How to Implement Social Media Despite Agency Limits & Stakeholder Fears

This Content-to-Commerce post revealed some interesting social-media statistics, and prompted me to answer two questions:

  • “Why aren’t digital agencies bringing social-media to clients?”
  • “Why can’t brands seem to overcome their internal inertia?”

I have the somewhat rare experience of having seen social media strategy and tactics in various roles: as a marketer (client), client stakeholder (legal, PR, web), agency and even as a vendor to agencies.

afraid of social media

The agencies will tell you that their marketing and PR clients WANT it, but the marketing client’s attorneys and bureaucracy is preventing it. The marketer may blame delays or failures on the digital or PR agency or more likely internal stakeholders. The reality is that all three (brand team, client stakeholders and partners) need to be aligned, or face months of nonsense for a tactic that may not yet be proven.

Here are some additional excuses and some ways to snuff them:

1) Agencies aren’t profiting on social-media like they do on web development and media buying. This, I believe, is the real reason agencies have been tentative about social media. Solution: give your agency an incentive by allowing them to conduct projects that aren’t specific to web development. Allow fees (project or retainer) to cover social-media strategists and monitoring. Sure it’s free to create many accounts (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) but doing it well requires expertise.

2) My PR agency, AOR and web firm are telling me different things. Solution: Find one agency to lead social media, because it’s not easy to share it. Typically this would be your digital agency, although some are not driving social media as a progressive PR firm. I would not expect much out of an offline agency of record.

3) My internal stakeholders are “questioning it to death.” Solution: This is common, and your agency should help you develop the business case based on what you’re hearing as inevitable internal obstacles (which aren’t usually new, and were used to stop marketers from embracing the web). Attorneys are legitimately worried about legal ramifications, but a well-managed social-media strategy will address those risks and minimize them. Most problems attorneys fear are extremely rare. Public relations leaders are terrified about a negative Wall Street Journal resulting from a social-media error. Again, rare, but there are certainly enough examples to substantiate their fear.

There are two ways to address irrational stakeholder fears: first, make the business case to offset the risk. Second, put the risk in perspective. If you don’t do both, your chances of realizing the benefit of social-media are reduced by 80%.

4) My agency is clueless about Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Solution: Demand expertise, and drop the agency if they can’t respond. Often the client is underwhelmed because his/her account team is not well informed. Sometimes there’s a social-media expert that’s cross accounts. Give your account team a reason to engage that person and learn from him/her.

5) The final excuse may require some self examination. It’s quite possible the marketer is the obstacle. If you haven’t been convinced social-media can drive sales, you’re probably sending your agencies mixed messages. Solution: Tell your agency you believe social-media may be important, but need to be convinced. Give them an opportunity to challenge some of your preconceived notions, like:

  • My target customer doesn’t use social media.
  • I don’t want my brand on the wild-west of YouTube (we said that about the web a decade ago).
  • It’s going to be too difficult to implement — too many internal barriers. The “return on hassle” isn’t there.
  • The ROI isn’t evident.
  • Even if I did something, I’m not sure it would scale enough to impact sales.

These are legitimate concerns, but be open to facts that may convince you otherwise. Keep in mind that some of the highest performing levers of the marketing mix (paid search and websites) faced similar scrutiny when they were new.

8 thoughts on “How to Implement Social Media Despite Agency Limits & Stakeholder Fears”

  1. Exclusive Media News… you found that interesting? *yawn* There wasn’t even one damn fart joke or poop reference in the whole blog post!

    Okay… who’s gonna give me the answers for this stupid economics final I have to finish? Come on people… I can’t be expected to do my own work!

  2. @2 I didn’t find it very interesting either, but maybe it’s because I couldn’t pay attention because my stomach was demanding to be fed. I can never concentrate if I haven’t eaten recently.

    Does anybody else find it irritating that you have to eat, sleep, and poop in order to survive? I keep trying to convince my body otherwise, but after a few days it always manages to convince me that I am not in fact Jack Bauer.

  3. @4
    Eating, sleeping and eliminating waste are our primary occupations when we come into this world and when we prepare to leave it. All the stuff in between is just terpsichorean jitterbugging.

    @2
    I actually won a university grant based on my excellent grades in economics and that’s how I know you cannot spend your way out of debt. Somebody tell our fearless leader, please. Or not. Screw it, I’m old. Anybody under 50 in this country is f’ed. But wait….there IS a way out: kill all the creditors.

  4. @5 “Terpsichorean jitterbugging”? Don’t ya think that’s a bit redundantly pleonastic? ;-)

    Dang, you make wish I were old too. Maybe I’ll get lucky and die before the government has a chance suck me dry like a vampire zombie.

  5. As a young digital marketing agency this kind of post is extremely interesting. The question how to present and charge for a social media solution is one that I think every digital agency is grappling with and I agree with your proposed solution of placing this on a retainer, but I would add that there needs to be a clear strategic vision of what success is going to look and how to measure it. All too often a lot of so called social media experts propose solutions that amount to nothing more than some kind of directionless, goalless, hippy love in. I don’t subscribe to the view that you should start the conversation and see where it leads you. I would much rather decide what the goals are (such as increase the number of customers, or retain a higher proportion of customers, or increase frequency and value of purchase), and then look at which social media tactics are best suited to these tasks.

    We are a strategic agency and so I would also add that creating buzz is not a goal in our book. A goal would be taking the buzz and turning into actual revenue, either by feeding the buzz into eCRM or directly into eCommerce (if appropriate and I know that there are a lot of times when it isn’t.

    We have written several articles on our blog about this and the wider subject that digital agencies tend to be tactical in nature which precludes them from taking a lead agency position. There are exceptions (I would hope that we are one) but on the whole the problem is that digital is a huge topic and can mean many different things. Only an agency that is capable of joining all these disciplines up together as a complete digital marketing strategy will be able to deal with the other objections that you correctly raised.

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