Agencies, Clients and Social Media

Facebook.Twitter. LinkedIn. FriendFeed. The world of social media has added much more than a litany of new buzzwords to the professional communicator’s lexicon. It has also expanded the marketing and public-relations toolbox, giving companies large and small more ways to reach their audiences. In fact, according to a recent Marketing Sherpa study, 48% of respondents said they planned to increase their social media budget in the coming year – despite a troubled economy.

But, since most social media tools are free, where will those budget dollars go? Most likely to hire extra manpower – because engaging in social media (the right way) demands a significant investment of time and energy. The personalized and conversational nature of this new communication venue means that one-size-fits-all strategies don’t work. What’s effective for Brand A may not help Brand B.

While some companies will staff up internally to handle social media initiatives, others will elect to hire an outside PR firm. For those who choose the latter, here are some basic “do’s and don’ts” to help guide agency involvement.

Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media

DO understand the core premise of social media. Social media is about helping brands engage with stakeholders, create dialogue and educate a broad audience. It’s not just about talking points, corporate messaging or playing “spinmeister.”  Make sure your PR agency grasps the distinction.

DON’T let agencies pose as someone they’re not. Authenticity and transparency are two basic tenets of social media participation. Agencies shouldn’t tweet as a brand’s CEO or post comments under someone else’s name. Disclosure is required. Without it, be prepared to feel the wrath of your network. Warning: It won’t be pretty.

DON’T think social media happens in a vacuum. Agencies and clients must work closely together. Brands can’t expect to take a non-participatory role in social media. While an outside agency can provide strategic direction and support, the agency is not your brand. You are. As such, you must play an active role in implementation.

DO let agencies help with monitoring. One of the most valuable services agencies can provide involves listening to online conversations. Who is saying what, and where is it being said? Listening to relevant dialogue is time-intensive. But, it’s also the most critical part of social media participation. Using services like Radian 6, Filtrbox or Techrigy, agencies can sift through the noise and help brands find people and places to engage.

DO let agencies assist with content development. Often, the hardest part of blogging is coming up with fresh topics for posts. That’s one area where PR agencies can assist because they’re used to finding interesting story angles when pitching the media. Depending on the subject, the PR firm may also be able to help with research or some writing – as long as all parties involved adhere to the previous guidelines about transparency.

DON’T implement a cookie-cutter strategy. Agencies that immediately recommend starting a blog, creating a Twitter account and developing a Facebook page are giving bad advice. Yes, Twitter is the current media darling; however, it’s not the right tool for every company – especially those with limited resources to devote to social media. The smartest consultants understand the value of listening first and then developing a customized strategy to help brands engage and participate in ways that will support overall business objectives.

Time to Get Social

Communicating through social media requires a different approach than traditional marketing. It means communicating with … not to. Having actual conversations … not just repeating key messages. It’s changing how business gets done. Agencies and brands need to understand that this new form of communication centers on listening, engaging, providing value and being personable – whether it’s handled in-house or with outside assistance.

About the author:

As Director of Public Relations for Costa DeVault – a full-service marketing and public relations firm – Heather Whaling helps clients understand how Web 2.0 influences communication. She writes for and manages the agency’s blog, Connect with Heather on Twitter (@prtini) or via email at