t offer an obvious ROI – ostensibly, it exists to direct potential customers to a website, reiterate brand messaging and raise awareness of what it is a company does or sells – an agency that can support a business with organic and paid strategies is worth the investment.
Social media requires time and experience – in planning and nurturing – to ensure continued business growth. Arguably then, it is best left in the hands of agencies well equipped with the skills and resources to:
Engage with a targeted online audience
Write and use effectively succinct copy and posts
Source eye-catching images
Create clickable links
Develop ideas for both organic and paid social media marketing.
But how best to choose an agency that can deliver? Whilst you cannot judge a social media agency on anything as substantial as qualifications, you can do a little homework to narrow options in order to source the one that best suits your brand.
The research obviously should begin online. Visit the websites of various social media agencies to gauge their general approach to working with clients. Do they specialise in the minutiae of social media account handling or are they a part of a wider approach to marketing? If so, do they outsource social media to other agencies? Where are these agencies based? It is worth noting that if they use a third party, this may dilute your brand messages if communicated via a ‘middle agent’. Also, what experience do they have liaising with other marketing agencies? You may already have an existing arrangement with a creative agency or one that handles your PR needs, for example, and will need to be assured they can liaise without your intervention.
Check out their online presence. A ballpark figure of 1,000-plus followers is a decent benchmark – but does their own social media activity live up to expectations and reflect their own brand? Are there posts engaging? Do they entice readers to click further – either onto their website or other links? Do they use news and what’s trending to provide a ‘hook’? Where do their strengths lie as well as their weaknesses? Is the messaging consistent across all platforms? If they’re failing ‘at home’ their ‘away game’ doesn’t look promising.
Dig further and try to gauge whether they are industry leaders. For example, do they blog, are they published online anywhere other than their own website – on digital or marketing industry websites, for example? Also, check out if the agency hosts workshops, uses Twitter polls or hosts Tweet chats. Do they respond to follower content – and answer questions. If they have confidence in their own skills, then that may be a sign that so should you.
It’s good to talk
Once you have settled on a few possibilities, arrange to discuss strategies and costs – in person. Of course, we live in a world of remote working but that doesn’t mean to say there cannot be a ‘face-to-face’ discussion of some description. Email correspondence is great, but establishing an initial rapport either on Skype or by phone provides a strong foundation for any good on-going working relationship. And that way you get a more tangible feel for the agency by interacting with a real-life person (yeah, ironic right?).
Ask how many accounts they manage? Four-to-six per person is doable. And try to avoid settling for the cheapest option – if your budget is modest, limit frequency rather than buy into a ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ philosophy.
Know your intentions and be specific in your direction. What boundaries will you need to set regarding content? Will they set, execute and tweak strategy?
Invite the agency to loosely develop a social media strategy that reflects and supports your existing business-focused objectives. Once you’ve looked over the draft plan, ask yourself if they understand your market as well as your business objectives?
Have they previously worked with any of your competitors? If they already have clients in your market, how bespoke is their service? Select the most appropriate social media platforms for you – and check their track record to see if they have established account-handling experience in each of them.
What do others say?
Client testimonials are an essential part of your background check and any social media agency should be able to provide you with feedback from happy customers. Of course, every business has different requirements but, essentially, you are looking for consistent good work, accountability and effective communication skills. There’s nothing worse than an agency that goes quiet when you need them most, is too busy to speak with you or appears seemingly chaotic. Client trust is all.
What will it cost – or, how long’s a piece of string?
Agencies vary hugely in price and it is very much dependant on a whole raft of factors that includes:
Whether you need them to set-up and manage accounts or just nurture existing activity
The number of pages and platforms you expect them to manage
The frequency of posts
The complexity of any social media campaigns
Whether you want them to answer questions from interested parties
How quickly you are looking to boost search visibility, traffic and conversions with SEO and PPC
The current status quo of your social media presence and brand awareness
Whether you need the additional support of copywriting services for blogs, website copy, industry websites and so on
Whether you require the support of PR-driven surveys
Whether you expect the agency to take the lead on brainstorming new ideas and strategies.
Use the following as a checklist so you understand exactly what it is you are getting for your money:
Brainstorming of topics
Responding to messages and posts
Handling negative comments
Is it a numbers game?
The truth is that nobody really knows the value of social media engagement and measuring it does not necessarily reflect reach – sell stuff or put bums on seat.
But if you want to have an idea at how your social media activity is progressing, you may wish to ask how regularly they measure/evaluate their work based on different metrics and how often can they share results of:
Social media reach
Social media growth
Social media engagement
Lead generation from social media.
More importantly, perhaps, is the monitoring of your audience and whether the agency you choose to handle your accounts curates results to shape content and tweak strategy.
Ethics and legals
Is the agency ethical? Ok, so this may sound a bit off-kilter, but it is important any agency has a sound business ethos and understands what is acceptable to post – and what is not. Do they understand influencers and how to use them effectively? Johnson & Johnson came in for a barrage of criticism recently with its Listerine promotion using an Instagram influencer and nobody wants negative reactions, however much publicity it garners.
Also, do ask if they are au fait with current content guideline, rules and regulations. Whilst it may not be you that carries the can for overstepping the mark when it comes to misleading content, ASA guidelines, confidentiality and defamation, it will be your brand that pays the price.
Will they keep you, as a client, safe by abiding by the rules? Also, do ask if they have a stock photo account. Stealing photos from the net is a no-no and nobody wants a legal battle over copyright.
There is much debate about the validity of using social media as part of a marketing strategy. As The Drum Network member Sacha Mooney notes: ‘Like many things, social media for business has both pros and cons. Some of the obvious pros were brand awareness and development, networking, increased sales and improved SEO. In terms of cons, things such as brand image can easily be damaged, additional staffing may be required to keep on top of social media demands and there’s more risk of security breaches.’
However, the top social media channels remain major investments for businesses looking to extend their reach and you ignore the potential marketing opportunities at your peril.
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