What it takes to be a social media agency. Part one.

juggling-animalsEver notice how when the economy is booming, everyone’s a hedge fund manager?  Or at least a contractor? Well, we’re experiencing a similar phenomenon when it comes to social media. Everyone’s in the social media business and anyone can anoint himself an expert. So, just in case you want to be (or hire) a social media agency, here are some of the capabilities you might actually want to develop and offer (or look for.)  Turns out there are a lot of them. I’m up to 14 so far, with the first seven listed below.

1.    Professional listening stations

Everyone talks about listening, but guess what, you actually have to know the tools and techniques – from Google and Quantcast to Radian 6 or Techrigy –and probably be able to build custom dashboards to track conversation, follow competitors, and organize the feeds that matter to a client.  Might help if you can train them in using some of this stuff, too.

2.    Presence engineeringPicture 2

I borrowed this term from Michael Calienes, but simply put it’s the orchestration of the content and conversation you share in the places your where audience and community gather. If your client’s customers are on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and YouTube, they should be there, too. A good social media agency will know how to put them there in a way that integrates all of their (and your) efforts and responds to the habits and preferences of the community.  Here’s a simple way of looking at it. Keep in mind, of course, that just because you’re there doesn’t mean anyone’s paying attention.

3.    Content creation

Which leads us to capability number three. Create good content. Any marketer can put stuff on Twitter, YouTube, Slideshare, Flickr or a company blog. Of course that’s also the problem. There’s a lot of crap out there. So get good at making content: not just messages, but the kind that starts conversation and dialog, that gets talked about and passed on, and that invites customers to get involved and teach you how to make them happy.

4.    Blogger relations

This is the new PR.  Don’t forget the offline press, but today the story starts online and then bubbles up.  Problem is too many marketers think they can just send off some crappy press release and get coverage from key bloggers. Nope. You have to develop real relationships with the citizen journalists that your customers read. Know them, read them, promote them, too. And finally don’t get caught up in any of paid post stuff. It will come back to bite you.

5.   Employee mobilization

This merits an entire post. But too few brands take advantage of their hundreds if not thousands of employees to spread the word. Office Max and EVB launched Elf Yourself that way. And Zappos does a really good job (note please they are a client.) But you should learn how to identify, educate, and invite (opt-in preferably) employees to represent a company and be part of its voice.

6.    Viral mobilization

True, no one can make something go viral. But you can increase the odds if the potential is there by how you launch it, inform influencers, or incorporate co-created content from people who themselves have a community and followers. And don’t forget the importance of building in a meme.

7.    Crisis management

Even if a client is ready to jump in head first, having a plan for how you’d deal with something like Dominoes or United or even Motrin is essential. It’s as important not to over react as it is to respond. You’ll need a model and a philosophy to be a social media agency. When do you roll out the CEO on tape for all the world to see?  When do you simply connect with one irate individual to address his concern?

It may seem like a lot, but this is only half the list. There’s still: technology and apps; social bookmarking; search engine optimization; web development; crowdsourcing; measurement and analytics; and, since no one could possibly be great at everyone of these capabilities, alliances and partnerships.  I’ll offer up my take on those in the next post.

19 comments
Amber Naslund
Amber Naslund

Hi Edward,

Love it (but I always dig your points of view). Especially #3 and #5. When it comes to #5, though, culture plays such a critical role. I see soooo many companies struggling with social media not because they lack the tools, but because they lack the proper *intent* in the first place. It's just a square peg in a new, shiny round hole.

Do you see a role for agencies in helping affect culture shift? Outside their scope? Or does that objective, advisory capacity help? I'm convinced that the businesses that struggle most have the most problems talking to each other and working together inside their own walls. Would love to hear your take.

(Oh, and thanks for the mention.)

Best,
Amber Naslund
Director of Community, Radian6
@ambercadabra
.-= Amber Naslund´s last blog ..March of Dimes® Selects Radian6 for Social Media Monitoring =-.

Bob Rinderle
Bob Rinderle

Great topic. Ad Age cites your new client on this: “Mr. Hsieh... understands that social media isn't something you can simply bolt on; it's a way of doing business and something that has to be baked into the culture.”

Tracking individual brand influence through firms like Radian6 is fabulous, but the key for agencies is media mix (and monetization). What is more valuable to a brand, reaching 12,000 active social media users, or reaching 12 million people through a 30-second TV spot?

Our industry is converging with PR, digital, direct response and traditional ad agencies all fighting for relevance in a similar space. As such, I think the issue is less about what it takes to be a social media agency, but rather, what does it take to be a relationship agency - and how does one effectively apply all elements of the marketing mix to accomplish this?
.-= Bob Rinderle´s last blog ..The Creator Economy =-.

Michael Troiano (@miketrap)
Michael Troiano (@miketrap)

Great list, I'd add "An Understanding of How Client Organizations Function In The Real World."

My most acute observation in returning to this world is that the biggest problem clients seem to have in applying social media is neither a lack of capability, nor a lack of will. It's the inability of the people who *do* understand social media to get those those who *don't* to take the handcuffs off, and let some experimentation take place.

Your average 24 yr. old twitter jihadi just isn't going to help them get over that hurdle. It takes crusty old codgers like us, my friend.
.-= Michael Troiano (@miketrap)´s last blog ..The Bad Deli =-.

lisa hickey
lisa hickey

Almost buried within your comments on this post is your idea of "chief social media choreographer" which I find to be the most interesting aspect of this all. That is where I think the real opportunity lies. What good is listening, for example, if you don't have a plan in place to *act* on what you hear, immediately, intelligently? What good is awesome content if you don't know how to distill it into a meme that catches on like wildfire and gets shared and re-shared? Sure blogger relations are important, but in this age of citizen journalism, shouldn't you consider *everyone* a blogger? It is this intersection where information meets art meets science meets knowing how to work and talk and treat people that I find so fascinating.
As always Edward, thanks for the thoughtful post.
.-= lisa hickey´s last blog ..3 drafts =-.

Michael Calienes
Michael Calienes

I'd like to see more social media agencies and consultancies stress the part that comes "before" all this. I want to know about the agencies asking probing questions about their clients' histories, about founders, about company values, the good times and the bad. The answers usually lead to great stories and insights that tactics-driven strategies miss, and they build a more solid foundation for the growth and richness of a company's overall presence. The willingness to share these kinds of details openly paints a picture of a more personable company -- one that considers its failures and shortcomings an integral part of their overall successes. Agencies that include a deep dive into client histories will certainly have more to work with than the average agency, while building a presence that's varied, diverse, and most importantly, human. Thanks much for the shout out, EB. Really appreciate that.
.-= Michael Calienes´s last blog ..Honda, Honda, Honda. Tsk, tsk. =-.

Paul Marobella
Paul Marobella

Hey Edward,
Nice post.
With regard to the listening stations, I don't think having them is enough. We've installed Techrigy SM2 and Radian6 for starters. They require constant stewardship and very analytical business intelligence teams to create real value for the agency and clients. We've added social analytics to our existing business intelligence teams and that has become a welcome seat at the strategic table.

Thanks again for the insight.
.-= Paul Marobella´s last blog ..@ =-.

@scottRcrawford
@scottRcrawford

I've been thinking that there's some new hybrid Account Planning/Community Organizing role that draws on tools from from OD, SNA, Psyche.

Len Kendall
Len Kendall

3. Design should be added to this. While creating content is now very much text based, there a countless forms of media that you need visually talented individuals for to help produce.

2. and 6. seem to overlap a bit. What are the components that clearly define each as individual elements?

8. Internal Guidelines. For employee mobilization this is extremely important.

9. Education? A group within the agency which teaches internally and externally for the benefit of clients.

10. Research and Development. YES even an agency should have this.
.-= Len Kendall´s last blog ..Tweets Brands and Dollars =-.

chris grey
chris grey

thanks for the read EB. congrats on Zappos. awesome news.

timDempsey
timDempsey

Nice list. I find the volume of noise in general, and on social media in particular, embarrassingly high. And this is a nice, sensible, starting point to making it understandable.

One thing I suggest to clients is that they try to avoid the old linear categories of old-school marketing (awareness leads to consideration leads to preference leads to purchase). I share Michael C's use of the concept of Presence, but see it balanced equally by two other forces: Authority (our stated position in a market); and Reputation (the markets judgment about our position in a market). Marketing is now about managing this three-way dynamic, not about "driving fish to the nets" in a linear way.

Thanks for the post!
.-= timDempsey´s last blog ..World: Big; Twitter: Small =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Amber,
Good Q's and they give me yet another idea for a post. I do think that agencies have to play a role in the culture shift, not by talking, but by proving. We have done a few things: for ourselves, I created the Trash Talk from the Twitter Section SuperBowl event, using Twitter's API to build a site that aggregated everyone's comments about SuperBowl ads. This got half my company onto Twitter, along with some clients and peers in the industry. Did it again for the Academy Awards and when we moved to Boston. So, point is create opps that allow people to experiment. Ideally they will see the value and join the conversation, so to speak. For another client, that might not want me naming them, we set up listening stations, showed them all the content and conversation online and let them see that it's not so bad or scary and that there were opps for them to get in on the conversation. Then we set them up, gathered some rogue accounts and put everything together, even leading the way in tweeting and generating content. But, and it's a big but, the real opportunity is for companies to mobilize their employees. That's a combination of finding out whose interested, training them a bit, allowing them some freedom within guidelines, and letting them go. Look at Zappos or even how Office Max supposedly used employees to launch Elf Yourself via email. As you said, this is all new. I don't have 10 cases studies around employee mobilization, but I hope to. More importantly perhaps if others like you read this and think about it you'll come up with your own ideas for how to do it, foster it, and encourage clients. Less business for me, but that's the way it goes. Thanks.

edward boches
edward boches

Bob:
Smart way of looking at things. Challenge right now is that clients have needs and they have existing agencies and the two don't always align. So there's what an agency has to do to solve everything and what a client should demand in its social capabilities. Relationship agency is a good term. I was simply using the topical vernacular.
Thanks for joining the conversation.

edward boches
edward boches

Michael:
You still owe me drinks. Or I you. Not sure. Yes this requires people who know something about strategy, branding, content, integration, ROI and all that good stuff. (It's what keeps me employed.) But there is stuff that the next great generation, as a I call it, knows how to do that we don't. Need their skill, talent and technological acumen added to the program. After all, once we get those guys over the hurdle, we actually have to implement it.

edward boches
edward boches

Lisa:
Thanks. Have been working on a variety of ideas in this space, in part for the agency and also for clients and the services we provide. A couple of things are evident for sure, the trends that I've written about recently, and the need for social media advisors to master all of the C's: creator, curator, choreographer, collaborator, catalyst. Subjects for future posts. In the meantime, keep working on mastering choreography. That in itself is a challenge.

edward boches
edward boches

Michael:
Yes, most certainly. I assumed that there would be strategy, brand immersion and an understanding that in an age of authenticity and transparency that any agency engaging in all of this would take the time and make the effort not only to uncover all of that but to teach a client how to be comfortable sharing it. So you have either added a 15th capability, which should probably be number one, or at least erected an umbrella that can help to unify all of these other capabilities.

edward boches
edward boches

Paul:
True, but we all tell our clients to listen first ad most of them don't even know how to set up Google reader and get their RSS's down to follow themselves, their competitors, industry analysts and trends. We should at least teach them that and offer it as a capability. Analytics and measurement coming in part 2.

edward boches
edward boches

Scott:
Like that. In fact, in the future there might be lots of new roles: director of crowdsourding, chief curator, chief social media choreographer, et, al. Too soon to tell. Then again, it's all happening at warp speed.

edward boches
edward boches

Len:
Didn’t isolate design, assumed part of content. Two and six are different. PE is establishing your presence, deciding what content makes sense in each, connecting it all to each other, and responding to and interacting with your community in each place. Viral is knowing how to seed. See some of the links to EVB for example. There is actually a lot more to making viral work, too. How you apply levers, the power of the meme, etc. Agree that guidelines are key for 8, but as mentioned could be another entire post. Education is very good idea; we do ours under 1, as part of listening station and personal social media usage. I am going to write post about how to excite an organization to get into all of this. So thanks for pointing that one out. R and D, hadn’t really thought of, but you’ll see it’s partly covered in the next post on the second seven capabilities. Working on it now. Thanks so much. Love when people advance the conversation rather than just agree or write “nice post,” in an effort simply to elevate their own SEO.

edward boches
edward boches

Tim:
The noise you refer to will demand that brands get better at this. It's actually easier, though incredibly time consuming, to do this as an individual (see Brogan's and Julien's Trust Agents) but for a brand the coordination is remarkable. Totally agree that you can't bring old thinking to the new media. Check back in tomorrow or day after for part 2.

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