I’m an agency guy. Convince & Convert is the fifth marketing services firm I’ve started or operated, and I work with many agencies every week to help them package, price, staff, and sell social and digital. In the past two years alone, I’ve helped more than 25 agencies build a social media practice.
During these adventures I’ve discovered that there are 4 ways agencies can staff social media. Each has benefits and drawbacks, and I illustrated them in a Webinar last week leading up to BOLO, an excellent digital marketing conference for agencies. (use promo code jbaer and save $200) The slides are below. Here’s the summary.
3 Truths of Social Media in Agencies
- Show me a firm where the social media people aren’t the busiest in the agency, and I’ll show you an agency that isn’t very good at selling social media.
- Social media services are much more about doing than making.
- Social media execution services (like SEM) are largely rooted in arbitrage. Can the agency do more or better work for the client than she can do with internal resources, at costs to her that justify the agency’s participation?
3 Ways to Profit from Services Arbitrage
- Sell the Black Box. Convince the client that you have secret sauce worth purchasing. This is more difficult in social than in other marketing services, because the tools of the trade are imminently familiar to clients, since they are using them for their personal social media.
- Create true economies of scale. This is why you see social media pure-play agencies like Vaynermedia staffing up so quickly. They need a lot of clients to make the model work – not to mention the fact that there will be a big round of social media agency acquisitions in the next 12 months.
- Buy inexpensive labor, prop it up via training, and sell it to clients for more.
3 Social Media Success Factors for Agencies
- Which social media services does the agency sell? (See this post: 23 social and digital services agencies should be selling for more insight on that topic)
- How (and how well) those services are sold.
- How the agency human capital is structured and deployed.
The 4 Social Media Staffing Models
Outsourced. Working with a social media specialty firm or digital agency (often in the same local market) to provide social services to clients. A good first step, but a difficult long-term approach as margin is tight (if any), and the agency is building few internal skills. It also complicates the client relationship.
Guru(s). The most common model, especially for small/mid-sized agencies. Easy to execute, but difficult to scale without creating process bottlenecks, and a somewhat risky approach as when the guru leaves the agency, there can be a big knowledge void. I’m also seeing agencies having an increasingly difficult time attracting social experts as employees.
Topical Experts. I’m a big proponent of this approach, whereby agencies take their existing troops, break them into multiple topical teams (social listening, community management, influencer outreach, social analytics, and so forth) and train those team members to get good at their part of the social media pie. It’s much more realistic to take an agency employee who has existing responsibilities and teach them social listening than it is to teach them the entirety of social media. In this model, an in-house guru is still present to coordinate, strategize, and train.
The Gang. This model works best for PR firms, where all team members are involved in the provision of similar services. With the Gang, all employees are trained on all facets of social media (or at least the facets relevant to the agency’s clients) and the existing agency team delivers social when necessary. Can be executed without a Guru.
Which is the right model for your agency? Why?
(for info on how I work with agencies, visit this page)