Marketing Insights From Alice Stein
Matthew Witheiler Views On Venture Outlook 2011

Why Your Social Media Strategy Needs Agency Support To Be Self Sufficient

Chris Lake from Econsultancy argues that PR or ad agency's should not own a company's social media strategy in the post, "Why your social media strategy shouldn’t be owned by a PR or ad agency."

In essence Chris argues social media is a core activity for most companies that can affect many company disciplines from sales, to customer service, to PR, to product development and innovation. To be effective in all of these disciplines a company must commit internal resources to using social media.

I think Chris is right and he makes a good argument.

Ford for example did not really take off in its corporate social media strategy until they dumped the Ford Bold Moves site and hired Scott Monty who has carefully steered Ford's social media efforts, by bringing out the best of its employees.

However, I think there's another side to the coin of arguing the brand should handle its own social media efforts; the brand has to be ready and have the resources to enact successful social media tactics and strategies.

Part of developing a successful social media strategy is to understand what needs to be done, if you will what strategies need to be enacted. That requires an experienced strategist and someone who has the experience in corporate social media. That people resource issue is no longer such an issue as it was five years ago. But it is still tough to find experience corporate social media people.

You also have to develop a culture in a company that understands what its going to take to conduct social media successfully, and when you are starting from scratch with a lot of this stuff, with few resources baby steps are tough. It requires a culture change in adopting social media into business processes. And changing business processes in order to be successful at corporate social media.

The cluetrain manifesto had argued that employees will be ready and willing to chat directly with customers. As I argue in my critique of the cluetrain manifesto employees often don't have the time, motivation, or want to get involved without extra pay.

Companies have to build the infrastructure for social media, not rely solely on volunteers to operate a social media strategy, and change their cultures.

That's a lot to ask of a company, even if you have a strong willed individual who commands executive's respect to bring everyone along onboard.

A model for social media deployment was Christopher Barger's immerse and disperse model at General Motors. Christopher trains up employees in the social media center, then releases those trained employees to brands and other corporate departments beyond his budget and management. They have the skills, resources, and mentorship from Christopher, but they are not on his budget or control. I wrote about this in the post, "General Motors Brands Use “Immerse & Disperse” To Adopt Social Media," and "4 Ways Fortune 500 Companies Adopt Social Media."

I’d argue that this model is actually a good model for an agency to provide services. Here agencies would provide training services and campaign resources for a client, with the goal of training internal employees up to deploy throughout the enterprise. You could even supplement internal social media managers with agency people, not to replace employees, but to give training, while on the job to those existing employees who need mentorship from people experienced in how to run a social media operation.

My experience at Pace Communications, where editors manage content marketing for clients in magazines and digital content has also given me the idea that editors can help curate editorial strategy for bloggers and other employees.

You want to be authentic and transparent with employee bloggers, but those employees don't have the motivation or don't know what to do when it comes to blogging or social media. Instead using editors to set the calendar of content from the employees, and have PR agencies support employees engagement with commenting and the wider community means you’ll give newbie employees breathing room to start in social media as they get up to speed.

Here, I argue the final goal is to make the client self sufficient, and that the focus of any agency social media services should be to get a client over the initial speed bumps of corporate social media.