When I first saw social media agencies starting to pop up all over the place, I started to wonder if there were ever fax marketing agencies. Was there a rush of ambitious entrepreneurs setting up shop to offer fax marketing services when fax machines were brand spankin' new just because they knew how to use one? If there were, I'm sure those agencies are also long gone, and for good reason: Fax marketing was only one part of the entire marketing machine. In fact, today it's practically non-existent.
I have the same fear for social media agencies.
Social media, although still quite a hot topic, is only one piece of the brand building and customer acquisition puzzle. An effective marketing strategy is inclusive of various mediums; each communicating the same message in their own unique way. Social media definitely has its place within a marketing strategy, but just like faxing, rarely is it the sole medium.
A warning to all!
The reality is this isn't a warning just for social media agencies; it's a warning for any agency that tries to encapsulate their diverse marketing services within a single industry buzzword.
In a recent Adweek article about social media agencies becoming less social, Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media, stated the following: "Social is a totally different discipline, it's part SEO, it's part [audience] development, it's part advertising, and it is part PR. There's a lot of interest in specialists out there."
His view of social media is quite holistic, almost to the point where you could call these specialists "online marketing specialists."
For example, you can take any part of his statement, swap the order, and still be left with a valid statement:
- SEO is part social media, audience development, part advertising, and part PR.
- PR is part SEO, part audience development, part advertising, and part social media.
- Audience development is part SEO, part social media, part advertising, and part PR.
- Advertising is part SEO, part audience development, part social media, and part PR.
So although Tobin feels that "social is a totally different discipline," he is actually demonstrating how social media marketing is just a component of the larger marketing machine. It may be "different," but it's not a sovereign nation. Based on his definition of social media marketing, you have to know SEO, audience development, PR, and general advertising methods and strategies in order to be called a social media specialist. In my opinion, if you know how to leverage all the above, you're much more than a social media specialist.
A difference in definition
Here lies the issue: The definition of social media marketing is quite vague and can vary from person to person. The customer service manager would say social media marketing is all about supporting customer service efforts. The SEO guru would say it's a component of a larger SEO strategy. The vice president of sales would say it's simply a way to push products to followers and just get them to buy. The PR director would argue it helps build and maintain brand awareness. And of course the recent college grad with a marketing degree that grew up with social media would say it's just posting stuff to a company's Facebook page.
So what's the correct definition?
This argument is just starting to heat up, and I'm interested in hearing other opinions. In the end, it's just about meeting expectations. When a company seeks out the services of a social media agency, some may only be looking for community management; others may be looking for the whole enchilada. But since many different types of agencies use the moniker "social media" in different ways, it can get confusing. So I'll leave it up to the industry to figure out if it's time for a name change or if Ignite Social Media should just start considering itself a "full service social media agency."
David Waterman is director of search engine optimization and content development at The Search Agency.
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