"I am looking for a social media agency-of-record."
Sound familiar? If you work in the social media space, you have probably heard this more than once. What's perplexing about it is that much of the time brands have a hard time articulating why they need one.
Why are such smart people so confused? Well, just like the term "interactive," "social media" means different things to different people. And if you're speaking to an agency, that definition is probably closely aligned with what it sells. That probably explains why in a recent survey by Reardon Smith Whittaker, 66 percent of agencies said they are on the cutting edge of maximizing client presence in the social and digital space. Clearly, at least a few are thumping on a hollow chest.
The reality is that an agency by itself cannot put a brand on the cutting edge of social media. One of the key principles of being successful in the social arena is being authentic. That means the brand can't just rely on others to be social for them.
At the same time, there are many ways that an agency partner can support and help drive success for brands. The first step in doing this successfully is to understand the various components of a comprehensive social media program and where and when it makes sense to look outside of your organization for support.
The social experience design framework provides an organized approach to developing a holistic social program that acknowledges the diverse applications of social media within an organization. Some companies understand this. Some don't.
In this article, I'll walk you through the components of this framework. My hope is that it will help you to design an effective social experience at your organization.
The social experience design framework shows the components of a comprehensive social media program. The core of the framework shows activities that must be completed for any program to be successful. Each of the other areas should be considered as part of any company's venture into social media.
There are key elements that should be consistently present in the design of any strategy. At the core of your strategic planning for social media are consumer insights and a clear understanding of your objectives.
Being clear on your objectives is first and foremost. If you are not sure where you are going, you won't be able to bring your customers on this journey either. Marketing and customer insights are crucial here. After all, your goal is to get closer to your customers. You also need a way to measure and analyze how successful you are against the goals you set to reach.
How will you approach measurement and ROI in social media? Metrics should be meaningful. Measuring share-of-voice vis-à-vis your competitors (the number of times your brand is mentioned in social media compared to the number of times your competitors are) sounds attractive, but it loses relevance when you consider that you don't know if people are saying good things or bad. A metric like Net Promoter Score that shows how many of your customers would recommend your brand might provide more value to growing your business.
This requires a lot of time and initial knowledge. If you are strapped for resources, this is where an agency would come in. The agency's role here would be to help the brand do initial strategic analysis; identify the trends the company should pay attention to and the social networks and forums that would be best to initiate a presence and dialogue in; and identify the tools that would work best for listening, engagement, and measurement.
What many brands are actually looking for when they set out to find a "social media agency-of-record" is a partner to help them develop media or channel-driven campaigns -- what I label as "social marketing." This most closely resembles the services agencies traditionally provide to brands. Social marketing consists of three areas: integrated programs, channel strategies, and media strategies.
Integrated programs are campaigns. Often brands will want to focus on one channel or another (particularly Facebook). At my agency, we stress integration because today's consumers move seamlessly through their digital lives and so should your communications. Success relies on holistic thinking. Your awesome Facebook application isn't going anywhere if you don't consider how you'll drive traffic to it.
This is an area where many brands turn to agency partners for support. Many sophisticated brands are as up to date as agencies in terms of familiarity with vendors in the social space. However, it is wise to leverage agencies here because developing customer insights and creative is their core competency. Agencies should also be able to support brands with vendor management, implementation, and knowledge of what's worked for other clients.
Channel strategies refer to what you're trying to achieve through your presence in each social property. Do you need an agency to help you with your Twitter presence? Depends. Should they be sending your tweets? Depends again, but less likely. What about LinkedIn, Facebook, StumbleUpon, YouTube, and Foursquare?
At Intel, social media strategist Ekaterina Walter is the "voice" of the company on Facebook. She speaks with authenticity and frequently engages the community about what value Intel can provide. The intimacy she creates is a powerful way for consumers to engage with a huge brand. But this is just one strategy for creating value.
Finally media strategies are an important consideration and an area where forward-thinking agencies can create value. Of course, it's vital to understand media consumption habits of your audience. A niche social network like DeviantArt.com might be a better place to engage your audience than Facebook or Twitter if that's where they spend a significant amount of their time.
Social customer care and risk mitigation
Real-time monitoring and response is what is expected from brands nowadays. If consumers are reaching out to a brand, they expect a meaningful response back. By the same token, brands should be aware of the conversations that are happening online and prevent potentially explosive situations from damaging their brand reputations.
An agency's role can be anything from monitoring and reporting back to teaching a company's social media practitioners to use the tools correctly to helping put the right escalation processes in place.
You should consistently monitor online conversations. Companies should also put risk management procedures in place and pay special attention to contingency planning when engaging with customer communities. It is critical to look ahead and understand where the conversations might go and be prepared for anything. It also helps to put forum moderation guidelines in place to avoid disruptive and offensive behaviors.
This is a critical piece for any brand. This is a company's opportunity to educate its employees on how to engage in online dialogue with its customers in an open yet risk-averse manner. This is where the company should realize the importance of enablement function.
Many brands have focused social media teams responsible for setting policies, designing and updating guidelines, creating appropriate social media training for marketing personnel, creating social network playbooks and participation governance, providing standard social metrics, listening to key conversations, putting the right infrastructure and tools in place, and much more.
Because brands frequently do not have a lot of internal resources dedicated to this type of function, an agency's role here might be quite substantial. Shifting perception within the company and introducing new ways of doing things is not easy. Enlisting an outside partner to help may be useful.
For example, our agency has helped clients develop social media policies and guidelines, performed infrastructure and technology assessments to help brands put the right tools in place, and developed playbooks to train brand marketers on how they should execute our strategic recommendations in social media. However, these have all been project-based engagements to empower our clients to handle aspects of social media themselves.
One of the effective ways for a brand to garner attention is social outreach. Partnering with influential bloggers long-term is an effective marketing strategy.
This is the corner of the social media universe where public relations agencies have excelled. Why? The answer is obvious. Their core competencies are in developing strategies to reach the publications that matter most to your readers, in having the relationships to get you into those publications, and in helping develop stories to promote your business.
Of course, it wouldn't be social media if the answer to success was as simple as putting a PR agency on retainer. Bloggers respond to authentic outreach from a brand and appreciate recognition for the content they create (at least I do, and I've been blogging since 1997). Again, this is an area where an outside partner might be more helpful in identifying influencers than in actually maintaining relationships with them.
If you are looking at where to start with social media or how to organize your current efforts, use this social experience design framework to guide you through the process. Note that not every single part of the framework might apply to you. For example, not every brand is opting into using social outreach. However, the framework will help you think through all the key elements that will shape your company's social strategy.