How To Hire A Social Media Agency Or Consultant
How To Hire A Social Media Agency Or Consultant
How To Hire A Social Media Agency Or Consultant

I’ve tried to steer clear of the social media guru conversation. I think it’s petty and short-sighted for people to moan and bitch about some up-start blogger or right-out-of-college entrepreneur type claiming to be or help make you a social media expert. No, I don’t think these people are worth the time or money and those who hire them will ultimately understand that, but elevating their existence to top of mind conversations is frivolous in my mind.

And then there’s the big reason: The companies and clients all you social media folks are trying to protect from the social media douchebags out there aren’t complaining about them. They know better than to hire someone who has no client list, no references and no proven track record. So stop whining about the blogger-gone-consultant type and do good work. I offered these thoughts on the matter when it first popped up.

Social Media RFP Template - Social Media GroupMaggie Fox and her brilliant group of social media and public relations folks at Social Media Group have squeezed out another very useful resource today that helps put some distance between the “gurus” and clients. They’ve put some thought into a Social Media RFP (Request for Proposal) Template. If you’re a company or brand looking for social media help, you can use the questions posed in the template (free of charge) to help you find out the right background information about your potential consultant or agency partner.

Check out the PDF, download it and give it some thought as you entertain hiring help for your social media activity. It’s smart stuff.

Oh, and they’re also doing a webinar around the topic which you can sign up for at if you’re interested.

And as soon as I get around to it, I’m going to fill out the answers and post my RFP response publicly for all to see. If you’re a company or consultant offering social media, you might consider it as well.

What thoughts hit you as you read the questions posed in the template? The comments, as always, are yours.

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • I like the sentiment here that you should exercise caution in hiring a Social Media Consultant. The

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  • Your first appearance, he said to me, is the gauge by which you will be measured; try to manage that you may go beyond yourself in after times, but beware of ever doing less.

  • I won't recommend this to a newbie for sure. If someone is thinking of making money from websites – then the first thing that they should be doing is to -educate themselves regarding the different steps that has to be taken to take their site to the top of the search results of major search engines. And only then, they should be thinking of hiring consultants or social media agencies.

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  • Great points, all. And thanks for sharing the authors!

  • I don't believe that you need to be an expert to utilize social media. It's advancing so quickly that yesterday's guru is today's lip purser.
    As a consultant, you do have to lead with heart and creativity, not your ego. Any project that you work on for a client should have connection and true communication as the priority. It's one thing to court and marry and another to have a one night stand.
    Napoleon Hill's books are inspirational when it comes to true success and maintaining integrity and excellent customer service.
    Edward De Bono is another one whose principles have helped me with clients who are stuck in traditional numbers only, competitive thinking.

    We may be in the age of technology, but the same guidelines that worked in the early 1900s haven't changed.

  • I don't believe that you need to be an expert to utilize social media. It's advancing so quickly that yesterday's guru is today's lip purser.
    As a consultant, you do have to lead with heart and creativity, not your ego. Any project that you work on for a client should have connection and true communication as the priority. It's one thing to court and marry and another to have a one night stand.
    Napoleon Hill's books are inspirational when it comes to true success and maintaining integrity and excellent customer service.
    Edward De Bono is another one whose principles have helped me with clients who are stuck in traditional numbers only, competitive thinking.

    We may be in the age of technology, but the same guidelines that worked in the early 1900s haven't changed.

    • Great points, all. And thanks for sharing the authors!

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  • seanmcvey

    This is an awesome resource and something that will give companies confidence while going through social marketing process. Even more awesome is Social Media Guru YouTube video you linked to. Wow, that seriously made my day. Thanks a lot!

    • You're welcome! Thanks for the comment.

  • greenandcleanmom

    Love! Love! Love it! @maggiefox rocks it and I have loved working with her and getting to know her last fall, total admiration. Thanks for sharing this PDF Jason.

    • You're very welcome. We love Maggie, too!

  • This is really a superb template and I applaud you for sharing it and for your willingness to share your responses for all to see. Maggie's Q and Q list is indeed comprehensive. I guess the only thing I would add (which is referenced somewhat in Question 9) in the “Client Services and Project Management” section is
    “Please outline your communication process and platforms used to communicate externally with clients.” As you know, sometimes real-time progress vs. periodic reports can be a real point of differentiation between one agency and another. For example, How are milestones achieved communicated? Beyond just the dashboards that are available from tools like Radian6 that are used within the scope of the project, Is there an online, real time dashboard that clients can access to see high level overview of overall project milestone / task completion progress? I hope this makes some sense. Thanks again for sharing this. What a fantastic resource!

    • Thanks Hugh. Good thoughts there. I still need to find time to post my
      responses. On the list. Heh.

  • Hiring a firm aside…this is just a great template for those of us doing it all in house. The questions you pose are thought provoking for me an my team as we continue to expand our social media efforts. Thanks for posting this.

    • You're welcome. Be sure to thank Maggie Fox and her team for
      developing it! (I'm just the messenger.)

  • Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, we have Jason Falls, Amber Naslund, and others who are well-established and respected in the field of social media.

    In that corner, we have what Jason refers to as the “con artists” or “douchebags” -people with many fewer arrows in their social media quiver and therefore little if any respect among the social media cognoscenti -ripping off unsuspecting clients.

    The battle has been joined.

    I've been watching this debate over the last few weeks on the interwebs, and it seems like there are a group of people in the middle not being addressed, a group in which I reside.

    I'm an experienced (pre-employed) professional with a broad set of technology and business skills with an honest interest (and aptitude, I like to think) in social media tools and how they can be leveraged in a business context.

    This article and others like it I've read carry an air – unintended or not – of condescension and derision toward those not who are not already members of the “social media club.”

    I believe my background, abilties and interests can be of value to my next employer, so how does a person in such a situation position themselves for opportunities in social media/community management, given what seems to be the prevailing negative attitude toward those just getting started in the field?

    Thanks for your feedback, everyone.

    • All you have to do is sell what you know and promise what you can
      deliver. Those that we refer to sell stuff they don't know and promise
      that which they likely can't deliver. It's not about knowing social
      media as much as it is knowing business, marketing, communications and
      applying social media to those disciplines. Sounds like you fall into
      the category of people who can do that.

      And, for the record, I hate talking about this issue because I think
      the only people worried about the douchebags are people who are scared
      they'll take their jobs … meaning they probably are a little on the
      douchebag side themselves. Clients aren't dumb enough to hire the
      douchebags so there's not use extending the conversation in my mind.
      It's an inside the bubble circle jerk gone wrong. This post is most
      likely the last time you'll hear me chime in on it and this was just
      because Maggie's group put out a nice RFP template to combat this very
      type of snake oil salesman.

      But thanks for the ear flip. I don't mind being held to task.

    • David,

      You make an interesting point. I think it depends on positioning. No one should call themselves experts or gurus, it comes off well, poorly. If you position yourself as a person with a background in the topic, then you pass the smell test.

      Let's face it, what is an expert in social media, a person who excels in talking and typing and developing relationships? If that's the barometer, hell, my wife passes as a social media expert!

      I say that with tongue planted firmly in cheek, because I for one don't fully drink the social media Kool-Aide to begin with. My use (and the recommended use I tell clients) is to use social media to listen – listen to what your customers and prospects are saying. If questions come up regarding your industry, be the first to answer them…truthfully regardless of the fallout. Also, companies should use social media to help prospects with any pre-sales questions they may have when in the information gathering stage.

      I DO NOT suggest that companies use the forums to blast out salesy messages (and that's hard for a 20+ year sales guy) to their readers for the obvious reasons.

      I think I got off on a riff there, but to bring the point home, if you say your are an expert or guru or whatever high exalted position you give yourself, then I agree with Jason, if your just the guy that does the thing and you tell people that, then you are being totally upfront and honest…which is the backbone to social media in the first place!

    • Joseph Ranseth

      I think this is an important point to address.

      The larger, overriding issue is tactics VS strategy.

      A social media super-user can very easily act as a consultant to small businesses on social media tactics. ie: the how-to's. What they cannot do – at least effectively, in my opinion – are the what-to's. Understanding how to add facebook fans & twitter followers, measuring your scores, and using tools to syndicate your message across the various platforms are all things that a SM super-user can do, but without a clearly defined message and a specific strategy, those tactics will be hit or miss. (Most often miss)

      If a company is looking to define success by number of fans or followers, they can succeed with a high-school intern who will work for free in exchange for experience. Smart businesses, however, know that the success of their marketing campaigns are measured by more tangible metrics. Namely, increased sales and well-qualified prospects in their pipeline.

      It is also my opinion that most who understand these things are too busy doing them to actually be talking about them. The demand for qualified strategists is so strong in the offline markets right now, that a successful marketer is getting more business than he/she can handle through offline sources & word of mouth referrals.

  • I don't think this is a problem that is unique to Social Media. There are crappy painters, crappy car mechanics, crappy financial services people. During the housing boom, thousands of not-to-code buildings were thrown up by sub-par architects working with sub-par contractors. The trick for business owners is to do some homework before hiring- whether its SEO or Social Media or Insurance.

    This resource is an excellent tool in that vein. If I may be so bold, I also suggest a post I wrote about hiring different types of writers for online content.

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  • I'm gonna fill it out too. Thanks J!

  • Here here. Couldn't have said it better!

  • Jason,

    I've long since come to the conclusion that if a company wants to hire an intern to act as their online spokesperson, then they probably aren't the right client anyway. I bid them good luck.

    As for social media douchebags, I like G's definition. It has been a long-time problem well before social media, cropping up in public relations, marketing, etc. (maybe a little less so advertising for whatever reason) well before you or I started working in the field. It's not even limited to our field. Accounting, management, etc. all face their share of hucksters.

    The way to dispel some of the magic isn't always in the questions asked, but in the results of past programs. And, again, if the client cannot see the difference between having “X” number of friends on Facebook or measuring tangible outcomes or specified goals, then they probably aren't the right client either.

    Always love the thinking, my friend.


    • Thanks, Rich. Glad to have you adding to the thinking, my man.

  • As some have pointed out, I do think there's a danger here in setting the bar too high. The reality of social media is that it's a new field, completely dynamic, and much of what worked in other mediums will not work here.

    And to be fair to those “douchebags”, the reason their message resonates is that many of the folks with credentials, experience, and connections don't seem to really understand social media any more than the “douchebags”. It's a situation ripe for exploitation.

    • Good to have some reeling in, Ryan. Thanks for that. It's all a matter
      of degrees. There are some major league turds out there giving all of
      social media a bad name. There are some inexperienced folks
      overselling themselves, but aren't really ill-intended. There are
      experienced marketers who understand social media and are advising
      companies well and there are varying degrees of those three qualities
      in each person, probably. I'm not sure I know who you're referring to
      with the credentialed folks who don't really understand social media.
      If they don't understand it (and are selling it) I'd probably consider
      them in that middle pack of overselling, but without ill intent
      segment. But I appreciate the additional perspective. Thanks.

      • Not referring to anyone in particular, just to some of the smarmy folks out there who are pushing social media today and will be pushing whatever the next fad is tomorrow. Every industry has them, but social media is so new that it can be hard for clients to tell who knows what they're doing.

  • gcjmarkets

    I think that there are different levels of a Social Media Consultant and what areas of the web the consultant could be considered a “Guru” (I hate that word, I prefer “expert”) because the social media/digital marketing world is so large and diverse that no one person could honestly say that they are experts in every aspect of New Media.

    I also think it depends on what the company needs in regards to their social/online marketing strategy. They may not need or be able to afford the Chris Brogans out there, they might just want someone to create a blog that is optimized for the search engines and if they hire someone just out of college who has the proper training and they provide a valuable service for the company, I wouldn't consider them as douchebags.

    In my opinion the douchebags are the con artists that use this industry to prey on small business owners that don't know any better because they have to spend 99 percent of their time trying to make payroll. Then this douchebag comes along selling their magic pill that will solve all their business problems for a “nominal fee” then they never deliver.

    • And that, my friends, is a client of mine. Thanks G!

  • I'm all for this. That said, I must ask whether the SMRFP ( “smurfp”) Template sets the bar too high by implying that if you can't answer the questions in the Template you have no business offering Social Media services (except of course if you are The Social Media Group). Just asking.

    • Hi Guhmshoo,

      The template is designed to be broken up or simplified based upon the client's needs, not used exactly as is. I think if you take the document as a whole it definitely sets the bar pretty high, but is that such a bad thing? The responses will only be as good as the potential vendors can make them and then it is up to the client to decide.

      And yes of course, we can answer the questions (we did write it after all), but so often when we see RFPs there is too much room to fudge answers and that makes it harder for clients to find the best match.

    • I don't think that's an intent or intimation from this, Andrew. I
      think it's a list of questions companies might want to ask. They don't
      have to ask them all. They don't have to use the template it all. It's
      just a set of ideas that can help companies identify a qualified
      person to help them. If the company sees omissions on the questions
      they can weigh that themselves and still decide to hire the person.
      It's just a set of suggestions. I just think it will be a nice way for
      those of us in the social media space to differentiate and prove our
      credibility out without having to be trumpeting ourselves vs. the
      douchebags of the world. Make sense?

      • Thanks Jason and Doug for the clarification. Jason, you wrote: “I just think it will be a nice way for those of us in the social media space to differentiate and prove our credibility…” So do you see the template becoming more of a “certification” tool for the vendor rather than the client?

        • Not sure if I'd use that terminology but the general principle is there. It's a way for consultants and agencies to better sell themselves and a way for clients to be more discerning with their hires. Make sense?

  • Hey Jason..Maggie's RFP piece if anything, will help those of us on the inside looking out, make sure that we have properly vetted ourselves. It's a checklist to see not only how we stack up externally, but also might help us to address issues that we may have not thought of, ignored, or perhaps overlooked internally. At the least, 1) It helps companies better vet those they hire, provided they understand the RFP doc in its entirety. and 2) It separates the wheat from the chafe.


    • Agreed, Marc. I think it's a great document to help the industry get
      better. Very helpful.

  • Companies don't need social media guru's, what they need are customer service guru's. Building up their brands, building stronger customer relationships and increasing sales is ultimately what companies want. So how do they do that?…you do that by caring for people. Social media is only the platform to get you there, it's not the tactic. The tactic is to change the way you do business. Start caring for people and watch your brand grow. I recently put out a video on this on my blog, check it out if you get a chance. This simple principle flies completely over people's head and it's mind boggling. But hey, if someone wants to pay me to help them make money using these social media (web 2.0) tools, I'll take it. Why, because in the end, I'll be helping people become “better people” and I'll be helping companies become “better caring companies”. In the end, we'll all win. Consumers will get better experiences, the people who run the company will become better caring people and their lives will change. In fact, once you start understanding this, your personal lives will change. Their brands will grow and spread and they'll start to make tons of money. You accomplish this by caring, period. A social media guru or company ain't gonna make you rich. But an individual who understands how to get you to change the way you think and to get you to start caring for people and start understanding how to get people to like you (and your brand), that's the person you need to hire. Step one, change the way you do business, start caring. Step two, get with all the social media tools to help you start spreading this new caring. Answer customer questions, put out fires, be transparent, be honest, etc. etc. etc. Step three, hire a crap load of people who buy into this philosophy (pay them well) and have them manage all your social media accounts and watch your business grow to heights you couldn't have imagined. ;)

    • Pretty much a prescription for being a good company. Well said, Michael.

  • JCastro

    I'm curious what the definition of “snake oil salesman” is in this post. I'm young, almost 3 years out of college and recently got a position at an ad agency to head up their social media strategy internally and for clients. This is a small-to-mid size agency having trouble transitioning from print and web. I never marketed myself as a “guru” but did speak knowledgeably and had good ideas they liked. I've never run a social media campaign and before this worked as a recruiter. Would you qualify me as a “social media douchebag?” I'm not trying to be confrontational I am genuinely curious. I understand the value of respect in this field and am trying to learn as much as possible about how a brand (and an individual) can market itself without being disingenuous.

    This is all new frontier territory and I find it exciting. I also understand the danger of “consultants” looking to cash in and exploit those looking for a strategy. I suppose my question is, as a newbie with no designs on being a “guru” how do I gain the respect of my colleagues and avoid falling into the pit of self-promoting vipers?

    • The definition of “snake oil salesman” is a bit of a moving target, but my personal definition, is people positioning themselves to authoritatively consult with clients, but have not done their homework. Whether you qualify is not something I can answer, but I think anyone in this business should ask themselves, “am I learning the basics of the industry and charging it as billable time?”. If you have never run a social media campaign and are billing yourself as an expert (or your company is) then you are being put in a tough position.

      “Gurus” and “experts” are in the eye of the beholder (or client in this case) and we are just trying to give clients the tools that will help them decide better for themselves.

    • Awesome question and thank you for asking. Because social media is so
      new as a discipline or industry, it's not really accurate to sell
      oneself as an expert, guru and such. The douchebag label normally gets
      applied to people who, with no marketing training or expertise,
      suddenly start pimping themselves as a social media expert or guru.
      There are dozens of them out there who think because they have a blog
      or a Facebook page, it qualifies them to take thousands of dollars
      from companies to perform strategic and tactical work for brands and
      companies when they have no experience, expertise, and thus, no

      It's like earning your stripes or learning your craft gets thrown out
      the window. I would probably argue that you're the right kind of right-
      out-of-college social media professional. You don't oversell yourself,
      lead with your ideas and keep open eyes and ears to learn.
      Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks out there less qualified than
      even you who are trying to sell $3-5K monthly engagements with
      companies to set them up a blog, etc.

      What you need to do to continue on your responsible path is A) Do good
      work B) Be passionate about your clients and their customers and C)
      Keep learning. I try to do those three things myself. It has nothing
      to do with your experience level. It's best practices to be good at
      what we do.

      Thanks for the question.

      • Amen!

      • JCastro

        Thank you very much for the kind words! I've tried to go about this as responsibly as possible, knowing that I couldn't in good conscience sell myself as any kind of expert I accepted an unpaid internship position at my agency and have been here about 4 months learning the ropes. I am close to being hired as a full-time employee and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It hasn't been easy, but I do believe that social media will prove to be an important and exciting shift in advertising, one I am desperate to be a part of. I love the customer service aspects of it and as a life-long brand evangelist (I was that kid telling anyone who'd listen that Erector sets were way better than K*Nex) I understand the power that consumers wield through word of mouth. Your blog, along with those of Chris Brogan, ConversationAge, Mashable and countless others have been an invaluable resource during my training period. The fact that I've been able to learn so much, for free, from so many experienced marketers speaks volumes to the power and potential of social networks. That people will try to exploit an emerging medium is to be expected but I hope enough companies and agencies are savvy enough to turn to resources such as yourself and prevent themselves from falling prey to these “gurus!”

        • Thank you! Love the push back. Tone is hard to interpret in the
          written word and I have a tendency to be snarky, so thanks for holding
          me accountable here.

  • Absolutely agree with your take on this. This type of a vetting process will keep the discussion focused on the quality of the people, the quality of their solutions and the quality of of their credentials. All the “snake oil” debate in the world can negate that.

    • Thanks. I hope it helps weed out the distractions from our
      conversations. Appreciate the comments, Patrick.

  • Hey Jason, thanks for picking up the Social Media RFP Template. I completely agree with you that it doesn't serve anyone to keep the snake oil conversation top of mind. Hopefully this will make that discussion a little less relevant for the companies who are ready for a serious relationship with a social media company.

    Looking forward to seeing your version of the RFP.

    • Thanks. Now I feel like I need to go fill out my RFP. Another thing on
      the list of things to do. Heh. Thanks for stopping by.


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