Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Social Media Demands A Reinvented Agency
By Joe Marchese Traveling during the last 10 days, I have had 26 meetings and two speaking engagements. I have had some amazingly insightful conversations with some of the smartest people about the social media challenge and opportunity, from the media agency, creative agency, marketer, and publisher perspective. One theme kept popping up: It's not that media shops, creative agencies and marketers don't see the potential of social media, it's that agencies, in their traditional role, have developed an organization that does not support the proper activation of social media for brands.
Put simply, Madison Avenue wasn't built to service brands in social media and, more importantly, Madison Avenue is not built to make money from the proper activation of social media for brands. The question is, can the system adapt, or will a new breed of agency be born in the vacuum of effective social media campaigns? Evolution or revolution? I have seen evidence of both.
Activating a brand in social media delivers a variety of benefits. Social media's conversational nature means that a campaign can deliver a lot more than simply message distribution. Social media can give a voice to a brand's customers (or those a brand would love to have as customers).
The effective social media agency will:
Be a long-term partner. There are no "campaigns." People will continue a conversation even though the calendar says you should be moving into a new campaign. Starting and stopping social media campaigns is guaranteed to waste resources and have very poor ROI. All the effort goes into building the social media conversation, and the positive ROI is really achieved once all you have to do maintain the conversation (which requires a lot fewer resources). For this reason, agencies effective in social media will look at multi-year engagements; rather than start and stop social media campaigns, they will work to help direct the conversation to achieve a brand's goals. As Adam Broitman of Morpheus Media said on my panel: "you shouldn't think in terms of running a social media 'campaign,' but instead think in terms of making a social media 'commitment.'"
Provide product feedback. Your social media supporters are your customers as well. A social media campaign, therefore, will allow an effective agency to deliver very pointed feedback directly to a brand's product team.
Provide message feedback to creative. Stuart Elliott of The New York Times, one of the people I had the pleasure of sitting with over the past 10 days, made the observation that when television was first introduced, advertising was having people stand in front of a microphone reading off a script about a product (like radio). It dawned on the industry that this new medium meant that new methods of advertising were possible -- and that they should capitalize on TV's unique picture and motion qualities.
You can't predefine your creative in social media, because it is a conversation. To predefine your creative would be like entering a conversation with a script, and no matter what the other person says, continuing to stick to your script. You might as well be standing in front of a microphone reading a product description. What a brand's social media activation partner will do is to make sure that people's feedback is properly distributed to the creative teams so that they can iterate on the creative elements. For more on how this is developing, read Brain Morrissey's recent Adweek piece, "Shops Strive for a New Formula."
Achieve social media message distribution. Of course, the effective social media agency will be able to measure and enhance the amount of distribution, or people sharing and talking about your brand. Rather than simply buying the media, a social media agency will know the various levers it can pull to help distribution -- i.e., more creative assets, games, etc., to create involvement.
Measure the ROI of brand campaigns (both inside and outside of social media). Social media is made up of people who buy brands -- and who frequently talk about what they do and don't like. Thus there is the ability to measure the effectiveness not only of your online social media efforts, but all of your various marketing efforts. It's up to the right agency partner to pull this all together for a brand.
An agency's new role in social media will be to maintain a brand's presence and extract various benefits that a brand should receive from making a social media commitment. To do this will require redefining the media agency's role. It will be far more consultative. It will interface with more facets of a client's organization. Tapping into all the ways an effective social media agency can deliver value to marketers, will set apart this new breed of agency. The skills required to coordinate effective social media management will command the margins required to support Madison Avenue.
I see some shops moving in this direction. Do you? Who is the closest? If you are an agency or a brand that feels you are moving towards this type of relationship, tell us!
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Joe Marchese is President of socialvibe.
Online Spin for Tuesday, July 1, 2008: