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Why Interactive Agencies Still Don’t Understand the Social Media Agency Model

Jim Tobin.
By: Jim Tobin  |   July 11, 2012  |   View Comments

If you believe most folks in Monday's Adweek article, "Why Agencies are Going Anti-Social," I must be crazy. My competitors at Deep Focus and Dachis Group both disavow the term "social media agency," saying it's too limiting. While they run away from the term, I continue to run toward it. Despite my genuine respect for Ian and Jeff, here's why I think we're on opposite sides of the discussion in this case:


Social Media Marketing Isn't About Ads

Ian Schafer of Deep Focus is attributed with saying he used to pitch his team on their ability to create and buy social ads. While I'm not sure of the editing of the article and how closely that conveys Ian's thoughts (which were, like mine, part of a longer conversation), social media marketing has never been about buying ads. That's not to say that some social ads can't support a program, but we typically leave the ad buying to our clients' media buying agencies. Our thinking is that media buying on social sites should be handled as part of the client's larger paid media buying objectives. We consult on social programs and provide input on promotions or other efforts we're handling that need support. Our perspective is valuable, but so is the perspective of the media buying agency who sees much more than social. At the end of the day, though, ad performance on social networks isn't markedly better than ad performance anywhere else. Promotions that count on ads to drive their success are just not going to be effective. You need a true social loop to ensure the promotions are engaging enough that your initial participants tell their friends, and so on...

Social Media Marketing Isn't About "Pumping Out Messages"

Jeff Dachis of Dachis Group says in the article that, "We do not take your traditional brand message and pump it into social channels because that isn’t going to work." I couldn't agree more. That's not going to work, and that's not what any good social media agency is going to do. Good social media marketing finds ways to engage consumers, both in the day-to-day management of channels like Facebook and Twitter, but also in the various promotions that we create.  Given that only about 16% of a brand's fans see a given Facebook post, using your social channels as broadcast media is a fool's game. Social media agencies are not broadcasters.

Agencies Shouldn't Pivot

A lot of digital agencies started calling themselves social media agencies in 2008 and 2009 as the space became more popular. But pivoting from being an interactive agency into a social agency is a mistake, because it's not the same discipline. I think what we're seeing now is some agencies that pivoted are beginning to pivot back. I would suspect it's because being a digital agency is their core competency. Digital agencies are set up to create websites, online advertising and other digital experiences. That's only a subset of what a social agency does (and a social agency only does a subset of what a digital agency does). Digital agencies are not set up for the day-to-day management of social media marketing and the unique challenges that genuine two way communication creates. For that matter, neither are PR firms or ad agencies. That's why, 5 years ago this month, I started a new company, despite already having been a partner in a good advertising agency. We had to set up a new structure to make sure we were built to succeed in this new discipline. The temptation to gravitate back to what you're really good at is too large, and no agency is good at everything (despite what some may tell you in the pitch).

It's the 1990s All Over Again

I clearly remember when Internet marketing began and little digital agencies popped up. Marketers were predicting that ad agencies would get the work back "as soon as they learned HTML." But then people like Jeff Dachis built great companies like Razorfish into 3,000-employee industry leaders that continue to thrive. And ad agencies never took the digital mantel back from them. That's what's happening with social media agencies right now. Some folks are saying, "Once digital shops get good at this, we won't need social media agencies." But people who say that don't really understand how fundamentally different the work is, and how it's getting more specialized every day. Of course, ad agencies sometimes build websites today. And other types of agencies will continue to sometimes do social media marketing. But is "doing" social enough? One of Ignite Social Media's very first clients was Mike Schouder at Nature Made. When he saw the AdWeek article, he commented:

I've seen too many agencies say, "Oh, yea, we do social" only to find that they may "do" it but don't "get it." Which is why I've always trusted Ignite, because they not only do it but they get it.

Given the complexity, the distinction between "doing" and "getting" is only going to get larger.


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Comments
  • http://squarejawmedia.com/ Brian McDonald

    Great response to the article Jim.  I like your comparison to the early days of web/internet marketing as I had the same discussions in the early 90s with the traditional agencies I worked with.  Congrats on keeping Ignite focused on a core strength and not trying to be all things digital to all customers.  It's hard to do and a reason why we see more specialized companies that can focus  on a specific marketing communications function that integrates well with other channels.

  • http://squarejawmedia.com/ Brian McDonald

    Great response to the article Jim.  I like your comparison to the early days of web/internet marketing as I had the same discussions in the early 90s with the traditional agencies I worked with.  Congrats on keeping Ignite focused on a core strength and not trying to be all things digital to all customers.  It's hard to do and a reason why we see more specialized companies that can focus  on a specific marketing communications function that integrates well with other channels.

  • http://squarejawmedia.com/ Brian McDonald

    Great response to the article Jim.  I like your comparison to the early days of web/internet marketing as I had the same discussions in the early 90s with the traditional agencies I worked with.  Congrats on keeping Ignite focused on a core strength and not trying to be all things digital to all customers.  It's hard to do and a reason why we see more specialized companies that can focus  on a specific marketing communications function that integrates well with other channels.

  • Alison

    Great article. From the nonprofit side, we need to be better clients in understanding whether we need an interactive versus social media agency and recognize that one agency might not meet all our needs.

  • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

    Jim, all great points and your team does an amazing job at seeing the big picture.  Pleasure to work with a "Social" Agency.

    -Erica McClenny
    Expion

  • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

    Jim, all great points and your team does an amazing job at seeing the big picture.  Pleasure to work with a "Social" Agency.

    -Erica McClenny
    Expion