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By B.L. Ochman

At long last, corporate toes in the social media waters are giving way to the spending of major dollars on social media marketing.

A recent study from the Association of National Advertisers reports that “… more than half (56 percent) of marketers are increasing their investments in newer media platforms. Another 35 percent are holding their spending at the same level, while only nine percent are reducing their investments in newer media.”

Who to hire?
That means there’ll be more business for agencies and consultants specializing in emerging media. But how can CMOs know whether to hire a big PR firm, an ad agency, an upstart digital shop, a consultant, or a combination of all these?

There are scores of blog posts suggesting that you need to ask six to 20 questions. I maintain these two will give you the real skinny.

Here are the two essential questions to ask your potential social media agency:
1- Do they walk the walk?

“If your key agency people are not participating as thought leaders in the space, should they be advising you?
They need street cred themselves.”
Ed Nicholson, Director Tyson Corporate PR

  • Does the prospective agency, have a credible social media presence of its own?
  • How long have they been using social media? If they have only recently established a presence in social media, ask why it took them so long.
  • Do they have a following? Many agencies have no more social media presence than what they pass off as Twitter accounts or Facebook pages. Many of those are thinly disguised broadcasts of press releases, or are updated every month or so, if at all.

Even if they don’t have clients who are involved in social media, they need to be there themselves to demonstrate that they understand how new media actually works, and how community is built in real life, not in theory.

2- Do they have case studies to share with you to demonstrate their success incorporating social media into clients’ overall marketing strategy?
If they don’t, they’ll be learning on your dime.

Theory is great. It works for philosophy very well. But it doesn’t work as a demonstration of an agency’s ability to handle your social media marketing.

Social media has been part of the online landscape for a more than a decade, beginning with chat rooms and forums, and evolving into its current form. If an agency or individual consultant has no case studies integrating social media into a client campaign, keep looking.

There are a handful of credible social media agencies and consultants on the planet. These two essential questions will help you identify them. Ignore them at your peril.