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Social media agencies to watch

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The eyeballs are certainly there. Everywhere you look, social media is taking over, whether you're talking about the sheer number of page views on MySpace, the fact that everyone and their mother seems to be on Facebook, or the fact that you can't go a day without hearing something about Twitter.


And then there's the million-dollar-question lurking behind the social media frenzy -- how do you monetize it? While that's a problem for the platforms, the question is simply another way of asking whether advertisers have a place in a user-dominated medium. And more to the point, what is that place, and how do advertisers go about getting in the conversation without turning off their customers?


Those questions have been a continuing storyline for the past few years, with brands of all stripes dipping their feet into the fast-moving waters of social media. Those "social media experiments," as many brands have referred to them, have come off with varying degrees of success. But it's fair to say that as we enter the second half of 2009, we're past the experimental phase.


The fact is, there is good social media work being done out there all the time, and while a lot of it goes to the well-known mega-agencies -- and plenty more is done without anyone taking credit -- iMedia wanted to put the spotlight on a handful of the smaller shops that have caught our eye. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these agencies certainly are on the cutting edge of social media, and they are all worth watching well into the future.

Karma has worked for: Warner Bros. Television, "The Ellen Degeneres Show," and FEARnet.


Something cool:
"Our client, FEARnet, recently hosted a petition on Facebook to bring FEARnet back to Time Warner Cable," says Karma CEO Lori Dicker. "When we initiated the campaign, we encouraged development of a Facebook fan page versus a Facebook group because of the page's added ability to drive awareness and word of mouth through user newsfeeds, updates, and other functionalities that promote deeper engagement levels with the audience. We wanted the page to be a place where fans would continue to visit, contribute, and share with their friends."




Within the first few weeks, the FEARnet Facebook page gained more than 12,000 fans, Dicker says. "Through content updates, calls to action, and page-hosted contests, we were able to influence fans to spread the word to grow support by suggesting the page to friends and share on their profiles," she says. "Outside of Facebook, through influencer and fan outreach, we were able to drive awareness to the page to gain more participants. The level of feedback garnered through the Facebook page and wall posts was well beyond expectation."


What's the biggest misconception you commonly hear from brand clients about social media?


Dicker says:
Many people assume you have to spend a lot of money to generate awareness through social media. This isn't necessarily true. You can actually spend very little money to make a big impression. Many of our brand clients who have managed traditional and online media buys have a preconceived notion that the same kind of budget and media dollars is required for social media marketing. The difference is word of mouth doesn't have to be bought. Similarly, many of our clients are used to measuring media with traditional metrics. I'd say 90 percent of interactions with our clients are education on how social media marketing and influencer outreach is placed, measured, and optimized.
 
The other misconception is that the high-traffic mainstream sites and blogs are better quality placements. While a "firehose" approach may help with getting the brand in front of many audiences, connecting with fans and audiences in niche communities in a conversational, contextual, and relevant way will lead to higher levels of engagement and generate more word of mouth, which has been proven to be the largest driver of conversions, purchases, and other behavioral changes.

enter: new media has worked for: Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, Virgin Mobile, MTV, VH1, and RealSimple.


Something cool:
"Brands know by now that they need to be on Facebook, but 'being on Facebook' certainly does not always mean that the brand is using Facebook in the savviest way," says Mark Curtis, president of enter, who points to his agency's work on behalf of VH1 as an example of true social media engagement.




"First off, VH1's Facebook public profile has been custom designed and developed based on various show priorities. In particular, there are two custom tabs -- 'Featured' and 'Sneak Peek' -- that house exclusive content that is viewable by VH1 fans only. If a non-fan goes to one of these two tabs, he/she will see a red carpet with a velvet rope, saying 'For Fans Only.' Once the user becomes a fan, the canvas of the custom tab is then revealed."


"Another tab is dedicated to the most recent VH1 Facebook application: 'Framed You.' The Framed You app lets users put their head on the body of the VH1 show character in both video and still image form," Curtis adds. "Since one of VH1's current priorities is 'Daisy of Love,' Framed You users can put their head on Daisy's bodacious body and watch themselves sing and dance like Daisy. Users can of course share the video with friends, or even put their friends' heads in the video. It is important to mention that new images are consistently added to the application (such as when a new show premieres), which brings users back and lets VH1 continue to use this application, as opposed to having to develop a one-off app for each new show."


Put yourself in the shoes of a brand marketer. How would you go about choosing a social media agency?
 
Curtis says:
A brand marketer must question the following: What timeline do they talk in? How much do they know about you and your overall marketing strategy? Do they make you feel like social media is a big mystery that only they can help you decipher?


I wouldn't select an agency because they have a good idea for an application or quick hit campaign. Nor would I trust an agency that tried to hide behind the smoke and mirrors of social media. Finally, I wouldn't select an agency unless it brought together all the pieces needed for success -- media, development, community management, outreach, publicity, and reporting. One-trick ponies won't cut it.


I would require a team that I could build an effective relationship with over a period of time -- one that I could trust to work with me to translate my strategic and tactical priorities into the specific social actions needed to add value. Remember, social media success isn't the product of "the big idea" -- it's the product of a solid strategy driven by a ton of good ideas, backed by a lot of real work by real people.

Archrival has worked for: Pabst Brewing, Red Bull Racing, State Farm, A&E Network, and Honda.


Something cool:
"We have worked closely with Red Bull since early 2007 in building a strong presence on Facebook," says Charles Hull, partner and director of creative services at Archrival. "We started by developing a Red Bull sponsored group, which we grew to 20,000 members by constantly engaging them with fresh content such as games, surveys, and videos and photos from the world of Red Bull."



Following that, Archrival developed and launched Roshambull (a Red Bull take on the classic game of rock-paper-scissors). According to Hull, Roshambull was the first branded application on the new Facebook platform.


"Roshambull at its peak was supporting over 500,000 active users and recently was named one of Facebook's first verified apps," Hull says. "We followed the success of Roshambull by merging the original sponsored group in a new Red Bull brand page, and reached out to the sponsored group members and Roshambull players to become fans of the new page. Within the new page format, we worked closely with Red Bull to develop new content and integrate existing content from the world of Red Bull that would resonate with Red Bull's Facebook fans and draw new fans. Today, we continue to manage the Red Bull Facebook page, which now has over 1.1 million fans, and its content."



What do you say to a prospective client who's on the fence about social media as a vehicle for delivering its message?


Hull says:
I would say you don't have a choice. If you are a brand of any significance, you already have a presence in social media, whether you know it or not. Consumers are tweeting about you, creating Facebook pages and groups about you, bloggers are writing articles about you. The decision is not whether or not to be involved with social media, it's what's the right approach?


We're past the point of leveraging social media for your brand being a new thing. Unless mystery and isolation are brand traits, consumers are more and more expecting you to deliver your message in a public, easy-to-find, discussion-oriented format. By choosing to exclude your brand from social media activities, you'll be sending a variety of undesirable messages about the quality and dedication to your own brand. We're past the point of social media being cool, and now fully moving into the realm of it being an important part of many consumers' daily lives.

Traction has worked for: Sun Microsystems, SAP, Adobe, and Bonny Doon Vineyard.


Something cool:
Traction worked on the "Real or Fake" campaign, which Adobe used to raise its profile among college students. The campaign, which is no longer live, asked users on Facebook to guess whether photos were real or fake, with the ultimate goal of driving sales for Adobe's Photoshop product.


"The creative idea was great, but the campaign was successful because it was strategically engineered to be on the right platform for the audience (college students) and to move them from engagement through conversion," says Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction. "The results were astounding."


For a case study on those results, click here


What do you say to a prospective client who's on the fence about social media as a vehicle for delivering its message?


Kleinberg says:
I remember a time in the not so distant past when brands were asking, "Do we really need a website?" Social media isn't going anywhere. Every month you put off trying to understand this medium is six weeks you'll spend playing catch-up to your competitors later on.


Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, Bankrate.com, and California Lawyer Magazine. But you can also find his byline across the Web (and sometimes in print) at Digiday, Fast...

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Comments

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Commenter: Prabhat Kiran

2009, August 25

A very insightful article..

thanks

Prabhat Kiran
Clayology.com

Commenter: Scott Empringham

2009, August 22

Michael: Great article. Excellent point about most brands already having a presence in social media--even when they aren't aware of it.

We were working with a car company recently who claimed they weren't involved with Twitter and/or any othe forms of social media. After showing them a handful of "tweets" from a VERY upset customer airing all her dirty laundry about her experiences with their dealership (to 6,000+ people) several times a day (and twit-picking from the dealership), they warmed to the notion of getting involved.

Interestingly (or sadly) they were more interested in how it would sell cars today vs. how they might join a conversation or contribute.

That being said, more and more of our car clients each day seem to be warming to the idea and joining the conversation with enthusiasm.

Anyway, great article.