What role should a PR agency play in a client’s social media?
This week's question, number three in the 4/4/4 series inspired by Steve Farnsworth, Lou Hoffman, Paul Roberts and Todd Defren is "What Role Should a Communications Agency Play in a Client's Social Media?"
I'm sure this one may get a few differing opinions. Can you outsource social media activity to an agency? Can an agency ghost tweet? Can an agency help promote a client via social media without being open, authentic and transparent? Can an agency raise awareness around products by posting reviews?
Let's put those questions aside for now. They are all relevant and in some cases both the courts of public opinion and law have spoken on the efficacy and ethics of a few.
From my perspective it boils down to a few key items. Skills are important. But when thinking of skills by themselves, especially in the context of digital communictions, I''m reminded of a second season Mad Men episode where Duck, the head of account/client services, tells Roger since no one drinks coffee on the coffee account that perhaps they should hire junior staffers to add some creative and youthful inspiration to the mix. And, we've all seen similar trends in social media communications, those that have the skills to use the tools are often asked to participate and in some cases, manage client's social media programs from soup-to-nuts.
It may not be hard to wonder why as Gini Dietrich noted in a recent post, "public relations is at the bottom of the heap…with attorneys and used car salesmen." Don't get me wrong. There is exceptional talent at all ages, but it's a tough role to be in for junior communications folks and may be asking a lot in some cases, especially for early adopters of social media programs and for clients that are still trying to better understand why social media should play an important, if any, part in their overall communications progams.
So what is the ideal role a communications agency can play to support and further a client's social media goals and objectives?
It is about the sharpest tool in the shed
It goes without saying that if you're recommending a Twitter contest, you need to understand how it would work. How often to post tweets? Who you're trying to engage with? What's the overall goal? And be careful, there are just as many "sweeps" hobbyists as there are legitimate, qualified contest participants.
And it goes beyond that. What's the right social media platform? Can we tie in to our overal SEO effort? Who should we be following? How best to engage? What's a meaningful dialogue look like?
Any communications agency worth it's weight will have an opinion about the best tool(s) and how best to leverage. Understanding the tools though is just one issue. How best to leverage them and factor that into the overall strategic objectives of the communications effort is another.
There is a new sheriff, or perhaps deputy in town, and they're wearing the badge of Chief Listening Officer or some other Listening title in the communications and marketing departments of companies worldwide. Irina Slutsky at Advertising Age commented on the new role in a recent post. And while the new role may define some "touchy-feely" aspects, it's an important one and one all of us in communications should play an active role.
It's good to see this role taking on more structured aspects, as it's critically important to communications. Being on the outside means that agencies understand what's REALLY being said using that insight to shape and refine more meaningful enagements with key constituencies, be they customers, prospects, partners, competitors, media and analysts. It's an invaluable perspective.
You have introduced yourself, I have introduced myself, this is a good conversation
Understanding the tools at hand and knowing where the conversations are taking place gives you two legs of the four legged stool. Knowing how best to engage is the next step. This requires the skill of building a personal, trusted relationship, upon which PR agencies have built their reputations.
It was refreshing to hear an industry analyst I have a great deal of respect for in the storage community recently tell me that I actually get how to use Twitter. You don't spend the whole day pitching but you make the effort to engage and communicate appropriately. Too often, communications and PR puts itself in a bad light by accepting unrealistic goals and spends too much time worrying about generating numbers without thinking through the best way to engage.
If you have a blogger engagement program and don't actually have anyone that blogs to support you, is that putting your best foot forward to engage? And it doesn't need to be overly complicated. For some clients, making sure to respond via a corporate Twitter channel when questions come up from end users and others alike may be the best approach. But failing to engage can lead to unnecessary issues.
Measure, Monitor, Modify
Social media is not, to borrow a favorite term from the storage industry, "set and forget". You need to continually set goals and objectives, leverage the right tools to measure meaningful engagement and be able to adapt and adjust over periods of time. And, as new tools and ways to engage crop up, you need to evaluate and assess what, if any impact these new tools and methods may play.
As my colleague Ted Weismann noted in a recent post around Google's recent change to its blog search algorithm, making it a more useful tool beyond just simple search is one such good example. Adapting to these changes, leveraging them for your social media objectives and factoring them into your recommendations and actions is not a nice-to-know but a need-to-do. For those of us working hand-in-glove with many client's social media efforts, its the level of partnership they should expect.
I also have to admit. While I'm enjoying participating from the sidelines in the 4/4/4 experience, it is really hard to wait to read what Steve, Paul, Lou, and Todd have to say. But, it is one of the many things that makes Wednesday such a great day.
Let me know what you think. Anything I miss around the roles?