9 Criteria For Selecting A Social Media Agency

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about 8 factors to consider when selecting a “social media expert.” Looking back now, I can see how my approach has evolved and matured since then. What’s more, as I’ve spent more time on the consulting side, my focus has shifted from self-identified “experts” to agencies.

Chris Kieff wrote a post last week giving his thoughts on some numbers-focused ways to select a social media consultant. Personally, I think the list was much too focused on superficial numbers at the expense of useful depth (I have fewer than 1,000 Facebook friends and too small an ego for my own fan page so, according to his criteria, I’m not a good consultant).

So, without further ado, here are nine ways to evaluate a social media agency.

Strategic approach

Flashy contests and big-hit ideas are attractive to companies, for sure. However, all too often they do absolutely nothing to move the needle on companies’ objectives. So, while there’s nothing wrong with creative ideas (more on that shortly), they absolutely need to be paired with a strategic approach that takes into account the nuances of your situation. That means considering objectives, stakeholders, your key audiences, other overarching strategic considerations and appropriate metrics alongside the tactical ideas.

How to assess: Look for depth of thinking and how that ties back to your broader situation, rather than just for the ‘big idea’.

Long-term thinking

Campaigns can work, but starting from scratch for each campaign limits the potential effectiveness of those campaigns and runs the risk of generating social media scorched earth. Look for agencies with a long-term approach – with thoughts on how they’re going to generate ongoing engagement with fans you acquire; with ideas for how to maintain attention between your larger spikes in activity.

Good agencies are thinking outside the campaign box, and towards longer-term brand building, reputation building, issues management and relationship-building approaches. Demand these elements in any ideas your prospective agencies bring forward.

How to assess: Look for proposals that focus on long-term growth rather than (or in addition to) short-term benefits.


I’ve written many, many times about the importance of integrating social media with other communications channels. Operating in a silo goes against the reality – that there are significant overlaps between disciplines nowadays.

Good agencies should be able to (with the help of other agencies, if necessary) formulate, propose and, if necessary, work with your other agencies to execute an integrated plan that pulls together multiple media – earned, paid, owned and social.

How to assess: Look for ideas  that blend the strengths of different media forms when assessing proposals.

Working well with other agencies

Good agencies will not only provide a way to manage the inter-agency relationship, but provide examples of times they’ve worked productively with other agencies to achieve the best possible results from the client. Look for these examples and for their suggestions on how to work collaboratively with your other agencies.

How to assess: Make this part of your client reference checks.


Does the agency have a point of view on how you should measure the activities they’re proposing? Assuming you’ve provided them with your business objectives, their activities should tie back into that. They should then tie their measurement through to those objectives.

Caveat: That measurement may involve seeing sales, website analytics or other internal measures from you. If you aren’t prepared to provide them, don’t be surprised if measurement suffers accordingly.

How to assess: Look for clear ties from objectives, to tactics, to measurement in proposed programs.

Case studies

Agencies should be able to provide concrete examples of work they have executed for other clients. While client confidentiality often means they may not be able to talk about it on their website, they should be able to muster solid examples, with solid approaches, execution, measurement and results.

How to assess: Ask for examples of prior work that are directly relevant to your challenges.

Ethical grounding

Difficult ethical issues abound in advanced social media use nowadays. Should you post that status update under your client’s name? Should you edit that wikipedia page? There are plenty of difficult issues that could get your company into trouble if handled improperly.

Whether you’re looking for an agency to help establish your social media foundation (employee policies, processes, etc) or to execute marketing programs, make sure your agency has navigated these issues before.

How to assess: Ask for examples of difficult ethical quandaries that your prospective agencies have navigated and ask about their approaches to specific conundrums.

Ability to break through the clutter

Let’s not kid ourselves – creativity is important. The digital landscape is becoming busier and busier, and companies need to find a way to break through the noise. That could be through a big creative idea; it could be through a differentiator such as improved customer service; it could be through other means. However you’re going to break through the clutter, it’s needed.

How to assess: Look for elements that make the agency’s ideas stand apart. However, don’t put all your focus on this at the expense of other factors.

Willingness to say “no”

Regardless of the type of company you work for, you need an agency partner that isn’t afraid to give you the best advice possible, even if you don’t always want to hear it. So, look for agencies who are prepared to tell you when an idea isn’t going to work, or when your suggestions may not be the best approach.

As the client, you’ll expect them to follow your ultimate decision, but until that point you need them to give you the best advice they can regardless of whether it matches with yours.

“Yes men” aren’t needed.

How to assess: If you like, you can use a scenario to assess this competency. However, you should certainly consider this when assessing agency performance over time.

What else?

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to assess when selecting an agency. What would you add?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.