How to Identify a Bad Social Media Proposal

There is a simple way to tell if that social media proposal on your desk is any good. And I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first, let’s think about the reason you have the proposal in the first place.

Chances are there’s someone in your organization who’s really gung ho about social media. Good for them. Social media has tremendous potential to help pretty much any organization, whether you’re a small business, enterprise, or non-profit.

There’s also a good chance that the excited person has met someone who “does” social media (don’t get me started) and the proposal on your desk is from that person/company.

The first thing you should consider is the quality of that referral. Did the excited person do any due diligence, or did he or she just meet someone they thought was cool? If this is the case, be sure to get at least one or two proposals before making a decision.

Next, open the proposal and look at its table of contents or, lacking that, scan the major headings. Here’s the format of an actual bad social media proposal:

  • Online Objectives
  • Social Media Maintenance
  • Content Curation
  • Content Creation
  • Google Analytics Monitoring & Measurement
  • Proposed Budget
  • Discussion of Success Metrics

So what’s not to like? They talk about some cool terms like objectives, curation, monitoring and measurement, and success metrics. And these are all good aspects of a tactical social media program. But there’s something missing. Right up front.

Perhaps what we’re looking for is hidden under Online Objectives, so take a look at that, or the similarly-named section of the proposal on your desk. Here’s what the example proposal says, in brief:

  • Reach target market of [whoever] 18-70 and [whoever] throughout the [geographic area]
  • Provide for focus on [segment1], [segment2] and [segment3]
  • Stress the [unique selling proposition] of the [site, business, product, etc.]

Now if this proposal was unsolicited, the social media company is assuming an awful lot about your online audience! You can’t possibly succeed at social media (or really, at pretty much anything) if you don’t understand your audience/customers/prospects.

So let’s put the single easiest way to tell if you are looking at a bad social media proposal into a simple statement: If the very first task is not to do an analysis of your audience and your objectives for your audience, dump the proposal in the trash.

So many organizations have gone headlong and half-cocked into social media and then wondered if it was worth it. IMHO, the main reason social media projects fail to produce meaningful results (beyond, “Hey, we’ve got a Facebook page!”) is because they aren’t linked to actual business objectives and informed by research and understanding of the target audience.

I’ll give you an example. A machine tool company called us up and wanted a proposal to create an online community for CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machine users. We did a little research and found there’s already quite a vibrant community at So we suggested another way to reach that community: Starting to participate in it.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has famously said, “Communities already exist. Instead, think about how you can help that community do what it wants to do.”

If your prospective social media company doesn’t comprehend that understanding your existing online community is job #1, then find someone who does.

Update 1/10/12 I ran into an interesting series of posts on the BundlePost blog starting with Important Elements Of An Agency Social Media Proposal – Part 1 of 5 – The Meeting  As of this writing, they’ve done three of the five parts, but I’ll bet you’ll be able to tell if the folks who gave you that social media proposal on your desk followed their instructions.

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