In January 2010 Social Media Group released the original Social Media Request for Proposal (SMRFP) template to help organizations select providers of social media professional services. This template was covered extensively in the media and widely adopted: in early January, 2010, searches for “social media RFP” generated fewer than two pages of results, whereas in December 2010 this search returned over 300,000 links.

Many of our peers and colleagues have encountered the template, and their feedback has been fairly consistent: while valuable, the Social Media RFP template is too long, has too many questions, and many clients and purchasing departments are simply cutting and pasting the content with little or no thought about their actual needs. In other words, the Social Media RFP has in some ways become more of a hindrance than a help (SMG has also experienced this firsthand).

So, it’s time for a revision (available for free download here). We’ve also added an RFP “Bill of Rights” which is intended to encourage fairness, acknowledge the investment on the part of respondents and foster the mutual respect that should be observed in all business relationships. We’d love to hear what you think about v2.0!

RFP Bill of Rights
I will not issue an RFP “Cattle Call”. Issuing an RFP to more than six or seven agencies is overkill. Instead, identify agencies you would like to work with and be selective in whom you invite to respond. Fifteen or 20 responses are too many to be able to truly judge relative merit, and it’s wrong to ask agencies who are not a good fit to waste valuable resources on an RFP they are unlikely to win.

I will be thoughtful. This and other RFP templates are intended to provide guidance, but don’t simply cut and paste the contents. Think about what you actually need and edit accordingly. Information overload will only winnow out quality agencies that are too busy to wade through all the unnecessary details.

I will do my own homework. Asking agencies to identify their own competition is only going to get you two things: a list of second-tier competitors that is of dubious value and respondents annoyed that you essentially asked them to undermine their own competitive advantage. A thorough briefing on your needs at some point during the process is also essential for success (ever heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”?). Spend the time.

I will be flexible. Yes, we know you have a timeline. We also know (even though you might not) that it is going to slip. Don’t ask vendors to meet your timelines or else. There are significant cost savings in being able to book flights in advance (and you want an agency that keeps an eye on the pennies, right?). Give respondents at least a week’s notice and be flexible in your dates.

I will keep you updated. Nothing is worse than the “black hole”. A response is prepared at great effort, submitted and… crickets. Let respondents know that their RFP has been received, and what the next steps are. When the dates slip, let them know that, too. They put a lot into their submission – show them the respect that this effort deserves.

I will give you feedback. You can’t win ‘em all – any agency team who responds to RFPs knows this well. What they don’t know (magic crystal balls being in short supply) is why they didn’t make it to the next round or win the brass ring. Acknowledging vendors’ efforts and letting them know why their response didn’t meet your needs helps them improve, and is more than a fair trade for the cost and effort invested on their part. It also ensures good feelings – you never know what your needs might be next; maintaining good vendor relationships is good business.

We’d love YOUR feedback on this latest round (please leave us a comment), and big thanks to everyone who provided us with their thoughts on the first version, especially Jake McKee of Ant’s Eye View!

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