Agency-brand collaboration: who owns social?

In the early days of social media, the market was flooded with “social media gurus” and agencies that added social media-related bullet points to their new business decks and called themselves experts in the space. Very thankfully, there is less of that nonsense today, the segment has grown up and the market has become more mature.

But it’s still not exactly clear with which entity the responsibility for a brand’s social media program sits. Some argue the specialized expertise of agencies and PR firms are still needed to guide brands through the maze of social media opportunities. Others argue it’s inefficient and leads to less effective engagement when outside parties are involved and, therefore, advocate for social media to be handled internally. In fact, Edelman coined the term “social business” to describe the proliferation of social media practices at the enterprise level.

I think the perfect solution is somewhere in the middle. Over the past few years, agencies and PR firms have become well-versed in social media practices because, well, they’ve had to in order to stay ahead of the curve and serve their clients. For the most part, they’ve progressed past social media existing as a bullet point within a PowerPoint presentation.

Brands have also become well-educated in the realm of social media and social business, employing social media managers and, in many cases, full departments dedicated to social media. And to Edelman’s point regarding Social Business, many brands have incorporated social across the entire organization. Clearly, it’s not just a marketing function any more.

My perfect solution takes into consideration the expertise, skill set and operational capacity of the various organizations involved. Agencies are great at developing big, creative ideas that are designed to make a splash and get noticed. While social media is a commitment  not a campaign, many agencies still operate with a campaign mindset. They’re great at kicking things off, not so great at keeping them up and running on a perpetual basis. And they have other clients demanding their time as well.

Brands, in general, rely on agencies to develop big, bold ideas that rise above the clutter. And they have no clients except themselves upon which to focus. If an agency fails, they get fired. If a brand fails, they go out of business. That’s a big difference. While the client-agency relationship has shifted over the years, agencies will always have multiple clients pulling them in different directions. Brands have only one client: themselves.

For brands just beginning to engage in social media, I recommend they seek an agency, be it advertising, public relations or social media. These entities are well-versed in what needs to be done to get social up and running as an integral part of a brand’s business. Brands should work with these social media and marketing experts until they are comfortable with the tactics and skill sets needed to manage ongoing social media programs.

Put simply, the healthy model is for for an agency to introduce, educate and set up the necessary process, procedures and products needed to run a successful social media/social business operation. In the end, though, the reins should be handed to the brand itself, which can react quickest to brand-related conversation in the space.

During the ramp-up period, the agency and the brand will need to implement a system that enables centralized collaboration and manages all the shared processes and procedures needed to maintain consistency across partnership shifts and personal changes. Central Desktop for Agencies + Marketers is developed specifically for these types of challenges.

Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, and Marshmallow Fluff.