Do clients need specialist agencies? No, but they do need specialists

A feature in Campaign asks the question of whether clients need specialist social media agencies. Though that’s not what we call Rabbit (we do a lot more than social media outreach), we’re aware that we’re often grouped in that ‘pot’, so we thought we’d respond.

Sure, we have a vested interest, but actually our take is that clients don’t need specialist shops per se. What they do need is specialists who know what they are talking about and have some first hand experience of the tools they recommend.

And at the moment at least, the latest breed of social media and digital agencies just happens to be where a lot of these specialists are to be found and where a lot of the, what you might call skills development, takes place.

It’s an open secret that given varying levels of client education in what’s still quite a new space, that it’s been possible for just about anyone to set themselves up as an ‘expert’ and roll out a presentation containing a few buzz-words.

Social media marketing isn’t just ‘online PR’
Last year blogger (and now a senior executive at Edelman in the States) David Armano questioned whether as he put it, social media practitioners should “eat their own dog food ” – this followed a number of organisations in the US appointing people to social media positions who didn’t actually have any kind of significant track record.

That might have worked a year ago, but clients are increasingly buying into the idea that social media marketing isn’t simply ‘online PR’ (transferring offline habits online). Instead what is it?

1 – It’s being able to come up with a winning idea and concept, that definitely hasn’t changed. The other week, the creator of spoof website mydavidcameron.com, in a post on the five lessons you can learn from his site, admitted that number one was the fact that he had a winning idea – everything else stemmed from that.

2 – It’s having an understanding of how whatever you do can translate throughout the rest of the marketing mix, rather than sitting in a digital silo.

3 – It’s having an appreciation of how things evolve online, where the gap between items being talked about on social networks and hitting the mainstream media can be as little as four hours.

4 – It’s having an understanding of metrics. Part of our job is a numbers and planning one, and being able to make sense of the various sentiment and influence analysis tools out there.

5 – But finally, it is knowing about the right tools to use to get the job done, and there nothing beats first hand experience.

Just Google the team

Recently, a client googled both fellow-Rabbit Louise and myself as individuals to see if we had any kind of online footprint. Fortunately we do, and we shouldn’t really be in the space if we don’t.

That seems like good practice going forward. If an agency comes up and presents ’social media’ or any kind of digital strategy, google the individual team members just you would a job candidate. What do you find and what have they done? Do they use whatever they are recommending in a personal capacity, and do they also interact with their peers online?

In response to David’s post last year, one of the few comments in disagreement pointed out that media planners don’t always have experience of using the products they work for. A better analogy would be this – would you allow someone who doesn’t actually watch much TV to advise you on your TV strategy?

Image – Mai Le

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