Agencies, Clients and Social Media
May 20, 2009
By Heather Whaling
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
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
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,
www.costadevault.com/blog. Connect with Heather on Twitter (@prtini) or via email at