Quicktake: I propose a new agency model for corporate social media services, based on the model of immerse and disperse used by General Motors.
Currently in the field of agency services for corporate social media we have three situations happening.
1) Those brands who outsource project work for sites to be built.
2) Those brands that outsource some management of their social media channels.
3) Those brands who may purchase some project services, but when it comes to who manages and engages audiences, the individuals have to be employees of the company.
For agencies there are opportunities to sell services to all three of these types of situations at companies. However, with number 3 there's less opportunity to sell services because brands hire their own staff, and build their own systems for corporate social media.
I ask the question: What services can an agency sell to a brand that believes it doesn't make sense to outsource the engagement process within social media to an agency?
I think you then have to ask what is not working is not working for those types of companies. And really the issue becomes it's difficult to hire sufficient staff with social media expertise who will get a company up to speed quickly enough.
Christopher Barger's model of immerse and disperse from General Motors gives agencies a model for how to sell services to those brands that don't want to outsource their social media to agencies. Yet, who also have trouble getting up to speed with corporate social media.
Barger's model consists of building a central social media engagement center for corporate, where a few people practice listening, triage, and response on a corporate wide basis. New employees are hired into the center, as well as long time experienced communications and marketing people from the company who understand the products and how their company works politically. They stay in the center for six months to a year. Gaining the skills of how to conduct communications and marketing in social media, as well as picking up social media vendor contacts, and internal contacts with the central social media team.
Barger then releases or places those trainees into the rest of the company. They are off his budget, and working for brand managers, or other corporate division manager.
The benefits of this approach for multi brand companies are that you spread social media marketing expertise around to where budget exists. You give brand and corporate managers’ oversight of employees with real social media expertise. That’s important, because those managers will feel more comfortable pursuing social media strategies if they manage the resources, budget and people. But you also have a network of people who through their relationships within the company and from the central social media engagement center, have the ability to call mentors, colleagues, and get opinion when corporate or brand managers suggest strategies for social media that go against the overall corporate approach for social media.
In the agency model, the agency would sell the service of building and setting up a central social media engagement center for a client. They would staff the center with an engagement manager, or listening analysts. But in conjunction with an employee from the company who is a director of social media, who would manage the team including the agency. The goal would be for the agency staff to train by showing what they are doing. There would be transparency, but the brand would get up to speed with social media at a faster rate. Once the six months or one year is up, the agency engagement manager would move on, maybe to another client, or to another brand division with the same company. As social media grows in use, and there is more ROI, the agency would have more opportunity to grow the account through project services, such as building sites. But the core strategy remains the same of getting the client up to speed with corporate social media.
I've spoken with a number of colleagues in the industry, and I've heard a range of opinion on this approach, 1) that's what's we are doing now, as the brands social media expertise ramps up, the agencies falls away. 2) Companies may just prefer to just do social media themselves. 3) It would be good to check with both agencies and brands to see what their opinion on this model is.
So I'm embarking on a process now to talk with a number of colleagues at brands to see what they think of the process, and also chatting with agencies for their opinion. I'd also value yours on this blog or via email.