How to create a social media department

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As social networks like Facebook and Twitter continue to grow in popularity, clients are turning to their agencies for help establishing a strong social media presence. But with the rapid growth of social media and the lightning-fast speed at which technology changes, agencies are finding it's essential to have people on board who can keep up.

With any new technology, it's hard to know when to jump on board and whether it's worth establishing a new wing for new media. It can be funny to look back and see how other new technologies were either embraced or shunned; the show "Mad Men" poked fun at the reluctance to embrace television by having the fictitious Sterling Cooper agency start a television department with one member.

With its fast growth and wide audience, it's safe to say social media will be a part of almost every campaign from here on out. But before an agency starts a social media department, there are some things to consider.

Do you need it?
Starting a new division in an agency costs money and could divert resources from other departments. Before an agency starts a social media department, it needs to look at its resources and clients' needs.

At The Zimmerman Agency, a Florida-based agency that has done work for Aflac and Tobacco Free Florida, digital marketing was already a focus, in addition to traditional and PR work. But about two years ago, as client demand grew, the agency brought in some new hires and moved some existing staff to build a small social media department of a half-dozen members. Although the decision was initially met with some hesitation, that has changed, according to Executive Vice President and Director of Client Services Andy Jorishie.

"As a philosophy at this agency, we like to push digital in general. We don't want to ghettoize it, as it has been," he said. "It was an obvious decision."

Molecular, whose clients include Adidas, Nikon, and T. Rowe Price, did things a little differently. Rather than build one department responsible for social media, the agency has been working to get everyone thinking about social media, with its emerging interactions practice driving that change.

"Everyone in our agency knows it is important and should be a part of all projects," said Steve Mulder, head of emerging Interactions at Moecular. Mulder's group isn't necessarily responsible for all the social media work, but instead serves as the "hub of internal thought process," as he put it.

The constantly changing world of social media can be tough to negotiate. A few years ago, Facebook was limited only to college students, and Twitter didn't even exist. Now both are considered leading social network sites and, with millions of members, provide a huge audience for brands looking to promote themselves. Whether agencies can handle those fast-paced changes is up for debate.

"You need to move nimbly, and that's not just going to happen at very large, established agencies," said Michael Lazerow, founder and CEO of Buddy Media, a digital and social media marketing agency that has done work for brands including Reebok, Bud Light, and Fox News.

But for agencies that already make it a priority to stay on the cutting edge, a social media department may be a natural fit.

Mulder explained that Molecular assigns its principal consultants to focus areas every year, and their job is to look toward the future. It's been several years since he signed up to work on new ideas centered on Web 2.0, and the social media landscape was very different back then -- MySpace was far more popular than Facebook, and there was no Twitter -- but Mulder said it was clear social media was going to be something agencies wanted to get ahead of.

"Even then, when Web 2.0 was barely a term, it was pretty obvious that things were moving quickly," he said.

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