Why Agencies Find Social Media Hard

I’ve had a number of conversations with various people at different digital agencies where there is still a struggle about defining a social media product for their clients.  This applies to guys at media agencies, search agencies, and email agencies, and it’s no real surprise.  When you look at a lot of the offerings that digital marketing agencies provide to their clients, they typically fall into a model that allows easy categorisation, and from this, easy productisation.

A typical digital agency may offer all or some of the following:

  • SEO
  • Paid Search
  • Display Advertising
  • Analytics
  • Web Design
  • Email Marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Web Development

Each one of the above products is typically something that provides self evident results.  Whether they be improved ROI from a particular advertising method, a completed web site, or a piece of content.  From time to time, there may be a disagreement about budget or delivery, but on the whole each one provides some kind of tangible set of outcomes that allows itself to be designated as a product that can be rolled out to other clients.

It is this desire for labelling that makes it hard for a lot of people to get their head around social media.

Conversation Marketing

In May this year I presented at iGaming in Dublin and talked about how a gaming business may want to build a social media strategy.  The key point I made during the session was:

Social is a conversation, the media is where it happens

For me, the root problem that people are having in defining a social media product is the fact that they are trying too hard to define a product.  Productisation is all about templating, and it is very hard to template a conversation.  Imagine if you only had a single set of stock responses to questions that you might get asked over the course of a day.  Aside from coming across like a badly scripted character in a video game, you’d struggle to interact with people.

For a conversation to work, you need to have an understanding of 2 things:

  • Who you are talking to
  • What you are talking about

This is what marketers do all the time: match a product and an audience.

Social media should be easy.

The problem is that in most cases, advertising agencies don’t have conversations, they deliver lectures.  They tell a story about why someone wants a product, the question is assumed, the audience profiled and segmented, and the advert is delivered to them.

A common response to the challenge of productising social media as an extension of a wider suite of digital marketing endeavours is to look for the areas which are in common with conventional channels, areas which can be managed by an agency.  Facebook advertising, Blogging,  the creation of f-commerce pages, reputation monitoring.

This is fine from a delivery perspective, but what it lacks is the idea of a cohesive engagement.  It’s piecemeal.  Like running a PPC campaign without doing keyword research, or Display advertising without targeting.

The reason why you’re finding it hard to define your social media product is because you’re trying to define your product in terms of what you want to do, rather than what your customer wants.