Many of our inbound marketing clients want us to be their social media presence, at least to some degree. They understand the value of "being there" in social networks, but they don't have the time or the staff to monitor their brands and engage with people to build future customer relationships. So they hire us. We're an inbound marketing agency, and this is one of the things we do. If you think representing someone else in social media is easy, you've probably never tried it. There are important issues to address, and how you deal with them can make or break a company's social media presence.
Are you representing a person (such as the CEO), the brand itself, or both? Either way, you need to understand the company's history, people, products and customers. Most important is their customers - what do they want and how do they want to hear from you? Agencies must invest the time to get to know their clients and their world before attempting to represent them in tweets, updates, blog comments and responses. The more you can work together, the better.
People who follow a brand or company person trust that they are engaging with a real person from the company. How will they feel if they discover that an agency is actually "subbing" for the company? Yes, this is a real, ethical issue that gives many companies and agencies pause to reflect. If trust and transparency are the hallmarks of social media "influence", how does this square with social media outsourcing? Tough question to answer.
Our view is that every company needs a social media presence these days. To the extent that you can "be there" yourself, the better. Consider agency participation as a way to augment your presence and help you with strategy, content, monitoring and analysis. At some point, clients need to participate and build direct relationships themselves. Your inbound marketing agency should be guiding you in this direction, since maintaining your own social media presence will ultimately reward you with better public relations, inbound marketing and customer service.
This is the toughest issue for agencies. Social media conversations happen in real time. If a follower asks you (the brand or person represented) a direct question, how do you respond? If you refer the question to your client or ask them what to say, you lose the immediate response timing that is so crucial in building relationships. We commonly develop scenarios and responses with our clients to deal with FAQ's, but these can't cover every possibility.
We recommend developing a social media engagement strategy that makes the agency responsible for routine updates (such as tweeting or FB updates on industry content or blog promotion) and the client responsible for personal or customer service channels. Ideally, at least one high-profile client employee should be active in social media and provide that "personal touch". This may take some training and an occasional well placed "boot". The agency can augment client profiles with additional content gleaned from industry feeds or Twitter streams.
Agencies can also be valuable partners in creating an effective marketing strategy, working content and events into the social media stream and monitoring real-time engagements involving a brand and its people. An effective client-agency partnership should be able to deliver improved brand awareness, reputation management and increased sales leads to the bottom line.
None of this is easy, either for agencies or their clients, since there are no hard and fast rules. Social media outsourcing is difficult to swallow for many "consumers", but it remains a popular service as companies struggle with finding their "voice" and with allocating the in-house resources to speak and listen on a regular basis. You may object to the ethics of agency surrogates, but until social media becomes a more integral part of the corporate workflow, agencies will continue to be called upon to stand in for their clients.
What are your social media challenges? Are you reaching out to an inbound marketing agency to solve them?
Photo credit: e3000
Thursday, February 17, 2011 @ 1PM EST, 10AM PST
Join our guest Jeremy Dearringer, Chief Research Officer for Slingshot SEO, and the Kuno Creative Inbound Marketing team to learn how to build leads using SEO during this free webinar. We will be presenting some of the tactical aspects of SEO that can positively impact your Inbound Marketing.