What Role Should A ...

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After tackling the topics of ghost blogging and how PR can stay relevant, 4 Perspectives on 4 Communication Issues enters week three pondering what role a communications agency should play in a client’s social media effort?

This question delves into one of the great debates of our time, right up there with the meaning of life and why Pop-Tarts sales keep increasing in spite of an aging demographic.

Looking at this question from the client side, it depends on who’s buying social media services.

Webmasters lean toward website developers, particularly in B2B companies with scarce internal MARCOM resources. Advertising looks to ad agencies and the pure digital plays. And PR typically turns to PR agencies as a starting point.

All three disciplines buy social media services. If anyone has data that breaks down the buying power of social media by corporate discipline, please post a comment or e-mail it to me (lhoffman@hoffman.com) and I’ll insert the information into this post with proper attribution.

This who’s-in-charge issue – just had a flashback to Alexander Haig – relates to the question at hand.

I think today’s communications/PR agency should be taking a holistic approach to communications which calls for bringing social media into the fold. Of course, such a holistic approach means connecting at the CMO or VP of marketing level.

I suspect my 4/4/4 brethren Todd Defren, Steve Farnsworth and Paul Roberts will make the point that implementing a social media strategy requires nailing down the overall communications objectives.

I agree.

But again, being plugged into the overall communications objectives requires an audience with the person leading the marketing charge.

If that describes a particular engagement, you’re in the right position to counsel the client on applying social media in the context of other communication activities with the collective effort designed to achieve the macro objectives … just like they draw it up on the chalkboard during new-biz 101 school.

If that doesn’t describe your engagements, don’t despair.

There are still ample opportunities for a communications agency to guide clients in the social media realm. Just make the time to understand the big picture so your recommendations come packaged with this context.

Here, I’m reminded of that great line from Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

In other words, counsel in the social media areas that you know stone-cold and defer to others when your expertise degrades to parroting back the latest Solis post still in CRAM (cranium random access memory).

For communications agencies, I think it’s logical to focus on those social media elements that depend on content as the primary driver.

We’re the content guys (and gals).

We’re the storytellers who bring depth to the table, not the jingle makers and the masters of the double entendre.

What about the technology piece?

Jason Fall’s Social Media Explorer ran a post on Monday titled, “Why PR May Not Win the Social Media Agency Wars,” pointing out that technical expertise isn’t necessarily one of PR’s strengths:

Increasingly, social is a technology play. From Facebook applications to integration with Shopkick, brands are using new technologies to reach and engage with their communities, on the web and on mobile. And while I have great respect for my PR colleagues – I’ve worked with a lot of really smart people – I’ve just got to say: they are, on the whole, not the most tech-savvy group I know … So how is this group going to be able to embrace, sell in, and deliver on technologies that will create or enhance social opportunities?

Fair point.

But sticking with the Social Media Explorer headline metaphor, this is more about a zillion battles – each with its own unique characteristics and needs – than an epic war.

So pick the battles that don’t require a bunch of Ajax coders.

We often frame the opportunity by scrutinizing the technical complexity against the depth of content as you can see from the chart below that includes a sampling of social media elements.

social media complexity

The greater the depth of content for a given element, the more it makes sense for us to invest in the technical side and support this part of our clients’ social media campaigns.

That’s why we took the time to come up the curve with WordPress as well as cultivate Drupal resources. The ROI on corporate blogging is tough to beat – thought leadership, face on the company, link acceleration for SEO, etc. – and falls right into the sweet spot of content development.

Circling back to the Social Media Explorer post and comment that “they [PR] are, on the whole, not the most tech-savvy group I know.” While I might take issue with the sentence structure, she’s right.

Regardless of how you come down on the 4/4/4 question, this lack of tech savvy needs to change.

As shared in Todd Defren’s post last week, areas like SEO, SEM, Google Analytics, etc. often strike fear in the hearts of PR professionals as “too technical” and even intimidating. While there is a technical dimension to these areas, they can be learned the old-fashion way; i.e., with study and putting them into practice.

There’s no getting around that a baseline of technical knowledge enhances how an agency guides a client’s social media effort.

I’m sure the rest of the 4/4/4 gang will offer enlightening perspectives which you can find by clicking on their names, Steve Farnsworth, Todd Defren and Paul Roberts.


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