But as the dust settles in the gold rush, I wonder which agencies will actually succeed in this area. It's something I have been debating with a few of my colleagues and the steps they should take to put in the right agency structure to lead in the social media field.
This morning I came across an article by AdAge who mentioned "scale is agencies' best weapon in the hotly contested battleground." They cite various examples of different agencies in the US, ranging from Edelman, Mediacom, to Leo Bernetts who have managed a social media campaign for their clients.
Let's look at the strength & weaknesses of each agency shops in social media:
Social media is free media. PR agencies are experienced in managing free media. They have also built a business around free media so they know how to make money from their services. They know how to host PR events to create buzz within traditional channels. The evolution for PR agencies to include digital social media isn't a big step. Their problem lies in perhaps technology, measurability, and scale. They are trying with finding and trialing a few "big" bloggers and through random blog searches. But when it comes down to measurability on campaign results through their seeding efforts, I am not aware of any. Where social media also relies on scale, the time and resources involved is far heavier than a press release to News and Fairfax.
These guys are talented in building creative solutions. Creating buzz. Creating talkability. And the ability to build a platform for it. Some creative shops have found the right people to run with social media. They have the ability to build communities online through strategic insights, create something half interesting, and communities will come. If they hit in on the nail, they will come in masses. But when it comes to scale it may take time and that may not be soon enough for clients. They are interested in short term gains in today's market conditions.
They have a tonne of tools. They have tools to find people. They have tools to tell us how many people who owns a Toyota, has an income of $100k+, and visited Facebook in the last 3 months. They have measurability, accountability, and scale. However, they don't have the ability to implement beyond media spots. I agree with Ad Age when they say "Most media agency-driven social-media campaigns look a lot more like traditional media with a social twist than they do created-from-scratch communities...". Fair point. This is due to core structure of media agencies whos revenue stream is predominantly media bookings. But one thing media agencies do have is scale - but how do you use that for social media strategies?
In my experience, although the best intentions of social media evangelists from each agency shops, they will struggle in social media because of simple business models. There needs to be closer collaboration between agency shops to use their stregths - which clients may struggle trying to manage them. This is where smaller boutique agencies has the ability to flourish where they could take the strategic and guide the shops to implement the campaign - no doubt with agencies kicking and screaming along the way!
Another interesting quote was from CEO Mike Lazerow of Buddy Media who builds social media applications, "It's hard to buy applications in a spreadsheet model," he said. "When you're buying impressions, where do you put the app?" A quarter of his revenue froms from media shops, another quarter comes from creative shops, and the remainder clients directly.
A bit of cerveat here, I am part of Nuffnang Australia which is a blog marketing network. This puts us in an interesting position because we have found we can plug the gap in what media, creative, PR and clients are after. We can offer scale. We can offer measurability. We can offer bloggers information which was never possible before. We help media agencies in implementation just like buying a media spot. We help creative and PR bring bloggers to events. We help clients build a blogger fan base.
In revisiting Laurel Papworth's favourite Australian social media campaigns, it's interesting to see who led the thinking and, more importantly, the implementation of these campaigns. Media/Creative/PR?
i) Government - Future of Melbourne
ii) Education - Me.Edu.Au - a collaborative forum for teachers
iii) Venue - Powerhouse Museum
iv) Causes - Getup.org
v) Gaming - Australian military - DefenceJobGames
viii) Fitness - Blackmore's Be your Best Campaign
ix) Retail - Sportsgirl
x) Photos - National Library Picture Austraila Flickr Groups
xi) - Politics - KeepAdelaideAlive.com - David Campbell election campaign