Advertising Agencies And Social Media: A Culture Clash - Social Media Explorer
Advertising Agencies And Social Media: A Culture Clash
Advertising Agencies And Social Media: A Culture Clash
by
Culture Clash
Image by LU5H.bunny via Flickr

Advertising agencies around the country are trying to figure out social media. How do we do it? How do we sell it? Do we have to?

The answer is probably yes, you do have to if you want to continue to offer a full range of marketing services to your clients, and bill appropriately. Some agencies are doing a good job adjusting, hiring smart social media thinkers and getting smart about social media quickly. Others are still cocking their head sideways like a puppy trying to figure out a vacuum cleaner.

Sadly, many ad agencies never figured out Interactive, let’s call it Web 1.0. Now you add a layer of Web 2.0 or social media on top of that and many agencies and their respective creatives (art directors, copywriters, designers) and clients services folks are rendered dumb struck at the thought of all things digital.

Their problem is that there exists a culture clash between ad agencies and social media marketing. The difficulty is the result of both philosophical and tactical problems. The good news is problems can be solved. But it will take some work.

The Philosophical Problems

Social media is, in many ways, the antithesis of advertising. Advertising is one-way communications aimed at large groups of consumers. Social media is two-way communications that requires listening as well as speaking. It can also be said that social media is a multiple-way communications method as brands can speak and listen, but also watch other consumers talk to each other. An agency’s creatives and strategic planners suddenly having to factor in listening and observing to their communications process after decades of just shouting from the roof tops presents a seismic culture shift.

Social media is also about building relationships. Advertising is about driving people to a buying decision. In fact, I would propose that in most cases, advertising has nothing to do with a relationship. It’s all about persuading someone to take action, not discussing the decision-making process and becoming a trusted resource for the person choosing. As Chris Heuer says, good marketing today doesn’t try to sell the customer on something. It tries to help them buy it.

Similarly, it can be said that the essence of social media, in many ways, is good customer service. I would propose that, with exceptions certainly, advertising agencies have never cared about serving the customer. They care about making the sale. Advertising is most often used to drive customers to purchase, not care for them after the fact.

So, philosophically, advertising and social media are very different. Creatives, client services folks, account planners and the like are being asked to undertake a new method of communications that runs counter to everything they’ve ever been taught.

The Tactical Problems

Peel off a layer or two in the social media and advertising comparison and you start to see some of the real reasons ad agencies struggle with social media. Please note that I offer these opinions as generalizations but not as blanket statements. There are lots of creatives, planners and the like out there who understand the social and digital worlds. While I’m sure I may furl a brow or two with this, I’m applying general truths I’ve seen through experience working for and with and asking questions about several advertising agencies over the last few years.

First, advertising creatives are taught and still primarily focus on TV, print and outdoor advertising. Despite the media trends, art schools either aren’t pushing students hard enough toward web-centric, or even web-inclusive, work; or many of today’s creatives are lost in filling their “book,” not realizing digital is the type of compelling art agencies are in desperate need of.

Also, art directors and designers are often focused on the art, not the experience. User experience, whether tactile and off-line or virtual and on-, creates compelling engagement with consumers. Art often times is just pretty.

Interactive or digital (website and application development and programming) professionals typically come from technology backgrounds driven by code and algorithms. They’ve got the function down pat but lack the creative side, or form, to produce effective work.

To make matters worse, creative teams of art directors and copywriters are sent to brainstorm and create campaign elements but Interactive folks aren’t invited to the creative process. The creatives don’t come up with compelling interactive because the web is an afterthought. The interactive folks don’t come up with compelling interactive because they aren’t trained as creatives or they were excluded from the conceptual development process altogether.

Client services and account planning isn’t taught to think web first and often just assumes someone in the interactive department will handle guiding those decisions. The creatives think someone in the interactive department will do it, too. The interactive department is under the impression the creatives are developing the concepts and wait to be told what to build. The ball gets dropped and interactive ideas are added to the concept at the last minute with little to know strategic tie to the overall concept.

Don’t you find it strangely ironic that while most people in the typical advertising agency these days know little about digital and interactive, not to mention social media, that every advertising execution contains one consistent feature besides the logo: The website address?

Another tactical problem is that social media revolves around content creation. Not only are ad agencies not capable or prepared to create the volume and type of content required to populate blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter, YouTube and more, but social media content must be nimble, quick, conversational and responsive. What little advertising content is produced has to be run through proofing 47 times before it sees the light of day.

Providing content for clients is also antithetical to the philosophical tenants of social media. If I’m engaging in a conversation about a product as a consumer, who is a more trustworthy person to engage with, the brand manager for the product or some account guy at the ad agency that represents the product? The client is always more qualified to be the person or persons engaging with consumers about the brand.

Content creation also doesn’t scale well and is problematic for billing. Let’s say you have 20 brands producing social media content and you hire two people to produce that content. Depending upon the brand, audience and strategy, if they’re doing a good job, they’re producing an average of a blog post, Facebook content, several Tweets and perhaps video, images or some other type of content for each client every day. Can you write 10 blog posts in a day?

And how about this billing scenario: Let’s say a full-time agency employee producing content for a client is working 10 hours per week on that client’s social media efforts. They’re billed out at roughly $75 per hour. At that rate, which is conservative in price and volume, you’re billing $36,000 per year for their services as an agency. At the same time, you can go out and pay free-lance bloggers $25 per post (and that’s on the high end in most circumstances) and produce a similar volume of content for $6,500 per year (a blog post per day, five days per week, which is an aggressive clip for many agencies). How will you answer your client when they call you with a big, “WTF?”

These are the major challenges that face advertising agencies as they transition to owning and embracing social media. There are others.

Solutions

Solving the problems does take time and resources. Education is going to play a major role. In order to expedite the list and open the comments for building blocks to add to these ideas, here is a brief list of what agencies can do to integrate social media into their service offerings and disciplines:

  1. Embrace client websites as an opportunity to engage and build relationships with customers
  2. Make content portable so customers can consume it where they choose, even on mobile platforms
  3. Prioritize search engine optimization. People start their web interactions with search the vast majority of the time.
  4. Learn that well-done search advertising and email marketing campaigns have conversion rates that dwarf those of your ROI numbers on billboards and TV spots.
  5. Use social media tools internally to collaborate on projects.
  6. Use those same tools to collaborate with your clients, extending the educational experience to them.
  7. Read industry blogs.
  8. Bring in social media consultants and educators to teach everyone, not just your interactive department, how social media can improve their productivity and outputs.
  9. Incorporate social and interactive experience into the hiring requirements for client services and creatives.
  10. Watch what other brands are doing on the social web.
  11. Embrace the enthusiasm of your resident social media advocates by having them teach you social while you teach them strategic thinking.
  12. Understand that mass media still has better reach but use that reach to build communities around your brands, driving consumers to brand engagement points through social media.

Now it’s your turn. What else can advertising agencies do to turn the corner on social media expertise? The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
  • Seo Pk Seo Pk

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  • Do advertising agencies and social media represent a culture clash? Are these mutually exclusive entities that are best confined to their own worlds

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  • Hi
    Just came across this post while searching for a social media advertising agency, ironic i guess. Your point are very valid even in 2011 however i do feel things have moved forward some what. Social media advertsing if targetted effectively provides a win win for both the consumer and the client. As an agency that works with several publishers we have found that highly targetted promotional activity has been both successful at promoting as well as engaging with consumers. The task then is to follow this up with ongoing engageing content. Ecen if at times this may appear slightly off brand.  

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  • John Fadrick

    hi!.
    it is a nice piece of work, seems you have a social instinct. why don't you send this to 12th International CCA it is a print social advertising award in India.

    The winner is awarded a cash prize of US $ 11,000.
    no entry fee.

    visit http://www.concernedcommunicatorawrad.org for more detail

    sending your entry is very easy all u need to do is download the form from the website and mail your entry to cca@patrika.com or upload the same to collage.visageimages.com and cc sankalp.fadrick@epatrika.com

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  • Thanks for the continuation of the discussion Alan. Glad the post and
    conversation proved useful.

  • Alan Firmin

    Good article Jason, I understand for the purpose of the article you had to generalise ad agencies, and I appreciate that is not the point of the article.

    I am currently responsible, at the ad agency I work for, for educating the agency about Social media and its commercial value. The agency is a traditional agency but recognises a need to integrate Social media into their offering.

    Thanks again, your article has helped me in writing my essay for my university!

  • Alan Firmin

    Aaron I think you have entirely missed a trick here. I am a currently working for at an ad agency based in the UK and in the process of writing an essay for my university on the commercial value of Social media to an agency (hence coming across the article).

    You say there is a risk in engaging with your customers on Social networks, that could not be further from the truth. The real risk is NOT engaging with your customers. Take Comcast for example, should they have had your opinion they would have continued to ignore the problems of their customers and the negative publicity they received (e.g. comcastmustdie.com). Not only would this provide further damage to their brand but it would also give their clued up competitors an opportunity to steal their customers away from them, a point you illustrated yourself “Then there are the issues of MISINFORMATION – competitors can easily poach, steal, misinform and destroy brands by merely following and getting in touch with people who follow you.” It is exactly this reason why companies MUST be present on Social networks, in order to dispell false information.

    You say that the monetary value is insignificant and it is likely to be a passing fad. Twitter grew by over 400% in 2009! Furthermore the amount of money to be invested in Social media marketing is set to increase from $716 million in 2009 to more than $3.1 billion in 2014. This is an average annual growth rate of 34%.

    You claim that $3 million dollars is insignificant but if you consider the amount that Dell has probably invested, I am sure their ROI will be somewhat significant. That is before you consider how much carrying out customer service on Social networks could save a company compared with a call centre.

    You then state that “Customer services depts speak to customers one on one without the world watching.” The transparency of sites such as Twitter is a good thing as it makes companies accountable for the service they provide. The beauty of customer service on Twitter is that if carried out correctly the evidence is there for EVERYONE to see. One on one customer contact has allowed companies to get away with scandalous service because lets face it, who cares about one measly customer. If a company is rude or offensive to a customer on Twitter everyone will be able to see. Therefore this forces companies to treat customers with respect or they risk signing their own death warrant…..surely you must agree this is a good thing?

    Nobody with any sense is suggesting that there is a big war between traditional advertising and social media. Social media marketing is purely another media channel; like TV, like print, like radio. Any company worth its salt should realise that the best possible business practice is to integrate your traditional advertising with Social media marketing. Take comparethemarket.com as a prime example, they have successfully integrated an excellent TV campaign with Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. The even created a comparethemeerkat.com. Now try telling them that Social networking ruined their branding, without it it is just another funny TV ad. By the way you should look up Alexsandr Orlov on Twitter, he is hilarious!

    You talk about POWER, POWER, POWER and how companies need to remain “out of reach” otherwise they lose their POWER! Aaron this is the attitude companies had 100 years ago like Henry Ford “you can have any colour as long as it's black.” This elitist attitude do not work in the 21st century, marketing is now all about engaging with customers in the right enviroment, which for many people happens to be a Social network. If you ignore Social media you are only going to isolate millions of current and potential customers, hence damaging your brand!

    This is not to say that Social media marketing does not bear risks, but then so does every form of media. Are you saying their is no risk involved in plugging millions into a TV ad campaign that fails miserably and only succeeds in damaging your brand?! The whole point is, like with traditional advertising, if you do not plan or make a strategy then the chances are you will fail (like Harvey Mckay said “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail”). The same rules apply to Social media, if you go in with a lack of understand and no strategy then yes you could damage your brand, however if properly planned and managed it can become an extremely useful medium for reaching your customers and promoting your brand.

    I could go on for days but as I mentioned I do have an essay to write. I was not going to post a reply initially until I read that this bizarre opinion came from someone who has “[…] an elite MBA in Finance & Strategy with International Marketing and have worked for numerous Fortune 500 Co., as well as run an advertising agency,” and you are writing a book. I find some of this extremely hard to believe considering how close-minded your opinions are…let me guess you are a devout Christian too?

    To be perfectly honest your whole post just smacks of someone who is trying to sell a book they are writing, you even said this yourself “[my in-dept thesis] is controversial but highly engaging and interesting.” Well let me tell you something, Warren Buffet you aint! You will not become famous for predicting the Social media bust, simply because it is not going to happen. Embrace change Aaron, it is inevitable.

    Regards,

    Alan

    p.s. I found it highly ironic that you repeatedly misspelt the word 'intelligently'…I think it speaks volumes! I wouldn't normally pick someone up on spelling, as I am sure I made a few mistakes myself. However, the difference is I am not trying to sell my own book. I am merely a hero writing an essay for Uni!

    Booker!

  • Alan Firmin

    Good article Jason, I understand for the purpose of the article you had to generalise ad agencies, and I appreciate that is not the point of the article.

    I am currently responsible, at the ad agency I work for, for educating the agency about Social media and its commercial value. The agency is a traditional agency but recognises a need to integrate Social media into their offering.

    Thanks again, your article has helped me in writing my essay for my university!

    • Thanks for the continuation of the discussion Alan. Glad the post and
      conversation proved useful.

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  • Social Media Marketing is highly dangerous to brands and must NOT be embraced at all. Too many cooks spoil the broth! If you are 'engaging' in customers who mix business speak along with playful banter and perhaps rude comments, you are making your brand common as muck. Even seeing your brand logo along with potentially harmful comments on a twitter feed, blog, facebook page can tarnish a brand. Seeing customer complaints being posted on twitter is not good. Customer services depts speak to customers one on one without the world watching. Social media, just like the .COM bubble will burst with a catastrophic bang. People who have jumped onto the band wagon and are embracing social media are dancing with danger and damaging their brands. A brand is NOT about engaging with people on twitter. If you inteligently analyse what the MAJORITY of twitter feeds are about – it is merely internet 'GURUS' promoting some dodgy eBook via an equally dodgy looking one page sales-letter website. If you then look at twitter inteligently, you will find that millions of people are all talking millions of different things all at the same time – this causes a catastrophic information overload and achieves nothing. Social media does NOT improve productivity or sales at all. If you really look beneath the covers you will find that employee man/ woman hours are utterly wasted on facebook and twitter. Furthermore the ROI of twitter is no where near as high as the ROI of a traditional advertising campaign. This is because in the LONG -TERM (what really matters) – the brand will be damaged beyond repair. Engaging in social media is like making every one of your clients/ customers a brand manager – and when this happens it is a case of too many cooks spoil the broth or in this case – the brand!

    • Well, Aaron, I think it's safe to say I not only disagree, but can verify that the last four years of my career prove otherwise. Forget me, though. Dell has driven $3MM in sales through Twitter. Marriott credits a blog with $5MM in reservations. And I'm pretty sure Comcast can verify that engaging those who speak negatively about your brand is very much a good idea. Would love to see some case studies to the contrary. You're welcome to post them here or submit them to me as a guest post. Happy to have an opposing viewpoint.

      • Aaron

        Dear Oliver and Jason, (firstly thank you Jason for your email and allowing my controversial comments–as I mentioned I am researching and writing a book that completely opposes the views of the masses–according to pre-publication research, the book will sell because of its controversial nature—but the proof will be in the pudding!)…

        Oliver–I completely agree with your positive comments about the benefits SMM can have on spreading news FAST in terms of say, a change of exam location for students or a police warning or charitable drives or networking. However, please note I am writing these comments with respect to LONG TERM brand reputation and not short-term news. NEWS (NORTH EAST WEST SOUTH) moves fast and is forgotten rapidly – social media marketing does not help brands build long-term solid reputation bases, it disintegrates a brands message across multiple platforms mainly because of multiple external and internal input—the loss of control of the message is not a blessing, it is a curse. Then there are the issues of MISINFORMATION – competitors can easily poach, steal, misinform and destroy brands by merely following and getting in touch with people who follow you. Corporations can set up 'FAKE' accounts or they can set up individual accounts and then start vindictive campaigns with your user lists in full view. Litigation is of little use if they can shut down their accounts in seconds and hire people in China to keep setting up FAKE accounts and destroying brands—the same vindictive libel behaviours CANNOT occur in traditional media as the perpetrator would be sued for libel.

        Now Jason, I absolutely agree with you, and I too have heard about the revenue generated by SMM for Dell, Comcast, et al., however, these amounts are TINY! $3 million US is a drop in the ocean and may impress a work at home mom/ soccer mom, or an individual starting a home business, but please note I am writing about BRANDS and corporations—not individuals. The ROI of even $5 million US for the amount of time, effort, energy, and potential risk to a brand is very poor indeed. If the revenue from SMM was $100m then I would perhaps alter my views.

        I know I am being very controversial about not agreeing with the masses of people that are embracing social media–however, during the .com boom, the wise sage Warren Buffet disagreed with the masses of investment professionals around the world who were jumping on the bandwagon regarding the dot com boom – Warren Buffet never invested even one dime in the tech stocks of the dot com boom and he predicted the crash and it happened. Now, to give you a bit about my background, I have an elite MBA in Finance & Strategy with International Marketing and have worked for numerous Fortune 500 Co., as well as run an advertising agency. This does NOT make me an expert of any sort, but I do have a deep understanding of business and branding and corporate functions. It appears EVERYONE is trying to get something from nothing—this attitude in society caused the .com BUST—where investment bankers and MBAs and private equity firms were throwing money at any .com startup even if they had NO IDEA of HOW or WHEN they would generate revenue. The same attitude caused the current credit crunch crisis—trying to generate money out of nothing—thin air by living on CREDIT and not knowing HOW to pay it back. Similarly, SMM is free and people are trying to make it generate millions—there is a fundamental flaw in this business model that people cannot see. The main problem with the SMM model is the very nature of the fact that it allows everyone to comment on anything and everything—there is no longer any strategy or coherence in the message as you cannot coherently control millions of individuals with millions of opposing views.

        SMM can:
        1) Disintegrate a strong internal corporate culture by giving individuals too much power. Governments are elected by people to RUN the people and country to prevent ANARCHY! If you give PEOPLE all the power to have a referendum on EVERYTHING then you ruin the country and cause CHAOS. Similarly, if you give CUSTOMERS all the power to dictate what a brand should be, the multiple opposing views will cause brand anarchy and OPENLY annoy and anger people around the world at a rapid pace. Furthermore, it will cause employees to openly oppose internal corporate culture, openly challenge management strategy, cause openly shared silos and rifts and disintegrate corporate culture, which in turn can affect the brands values by affecting customer service, employee morale etc. This goes a LOT deeper than the internet ‘guru’/ work at home mom/ soccer mom mentality. SMM can damage brands beyond repair.

        2) SMM is extremely time consuming and generates trickles of revenue compared to traditional main-stream media. SATELLITE, TV, RADIO, MAJOR NEWS/ MAGS, INTERNET ADS—these are the channels that even though are saturated, they have more consistency and enable more control over your message. The SECOND you hand over your brand message to the masses of un-qualified ‘brand specialists’ AKA the public, then you are going to cause chaos, confusion and mayhem. Imagine if the government said tomorrow, we are resigning and would like YOU the people to run the country! IT would end in utter chaos because people look up to LEADERS, but if you have NO BRAND LEADER and just millions of ‘followers’ trying to dictate what a brand should be—it makes millions of leaders, which causes disintegration and damage.

        3) RISK! SMM can produce unprecedented amounts of risk to a brand. Not only is there the direct threat from competitors, and dissatisfied customers, but there also is the threat of data protection violations which can cause people to lose trust.

        If you REALLY THINK about WHY in the past the peasants WORSHIPED ROYALTY, or in the present day WHY the masses WORSHIP CELEBRITIES—it is because of the perceived POWER! It is because they are JUST OUT OF REACH, it is because they cannot be touched—BUT—the second you remove that perception and you say, hey WE ARE JUST COMMON LIKE YOU—then the POWER goes out of the window… and with it goes the perception of being ELITE—and when that happens no one will want your brand anymore. If ROLEX advertised on the back of milk cartons no one would pay $5000 for it. THE CHANNEL is just as important as the message—and if you ‘advertise’ using SMM you can damage brand reputation.

        All this is just the tip of the iceberg—I have written an in-depth thesis about all this backed up with evidence—it is controversial but highly engaging and interesting. Thanks for your comments and I hope this opens up a huge debate because I would love to learn from everyone out there too. Thanks!

      • Aaron

        Dear Oliver and Jason, (firstly thank you Jason for your email and allowing my controversial comments–as I mentioned I am researching and writing a book that completely opposes the views of the masses–according to pre-publication research, the book will sell because of its controversial nature—but the proof will be in the pudding!)…

        Oliver–I completely agree with your positive comments about the benefits SMM can have on spreading news FAST in terms of say, a change of exam location for students or a police warning or charitable drives or networking. However, please note I am writing these comments with respect to LONG TERM brand reputation and not short-term news. NEWS (NORTH EAST WEST SOUTH) moves fast and is forgotten rapidly – social media marketing does not help brands build long-term solid reputation bases, it disintegrates a brands message across multiple platforms mainly because of multiple external and internal input—the loss of control of the message is not a blessing, it is a curse. Then there are the issues of MISINFORMATION – competitors can easily poach, steal, misinform and destroy brands by merely following and getting in touch with people who follow you. Corporations can set up 'FAKE' accounts or they can set up individual accounts and then start vindictive campaigns with your user lists in full view. Litigation is of little use if they can shut down their accounts in seconds and hire people in China to keep setting up FAKE accounts and destroying brands—the same vindictive libel behaviours CANNOT occur in traditional media as the perpetrator would be sued for libel.

        Now Jason, I absolutely agree with you, and I too have heard about the revenue generated by SMM for Dell, Comcast, et al., however, these amounts are TINY! $3 million US is a drop in the ocean and may impress a work at home mom/ soccer mom, or an individual starting a home business, but please note I am writing about BRANDS and corporations—not individuals. The ROI of even $5 million US for the amount of time, effort, energy, and potential risk to a brand is very poor indeed. If the revenue from SMM was $100m then I would perhaps alter my views.

        I know I am being very controversial about not agreeing with the masses of people that are embracing social media–however, during the .com boom, the wise sage Warren Buffet disagreed with the masses of investment professionals around the world who were jumping on the bandwagon regarding the dot com boom – Warren Buffet never invested even one dime in the tech stocks of the dot com boom and he predicted the crash and it happened. Now, to give you a bit about my background, I have an elite MBA in Finance & Strategy with International Marketing and have worked for numerous Fortune 500 Co., as well as run an advertising agency. This does NOT make me an expert of any sort, but I do have a deep understanding of business and branding and corporate functions. It appears EVERYONE is trying to get something from nothing—this attitude in society caused the .com BUST—where investment bankers and MBAs and private equity firms were throwing money at any .com startup even if they had NO IDEA of HOW or WHEN they would generate revenue. The same attitude caused the current credit crunch crisis—trying to generate money out of nothing—thin air by living on CREDIT and not knowing HOW to pay it back. Similarly, SMM is free and people are trying to make it generate millions—there is a fundamental flaw in this business model that people cannot see. The main problem with the SMM model is the very nature of the fact that it allows everyone to comment on anything and everything—there is no longer any strategy or coherence in the message as you cannot coherently control millions of individuals with millions of opposing views.

        SMM can:
        1) Disintegrate a strong internal corporate culture by giving individuals too much power. Governments are elected by people to RUN the people and country to prevent ANARCHY! If you give PEOPLE all the power to have a referendum on EVERYTHING then you ruin the country and cause CHAOS. Similarly, if you give CUSTOMERS all the power to dictate what a brand should be, the multiple opposing views will cause brand anarchy and OPENLY annoy and anger people around the world at a rapid pace. Furthermore, it will cause employees to openly oppose internal corporate culture, openly challenge management strategy, cause openly shared silos and rifts and disintegrate corporate culture, which in turn can affect the brands values by affecting customer service, employee morale etc. This goes a LOT deeper than the internet ‘guru’/ work at home mom/ soccer mom mentality. SMM can damage brands beyond repair.

        2) SMM is extremely time consuming and generates trickles of revenue compared to traditional main-stream media. SATELLITE, TV, RADIO, MAJOR NEWS/ MAGS, INTERNET ADS—these are the channels that even though are saturated, they have more consistency and enable more control over your message. The SECOND you hand over your brand message to the masses of un-qualified ‘brand specialists’ AKA the public, then you are going to cause chaos, confusion and mayhem. Imagine if the government said tomorrow, we are resigning and would like YOU the people to run the country! IT would end in utter chaos because people look up to LEADERS, but if you have NO BRAND LEADER and just millions of ‘followers’ trying to dictate what a brand should be—it makes millions of leaders, which causes disintegration and damage.

        3) RISK! SMM can produce unprecedented amounts of risk to a brand. Not only is there the direct threat from competitors, and dissatisfied customers, but there also is the threat of data protection violations which can cause people to lose trust.

        If you REALLY THINK about WHY in the past the peasants WORSHIPED ROYALTY, or in the present day WHY the masses WORSHIP CELEBRITIES—it is because of the perceived POWER! It is because they are JUST OUT OF REACH, it is because they cannot be touched—BUT—the second you remove that perception and you say, hey WE ARE JUST COMMON LIKE YOU—then the POWER goes out of the window… and with it goes the perception of being ELITE—and when that happens no one will want your brand anymore. If ROLEX advertised on the back of milk cartons no one would pay $5000 for it. THE CHANNEL is just as important as the message—and if you ‘advertise’ using SMM you can damage brand reputation.

        All this is just the tip of the iceberg—I have written an in-depth thesis about all this backed up with evidence—it is controversial but highly engaging and interesting. Thanks for your comments and I hope this opens up a huge debate because I would love to learn from everyone out there too. Thanks!

        • Alan Firmin

          Aaron I think you have entirely missed a trick here. I am a currently working for at an ad agency based in the UK and in the process of writing an essay for my university on the commercial value of Social media to an agency (hence coming across the article).

          You say there is a risk in engaging with your customers on Social networks, that could not be further from the truth. The real risk is NOT engaging with your customers. Take Comcast for example, should they have had your opinion they would have continued to ignore the problems of their customers and the negative publicity they received (e.g. comcastmustdie.com). Not only would this provide further damage to their brand but it would also give their clued up competitors an opportunity to steal their customers away from them, a point you illustrated yourself “Then there are the issues of MISINFORMATION – competitors can easily poach, steal, misinform and destroy brands by merely following and getting in touch with people who follow you.” It is exactly this reason why companies MUST be present on Social networks, in order to dispell false information.

          You say that the monetary value is insignificant and it is likely to be a passing fad. Twitter grew by over 400% in 2009! Furthermore the amount of money to be invested in Social media marketing is set to increase from $716 million in 2009 to more than $3.1 billion in 2014. This is an average annual growth rate of 34%.

          You claim that $3 million dollars is insignificant but if you consider the amount that Dell has probably invested, I am sure their ROI will be somewhat significant. That is before you consider how much carrying out customer service on Social networks could save a company compared with a call centre.

          You then state that “Customer services depts speak to customers one on one without the world watching.” The transparency of sites such as Twitter is a good thing as it makes companies accountable for the service they provide. The beauty of customer service on Twitter is that if carried out correctly the evidence is there for EVERYONE to see. One on one customer contact has allowed companies to get away with scandalous service because lets face it, who cares about one measly customer. If a company is rude or offensive to a customer on Twitter everyone will be able to see. Therefore this forces companies to treat customers with respect or they risk signing their own death warrant…..surely you must agree this is a good thing?

          Nobody with any sense is suggesting that there is a big war between traditional advertising and social media. Social media marketing is purely another media channel; like TV, like print, like radio. Any company worth its salt should realise that the best possible business practice is to integrate your traditional advertising with Social media marketing. Take comparethemarket.com as a prime example, they have successfully integrated an excellent TV campaign with Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. The even created a comparethemeerkat.com. Now try telling them that Social networking ruined their branding, without it it is just another funny TV ad. By the way you should look up Alexsandr Orlov on Twitter, he is hilarious!

          You talk about POWER, POWER, POWER and how companies need to remain “out of reach” otherwise they lose their POWER! Aaron this is the attitude companies had 100 years ago like Henry Ford “you can have any colour as long as it's black.” This elitist attitude do not work in the 21st century, marketing is now all about engaging with customers in the right enviroment, which for many people happens to be a Social network. If you ignore Social media you are only going to isolate millions of current and potential customers, hence damaging your brand!

          This is not to say that Social media marketing does not bear risks, but then so does every form of media. Are you saying their is no risk involved in plugging millions into a TV ad campaign that fails miserably and only succeeds in damaging your brand?! The whole point is, like with traditional advertising, if you do not plan or make a strategy then the chances are you will fail (like Harvey Mckay said “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail”). The same rules apply to Social media, if you go in with a lack of understand and no strategy then yes you could damage your brand, however if properly planned and managed it can become an extremely useful medium for reaching your customers and promoting your brand.

          I could go on for days but as I mentioned I do have an essay to write. I was not going to post a reply initially until I read that this bizarre opinion came from someone who has “[…] an elite MBA in Finance & Strategy with International Marketing and have worked for numerous Fortune 500 Co., as well as run an advertising agency,” and you are writing a book. I find some of this extremely hard to believe considering how close-minded your opinions are…let me guess you are a devout Christian too?

          To be perfectly honest your whole post just smacks of someone who is trying to sell a book they are writing, you even said this yourself “[my in-dept thesis] is controversial but highly engaging and interesting.” Well let me tell you something, Warren Buffet you aint! You will not become famous for predicting the Social media bust, simply because it is not going to happen. Embrace change Aaron, it is inevitable.

          Regards,

          Alan

          p.s. I found it highly ironic that you repeatedly misspelt the word 'intelligently'…I think it speaks volumes! I wouldn't normally pick someone up on spelling, as I am sure I made a few mistakes myself. However, the difference is I am not trying to sell my own book. I am merely a hero writing an essay for Uni!

          Booker!

    • Aaron, that sounds an awful lot like absolutism.

      As much as I agree with some of your points about dodgy e-books and opportunists being very active in this space, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are plenty of people working in and with social media who are seeing real results for their businesses (and personally as well). Not hype, mind you. Not “make believe.” Real results.

      For some, those results are measured in revenue. For others, cost savings/budget efficiencies. Giving a voice to customers, helping information spread across markets, connecting people with each other is absolutely changing the way we live our lives, make purchasing decisions and communicate with each other.

      Social Media is now helping the CDC track outbreaks in real time. Police departments are using Social Media to warn communities about potential dangers, and in some cases quickly capture dangerous suspects. Students are using Social Media to form virtual study groups. Charities from around the world are using social media to bring awareness about their causes to the world faster and more cost-effectively than ever before. I could go on for paragraphs, but you get the point.

      Are there hacks in this space? You bet. Are there people just here to make a quick buck while they can? Yep. But they're the exception rather than the rule.

      This isn't a question of traditional vs. social. Neither wins. Traditional marketing alone isn't really all that effective anymore. Too many channels. Too many filters. Too much noise. Likewise, social alone is limited. It's opt-in. It hasn't scaled yet. It's very difficult to make it work quickly. However, the smart business combines the two as needed. This is about integration, not exclusion. Though they are very different, operationally, traditional and social need to come together. Anyone who doesn't see that (and rejects that notion) is doomed to fail as a marketing professional.

      • Aaron

        Hi Oliver, thanks for your comments–I've replied to you and Jason below…

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    I think that after reading some of the things I have that advertisements are for the good and the bad. Although people may see advertisements as a way to get a good deal, many do not look into how much thought was put into making the buyer think they are getting a good deal. I just read an article about the ads that come out on Thanksgiving all about Black Friday.
    This day is known all around the world and it is a way for the producers to make as much money as they can. They mark things down as far as they possibly can and hope that the buyers will give in and purchase them. Producers put a lot of consideration in what they want to mark down and when they want to mark it down. If it weren't for advertisements people would not cause as big of deals about sales as they do. They see the advertisements as a way to take advantage of a good deal.
    In another I read it was stated that advertising is key for a business to work. The economy is not as stable as it once was and one of the articles dealt with advertising companies and staying close to the people they produce for. If they stop offering good deals and don’t make advertisements they will begin to lose their buyers. After the economy has dropped so much I think it is good for the companies to stay close to their people.
    Although in these articles they do not give advertising a bad name all together they do suggest that people would save money if it were for advertisements. People see a few dollars off as a steal rather than it staying the normal price and buying it for that. I think advertisement is out to get the buyer, but we will never stop buying or looking for the deals.

    • Thanks for the input, Lisa. Interesting thoughts.

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  • drewmclellan

    Jason,

    I promised I would comment…and although about 30 days later than I wanted, I finally am here.

    As you might recall, I said I disagreed with this post and said I'd stop by to explain why. I find it bothersome and a bit worrisome when bloggers like you and me (and I am certainly guilty of doing it a time or two as well) make sweeping commentary about an entire group of people or industry. This post implies that you find it hard to imagine that agencies could ever “get” social media. And yet…that's exactly where you were when you cut your social media teeth. At an agency.

    I can't imagine there is an agency alive today that isn't trying to wrap their arms around social media. They may still be clumsy about it or trying to figure out how to modify their business model so that they can do what their clients need and get paid for it…but they aren't ignoring the truth. Social media is here to stay.

    I think there are plenty of agencies, especially those small enough to be nimble — like Spike Jones' Brains on Fire that are all over it. And doing a helluva job.

    Smart agencies recognize that doing all the work inside has never been the right strategy for most clients. Whether it is teaching the clients how to fish (do it themselves), managing a squad of freelancers who help with content creation, or finding some other hybrid solution — this is hardly new to most agencies. My agency hasn't had a video camera guy, a video editor, a photographer, a printer, etc, etc. on staff since we started 14 years ago. We are used to strategic partnerships being part of how we get things done for clients.

    Overall…I guess I disagree with the post because it condemns the whole, rather than recognizing that all of us, agencies, consultants, clients, companies and individuals — have plenty to figure out when it comes to social media…and here are some tactics to doing just that.

    After all — you are proof positive that agency folks can and do get it. You did and do.

    • Thanks Drew. Certainly generalizations are dangerous but I think the
      point I had hoped to get across was missed a bit. The post wasn't
      meant to condemn agencies but to point out the reasons many are
      struggling with social media understanding in hopes it can help them
      get better.

      It certainly seems to have struck a cord. For each peron who thinks I
      was taking shots at agencies there are 10 who thank me for the roadmap
      to the sore spots.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  • Great post, very thought provoking. You made some valid points. But, while social media has taken our marketing world by storm, I do not think that traditional marketing should be overlooked. I think that social media is just another avenue companies can use to “create the buzz” and about their brand or business. Like you said, social media facilitates conversation whereas traditional marketing calls people to action and helps to build the brand and get recognized. Both are vital to an effective marketing campaign.

    • No argument here. Thanks for the thoughts.

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  • Even though the two are extremely different I too can see a correlation. One important strategy as well as those you have mentioned for establishing effective billing for social media may be to first calculate customer profitability through methods such as activity based costing and activity based management. Once each customers needs are determined, social media costs can be allocated appropriately including any SEO charges or design and development charges. In order to implement these costing methods, teams should be formed that include members from each department that way every aspect of the services offered can be analyzed accurately and justified.

    -Greg Mesaros, CEO eWinWin

  • Great, thought-provoking post, Jason. One point is missing however and it gets to what Mark was saying – the “agency” landscape has truly changed if you look further down than simply the mega-conglomerate agencies. Most small to medium-sized firms fall into two camps – specialized (e.g. interactive, design, PR, etc.) or are integrated (not simply advertising). And more and more, to really serve clients, agencies must be more integrated and not simply focus on communications, but focus on their client's business.

    The point about brand managers vs agencies is compelling, but in the end, true brand leaders don't hand over the reigns of their brand to their agency or anyone else for that matter. Brand leaders manage their brand throughout the entire organization, throughout all functional areas and involve employees at all levels. And, if they don't, then they will fail to deliver on their brand.

    You say in your post that social media is two-way communication and that's what the premise of PR is all about. While social media is the hot, sexy thing on the block today, the reality is that it's another set of tools in the communications tool box. Are all agencies prepared to use these tools effectively and charge clients appropriately? Probably not…today. But they will have to in order to survive. It's definitely a shift in business strategy and operations and has significant implications on staffing, billing and measuring to be sure.

    Thanks for the great post and conversation.

    @KimBrater

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  • Based on some of the really amazing things I have seen Razorfish do combining effective branding and UGC make me think it's VERY possible to use social media successfully in advertising. You have to get your customers and advocates involved in the message, rather than talking AT them. I have also noticed that clickthrough rates on traditional ads in a social environment STINK. Folks are too busy talking to each other! So co-opt that. Build them into the campaign.

    • Good stuff, Rusty. Thanks for the additional thoughts.

  • michaelkennerley

    Fairfax Cone, one of the founders of Foote, Cone & Belding, once defined advertising as, “What you do when you can't make personal calls.” That was well before social media, as we know it today, came into being. However, his definition stands up just as well today as it did back in the 60's when he made that comment. The interesting change is that with social media we are, in fact, making that personal call AND getting immediate feedback. An advertising agency is a business which means billing and billable hours are an integral part of running a profitable enterprise. Being nimble is something they are learning about more and more. The agency business is constantly undergoing change and development, and the larger ones are beginning to break up into smaller units to meet the challenges of today's media environment. Those that have not yet done so, will embrace the new media and will do it well.

    • Well said, Michael. Thank you for that, particularly for the Cone quote. Hadn't heard that one before.

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  • Thanks for the article – well articulated! I agree that constant content creation creates a billing issue for typical ad agencies.

    • Thanks, Seth. Appreciate the comment.

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  • cytaylor

    Great breakdown of the issues facing ad agencies and their efforts to at least serve up solid social media plans for their clients. I worked for JWT and recall the difficulty we often had getting clients to embrace this new way of engaging customers (in my case it was job seekers), but I would like to think the resistance is easing up a bit. But there's still a contingent of advertisers (employers) who won't believe it until they see it (the numbers on ROI). Now that I'm managing a communications and marketing division, I often recommend social media to internal clients as a way of augmenting our marketing efforts. We strive to provide industry data to support our claim as well as take the pulse of our target audiences. Not at the point of hiring an agency just yet but having experienced this from both sides of the fence, I hope agencies are able to make the shift in thinking about social media.

    • Great perspective. Thanks for adding the thoughts to the discussion. Good to see someone on both sides of the aisle (client and agency) chiming in.

  • Hey, Jason. Not to introduce a new line of discussion, but what are your thoughts about replacing “advertising agencies” in the post title with “corporate communications”? On a number of levels, at least the broad-stroke points apply (giving a nod to the insular and unique culture agencies incubate – while decidedly uncorporatelike, both groups are in the comms biz).

    I think we're still seeing corporate communications (with and without agency relationships) steering planning, projects, and tactics with the “We need to tell them about us. And our new XKY stuff.” mentality. They can't shake it. And they certainly can't feed it up the food chain. I think it has to do (a lot) with fear – fear of the unknown, fear of the implications on their own career, fear of being able to make a definitive business case instead of a subjective suggestion for taking a new approach to marketing that calls first for solving the customer's problems or making their lives a little more comfortable. The second call should then be about how the company's products/services could take that to the next level for them. I'd argue that should be more like the third call, but not looking to give anybody a heart attack…

    • Thanks Heather. I certainly think there are some great parallels between agencies and corporate communications teams. I would even say PR firms could fit into that mold as well (many, not all) but would certainly tweak a few salient points to position the argument. But you're right, there are more segments of the communications world that are having similar problems with social media. Hopefully, these discussions will continue to push the thinking and improve everyone's capabilities. Thanks for the comment.

  • The business models of most agencies are dependent upon paid media commissions and SM strips that away. Until agencies find a revenue replacement approach, the shift will be slow.

  • alycemmm

    As a late follow up to the responses before mine; our agency started researching social media just about a year ago. We hired somebody to specifically take on everything entailed and get us up to speed, and we have already sent out information to all our clients about how it has become MANDOATORY in today's market for them to get involved. The problem so far isn't us at all – IT'S THE CLIENTS!! Most of them are balking at the idea and some have to research legal ramifications before they can even launch a FB, LinkedIn or Twitter page. Admitedly, we didn't see THAT one coming!

    • Good work, Alyce. You're not alone, but you're also not a common story. Still, good for you and your agency for doing so. The clients will catch up. Keep dragging them!

  • Jason you totally nailed it. 5 and 6 are absolutely key – there are no shortcuts to learning social media without using it. I recently had someone ask me to write down what I have learned about social media in the past year. It just doesn't work that way – you've got to have skin in the game.

    Awesome, awesome work.

    • Many thanks, Sue. Appreciate the thoughts.

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  • CAndrew

    Don't agree with every assessment, but for the most part, you echo the talks I give everyday. I am at a digital agency, so everything we do here is interactive. There is a disconnect not only within agencies, but within the brand manager structure at clients. Agencies aren't going to change in a vacuum without the clients changing the way they market their brands. When a brand manager has to meet a sales goal, especially in this economy, they are going to the tried and true. Also, agree with your college comment, I also feel that colleges do not focus on digital nearly enough in advertising and communications classes as evedenced by our interns lack of knowledge in the space.

    • Thanks for the thoughts. I do agree there is a big gap on the client side as well. That steepens our need to raise our game because educating our clients here could and should be our job, at least for a while. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Yes, yes, YES!!!

    Ad agencies are scrambling to get a piece of the social media sweepstakes, and who can blame them: Social media is today's hot commodity; traditional advertising is expensive and, thus, out of fashion.

    Unfortunately, in the race to become social media providers, ad agencies face pressure to sell a product they simply don't understand.

    My fear is that we're letting the neighborhood hot shot drive our new car, and that business execs will blame the car when Johnny Hotrod rolls it into a ditch.

    What responsibility do social media early adopters have as stewards of the medium? Do we try to teach ad agencies (and others)? Can they learn? Do they want to? Is seeding social media mores within the ad agency culture a Sisyphean feat?

    We'll see.

  • I'd argue that advertising does build relationships if it uses the right messaging and correct formats. Too many people are jumping onto the bandwagon in that social media builds relationships and advertising is just a one way street, but that's a hyperbolic statement.

    • I'd love some examples of advertising building relationships. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but let's talk about examples to illustrate the point. My thought initially would be the advertising is one way and brings about curiosity to engage with the brand further. What then takes over is CRM, customer service or sales, which isn't advertising. But push back some more. I welcome it!

  • Jason, your initial point that most agencies never got interactive is a big root of the problem.

    I would also say most of the web dev firms or interactive agencies that they outsource to, don't really get usability or social behavior online. These are big holes for people to climb out of to get social right.

    To me it comes down to certain smart people in certain agencies. Some people are going to get it. They will drive the good examples. The rest will follow. This is already happening of course.

    Great conversation Jason.

    • Thanks J. Appreciate the visit and the thoughts. There are a lot of gaps out there. There are also a lot being filled by some good agencies and folks. I just hope we can fill more faster.

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  • johnnybagowind

    Buddy–ur a bag of wind, a fool and an unrepentant idiot. Do some research on ad agencies before spewing ur glib, inaccurate depiction of how we operate and what we care about. Social media is too new for you and your other experts to be self-proclaimed demigods of communication. So here's a tip: stop watching Mad Men and reruns of Melrose Place for your research on Advertising Agencies.

    • Wow. Insightful and thorough. Appreciate that comment. My “research” surrounds working at and with agencies. I consider myself, in some ways, an agency guy. The depiction I paint is accurate in many (admittedly not all) agencies. If you don't believe me, look at the ad industry folks commenting here and agreeing.

      Or better yet, prove me wrong. Tell me about how your agency is doing it and doing it right. Oh, wait. That would require you man up and identify yourself. Nevermind. Be faceless and nameless and hide behind your insults and self-righteousness. You're right. I have no idea what I'm talking about. Heh.

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  • Good article, but one small gripe.

    It would be wrong to make “going after the sale” a main point of difference between advertising and social media.

    Much of above the line advertising is brand advertising and is supposed to create a warm fuzzy feeling that enhances the brand.

    If Forrester is to believed social media is more successful in making the sale as it can reach consumers in the part of the 'marketing funnel' where advertising can't. But this type of advertising can only create awareness – the so-called start of the marketing funnel.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Wessel. I would actually argue that social media is the opposite of going after the sale. The sales first approach will get you run out of social media circles. However, it is a great place to build relationships that could potentially lead to the sale. In that regard, the two can be seen as similar. Branding gives people the warm and fuzzies and social media can as well. I do think we can have a separate discussion about more action-driven advertising, but I love your points. Thanks!

  • Jason,
    Great post and enjoy reading all the comments as well. I hope this discussion gets pushed into the direction for the benefit of the clients. I love showing comments like these to clients to provide some points on the complexity of the increasingly social web.

    Jaybaer made a really good point that social media is a tough financial model, but it's not just for agencies but for brands themselves. They're used to the traditional model of hiring agencies to get the work done and now they couldn't wrap their heads around what the problem is to get it done the same way as before. I agree with him especially as I've came across many businesses now trying to focus on cutting the labor-intensive work down so they can focus strategic initiatives in order to stay competitive instead of focusing on simple cost reduction.

    I too am a believer with Azam that PR will become the tribe for brands eventually but it will take time and effort from every one in every role (agencies, consultants, brands themselves and consumers) as behavior shifts and we're all trying to stay with the rate of change.

    Just my 2 cents, thanks.

    • Awesome, Eric. Thanks for this. I agree that we should always focus the conversations to how this helps clients. My hope is this pushes us in that direction. Agencies get better = Clients get better service. Perhaps?

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    • Thanks for the comment and compliment!

  • Jason,

    As usual, some really good, well thought out and accurate thinking here.

    But then, I have to quibble with some of it.

    Namely the whole idea that brand managers are better equipped to do SocMe on behalf of a brand than the Ad agency folks. Even you contradict yourself. In your post you say brand manager is best suited but in your comment to Adam you note brands don't get it and still need “our help.”

    First, I mean seriously, isn't the right person: the person who knows the brand, knows social media and is empowered to act/speak on behalf of the brand? Does the return address on their W2 really have any effect on their ability to create a relationships (human based) with the community of a brand?

    Second, and this is the part that really gets me, your POV requires one to believe that Brand Managers live on a brand longer than agency folks. Now in some cases, that is true. But in many cases it isn't. Brand Managers are just Agency peeps with bigger paychecks and better benefits. They have careers like anyone else and those careers are filled with stepping stone brands. Handle a packaged good here, a service brand there… and presto, in 15 years you too are a CMO. And then in 22 months, you too are unemployed. Brand managers change, agency peeps change. So to think that one group is more well versed than the other to speak on behalf of the brand seems unrealistic to me. Give the agency guy/gal the same rolodex and internal access (merchandising, shipping, sales, etc) and then i ask you, what's the difference?

    You chastise agencies for “old school” thinking and approaches, but I dare say that maybe that could be said of your own POV on this issue… and a whole lot of other SocMe peeps fall into this same category. You're attempting to write a black/white “rule” where there simply isn't one and your doing so without proof of argument, it's all opinion.

    Yes I know, we had this discussion at #SoSo, so you're probably not surprised at my POV and I'm not attacking you per se, more using your post as a platform to start trying to push this discussion in a new direction, one that I think it needs to go.

    SocMe peeps need to stop worrying so much about titles and start worrying about results. Once you do that, where the SocMe manager of a brand sits gets irrelevant very quickly.

    And JayBaer, dude, agencies can't make money on this SocMe stuff? Really? Beg to differ with you on that one… all about how you price it and more importantly, not blinking when you send the contract. Then of course, living up to the promises you make in the contract of course.

    As always, you both rock. Keep it up.
    @TomMartin

    • Thanks Tom. As always, blanket generalizations are meant for point, not for application in all circumstances. I do think that procedurally, the brand manager is always the point person, thus my default perfect person to start with for brand communications. Sure, the practicality of that hinders the thought and yes, you are right, there are plenty of agency side folks and even other brand side folks who can and perhaps even should be engaging on behalf of the brand, depending upon the personnel, the brand, the relationship with the agency and so on.

      Most brand managers aren't prepared to be the voice of their own brand in the social space even if they are the right person. Ideally, I believe, they would be. Heck, ideally, everyone associated with the brand, regardless of title, would be free to engage on its behalf. This is where I was coming from.

      And I'm not caught up on titles as much as I am caught up on making sure the right person with the right training and understanding of social media communications is the point person. Whether its a brand manager, copywriter, client services person or community manager, my hope is the discussion helps both agencies and brands understand the importance of that role, not the title of who plays it.

      Thanks for the push back. Love hearing it from people who should know. And you certainly do.

      • Just trying to instigate convo… I know where you coming from… and agree, ideally brand folks would handle the SocMe … eventually I think all brands will bring it in house… monetarily, they'll have to. Too expensive to have Agency folks handling day-to-day SocMe presence.

  • dguiney

    Awesome post, and I think you've captured the main issues here very well. I do beg to differ on a couple of points however.

    I don't think traditional agencies are ever going to own and embrace social media. They don't have a good track record of adapting to change, indeed they seem to have positively resisted change for decades.

    What we're seeing now (at least where I live) is traditional agencies shedding staff as their offering ceases to be relevant and effective. Meanwhile, here we are picking up their best strategic thinkers and hardest workers and re-programming them to fit into our offering (it's not all one-way, they have a lot to teach us!).

    I also disagree with your comment that “The interactive folks don’t come up with compelling interactive because they aren’t trained as creatives…”. This was overwhelmingly the case when I joined this industry 10 years ago (hell, I thought I was joining the Software industry!), but things have changed a lot since then. The creatives I work with are not dissimilar to your traditional ad agencies creatives. The difference is that they're digital natives, not trad converts or misfits.

    By the time the penny drops for the trad agencies and they're doing more than their often lame, neglected Twitter efforts, the landscape will have shifted again. Maybe we'll get left behind in the next shift as well!

    • Great points, D. Thanks for sharing them. As I've indicated in some previous comments, the generalities were meant to illustrate points and aren't always applicable. But thank you for keeping me honest.

  • Very nice read, it's great description of the divide between an industry focused on one-way communication tackling another new two-way medium. If any industry is in the best position to 'get it', it might be public relations, but not advertising. I think marketers are well-aware that social networking is not an ideal broadcast medium, but their insistence on discussing these tools as social “media” makes me think they're missing the point – that it's more about the “networking”. And networking is most effective when there's a fair exchange involved. Social networking and the advertising industry go together like oil and water.

    • Thanks Cornelius. I agree that PR is perhaps better suited for social media, but I do think there are ways for the oil and water to mix well. Hopefully, this type of discussion pushes us toward an end. Thanks for the comment.

  • nice article, with social media i think the traditional line between advertising agency and media agency is no longer relevant, everyone can build their own media empire and everyone can build their own advertising agency and the tools are all essentially free, it's not good news for traditional advertising agencies but it's great news for the rest of us! twitter(at)locspoc

    • Thanks Adelaide! Not sure I would agree we can all build our own agencies, but you're right that the potential is there for enterprising folks to do so. I wouldn't trust major work to just anyone though. As much as some social media folks hate on advertising, when it's done by professionals, it often has strong impact and returns.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • I couldn't have said it better. That's why we work behind the scenes to provide agencies with the teams that can actually implement this stuff. And you can only imagine, from your experience, how challenging even THAT is at the end of the day. It's like they speak a whole different language, and sadly, most of the time, that language is NOT “what's best for the client” as much as it is “how do we keep those dollars in our pockets.” Great post. Great list. Love it.

    Amanda Vega
    http://www.amandavega.com

    • Thanks Amanda. Appreciate the perspective!

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  • markallenroberts

    Great Content,

    Market leading ad firms know how to listen, as social media grows as a tool, the ad firms who only hire “tools who shout and do not listen” will go by the way side. As social media culls the herd of low priced garage shops, market leaders will grow stronger.

    i discuss this in my blog :88% of Those Surveyed Said Advertising Services Have Become Commoditized? Ad Firms Heal Thy Self! http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2009/07/

    Mark Allen Roberts

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  • Great article, Agencies creating content on behalf of their client is a recipe for disaster in the long term, and frankly most clients won’t allow that to happen, they know their customers better than anyone. I believe clients will mostly create their own content while agencies in the future will manage the distribution and new strategy elements of that content.
    There is a complete culture clash right now, but roles will become more defined within the next year. Content consumers are moving at lightning speed, this trend will pan out more quickly than IAB ad unit sizes for example. It will be great to watch unfold and even better to participate in.

    • Agreed, Louis. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Kris Schindler

    I feel strongly that advertising agencies have to reinvent themselves to remain relevant and social media is just one area in which this reengineering needs to occur.

    Jason, this is a really excellent post. Our local Business Journal had a story on this very issue a week back, which generated some heated discussion on Twitter, as in our market there are only about four of us who really “get” social media but all of the agencies tout having “experts” on staff (and as
    you point to in you post, these are folks–as are their clients–who are barely grasping Web 1.00).

    I suppose the upside is that so many of us are engaged in dialogue about this, exploring together. Thanks for helping facilitate that.

    • And thank you for participating in the exploration (and for recognizing it as a discussion and not my doctrine heh).

  • argosan

    This is a very old-school take on advertising. Anyone who's been doing good work for the past 5-10 years has to take the customer into their thinking before, during, and after the creative process. When there was one or two media (TV and print, basically), this thinking was valid. Since the advent of the internet, mobile, and multiple touch points, successful ad agencies have had to alter their thinking in order to make that sale–and that change is all about “how does the consumer interact with the brand”?

    • Not so. In my experience at least. I pitched a client two Tuesdays ago, and they have just switched ad agencies – from a regional to a national agency. They admit that they need help getting it right in “new media” (not social media). For a company employing 5000 staff and using an award winning ad agency to not have their quite around new media yet.. mindnumbing. However therein lied opportunity for someone like me to come in and explain what it is I can do and through what I do add value to what the agency does for them.

      I think the root here is all that textbook stuff that admen and women learn.. the 4 Ps.. Ogilvy's basic print ad layout.. etc.. whereas with social media the platforms and channels are ever-evolving you have to learn as you go along. Traditional advertising professionals are too busy doing whatthey do to learn the how and the why of this “new thing” – hence a post like this.

      You cannot learn social media from textbooks.

    • Thanks Argosan. I admit that there are generalities in the piece, but I think the advertising world you speak of might be the exception, not the norm. I spent an hour yesterday with a friend at a very successful agency. They roll out print ad after print ad and little else. Yes, there are great agencies pushing the envelope, adjusting with the new media times and doing so successfully, but this is not the case in most cases from what I can tell. Thanks for the push back, though. I appreciate the perspective.

  • Good post, Jason. Here's the problem, as I see it: Too many folks treat social media as a condiment (to quote Lisa Braziel). They get done with their campaign, and then they think, “How can we add some social to this?”

    Marketing done properly, in my view, should be about how we get people to care about it, and for social media, care about it enough to share it. That's an oversimplification, but it's a very different skill set from making a great TV spot or a great print ad.

    • Very good point, Mr. T. Thanks for throwing that in there.

  • Their Not There

    Good article, but that editorial proofing you mentioned…yeah, use it!

    Other than that, well done!

    • You could be helpful as well as sarcastic and point out the errors. I'm happy to correct. Thanks for the uncredited criticism.

  • This is the type of post I would not mind reblogging. Lots of thought behind it and even the thoughts that went into it are beyond just that birthed in observation.

    I have one question only..
    How come you know so much about the inner workings of an ad agency?
    Are you a rehabilitated adman?

    • Absolutely! Three years at Doe-Anderson, as well as serving several clients with agency partners and now working with a couple of agency partners myself.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • I had this blog in my Google Reader all along.. but time is not my friend.. however in future this space (RSS) is becoming one of my many daily hangouts..

        Thanx for your response..

  • Jason:

    I read a lot, too much sometimes, but I enjoy reading and learning. This post is one of the best I've ever read. Spot on, hits the issues dead on and worthy to be read by all the old marketing schools of thought, all the brands and any business wishing to understand the pitfalls and opportunities of leveraging social media correctly. Outstanding, well done! Enough said!

    • Why, thank you, sir. Much appreciated. Hope its useful for some.

  • Jason:

    I read a lot, too much sometimes, but I enjoy reading and learning. This post is one of the best I've ever read. Spot on, hits the issues dead on and worthy to be read by all the old marketing schools of thought, all the brands and any business wishing to understand the pitfalls and opportunities of leveraging social media correctly. Outstanding, well done! Enough said!

  • Interesting article on how we don't get social media:

    • Thanks, I think. I hope you understand that “we” is me, too. I work with agencies and used to be at one. I'm not pointing a unidirectional finger at all.

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  • If I buy into everything above (which I don't) you sill need 1 BIG thing to happen…you need the client to understand marketing, advertising, interactive, social, etc.

    Is it any surprise that the companies finding the most success in social are the ones who simply understand it? Nike, Best Buy, Coke, etc.

    At an iMedia conference a woman from Coke said one of the smartest and simplest things….”If you want to see if a company gets interactive look at the title of the senior most interactive person. If the organization's top interactive person is at Director and below you're in trouble. If they are VP an above you're working with a player.” 99% of the time, this holds true.

    • Good perspective, Adam. But I would argue that there's still the problem that brands don't get it and need our help in getting it. Still, there are tons of agencies — I would argue more than most — who struggle with interactive in general. How then can we teach it? How can we serve our clients who need it?

      Yes, there are great agencies out there who do get it and are doing it very well. For the rest of them, my hope is this post serves as food for thought.

  • “The essence of social media, in many ways, is good customer service.”

    • Couldn't have said it better myself. Heh.

  • Nice post JF.

    As someone who has spent most of the past year training agencies on social media in intensive, 2-day workshops, this post hits very close to home.

    At the business level, agency owners are committed to not “sleeping” on social media the way they did on digital marketing 1.0. That's the good news.

    The bad news, is that at the core service provision level, social media has major implications for staffing and billing.

    Because it is so labor-intensive, social media is not terribly lucrative for most agencies. There's really very little economies of scale. You basically end up selling hours in most cases, which is a model that agencies abhor because it compensates the firm for pounding nails – not for knowing where to hammer.

    Further, as you adroitly point out with your paid blog post point, a decent amount of social media blocking and tackling does not require massively skilled labor, making the economic equation murkier.

    Lastly, the timely nature of social media requires agency personnel to be on top of it at all times, which is perhaps the biggest hurdle from a staffing perspective. If the agency is in charge of social media listening for a client, and a crisis breaks Saturday night on Twitter, is the agency paying attention on Saturday night? If not, why not? How do you explain THAT to the client?

    Most agency personnel work on multiple clients. That's an increasingly difficult proposition in a social media world.

    “Doing” social media is a tough financial model for agencies. Doable, but tough. That's why I advise all agencies looking to get serious about social to focus on the transformative, strategic services, and success metrics, rather than on trying to make money sending Tweets professionally.

    That's why agencies looking to build a social media

    • Thanks Jay. Good to see I've got some agreement from folks knowing and doing it with agencies, too. Appreciate the perspective and additional thoughts.

    • Kris Schindler

      Jason (Baer): Great points, all of them. I suspect one of the struggles with focusing agencies on transformative, strategic services, and success metrics is that they aren't (in general) adept enough at social media to be ready to dig into fun stuff like this, yes? The walk before you run scenario?

  • hankwasiak

    Some good observations. Having seen this business evolve from the Mad Men days to today I'm confident that agencies and clients will adapt, just as they always have. The challenge today is that the consumer is evolving and morphing faster and smarter than the marketers. There's a premium on speed to market and collaboration that must be consumer focused. Agencies understand that but compensation models have not yet caught up with these changes. They will. And then it will evolve again.

    • Bravo, Hank. If there's one thing you can't really be critical of the agency world about, it's being about to adjust, read and react to market changes. This too will become something they move with and learn. In the meantime, though, we still have to talk about the issues so it happens faster. Thanks for chiming in!

  • gretchenramsey

    Such a well-written, thoughtful post. This is the chasm. Content and alacrity are key drivers of our business now — a huge shift. Writers are morphing into the kings of the advertising community because of this need.

    • I don't disagree. Thanks for the thoughts!

  • We deal with diff brands and agencies, that see us as an offshoring, low-cost tech solution for their social media needs (i.e. developing facebook apps, iphone stuff and so forth). Many times agencies have nice mockups of what they want. A lot of times they have a rough idea and have us create a proposal which they then probably pawn off as their own. They look to us to see how we can make their concept more viral and create cute Facebook feeds that will entice people to click on them.

    What's interesting is the short amount of time we have to complete something, as if this development and iterating part is some kind of a low-end thing that anyone can pull off, and they don't realize that half their time they are wasting money and not planning properly to tackle on the social media space. They see this as creation of some kind of website that one can throw up.

    I'll give you an example. LG was releasing a phone and we built a flash-based app for them: http://apps.facebook.com/lgmobileapp/
    We had to complete this app in 15 days. This could have been a powerful driver for them but the agency we were dealing with had no clue of how to go about pulling this off and didn't listen to us at all, hence ended up wasting all the money they gave to us and never promoted it. The concept was also flawed and could have been polished yet they didn't listen.

    The perception of a lot of 'social media tasks' is conveyed by agencies deal with each other, from interactive to Ad to PR firms. This lack of cohesiveness and new opportunities in social media have diff agencies vying to fill in this role somehow – with a lack of knowledge confounding this process due to the reasons you mention.

    Key questions for me is that how much 'tech and development' can and should agencies handle (some like Molecular are beginning to do that themselves) whereas most can't afford to hire in-house teams.

    And the emergence of content marketing agencies (junta42 talks a lot about that) and what role they will play.

    A good follow up article, Jason, I think would be about how emerging agencies, such as 'social media agencies' like Ignite, social media development firms like ours (facebookster.com), content creation, interactive / digital, Ad and PR firms will do and what will eventually emerge? I know Jeremiah Owyang talks about how PR firms will eventually represent 'communities' of people instead of companies.

    • Wow! Great comment, Azam. Thank you for sharing with such detail and passion. There's certainly something to be said for the social media programs with strategy and planning behind their execution. And little to be said for those without.

      And I may take you up on the follow up. It would be nice to uplift more agencies doing it well. Thank you!

  • mlong006

    Luckily I realized how important digital was going to be for future comms so I took some introductory design classes for gen ed credits. I can't imagine trying to be good at marketing/pr without it.

    • Well-rounded educations are hard to come by. Way to be on top of it.

  • echandler

    Jason, great post. It is 100% on target with what's going on in the agency/social media/pr world. I've found the best thing we can do to start is to educate and share articles just like this one. The more sharing the better. It's a long process to get everyone on the same page, but I think most everyone will find in the end that it is worth it.

    • Thanks a lot. Hopefully the discussions will help and lead to improvements at agencies all around.

  • onejumponeleap

    What do you think of the thought basis that Social Media engages people interactively creating relationships over time and Advertising being used to evoke emotion in one individual and that relationship is with a static image or video

    • I think that both overstates some social media and understates some advertising. But it is a valid point. I still think the most effective long-term strategy for social media success is using advertising to drive people to engagement points. They both really can go hand-in-hand well if used properly.

  • My agency guy (copywriter) perspective: I think your definition of “advertising” is a little dated. While there's still some shops out there that are beating the same dead-horse, old-fashioned media plans & techniques, the good one have shifted their scope. CPB (and others) has done a tremendous job blurring the line between advertising, PR and “what is that?” There will always be shops that don't “get” any given media. Proof: Ever notice how many horrifyingly bad radio spots there are?
    Every time there's a new communication channel, someone predicts that agencies won't be able to adapt – but here we are in 2009, defying the odds.
    I don't think the one-way vs. two-way is as foreign to agencies as you say. We've been focus-grouping and testing concepts for ages, granted now it's more immediate. We've always received forwarded comments from consumers about our campaigns and the brands we represent. Agencies and clients alike are going to have to gird their loins in preparation for more negative feedback. Letters and phone calls to express your distaste for an ad, product or service than a tweet. On the flip side, those conversations will now take place whether we're there or not, so the brand may as well have a voice.
    As for the training of creatives focusing on traditional media – I'm not sure that needs to change. Creatives are taught using traditional means b/c a big idea is a big idea no matter the execution. I agree that digital and social shouldn't be merely be adapted after the fact but TV is still the dominant media. And while that will (likely) shift in the future, I think you'd cripple a creative to think SM first, especially before clients are comfortable with the ROI.
    I think you make valid points on content creation. I think agencies should be more involved in the training & getting clients up-to-speed in the SM world rather than doing all the legwork.
    Your solutions are spot-on. It's good to hear some affirmation for things our agency has been doing in the SM space. I don't think anyone has cracked the SM nut as of yet. Conversations like these need to happen so we can advance.
    Keep up the good work/blog.

    • Thanks for the feedback and pushback Mark. My response probably warrants more thought and time that I presently have, but thank you for the thorough feedback. I'll try to return and respond more soon.

  • johnson1723

    You nail it on the content commitment. I've got a client now that's perfect for a social media strategy — they're involved in the development of genetic tests that will have a market impact in a couple of years, and need to establish themselves as authoritative before they take their first order.

    The lack of control over what other people say makes them freak. It's compounded by the fact that they're scientists used to peer review before publication. The idea that someone would just post something without weeks of consideration and comment is so foreign to them that their brains lock. Add to that the notion that we would allow other people to comment…Their first instinct is to block commentors who veer from the official company line rather than to engage them. They don't recognize the potential of that engagement.

    But there's another thing that is difficult for them to get their arms around, too, and that's that not every message they put out should be a marketing message. They don't get that you need to be a full participant in the Big Conversation to be authoritative. They don't see why they should allow or participate in conversations that don't relate directly to moving product.

    After sitting in innumerable meetings with marketers, I'm convinced that the concept of credibility — critical in social media — is completely lost on them. Advertising has been so far from credible for so long that conventional marketers don't even consider it. They're like those fish in the dark depths of the ocean that have lost all their pigment because nothing can see color in a world without light. Credibility as a marketing asset absolutely mystifies them.

    • I feel ya. Good luck with them. I think showing them examples of other brands engaging in what might be touchy areas and showing them how good can come of it can ease their fears. But you may also try to develop some baby step scenarios they can test the waters in first. Not an easy nut to crack, for certain. Thanks for sharing.

      • johnson1723

        Thanks. We're doing baby steps. I've found it's the only way to get PhDs to
        go along with anything.

    • Nikkisurfs

      I can totally relate! We did an online campaign for a client and part of it was managing their facebook fan page. They were so paranoid of what others can write on the wall, or worse, of competition putting negative comments there, that we had to disable wall comments. We kept explaining that it just defeated the purpose of having a fan page — it's there so we can talk to and listen to our customers, hear what they have to say. Customer feedback is very important, be it positive or negative. If it's negative, then we take it constructively. They wouldn't budge. We even offered deleting the negative comments if they appear at all, but they say they can't let a bad comment stay even for only a minute. It's difficult convincing them otherwise as they've had that belief system in their company culture. Only goes to show that it's not only the agency peeps you have to educate. You have to make your clients understand the benefits of engaging customers in social media too.

      The one technique that seems to work is to show them what their direct competition are doing, and how they're using social media to interact with their customers. If their competitors are not yet in it, then show some companies in a similar niche.

    • Nikkisurfs

      I can totally relate! We did an online campaign for a client and part of it was managing their facebook fan page. They were so paranoid of what others can write on the wall, or worse, of competition putting negative comments there, that we had to disable wall comments. We kept explaining that it just defeated the purpose of having a fan page — it's there so we can talk to and listen to our customers, hear what they have to say. Customer feedback is very important, be it positive or negative. If it's negative, then we take it constructively. They wouldn't budge. We even offered deleting the negative comments if they appear at all, but they say they can't let a bad comment stay even for only a minute. It's difficult convincing them otherwise as they've had that belief system in their company culture. Only goes to show that it's not only the agency peeps you have to educate. You have to make your clients understand the benefits of engaging customers in social media too.

      The one technique that seems to work is to show them what their direct competition are doing, and how they're using social media to interact with their customers. If their competitors are not yet in it, then show some companies in a similar niche.

      Another way is to check with them how many are using social networking sites for personal use … and how many amongst their connections and friends are part of their target market. Then point out how easy and natural it feels to interact with them … the same should go for company brands. Their customers should feel that they can approach them and get updated anytime they want.

  • You make a lot of good points and I agree with a lot of what you say. I do think it is unfair to pick a single aspect of the traditional marketing mix (ie OTL advertising) and compare that with the overall online marketing process. The main issue with offline agencies (advertising or otherwise) that I have seen has been that their starting point for anything is 'the message'. They work out what the message is that needs to be disseminated and crow it out, loud and long down the biggest bucks media that the client can afford. Everybody hears that message, thinks 'gimme some' and rushes out to buy the product.

    With Digital we begin with the customer, and work up from that point, initiating relationships, starting conversations, building trust, and learning what is needed so that the customer is able to find what they need, and then tells everyone else they know about it.

    I spent quite a few years in integrated (yeah, right!) and offline agencies trying to get that message across but never quite successfully managed it.

    The analogy I use is that instead of talking about online and offline let's talk about a football team. The guys in football team think it's a neat idea to integrate the online guys from their team. Then they get a shock because the online guys don't play football, they play baseball, have different kit, different rules, different equipment and play in different stadiums. The current solution is to try and get the baseball guys to play football, which doesn't suit anyone. What is needed is a new sport, with new rules that can accommodate all players. Only then will the crowd really see what all these guys can do. We have formalised it with the Interactive Mix, but so far I only envisage working in an online environment. For integrated, it still causes problems for the offline agencies I encounter.

    • Well said. I love the starting from the consumer, not the message angle. It's not foreign, but certainly a refreshing viewpoint to return to often.

      Thanks, so much for the sharing.

  • Amazing post, really glad I read this :) Is a really nice introduction to some issues arise during my trip in making more businesses socially aware. Thanks again !

    • You're very welcome. Thanks for chiming in.

  • sarahwallace

    I am a social media services writer and many of my clients are ad agencies who are very open to entering the realm of social media. They see social media as a way to point to their other forms of marketing/advertising. It all seems to be very harmonious.

    • Interesting. I think it should be the other way around – use advertising to point interested consumers to where they can engage with the brand. But the harmony is still there. Would love to know more about those brands and what they're doing!