Why you don’t need a social media agency or strategy

Communications consultants selling social media strategy are taking advantage of business leaders suffering from shiny penny syndrome. (Image credit: Solofriendly.com)










Social media is a not a strategy. It is not a department. It is not a communications discipline. And it is not a type of agency…or at least it shouldn’t be.

I don’t know how many times we have to address this topic. I feel like we have the “social media is just a technology that facilitates communication” conversation every day. But obviously the message has not sunk in for everyone yet. Because I continue to see communicators marketing themselves as social media experts or social media department leaders. And every time I turn around, there is a handful of new social media agencies who have put their names in the “take advantage of the shiny penny” ring.

Here’s the deal. Companies need a communications strategy. An integrated marketing communications strategy.

Today’s customers don’t care about a company’s silos or departments or what technology its employees use. They care about brand perception, accessibility and touchpoints. That’s what makes or breaks how they feel and, more importantly, what they say about an organization. And that perception comes from a variety of consumer touchpoints across ALL marketing communications segments (e.g. marketing, PR, advertising, branding). And NOT ALL of those touchpoints involve or come from social media.

In the past, I haven’t gotten all riled up about the social media expert conversations or arguments on how we talk about social media. I simply figured it was an issue of semantics. A reflection of the way people talked about a topic they didn’t completely understand and about which they were still learning.

But I no longer believe that. Because the people who are presenting themselves as social media experts, the people who say they run social media agencies and build social media strategies, should know better. And so I’m left to believe they are only doing one thing by embracing this misleading positioning — attempting to take advantage of business leaders who don’t know the difference. And to be honest, the thought makes me sick to my stomach.

As I’ve said before, social media is a technology that facilitates targeted communications and relationship building. It’s a tool that might make a lot of sense as part of a larger overall approach to help a company reach it’s business goals and objectives. But social media alone is not strategic. And anyone who says otherwise is more concerned with their own bottom line than their clients’.

A strategic communications approach takes into account, among other things, the following:

  • What does a brand want its customers to do?
  • How can we best reach the target audience?
  • What will help us achieve the company’s business and communications goals and objectives?
  • How will our communications efforts influence brand perception?

Social media may very well be a communications tactic we pull out of the toolbox to help answer the above questions. But it won’t be the only tool. In fact, in the best integrated approaches, we’ll have to make social media work together with a lot of other tools for the brand to be accessible to the customer at all his/her touchpoints, therefore creating the desired perception and customer actions.

For example:

  • All components of the marketing communications team, led by branding, might play a part in developing a new brand campaign.
  • Then advertising might create TV, radio, print or online ads to share the new brand messaging.
  • PR might manage the traditional media and blogger relations outreach to share the new brand messaging and start the conversation about what it means to consumers.
  • Marketing might manage customer engagement on Facebook and Twitter, as well as optimize for SEO/SEM keywords around the new campaign.
  • And all communications departments might work together to create and share content across platforms (e.g. e-mail, website, YouTube, etc.) that tells the new brand story.

As communicators, we’re fighting an uphill battle. Our work is historically hard to tie to every company’s lifeblood — sales. And we are still dealing with the longstanding stereotype of being spinsters, which makes it that much harder to earn the trust of leaders who make the tough business and budget decisions.

What these leaders need us to be is trusted strategic counselors. But when we position ourselves solely as social media superstars, we belittle the strategy we can bring to the table and we cheapen that trusted relationship we should be trying to build.

“Doing” social media is easy. Anyone can create a Facebook page, brand a YouTube channel or engage on Twitter. Integrated marketing communications is hard. It requires stepping out of silos and working together across departments. It requires considering every consumer touchpoint and the best way to reach the customer there to achieve goals and objectives. It requires working to change years of company culture.

It requires strategy. An integrated communications strategy. And my friends, I am one of the biggest proponents of social media you will find anywhere. But that doesn’t change the most important part of this discussion — social media alone IS NOT a strategy.

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justfacebook 5 pts

I'm afraid, there is a perspective which is rather different. Companies don't have Public Relations Departments - what they have is Press Relations Departments. PR gurus are use to talking to the press and media, and they get paid depending on how much buzz they can create.

Social media is about talking to regular Joe's. BIG difference in how you'd tackle that.

Social media is for your customers - prospective, current and past. They're all going to talk about you and the objective of a Social Media Guru is to listen to those conversations, turn them into insights and build strategies to change those perceptions.

I'm sorry if this is not too educated a comment - but in my company the PR guy simply sits up talking to newspaper and TV guys all day long. I don't think he has it in him to get on to twitter and talk to 2,000 people who're discussing my product, company or industry.

End of the day, can a guy who talks to reporters and is great at it always be good with regular people? Maybe. Maybe not. But can a person who's good with people be good with people? Pretty much always.

Just my 2 cents :-)


JGoldsborough 209 pts

justfacebook What your PR guy is doing is called publicity. And it's one small piece of the PR discipline when executed correctly. But take department names and titles away and you are right...strategic marketing communications today isn't complete without a listening and engagement strategy that does exactly what you were outlining above. But if that social media rep just sits off by his/herself and only works within that silo, it's the same problem as your PR guy who only talks to the media.

Companies have to cross departments and see how all these customer touchpoints work together and impact the customer experience. An effort like that involves change and change takes time. Experts in certain disciplines like social media or publicity don't help that change become a reality. They hinder it.

indica 5 pts

brilliant post. I've seen so many self-proclaimed social media experts that I thought I might be crazy.

I think a lot of people are preying on corporate ignorance to make money. And it does make me sick.

What do you think will happen to these 'social media experts'? Will they eventually get put out of business, or will they prevail?

JGoldsborough 209 pts

indica I hope that the "social media experts" will start to advise their clients that social media alone isn't the holy grail...it's just a tool. Even if they keep calling themselves experts, if they begin taking that approach, it will help steer us in the right direction. What companies have to realize is that customers don't see companies based on silos and tools. So it does us no good to position our organizations that way.

Jessica Rowe 7 pts

After some back and forth on Twitter, I still think there is some over simplification in this post. While there are “social” agencies out there that will just slap up a Facebook Page, build an app, set-up a Twitter feed to auto tweet the latest promotional message, they are not typical. Saying this is what all social agencies do is like saying the Edsel is the go to example of a new car.

First, most of us who work in social (or interactive marketing) professionally understand that social is one part of a much larger picture. Most of us are not myopic in the sense that we believe that social stands alone in a vacuum. There is not one discipline in the interactive marketing realm that does, or can with long term success. This article could just as easily be why you don’t need an: “email,” “SEO,” “SEM,” “web development,” “content development,” etc. agency. There isn’t one of those disciplines that can survive without understanding broader client objectives and the interdependencies on the web.

The beauty of working with clients online is how much the disciplines overlap. That being the case, there is a need for specialists to contribute to, and carry out the various elements. Just because I know how to use scissors, I will not cut my own hair - I’ll leave that to Pete, my stylist (I’m picky about who touches my hair… ) The same is true with interactive tactics. As a business owner, I would be foolish to believe that there isn’t specialization inside the interactive skill sets. This is why there are social agencies and specialists.

As the shiny and new of social media continues to dull and more companies embrace the fact that it is not ever going to go away, those companies who just slap up a profile and call that social marketing will fade, the ones who get that social is part of a communication, PR, SEO, SEM, budgeting, etc. strategy will rise to the top and those other “agencies” will no longer cause you, Justin, to feel the need to write posts like these.

jaykeith 14 pts

Jessica Rowe Jessica, you pretty much said it better and more clearly than I could below. 100% agree with you. At the end of the day the cream will rise to the top. It will probably end up being a longer timeline than most would hope and/or expect.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

jaykeith Jessica Rowe Cream rising to the top would help. But we are a long way from it happening, IMO. Social media is not even close to mainstream in corporate culture.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

Jessica Rowe Thanks, Jessica. You make many good points. And some of this argument is a bit of semantics.

However, my first question would be why do you call yourselves a social media agency when it sounds like you are doing a lot more? Interactive marketing touches much more than just social media.

Second, your POV is right on but idealistic. Often times agencies do not work well together and are allowed to operate in silos focusing on their specific specialty. As jspepper noted in his comment, it's a budget and resources issue. This type of setup only leads to problems for the organization because the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing and they aren't working together. You may have worked in a situation where the agencies and departments collaborate well, all contributing to one common set of goals. That's great, so have I. But don't you think it's still the exception at this point?

Why do you think that doesn't happen more? I think it's because companies have "always done things a certain way" -- operated in silos supporting certain technologies and disciplines. And the specialty strategy or agency approach, IMO, only makes that problem worse.

Agree with you 100% on the people that call themselves social media gurus and just slap up social network profiles, broadcast message and call it a day. But I'm past that. I'm talking about changing the way executive leadership in corporate America thinks about and values the need for communications strategy -- changing a culture that has been set over 25-plus years. We as communicators need to facilitate that mindset and culture shift to change the perception of how our role in organizations is viewed. I'm sorry, but I don't think focusing in on communications specialties and painting a bunch of small pictures is going to get us there. We need one big picture that shows the value communicators provide.

Jessica Rowe 7 pts

JGoldsborough Jessica Rowe jspepper

Jessica Rowe 7 pts

JGoldsborough jspepper

Thanks Justin. I think you’re correct - I think we are closer to agreement that it may seem on the surface. A point of clarification, I do not personally identify myself as being “social only,” I live and breathe in the land that is interactive. I do however happen to have mad social skills when it comes to creating, planning, executing, measuring and refining social campaigns that carry out interactive goals. If you knew me, you’d chuckle at me saying “mad skills.” Reality is, some of us “get it” in a really big way.

Being search and interactive minded, I also understand the importance and power of what is keyword targeting. Until people - clients, companies and marketers alike get more nuanced about how we think and talk about what we do, and what that really means, people will continue to search for “Social Media Agency” on Google. We will all continue to cater to how we think we can gain clients, build portfolios, etc. Harsh? Yes. Truthful? Yes.

Me, idealistic? I don’t think so. You’re right, silos exist everywhere - agencies, departments, people sitting next to one another - they’re very real. My experience is the same as yours. My point was not that my world is sunshine and puppies all day every day, but that those agencies doing social right are doing it with the understanding that a Facebook Page is not a social campaign. That social in a vacuum is destined to fall flat, and participating on the social web because “everybody’s doing it” is not a strategy. There are definitely interactive wrinkles to iron out, but I admitted that when I said it’s part of a broader need for discussion - including budgetary considerations.

I think this happens often because there is too little collaboration within most companies. There are too many people wanting to look like a hero. Too many overly concerned with making their team/department look strongest to solidify their place in the company. I think there is too little emphasis from companies on overall success, and too much focus on pushing individual components too far. I’ve seen silos/disciplines within an interactive agency FIGHT over client budget dollars. On the client side, I’ve seen silos/departments fight for not only budget, but ownership of “social” and the “web” as if there weren’t multiple stakeholders. This is currently the norm, but it is on us to lead education. This discussion is a great example of how stepping back, evaluating and discussing can help change ever-so-slightly how we think about these issues.

In the end, we are on the same team, and I’m with you - us communicators must communicate better. In a discussion I was part of last night, we were talking about ResearchGate, the social network for scientists, and I said that is why the Internet is amazing. It’s not just that it’s a social network, it’s the fact that we are now so interconnected. We can share, explore, communicate, discover, collaborate and more - no matter where we call home. We need to collaborate, re-define, explain and teach business leaders how this should really work - not with silos that are joined by company name only, but with interdisciplinary interactive specialists who collaborate and work toward a common goal.

EricVanBuskirk 5 pts

Jessica RoweJGoldsboroughjspepper

Jessica, I particularly like what you had to say. In 1995 I was working on a my first Web project, for Barnes & Noble, as a grad student at BU College of Communications. My boss, contracted as a project manager, was as full of hot air as anyone out there falsely proclaiming expertise as contractors or Interactive Media agencies. He sold them on calling the site "the hangout" (it was to be the destination site for college students) even though this is a ridiculous name. So, after months of design and development he THEN went to buy the domain name.

Shock! hangout.com was already taken even in '95! So with allllll the domain names available back then he pitched barnes and noble-- and succeed-- with the name loci.com. Huh? Loci: "the center of all things". This fellow then got paid boat loads of money to contract and lead a big PR firm for their "expertise" in web work in 1996. He was basically chased out of the city by them.

Everywhere in the communications field there are people that win trust because they're terrific at sales, but not much lies beyond the facade. From my experience, interactive media has attracted more of these folks then other areas in traditional marketing channels.

I ran an interactive media agency for 3 years. Referrals were what made it a success. People that hire agencies through means other than a strong offline-referral are making a mistake in my humble opinion. Er, but then there are the off-shore agencies and that is a whole other topic with respect to bidding out projects and expertise. And, their value for organizations that don't want to build knowledge of SEO, IM, social media, etc in house-- another conversation.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

Jessica Rowe jspepper Thanks for the perspective, Jessica. Lot of good stuff in your thoughts above. And all I would say is that what you described you do on a daily basis is not social media strategy or what should be positioned as a social media agency, IMO. Digital or integrated marketing communications is what I would call it.

I get your "people search for social media agency" argument. But there is a way to capitalize on that and also educate key decision makers that they don't just need a social media strategy, but an IMC approach. As communicators, it's our job to provide that education.

TomMartin 6 pts


Good thoughts. I'd add that you have to go beyond Integrated though. Folks still think saying the same thing in all channels = integrated.

Instead, today we need to be layering our communications programs. Consider where the consumer is in the buying cycle when they find/experience our message on each channel. Then customize what we communicate/how we communicate it to fit the channel. As you note, social is just one more channel in the mix, and to say we have a social strategy is about as goofy as saying we have a radio strategy.

Good stuff man. Keep sending it.


JGoldsborough 209 pts

TomMartin tommartin Absolutely with you, Tom. We should talk customer journey vs sales funnel sometime. And we could also talk about how broadcast channels like advertising and traditional media are usually for exposure, while engagement via social can be where trust is built. And how sometimes we shouldn't be talking to the customer about product at all. Good topics for a future post. Or guester if you want to write it. Cheers.

TomMartin 6 pts

LOL -- just finished an integrated marketing preso/workshop and was talking the same thing... ying and yang of advertising/social -- #VulcanMindMeld JGoldsborough TomMartin tommartin

JGoldsborough 209 pts

TomMartin tommartin Nice :). Can't wait to read your perspective. It's a tough issue a lot of people talk about, but not enough of us actually work through and execute. One we could all use help on. Cheers,

jeffespo 141 pts


Great post here. I commented on ginidietrich 's blog earlier on this. I am sick of the schlong (probably butchered the spelling but I am trying to keep it classy) measuring contest between agencies. We all need to get along to make this work. Everyone in the organization needs to adopt some ownership to the overall SM effort. Much like email in the 90's SM is going to become a business as usual function, albeit without a CAN-SPAM act (story for another day).

Getting everyone pulling together like a rowing team will really get the whole thing to the end result. The in-fighting between agencies is just plain old school yard stupidity, just kids looking to get the teacher's eye for extra credit and a bigger piece of the pie.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

jeffespo ginidietrich And the funny thing is the "teachers", aka execs, hate the agency fighting more than anyone else. They're trying to develop integrated strategies and execute campaigns that make sense for the brand across multiple touchpoints. As agencies, we need to help them with this endeavor by working together as you say and keeping the bigger picture in mind so the skeptics can start to see that picture come to life.

jspepper is right. It often is about the money, unfortunately. But the bickering and "I do social media better than you do social media cause I'm a guru" crap is stupid. If I'm a CMO, I'm waiting to hear an agency that talks about IMC and how they can help achieve the biz/comms goals we already set.

jeffespo 141 pts

JGoldsborough ginidietrich jspepper You know it can all be summed up in this clip from Randy Moss http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07G23zMGa4g

jspepper 14 pts

Great post - and of course, you're looking at it in a sunnier way than I am right now. But I think I'm burnt out and see it less as a social media is just a tool (which it totally is) and more that social media is a danger to PR and other practices ... but mostly to PR (because, well, that's what I care about more than the other disciplines).

As I noted on Gini's FB update (well, yours), I kept thinking social media would die and be subsumed into another practice years ago. I have posts to that sentiment, but it's like the cockroach of marketing ... it just gets bigger and bigger and never dies. And I see these SM firms - with VERY little under the hood - winning accounts away from large agencies through smoke and mirrors. And then trying to do PR and it failing miserably. That's where the big threat is for PR. And the basis of my post that SM is killing PR (which, of course, I need to write).

But you're dead on - it's JUST a tool that is part of a communications mix. Can we all get along? Of course not, it's about money. But does the bottom line need to be about money, or is it about stakeholder management (totally another post that I'm waiting to finish)?

ginidietrich 3531 pts

jspepper I'm with you - I keep thinking it's going to die and these social media "experts" and "agencies" will be out of jobs (or business). It's infuriating that the conversation has gone from PR people are spin doctors to PR people are ruining the social web. The cream will rise to the top, it's beginning to now, but there are still so many uneducated business leaders who think they just need Facebook and Twitter and everything will be OK...and LOTS of people to sell it to them.

jspepper 14 pts

ginidietrich I wish that were true - but it's not and I can name names of people that don't have a clue that keep getting more and more notoriety for being SM geniuses.

Cream might rise to the top - but it rarely does in the SM world.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

jspepper ginidietrich Definitely frustrating. One of the biggest misconceptions out there IMO is that social media is becoming mainstream. Not at all in corporate America, which is why these gurus and experts and specialty agencies are still treading water.

Being a social media guru only gets us short-term results. And understanding technology doesn't mean you know how to use it to effectively communicate and achieve biz goals. This is one of the reasons I respect bloggers like you all and feel a responsibility to blog about these issues myself. If we don't keep talking about this stuff, the cream will never truly rise to the top and most execs will never truly see the value.

rachelakay 12 pts


I'm so glad you tackled this topic. I completely agree with you - I'm not sure why social media tends to be so segregated when it comes to communications and marketing strategies. I think the mystique around it makes it somewhat easy place on a pedestal, but the problem starts when the social media "strategy" becomes disconnected from what's happening across the rest of the communication tactics (i.e. an unresponsive customer service department).

In part, I think it's due not to the content portion, which hopefully a good comm pro can sort out, but in the application of it. Companies are at the mercy of technicians who understand apps, can build custom pieces or even work a video camera. It becomes ineffective when those people are also the ones who start dictating content. I'll let you do what you are good at as long as you let me lead my area expertise.

A good marketing pro, no matter what area you are in, should know that a marketing strategy is the sum of all the tools working together to deploy a targeted message. No one tool should stand on it's own. No successful strategy EVER included just one tactic. Great post!

Rachel Kay


JGoldsborough 209 pts

rachelakay "No successful strategy EVER included just one tactic."

And now I am reminded of why we are such good friends. Because I could not agree more with that statement :).

An analogy for comparison's sake -- As I told nateriggs , I used to work in internal comms for years. One of the biggest issues that ALWAYS caused communications problems was when IT, the group we relied on to make sure our Intranet functioned correctly, attempted to take over the strategy for how we managed content or delivered messaging via this platform. Understanding how to code and develop an online look and feel does not make one a strategic communicator.

Kimmoore 5 pts

rachelakay Rachel

Great post. i am very interested in this topic. Let me explain why.

I am a B2B "marketing pro" who is not a social media expert. I too have been amazed by the types of comments and stories that i have seen written by experts. I am tired of hearing so many people claim to be an expert when i can see that the approach is not complete or well thought out.

So, I am on a mission to build my understanding of how to use social media effectively. Then i will show my customers and prospective clients the jpourney that i take using social media tactics as part of my overall marketing strategy. I want to help them gain an understanding of why social media should not just be ignored, or used stand alone, but how it needs to become another tactic and be pulled into a company's overall marketing strategy.

I will be showcasing my experience on a progress blog. This is a bit scary, but i thnk it will be a great story that will be of interest. If anyone has any tips they like to share with me, i am listening.


Kim Moore

JGoldsborough 209 pts

ramseym Thanks, Ramsey. Appreciate your perspective, as always :).

WebsterJ 6 pts

Social media is strategic, IF social media is your product or an element of your product (e.g. you run a social media website/platform).

However, for most companies it's simply an element of promotion, and I fully agree that it should align with a companies larger IMC strategy. This just means that if a company uses a social media agency or "guru," they should look for a GOOD agency. If a marketing director lets a social media agency develop an approach to social media with insufficient information about the company's IMC strategy, that marketing director is incompetent. This is hardly the agency's fault. Incompetent marketing directors rarely have proper IMC strategies regardless of their outsourcing or department decisions.

Good marketing directors don't let outside agencies work in silos.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

WebsterJ Lot of goodness in your comment there, WJ. Glad to meet you, btw.

First off, a social media guru can work for an IMC agency. Not sure why people have trouble understanding that. And yes, marketing directors that let agencies work in silos or without understanding of the overall comms/biz goals are setting their teams up for failure. That said, it happens. And part of the reason it happens is because we as communicators don't do a good enough job explaining to execs what you outlined so well in your comment.

So what happens? Marketing execs ignore social media orask someone else to go "do" social media. And they never understand its role in the mix, which means they can't explain it or sell it to their exec peers.

nateriggs 17 pts

Good post Justin. I agree with you 100%, but I'll add that it's not just an integrated "marketing communications plan" that companies need. Companies need a "communications plan" in general, and should be startung with the most important and most engaged (potentially) audience they have - the folks who work there each and every day.

Internal communications has always been overlooked in the social meda craze. Truth is, the companies who have focused attention on applying tools like Facebook, etc. to internal communication and culture building are also marketing well.

There be armies of people inside your business who already have an affinity (or at least that's what CEO's hope for anyway). Why not get them talking to each other and excited about the brand, and then let them spread those messages across the web? I think in the next 10 years, we will see that shift happen...

JGoldsborough 209 pts

nateriggs "There be armies of people inside your business who already have an affinity (or at least that's what CEO's hope for anyway). Why not get them talking to each other and excited about the brand, and then let them spread those messages across the web? I think in the next 10 years, we will see that shift happen..."

Nate, as someone who spent the first 10 years of his career working on internal communications, I hope you are right. Just had a meeting with a prospect today that wanted to market a new program and one of the first things I asked was what have you communicated to your employees?

WOM engine with brand affinity. Very well said, my friend.

MattLaCasse 89 pts

I have mixed feelings about this. I work for a SM agency, but we also do web development/maintenance and SEO. So, I have a vested interest in the success of a social media agency. I absolutely agree that social media strategy should not be viewed as a separate strategy from an overall integrated comms strategy. No matter the vehicle, venue, or method, you are still communicating with people, and it's important to remember all the same rules that apply in communications apply to social media.

The fact is social media does scare lots of business leaders, and some still view it as something for their kids to find out what's going on Friday night. I think a reputable SM agency, like kimbermedia (my employer) ensures that in the SM strategies we write make it clear that this is just one section of their overall marketing plan, and try to write those strategies with that in mind. In other words, we write our SM strategies so our clients view it as an extension of what they are doing already rather than an entirely new enterprise.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

MattLaCasse kimbermedia Thanks for sharing that POV, Matt. Sounds to me like you all are thinking and advising like an IMC agency and could talk about yourselves in that way, especially if you do incorporate other parts of the marketing mix like web dev and SEO.

You are right on with your thoughts on biz leaders. It's that very reason that I think we need to position social media as part of an overall IMC strategy for a company set to drive business results and meet objectives. That's the only way we ditch the "something for their kids to find out what's going on Friday night" mentality.

I know you are a strategic thinker and communicator and am certain you add value to your clients. Some of this is semantics. But some of it really will dictate how communicators are seen by business leaders over the next several years. Just my two cents. Yours?

MattLaCasse 89 pts

JGoldsborough I think what we're most concerned about are the snake oil salesmen out there claiming social media is the cureall for what ails their declining sales. I am beginning to think that SM is a new discipline to be trained in as a part of an IMC strategy.

You're right, a lot of this IS semantics, and I think we're both afraid of those snake oil folks mentioned above becoming what the SM industry is viewed as.

jaykeith 14 pts

Great topic JG, just a few thoughts. While I completely agree that SM needs to be part of an overall integrated comm's plan/strategy/initiative (whatever you want to call it), I think one thing you're missing here is that many companies are SO petrified of trying things out in the social space, they rely on SM agencies to "dip a toe in the water" to see how it works for them first. Essentially they don't know how to do it or where to start. So they'll do JUST a campaign on facebook, or something on Twitter and see what it's like. If it works, then maybe they'll try something else and grow from there. Companies that are doing SM well (I like to think mine is one) do their best to integrate it across all functions in communications, but I can tell you first hand that is NOT an easy task and there are many hurdles. Where I think the SM agencies make their money is on the "quick hitters" and simple campaigns that can drive some small incremental value, but not long term, sustainable results. At the end of the day, no company should have the long term strategy of having an agency handle all of their SM efforts, it's just not scalable. (and speaks to your culture point in the comments below) I think your overall point is a very sound one, and in a perfect world would absolutely be the way we all do things. But in reality it's the biggest challenge we all face as communicators: getting everyone on the same page, knowing the tools and platforms, and agreeing on the goals/results. I'm not even sure if the best companies in the world are quite there yet, despite the praise outsiders heap on them.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

jaykeith Good thoughts all around, Jay. But can't an integrated marketing communications agency do the same "toe dipping" you mention above? And likely do it a lot better because they understand how the social piece plays with the others aspects of the marketing comms puzzle.

Listen, some might think it's semantics. And I know changing culture/minds in corporate America is hard. Been there and it's no day at the park. But we have to start explaining and framing our communications approaches the right way in order to get the results and respect we want and to be seen as strategic counselors.

Short-term wins only result in short-term accolades. Communicators need to be looking to change the way business leaders think about the value we provide. And that will never happen by continuing to look at our tools and disciplines in silos.

The majority of execs still think social media is BS and a waste of time. We won't change their minds by positioning ourselves as social media experts. Because even if the exec teams hand off social media and let us handle it, we can do the best job in the world and they won't know it because they don't understand how social media as a tactic supported a specific set of overall communications and business goals. Stated simply: The positioning sends the wrong message, IMO.

jaykeith 14 pts

JGoldsborough jaykeith I see your point JG, and believe me I'm with you. And I don't necessarily think it's semantics, I just think that sometimes you have the opportunity to present SM as part of an integrated approach with clear business objectives and other times you don't. What we've had to do at VP is take each social platform one at at time, build up the audience and our following, then start to leverage them in an integrated way across marketing and other departments. That's just happening now, and we started our social media program two years ago. It's just a long, difficult process. So while I completely agree with you that in order to change the way business leaders think we have to have an integrated approach, I can also tell you there is no way that anyone two years ago would have allowed us to jump into every social platform at the same time, dedicate resources to it, etc in conjunction with marketing. Now that we've done SM correctly (I think) over past two years, and have built a passionate base across multiple platforms, marketing is always trying to pull it away from us. This is how many companies are struggling internally. The comm's guys "get it" and work to build it, once they come, marketing wants in and thus ownership. At this point, an overarching strategy with all channels included MUST happen. Luckily for us, it is and we're part of those strategic discussion. But this is why the ongoing "marketing vs. pr owning SM debate" lives on. But again, without the existing SM audience marketing, advertising, etc won't find any value in it. Executives only think it's BS until you show them tens of thousands of followers, then they take notice and ask how we leverage those people. So by definition, SM has to start off as a siloed project because well, you start from nothing.

SM agencies/experts fill this void for many companies. They say you need to be on facebook and you need to be on twitter, etc. Here's a way to get X followers in X timeframe. They take advantage, no doubt. By no means ideal, but in the absence of expertise (something that's sorely lacking in SM IMO), agencies step up to the microphone and offer to help for a hefty price. At some point there will be enough of us to fill this void and the SM agency will have to adapt or die off. But for now, they're going to take advantage where/when they can. I'm sure some deliver solid results and integrate with the organization's overarching marketing/comm's goals, while others don't. I think companies that succeed are the ones that do it from scratch internally and build it up over time, integrating along the way. We'll certainly see how this plays out, and it should be interesting.

Just one man's case study, take it for what it's worth! :)

Jerry Silfwer 5 pts

I must respectfully disagree, not for the sake of it, but maybe it can spark a rewarding conversation? It's not that I don't see your point, but as jaded PR pros I think we both can appreciate that there are two sides to any story.

Social media is not a strategy, social media is a space. Managing a specific space might be of strategic importance. It might be done in a strategic manner, it might not. For most companies today, the activities in this space are tactical at the very best.

Of course, this might be said for investor relations as well. An investor might be many different things to a company, but that doesn't change the fact that an agency focused on investor relations very well could play a strategic role on behalf of a company.

I know how this will make me sound, but I can actually tell you where you are going wrong in your line of thinking. You see a process where the brand is created by the marketing communications team and then trickled down to advertising, then to PR, then to social media, and then everywhere.

If this is the way you see it, then no way in hell will your social media efforts be of any strategic value. In such a dinosaur paradigm, all your left with in the social media space is pushing corporate messaging. And that will get you nowhere, not with branding, not with sales. And "doing" social media will be nearly impossible.

Like you, I'm bothered by all the snake oil salesmen claiming their social media expertise on blogs and in Twitter bios everywhere. But remember, 'integrated communication' has been a buzzword coming and going in cycles, too.

Why do we need social media agencies now, them? Branding, advertising and PR is all very important, but they are historically focused on push messaging, whether it's framing, presenting or spinning. But social media isn't the place for push marketing. First and foremost, social media is a place for listening, aiding and connecting with the community.

Social media shouldn't be used as a tool for pushing corporate messaging. It's a place for user engagement. As simply as I can put it, it's a space for community management rather than content creation. It's about letting people tell you what they want and making something out of that valuable feedback.

You say, a strategic communications approach takes into account:

"What does a brand want its customers to do?"

I say, a strategic communications approach takes into account:

"What does customers want from their brand?"

If you disregard the importance of having a social media strategy (or at least a partner in crime who knows the dynamics of both the social media space and your company), and by strategy I mean a strategy to adapt the company to its environment and not the other way around, then chances are that necessary structural changes aren't being considered before it's too late.

Without a solid strategy for social media, there's always the risk that the company's overall direction might be plotted by a room full of corporate people who doesn't even consume the products or services they are trying to push themselves. To be honest, that thought makes me sick to my stomach.

JGoldsborough 209 pts

Jerry Silfwer Jerry, thanks for stopping by. I think we agree on more than it might appear.

"You see a process where the brand is created by the marketing communications team and then trickled down to advertising, then to PR, then to social media, and then everywhere."

Sorry if I was confusing, but that's not what I think at all. The main point I was making was all the disciplines under IMC -- marketing, advertising, PR, brand, etc. -- need to be on the same page and working together to implement an effective communications strategy that achieves business results.

Social media is absolutely about engagement and not about pushing content. But developing a social media strategy alone ignores all the other aspects of communications and puts social media up on a pedestal by itself and is misleading to business leaders. Social media is a tool that facilitates a behavior we should have always been doing -- building relationships. And social media only makes sense if we use it in a way that helps achieve client goals and objectives.

IMO, some of the issues you refer to and sum up in your last paragraph are culture issues, not social media issues. And company culture is a whole different ball of wax. One thing that is for sure -- Social media alone cannot change corporate culture. I know, I tried it at a past job. Didn't work.

Jerry Silfwer 5 pts

JGoldsborough Jerry Silfwer Thanks for your balanced reply, I really appreciate that. Often times these discussions tend to fall overboard. Some good points overall in the comments here right now.

Yeah, I think that we agree on a number of things. For instance that all strategies should be integrated with each other, the more the better. And I see where you're coming from, I really do. So much of what we see of corporate communications is not very strategic. And yes, many executives are stressed by social media and yes, there are agencies capitalizing short-term on that.

But I still think you're taking things too far. Saying that you don't need a social media strategy is like saying that you don't need a strategy for investor relations. See my point? In times of change, specialists become increasingly in demand, whereas "one-stop-shops" also have their relevance.

Oh and also, I think social media in fact IS changing corporate culture! :)

JGoldsborough 209 pts

Jerry Silfwer I used to believe social media could change corporate culture. And maybe it still will. And maybe in another 1,000 years, dinosaurs will rule the earth again.

The speed social media changes culture, if it does, is glacial. Organizational leadership is what changes culture. And they can't do that if they don't understand the strategy behind why culture needs to change and how it effects interaction with customers.


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