Pick a Good Partner for New Media Projects

    April 17, 2007

Okay, so I’m continuing with some thoughts here shaking out of my recent RFP posts….

Here’s the situation: you want to starting folding social media strategies, tactics and tools into your company’s PR program, but you’re not sure how exactly you want to approach things and because of that, you’re leaning toward bringing in some outside help. Maybe you’re thinking about a consultant or a small group of specialists or even a large services firm, the tough question is this:

How do you pick a good partner?

I think the market has reached a point now where it’s fairly easy to find knowledgeable people and more often than not, initial talks and meetings can give you surface-level insight into someone’s experience and know how. Often, if the price is right too, well, for some folks that’s enough. Decision made.

But let’s say you’re the crazy type that wants to get past surface-level questions and responses, and really dig into someone’s skill set – to ensure that they can really be the trusted adviser that you and your company are seeking. In this case, what sort of questions do you ask? And more important, what sort of responses should you expect?

Here are just a few questions, in no particular order, that you might want to consider:

How are they using new media in their business? It’s a fairly straight-forward question, right. Is the company or the consultant you’re talking to eating their own dog food? What you want to hear is of course yes, but I think what you also want to see is a degree of variety in how they’re active across the web. Having a personal blog, for example, is great, but at this point in the game, it’s practically a must-have. How else are they immersed?

How are they using new media with their clients? Again, a simple question, but the thing to zero in on is diversification. Are you seeing the replication of essentially the same project (e.g., a blog) or are you seeing a variety of projects? IMO, the broader spectrum of projects you see, the better. You want a partner that can advise you on the best strategies, tactics and tools, not just the ones they’ve done before. And remember, it doesn’t have to be a public-facing thing, some of the best usage of new media happens behind the firewall.

Have they ever worked through an online crisis? Yeah, a crisis is a crisis, whether it be online or not, I know, the point here is that the web can amplify and socialize news quickly, and you need to know your partner has experience dealing with this sort of thing. They don’t have to be crisis management experts, per se, but knowing how they’ve navigated these situations in the past is very helpful. If their response sounds something like blah, blah, blah, Kryptonite Locks, blah, blah, blah, Dell Hell, well then, that’s only an indication that they know what an online crisis is, not exactly how they handled one….

Who will do the work and what is their experience? This is more specific to service firms. It’s the bait and switch BS you’ve seen in the business, sadly, for years now. It’s great to have the internet sage present in the meetings quoting cluetrain and flaunting his in-depth understanding of A-lister eating habits, but here’s the thing: the success of most of these programs does not rest on this guy, it rests on those behind him, the ones who will likely do all the edgework. I mean, unless you’re cool spending $200/hour for this dude to do Technorati searches. Make an effort to meet all the people who will be on your team and make sure you’re comfortable and confident with their background and experience too.

Are they leading or following the industry? This is a tricky one, but essentially this question is about trying to determine how much authority and credibility your partner has within the industry. What you want to see, I believe, is a healthy mix of external sources that are supporting and justifying new ideas and new thinking that’s originating from your partner. Oh yeah, and you want your partner to be able to point you to things that they’re doing that substantiates all this. It’s tricky because some of the smartest consultants and firms out there have made some mistakes, some of them pretty messy, but the good stuff will usually outweigh the bad if you just take the time to look.

There are of course many other questions to ask, measurement comes to mind as one, training and education capabilities is another, but hopefully this provides you with a reference point for ways to dig a little deeper. Good luck.