July 23, 2009

The ad agency’s dilemma – convincing clients to engage in social media

David SparkOn day three of my Toronto social media road show for Intertainment Media (owners of the branded softphone, itiBiti), I visited two different ad agencies, PHD and OMD.

Business Conversation
During my discussions, both agencies had made some simple efforts with their clients to engage in social media, but their clients still remained stagnant when it came to long term committed engagements. Here are a few examples of the roadblocks that came up in our conversation:

  • Had a hard time explaining that a social media effort, unlike an advertising campaign, doesn’t begin and end in six weeks.
  • Every effort requires levels of reviews before anything can be publicly published.
  • Can’t even consider a social media campaign unless they can first show ROI.
  • Afraid of how they’re supposed to respond once they’re engaged.
  • Testing in social media isn’t the same thing as an advertising test.

If your agency is facing many of the same issues with your clients, here are some suggested ways to respond to these common roadblocks:

Don’t test, start small: Simply turning a social media effort on then off can actually be detrimental. It’s the equivalent of unhooking your phone. It publicly announces an unwillingness to engage in conversation. Bad for your brand.

Instead of referring to it as “testing,” say “let’s do something small.” The first small thing you can do is simply listen. That requires setting up customized RSS feeds on certain search queries or using a monitoring tool such as Radian6 which many agencies use already. Listen or read my “Be the Voice” podcast interview, “Begin by listening” with Chris Brogan.

Second small step could simply be commenting on other blogs, or creating a Twitter account and following other interesting people in your industry and then responding to them. Remember, it’s not “testing,” it’s “starting small.”

Social media lasts more than six weeks: Advertisers can begin and end advertising campaigns any time they want. Not true with social media. It is not up to the advertiser to begin and end a conversation about their brand. Online conversations can happen with or without the client’s consent.

And this has been said time and time again, but throw out the classic, “Do you want to be a part of a conversation about you or don’t you?” I think the worse problem is when they’re not talking about you. That’s more often the case for young start ups who always jump into social media because they don’t have money to spend on advertising.

While you can measure social media in process, you can’t predict ROI: There is a non-stop obsession with social media ROI and it needs to be avoided like ROI is avoided on so many other subjects. As marketing and social media guru David Meerman Scott points out, you don’t measure the ROI for every single purchase you make. Read my previous article, “Social media success doesn’t begin with ROI,” and make sure you also read the very wise comments. And here are 15 suggested ways you can measure social media in process.

Don’t review, train: When an agency creates an ad, there are endless reviews and edits from within the agency and with the client. To suggest to a client that you want to start publishing online with no review process, is antithetical to the make up of an ad agency or an agency-client relationship. Instead of creating a review process for social media content, train the staff on how you want to behave online. Treat it like you’re training people for a call center. You don’t edit every word that’s said in a phone call, so why should you do the same with conversations online? Here’s my interview with Daryl Stansfield, Digital Account Director for PHD in Toronto, ON on this very subject.

Don’t be afraid of engagement: The rules of engagement for social media are being figured out every day. And for every “rule” someone claims to exist, somebody else has broken it and capitalized on it (Read my article on Mashable, “5 People Who Broke the Rules of Social Media and Succeeded”). My strong advice for ad agencies and their clients is to simply stop talking like marketers. That’s the one form of engagement nobody responds to. Talk in stories, advice, support, questions, and answers.

Social media is packed full of opportunities: There is definitely plenty of fear of going into an untreaded ground. But the fear factor of “you have to get into social media or you’re going to be left behind” is not a long term motivational strategy. My suggestion is to tell all your clients, “Look at all the incredible opportunities social media offers to grow our business.” It’s incredible market research, better than anything these measurement books will tell us. You can know public sentiment right away. You can find your avid customers. You can catch problems with your product early, before the mushroom out of control. Here’s my interview with Sandra Clark, VP Client Services Director for PHD in Toronto, ON, on this very subject.

For more, check out my brand new article, “14 Successful Techniques for Building Your Industry Voice with Social Media” (PDF). Each technique is supported by a story or stories of companies that committed to engaging in social media. Sometimes it took them a year or two to see results. But when the results came in, they were huge.David Spark, a partner in Socialmedia.biz, helps businesses grow by developing thought leadership through storytelling and covering live events. Contact David by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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  • David,

    Thanks for this rockin' post. Truly. You're hitting on so many of the fear points that agencies and their clients touch on every day, and you've really done a concise and clear job of addressing them. Passing this along to our team, and thanks for the shoutout.

    Cheers,
    Amber Naslund
    Director of Community, Radian6
    @ambercadabra

  • Paritosh

    Hey David,

    marvelous article, but

    is it possible for me to post your article on my blog.

    • Paritosh, contact me directly at david AT sparkmediasolutions DOT com and I'm more than happy to discuss this with you.

  • Fantastic article! You outlined quite a few great points that I completely agree with. I love the start small idea. Will be tweeting this!

    Cheers,

    Ernest // Digital and Social Media Marketing Consultant // @ebarbaric