There’s been a debate raging among agency-types and industry watchers for some time now: Who will “own” social media? The ad agencies? The PR agencies? The marketing firms? Digital shops? Or maybe specialty agencies who do nothing but social?
One argument holds that agencies are converging as they chase the significant movement in attention and budgets towards digital and social, and it’s an epic battle for which flavor of agency will “own” social media in the future (Jason Keath’s post is a great example in favor of PR; to which Valeria Maltoni has a well argued counterpoint. The debate goes on). But here’s the thing.
They are all wrong
Why? Because all those arguments are based on a single false premise: there is no one “right way” to do social media to the exclusion of others. Social media is not solely about reputation, conversation, or crisis management. It’s not only useful for engagement, word-of-mouth, viral, or branding.
Rather, social media is a hydra, a multi-headed way of thinking, connected by a common set of tools, platforms, and concepts, that impacts an organization in so many ways that no single type of agency can claim exclusive domain over it all.
How many heads does this thing have?
- Social media is an excellent tool for long-term reputation building, for story telling, and for crisis communications – the natural purview of public relations agencies.
- Social media is incredibly useful at branding, creating emotional attachments and personal connections with brands of all varieties – the domain of branding and ad agencies.
- Social media, tracked and expressed via engagement tactics and metrics, can be the cornerstone of a powerful relationship marketing program – the haunt of marketing agencies.
- Social media can be very effective as a medium for promotional and demand generation campaigns of incredible variety – making it a valid tool for ad, marketing, and digital agencies.
The mishmash occurring right now, as outlined in Forrester’s “Great Race” concept, is happening in part because of client demand and shifting budgets. There’s undeniably a shift going on in where the client dollars are flowing, and no agency wants to be caught on the wrong side of it. In the rush there’s a confusion as the boundaries blur and client marketers learn. But the seeming convergence of agency practices in social media is also happening because those agencies all – rightly – see the practical value of social media in achieving results in their own respective domains.
The PR guys need social media capabilities as it’s good for PR, while the marketing people need it because it’s a useful engagement strategy.
Is there overlap? Of course, and there will likely be indefinitely. The entire concept of social media is so new and evolving so rapidly that it’s hard to tell where social media for PR stops and social media for advertising or marketing begins. Within most client organizations the same confusion reigns, and that’s simply reflected outwards in how they currently select agencies to work with in the space.
But my underlying point remains: In the long term no single type of agency will ever “win” social media all up because social media itself is a useful tool for every agency, and most every discipline. Rather, smart agencies of all stripes will develop expertise in social as it relates to their own practices and as client organizations of all variety come to recognize the value it offers.