Ten Potential Red Flags When Hiring a Social Media Agency or Expert

by Mary B. Adams | @LadyMissMBA

Looking to hand over the reigns to your Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn or other company page to a social media firm or specialist? Here are questions to ask and potential red flags to look out for when selecting your candidate.

1. "Why did you start using social media and what do you like most about it?" This will give you an idea of the candidate's experience, passion and expertise. Red flag: Anything resembling this Bridget Jones's Diary (2001): Job Interviews scene where, when up for a gig at a children's TV network, she is asked whether she has children of her own (awkward!).

2. "How would you go about selecting the best social media platforms for me?" There are hundreds of social media platforms out there. The answer will depend largely on your type of business, goals and the types of people and communities you want to reach. If the agency is insisting on a particular platform before knowing these basic pieces of information, they might be doing so because it is the platform they know the best or are the most comfortable using.

3. "How much of my marketing mix needs to be social vs. traditional and other kinds of marketing?" (or, do you think big picture or do you tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to social?) Beware any candidate telling you to nix the mix and throw your entire lot into social, at least without first taking the time to examine your current initiatives, successes and challenges. Indeed some organizations are devoting a larger portion of their marketing spend to social media because of the value it brings, but replacing all promotional activities with social media might not be best for you. Print, radio, billboard, newsletters, cold calling are still quite relevant and effective for many companies (and social can even work to boost these activities).

4. "How do you grow online communities?" Hopefully the answer will involve some combination of fresh, original and varied content that adds value, is helpful and appealing to the target audience. Throw in a dash of curating useful content as well as inviting comments and interactions plus direct outreach to people of influence in the sector or industry. Bonus points if they use the Social Media Business Equation! In addition to organic growth, paying to get in front of more people may be appropriate (see #5).

The Social Media Business Equation - white board version. Image courtesy of @LadyMissMBA

NOTE: Now would be a good time to look at the agency's social presence to see if they practice what they preach. If their Facebook page hasn't been updated in awhile, how will they handle yours?

5. "Tell me about any experience with sponsored posts or ads." Paid posts can often turbo charge social media efforts to help you reach your goals faster. Has your candidate ever used these methods and what were the results? There are also websites selling likes, fans, comments or followers. Any experience or recommendations with these practices?

6. "What monitoring systems do you use to track social media campaign success?" A proliferation of tools are available including some good free ones like Google Analytics, Facebook analytics and Hootsuite analytics. Ask to see a recent sample of a report and have them walk you through it. Information like demographics, reach, impressions, growth trends reveal important insights about our activity on social media. It is important to regularly review them to make changes or improvements as needed. If the answer to this question is "none," you had better run!

7. "How do you stay on top of all new tools, platforms and industry news?" Social media is constantly changing and it takes time to abreast of it all. Does the agency test drive new tools on a regular basis? What blogs are they reading? Do they partake in any trainings, conferences or events?

8. "Do you use editorial calendaring?" An indispensable tool for managing a company blog or other platform, ask if the agency wouldn't mind sharing a sample done for their own blog or YouTube channel, for example, or that of a client.

9."How would you handle negative feedback or comments about my brand/company?" Suggestions that involve deleting or denouncing the comments are red flags. Although negative comments are few and far between, it is a good idea to consider the source and act accordingly. In most cases if you thank them or at least acknowledge the comment, offer to investigate and get back to the person, you can resolve it painlessly. If you are guilty as charged, admit it and fix it. Or try to take the discussion offline (via telephone or email, for example) until a satisfactory resolution is found. Ignoring, deleting or arguing can often end up backfiring.

10. "In the unlikely event of a PR crisis, what would you do?" If the candidate breaks out into a sweat at the mere thought of a such a scenario, better move on to the next one. If they advocate for having a plan in place, this can go a long way to control reputation damage to the brand. Creating an organization chart so that if a problem needs to be escalated after hours or on the weekend, the agency knows who to contact and by what method (PR agency? CEO? By phone, email? etc).

What questions or red flags would you add to this list?

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