UPDATED: So, you’re a social media agency…

Dec. 17, 2008 | by Philip Buxton

Social media is something that absolutely every agency in the land now claims to do. And, in general, they come at it from one of three angles:

1. SEO specialists who recognised that generating links from authority sites meant getting coverage in online communities and blogs

2. PR specialists who recognised that getting coverage meant dealing with online communities and blogs

3. Digital agencies who recognised that advertising doesn’t really work on web sites and therefore must start to deal with online communities and blogs (not that ads will work there either)

All three have rightful claims and, therefore – if I were a client – I’d be very confused about whom to charge with helping me out.

Some basic tips might help:

1. A new approach – since everyone claims to ‘do’ social, look for those seeking to develop new models for approaching it, not those seeking to map on their existing models

2. Technology – everyone claims to have unique talent, to be ‘leading’, to have great clients, and real expertise. Technology, fortunately, can’t be faked, demonstrates genuine investment and expertise, and really can be proprietary and unique. So, which agency has developed/is developing their own technology to support their new approach?

3. (Courtesy of Roger, C&M) Measurement – the true value of real engagement by brands in social media is really hard to measure. I’ll be dropping my bank as soon as I don’t need them anymore because of the way it treated me when I was a student – good social media strategy will have a similarly long-lasting effect. Nonetheless, some agencies are having a very credible stab at it. Just steer clear of the ones who claim it’s that simple.

4. Existing credentials – being good at something, in my view, is a transferable skill. Muhammad Ali liked to say that if he’d been a dustman (I’m translating of course), he’d have been the best dustman in the world. I believe him. So, is the agency now claiming to be brilliant at social media brilliant at what it already does?

5. Case studies – trade journalists will tell you that finding people to talk about social media is not a problem. Finding people that have real projects to talk about is a good deal more difficult. What has the agency really done in this area?

My shortlist would be made up only of agencies that tick all [five] boxes and I’d be much more concerned about these things than whether an agency has its heritage in digital creative, media, SEO or PR since social media, as anyone with half an insight cell could spot, touches everything.

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    Comments (13)

    • martadiez

      Thanks god someone makes sense speaking of Social mediaFeb 12, 2009 04:18 pm

    • Have to select a first-class digital vendor? « Ka-Pow!

      [...] between all 3 of the above-type agencies. So, I’ll borrow some guidelines from a post by Phillip Buxtonwho put together a checklist for selecting a social media agency - the same guidines can be used [...]Jan 17, 2009 06:44 pm

    • James Oliver to Olivier Blanchard

      Hi Olivier,

      interesting points you raise - I agree with you on lots of them - and I guess the nub of your views is about knowing where the tech, dots and influence lies - and joining them well.

      We have been been connecting the dots for 18 months, have some great examples and even better we have measurement tools inplace to track activity, ARPU, time etc..... they exist but the agencies find it hard to right agencies because they look in as oppossed to out.

      You are right re transfere of skills - really hard to find the right people and building individual cred in this area is hard - far too easy to be outed and as a result I think that it will take a long time to be a real influencer in the market - still too much storming and norming to go through for a lot of agencies.

      Re sales.... we try to tie it to SEO uplift (if we have to) but otherwize we ignore the retail marketeers and concentrate on brands/people that want to try to create and deliver a new message. A much better use of the skill and one that fits more cosily with Seth Godins cocktail party.Jan 5, 2009 07:11 pm

    • Philip Buxton

      Hi Olivier,



      No problem with anyone disagreeing with me! :)



      But, given your questions, I'm afraid you wouldn't get a call from me if was looking to hire a social media bod. Sorry. Don't worry though, I'm not a client and I have no budget!



      1. Real means real. Real work. Real results. And there are a few that have that.



      2. Disagree. Being 'good' I really do believe is a transferable skill. Give me someone who's been brilliant at client service, for example, in any field at all over someone who's done account management for an agency for a few years not very brilliantly.



      3. Technology to be able to track, record, measure and participate in social media exists and is very important indeed. Having it demonstrates investment, skills, and (hopefully) understanding.



      4. Tie it back to sales if you want. Just develop ways of measuring whatever is deemed to be 'success'.
      Jan 3, 2009 03:10 pm

    • olivier blanchard

      I have some questions for you.

      1. How does a Social Media agency (or self-professed "expert") produce credentials in a field that is still so new? We're all still learning how to do this right. Can you name a single "agency" with solid creds when it comes to having real Social Media experience? (Real would be defined as more than 8 months of work in that area.)

      2. Talent is not necessarily transferable either. Great copywriters don't necessarily make great web designers. Just because a Marketing firm rocks at doing one thing doesn't mean they can jump into SocMed and ever become good at it. Muhammad Ali was prone to the occasional metaphor and hyperbole, so I'm not sure I would go there. ;D  (If you don't believe me, look around. How many superfly ad agencies even have a significant SocMed footprint? Almost none. Case closed.)

      3. On another point, unique technology solutions have very little to do with crafting and executing an effective Social Media strategy for a client. The tools and channels are already out there. Knowing what they are, understanding how they work and making it all work for the individual client = results. Building proprietary tools (technology can't be faked) is kind of irrelevant in this discussion. We're talking about people and relationships, and you're talking about technology and tools.

      4. As for metrics, the key to making social media truly viable for any company without stacks of cash at their disposal for cool (yet vague) "engagement" strategies is to tie customer engagement to sales. Because SocMed isn't at all a sales channel, it takes a little bit of savvy to know how to connect the dots between customer engagement (via social media) and things like increases in net new customers, frequency of transactions, customer loyalty indicators, etc. Unless you can tie (SocMed) engagement to sales, you won't be in the SocMed business for very long. Measuring "engagement" without tying it back to the P&L is about as self-serving and hollow as measuring 'eyeballs' (reach) in the advertising world. It's a sucker's model, and it won't fly in this economy. ;)

      I hate to say it, but I kind of disagree with you on many of these points. And I am speaking from experience.  ;)Jan 3, 2009 06:50 am

    • Cool stuff i’ve been reading: | blending the mix

      [...] So, you’re a social media agency… - iCrossing - [...]Jan 3, 2009 01:31 am

    • How to choose a social media agency / we are social

      [...] Philip Buxton, the former editor of Revolution Magazine, has written a great checklist for brands trying to choose a social media agency to work with: [...]Dec 30, 2008 12:51 pm

    • Robin Grant

      Hey Philip - I'd agree with all of you points. You'd expect me to, as We Are Social is one of the very few agencies that cover off all five of them...

      :)Dec 30, 2008 12:16 pm

    • Tom Nixon

      Good points, Philip. I think that measurement in particular is going to be a big theme in 2009 as social media starts to evolve from being a pioneer/innovators industry to one of established best practice.

      One small quibble: I don't think that it's invalid to map social media onto existing approaches/models. In particular, user-centred design models can still be a good starting point for social media (thinking about user goals, journeys etc.) However we do need to be critical and consider how these models need to evolve for the social web. For example, user experiences where users interact with each other, not just with an organisation (like Nike+ and other social web apps), and interactions that happen in a fragmented way across multiple platforms (like updating your Facebook status from Twitter)Dec 22, 2008 05:08 pm

    • Philip Buxton

      @Tim,
      Hi, yep, saw Seth's post myself yesterday. The problem is viewing social media as an advertising medium, which advertisers (and agencies) are prone to do with anything, especially as they run out of places to put their ads [successfully]. Digital as a whole I view as a mm… platform where great marketing is possible - but old-school marketing would have us include price, product and distribution, as well as promotion.

      @Roger,

      Agreed, let’s add that one in too.
      Dec 18, 2008 11:16 am

    • Roger, Online PR Agency, C&M

      hey phillip - i'd say your tick list is just about right.  i'd add in MEASUREMENT (for good measure)... agency X ought to be able to demonstrate that what it does is measurable in a tangible way... prefereably in numbers, prefereably impacting lead generation, customer sat or the good old bottom lineDec 17, 2008 08:50 pm

    • Tim Aldiss

      Despite eMarketers reforecast of (U.S.) spend going down - http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?id=1006820 - there is an inevitability of further engagement by brands in social media through agencies, and it's a real mine field.
       
      The opportunity is huge. InsideFacebook.com has just published some new engagement metrics (http://www.insidefacebook.com/2008/12/16/facebook-now-growing-by-over-600000-users-a-day-and-new-engagement-stats/) which goes some way to show the level of opporuntity. They claim that "2.5 million users become fans of Pages each day" - a wealth of individuals just waiting to be influenced in the right way.
       
      This however is exactly what Seth Godin is so opposed to. His latest blog post is a big warning to brands:
       
      "Traditional advertising is inherently selfish. It interrupts in order to generate money (part of which pays for more interruptions). That approach doesn't work at a cocktail party, or at a funeral or in a social network."
       
      Phil's post is indeed right - choose an agency carefully, and look for track record. As Seth concludes "Until marketers get off the greed train, though, it's going to be a long time between pots of gold."Dec 17, 2008 06:28 pm

    • So, you’re a social media agency… « Media Quake

      [...] Full post here [...]Dec 17, 2008 04:34 pm

     
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