Ben Cooper

Group Innovation Director M&C Saatchi Sydney. Co-Creator O Six Hundred Kayak. Proud father. Loving husband. British.


Choosing a social media agency

January 13, 2009

Here’s a check-list for evaluating social media agencies – with my thoughts inline.
First posted on Connect.

1. A new approach – since everyone claims to ‘do’ social, look for those seeking to develop new models for approaching it, not those seeking to map on their existing models.

That’s for sure. If your business model is designed to deliver project based work, bums on seats for set periods of time, then its difficult to build-in a social marketing capability. Not impossible of course. But you’ll need to look at different ways to finance that team, no-longer can the designer with an interest in blogging be tasked to ‘seed’ or stimulate dialogue around content, products or whatever. I think we can all see the pitfalls of that one… especially when work ramps up and they need to be the designer they’re paid to be. There’s also the intrinsic problem of campaigns concluding and the social engagement element (say the MySpace page, blog, Twitter feed) fundamentally letting its audience down – they just stop!

Social marketing is resource heavy, so resources have to be designed around it and the business model too. Think management consultant, publisher, journalist, strategist, understanding of [digital / physical] social etiquette, technologist and passion.

2. Technology – everyone claims to have unique talent, to be ‘leading’, to have great clients, and real expertise. Technology, fortunately, can’t be faked, demonstrates genuine investment and expertise, and really can be proprietary and unique. So, which agency has developed/is developing their own technology to support their new approach?

We’re investing significantly in tech; both 3rd party apps and proprietary built. But the big thing is being able to use them well. For example clients and agencies have had access to Google Analytics (or similar), but many fail to fully leverage what the data is communicating… and it’s often post activity rather than optimising ongoing. Social monitoring and management tools are popping up everywhere and it’s hard to evaluate when the industry moves so fast… personally I think you need a mix of services. House tools for management and dashboard control, then outsourced for monitoring – as this area requires constant innovation and benefits a dedicated tech team that solely focus on developing the service.

3. Measurement – the true value of real engagement by brands in social media is really hard to measure. I’ll be dropping my bank as soon as I don’t need them anymore because of the way it treated me when I was a student – good social media strategy will have a similarly long-lasting effect. Nonetheless, some agencies are having a very credible stab at it. Just steer clear of the ones who claim it’s that simple.

Hear hear. Social marketing is not simple. But if you’ve got a great product, amazing customer service and you can do no wrong – its a lot easier. Know any companies like that?

The amount of queries we have for ‘seeding’ is embarrassing. “We’ve got an Ad… can you put it on some blogs, get people talking”… it’s a f%$*!g TVC, why does anyone want to talk about that? Its designed to interrupt not inspire dialogue!

We’re learning. Everyday. There isn’t a tried and tested route… but we’re inspired by the challenge and the chance to help brands and clients embrace the opportunity of listening to their audiences – rather than broadcasting at them.

4. Existing credentials – being good at something, in my view, is a transferable skill. Muhammad Ali liked to say that if he’d been a dustman (I’m translating of course), he’d have been the best dustman in the world. I believe him. So, is the agency now claiming to be brilliant at social media brilliant at what it already does?

Not sure about this. Sure passion, enthusiasm and a willing to learn will provide a bedrock for re-invention and new skills. But I feel that you’d need to have been on this ride for sometime.

I didn’t know that I was learning ‘social marketing’ skills by participating in IRC channels, forums and a group blog back in 1998. All I was doing was chatting with my mates, meeting like-minded people and expressing the things that inspired me. But along that way I learnt, first-hand, about SEO, trackbacks, Google adwords, statistics, online etiquette etc. Of course it helped that I’d chosen a career in new media – but that said – I learnt from doing it, not talking about it.

I’d recommend that brands looking for an agency with ‘social marketing’ capabilities – first look for evidence of social channels being used by its employees (particularly senior ones) – I think its important.

5. Case studies – trade journalists will tell you that finding people to talk about social media is not a problem. Finding people that have real projects to talk about is a good deal more difficult. What has the agency really done in this area?

We’ve got some. It’s early days, but the portfolio is building, work we want to talk about and some that we don’t. Forgive us – we’re a startup.

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