Friday, October 30, 2009

Agencies need a more focused social media strategy for their own brands

Written by Tim Williams, Ignition Consulting Group
Source: Ignition Group

October 30, 2009

An important part of the value agencies bring to a new client relationship is their ability to help focus the client’s brand messaging. Often the brand strategy is scattered and unfocused. The brand is not speaking with one voice, the messages are off-strategy, and the client organization isn't really sure what the brand stands for in the first place.

As an observer of the agency industry, I often see agency brands behaving in exactly the same way. Not only is the agency brand not well defined, but the message strategy is almost schizophrenic. For some reason, this is particularly true when it comes to the agency’s social media strategy and messaging.

What kind of agency would you assume is behind a Twitter stream like this?
  • Recipes for most popular cookies.
  • This year’s strangest clothing trends.
  • Top 5 ways to host a successful dinner party.
These are paraphrased tweets from actual agencies. Not only are these messages irrelevant to the marketing business, they do nothing to build a positive, consistent perception of the agency. They say nothing about what the agency believes or advocates, and do nothing to differentiate the firm from the thousands of other agencies participating in social networks. Can you imagine this agency executing a similar program for a client? Not likely.

The same goes for blogs agencies produce for themselves. I see agency blogs that feature random commentaries about travel experiences, how much they like the new iPhone, and a call for entries in a moustache contest. That's fine random fodder for a personal blog, but it hardly helps build the image and reputation of a professional service firm that wants to be known for innovation and thought leadership. Can you imagine visiting a blog published by Apple and finding posts about favorite recipes, the last Harry Potter movie, or the lamentations of a stay-at-home mom? Such are the topics I often find on scores of unfocused, uninteresting, undifferentiated agency blogs.

Branding firms (aka agencies) preach building the brand at every point of contact. They counsel clients that everything the brand says or does should combine to create a unified, meaningful, distinctive impression. Why isn't it more obvious to branding professionals that they should be doing the same thing for their own brands?

Just like everything else, your social media program needs a strategy. Ogilvy recently published a strategic approach to using Twitter that is a good place to start.

Part of the reason many agencies fall short on their online marketing efforts is because the leaders of the firm are often out of the social media loop. They actually don't know what's currently on the agency blog, what’s being posted to the agency Facebook page, or what's being sent from the agency Twitter account. Instead they relegate these jobs to junior associates (sometimes even interns) who don't have the depth of experience to speak on behalf of the agency in these important ways. This is inexcusable. There is no more important job for an agency leader than to set the messaging strategy for the agency brand. This doesn't mean that the agency CEO has to personally manage the agency's presence on social networks, but he or she should certainly see that the agency is communicating in useful, relevant, and differentiating ways that support the agency brand positioning.

Especially given the emerging importance of social media, agencies should be setting an example for their clients to follow.
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