"Disguised" by respres on Flickr

Here’s a dirty little secret: you don’t need a degree, a portfolio or any experience to make a living at social media.

All you really need is a website.  (And, if you’re really fancy, a blog.)

Because the barrier to entry for this emerging field is still so low, the social media industry has been plagued by hundreds of self-appointed “gurus,” “experts” and “ninjas” who’ve never actually worked for a client, but they’re eager to convince you that their “expertise” will improve your business and make you a smashing success online — even if their expertise only consists of reading the blogs written by the people who actually do it for a living.

Fortunately, we at Creative Concepts are happy to give you a few tips to help tell the legitimate service providers apart from the social media charlatans.

5 Questions to Ask Your Potential Social Media Agency

Q1: “How long have you been managing social media for your clients?”

Granted, longevity is only one indicator of success.  But the longer an agency has been in business, the more likely it is that their collective experience can improve your bottom line.

(Our answer?  Since 2005.  Yup; even before Twitter.)

Q2: “Have you created any campaigns I might have seen?”

Again, a caveat: some social media successes occur far below the public radar, especially in terms of B2B or niche markets.  But if your potential agency has been working with brand-name clients (and can furnish portfolio proof thereof), it’s a good indicator that other decision-makers have considered them to be a smart hire.

(Our answer? While Ouidad and Ecover may be niche-specific brand names, and while you couldn’t have seen the internal media we created for Pitney Bowes, you just might be one of the 11,000 Facebook fans we’ve helped attract to the Bigelow Tea Facebook page.)

Q3: “What do you consider some of your greatest social media successes?”

This is really a two-pronged question: it allows the agency to list any wins it’s collected (even if they’re not “mainstream”), and it gives them an opportunity to explain how they judge their own successes or failures — via sales, traffic, engagement, awareness or any other metrics they might favor.  That way, you can see how your expected needs and their areas of expertise overlap.  (HINT: If they can’t point to a positive impact on client sales, you should be skeptical.)

(Our answer? Now that our clients list Facebook as one of their top 10 sales drivers, our clients’ YouTube videos have received industry awards, and both we and our clients have been invited to speak about social media at industry conferences, we think we’ve had quite a few successes — and counting!)

Image by respres via Flickr