Social media is all the rage.  Marketers want to be in it.  Agencies say they can do it.  Nobody knows exactly how to charge for it.  And it’s harder than heck to keep up with.

Many agencies talk about their ability to listen to the voices in social media.  Few really tell you what to do with what you hear.   So ok, you want your agency to listen…but you also want them to plan strategy and execute effectively on what they’re hearing.

In a recent blog, marketers from major Fortune 500 companies spoke on the challenges of getting an organization aligned with the value of social media and the challenges associated with making social media an actionable part of the the business and marketing planning process.

“Listening is the easy part,” said Jeff Cole, senior manager of global social media operations at Kellogg’s, speaking at a panel at the Realtime NY 11 conference last week. “Getting collaboration and results in the organization is hard.”

This is where your agency should be able to step up and help – if they are set up properly to act on the value of the content they are gleening in the digital space.

“PR people are often assigned to listen on social media, but they typically listen for crises, not for problems in business processes”, said Frank Eliason, SVP of social media for Citibank. He believes companies should use social media, email, and phone conversations to look for patterns.  Agencies that are equipped to understand the dynamics of the complexity of this space arguably are better equipped to help companies organize and react to informatoin gathered.

So when you’re looking for a new agency to handle social – or just looking at a full service agency’s abilities in the social space, ask yourself the following:

  1. Who have they represented in the social arena?  Do the clients operate in an environment where social discourse is a central part of the brand dialogue?
  2. How are they set up to manage social for you?  Is it a PR only function or do the brand people within the agency have a role in evaluating and planning strategy based on the activities?
  3. What kind of plans have they put together for clients as a result of the social conversations they have unearthed?  Are they one dimensional – in that they only feed right back into the social landscape – or are they fully integrated so as to capitalize on the interaction between social, traditional, and digital environments – much in the way consumers gather information and process purchase decisions?
  4. How long have they really been playing in the social space?  Are you one of their first victims?

When searching, simply make sure you’re asking all the right questions and are lifting up the hood a bit to see what exactly is underneath.

While it’s true that Mom always said it’s important to be a good listener.  In the social space it’s harder, and more important to act on the listening in a strategic, well-thought through, and brand equity building way, than it is to just listen to what everybody else is saying.