Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, Social Business, Social Media Strategy, Agency Promotion, Integrated Marketing and Media, Social Media Staffing and Operations

6 Critical Services Agencies Must Provide to Stay Relevant in Social Media

Is there a future for agencies in a social media world?

Yesterday, I gave a presentation in Tempe, AZ to Agencyside, a conference of advertising and PR agency owners. I emphasized that to remain relevant, agencies must differentiate themselves by providing advanced social media services, not just the basics.

An Enormous Opportunity

The huge (and expanding) reach of social media, and its relatively low cost (at least from a production fees perspective) makes it an incredibly attractive proposition for marketers.

Forrester Research shows that from 2009-2014, U.S. corporate expenditures on social media will increase by an AVERAGE of 34% a year, and that by 2012, as much will be spent on social media as on email marketing.

Agencies, are there any other services you provide likely to grow 34% each year? Maybe Selena Gomez autographs, or Danica Patrick NASCAR collectibles. Otherwise, good luck.

Me Too. Me Too

Agencies realize how hot social media is, and they are scrambling to add social media expertise (real or imagined) to their services mix. In fact, a search for “social media agencies” on Google yields more than 41 MILLION matching Web pages. Sifting through that pile to separate the experts from the pretenders is a near impossibility.

Social media builders and evangelists almost literally grow on trees, and the basic social media services being offered by many agencies do not provide much that clients couldn’t do themselves, if they chose to do so.

Strategic social media integrators are scarce, and agencies that want to succeed long-term in the provision of social media services need to get into that camp FAST.

Think Different

Here’s 6 ways to differentiate agency social media services:

1. Social is an Ingredient, not an Entree
Help clients find ways to add social components to existing marketing (print, outdoor, broadcast, direct mail, email, search, live events) – rather than viewing social media as a freestanding silo.

2. Codify Listening & Engagement
I still maintain that when the dust settles, we’ll all realize that social media is much better for customer retention than for customer acquisition. Consumers are using social media (especially Twitter) as a 1-800 line, and agencies should be helping their clients answer the social telephone by setting up listening posts and protocols, and trying marketing to customer service in real-time.

Agencies should also be working with clients on using social media as a market research tool, by surveying fans or creating dedicated, invite-only brand communities that serve as a living focus group.

3. Keep Score
Social media metrics are widely available, but require effort and integration to be gathered and analyzed successfully. Allowing clients to treat number of Facebook fans as the core success metric is a dereliction of duty. Go beyond the obvious and use customer service metrics, social connectivity of customers, and Web traffic patterns as measures that matter.

4. Communicate with Content
After strategic thinking, the key to social media success is content creation. Help clients take their message to consumers directly, impacting purchase intent by providing truly helpful information at the right time in the buying cycle. And make sure to atomize your content, taking one idea and propagating it in as many places and formats as possible, each reaching a different audience.

Content creation isn’t enough, however, because content isn’t king – optimized content is king. Help clients tie search success to social media through wise keyword analysis, multi-media optimization and ongoing link acquisition. Remember, the most important customer of EVERY company is Google.

5. Learn the Science of Social
Like any other online marketing program, social media is widely measurable – and testable. Don’t just let your clients post to their Facebook page willy nilly, or write random blog posts whenever they feel that WordPress urge. Social media is at least as much science as it is art, and the agencies that develop those capabilities will have a meaningful edge.

There’s an optimal time of day and day of week to tweet. There’s a way to get your Facebook update seen in more news feeds. There’s certainly a methodology for attracting blog readership. Between bit.ly and Postrank, and Tweetmeme and Topsy and Facebook Insights and about 1,000 other tools you can use to precisely measure social media success, there is literally no excuse to not ALWAYS BE TESTING.

6. Make Social Portable
Facebook’s true genius isn’t Facebook.com, it’s Facebook Connect, allowing consumers to import their friends and their friends’ opinions onto hundreds of thousands of other Web sites. When you can go to an appliance Web site (like my new client Conn’s), and see not just reviews of a refrigerator, but reviews from your friends and friends of their friends, the world changes. And it is.

Combined with the new geo-targeted social interaction tools like Foursquare and Gowalla, and the just over the horizon technology of QR codes, social graph portability and the “site-less” Web (as Paul Gillin calls it) is an area that smart agencies need to know now.

Grab a Seat at the Table

In theory, I believe agencies actually have a huge role to play in smart social media adoption and execution. Companies often get so close to their own knitting that they cannot see the knots, and that brand of myopia is especially difficult to overcome in social media. Agencies can provide the counsel, the wisdom, the expertise, and the distance necessary to be an important rudder as companies navigate the choppy waters of a world gone real-time.

But that requires agencies to get beyond “setting up” a Twitter account or other one-and-done services of dubious strategic value.

(If you’re an agency that has all of this figured out, congratulations. I wasn’t talking to you.)

(If you’re an agency that needs to go down this path, give me a shout. I work almost entirely with agencies. I’d be happy to share my slide presentation with you, too).
(photo by Steven Depolo)