After all, when ad agencies, digital agencies, online publishers, social media agencies, brand consultancies and just about everybody on Twitter is shouting on and on about social media, brand managers are eventually going to listen.
There’s no question that social media is exciting. That it’s a platform for deep, meaningful engagement with the consumer. Or that it reduces CRM costs. And increases customer satisfaction and retention.
It’s one thing to get on to social media to create meaningful conversations with one’s consumer. It’s quite another to manage it.
To decide who will manage social media conversation for a brand, we must understand two things: who the stakeholders involved are, and what the aspects of a brand’s social media are.
There are several entities that need to work together to build a brand’s social media effort – the client, the agency, the digital agency (sometimes the same as the agency), the social media management (SMM) agency, the media agency and, very often, the online publisher.
Similarly, there are several aspects to a social media campaign. Some of these include viral marketing, engagements, announcements, CRM through online conversations and website promotion. And, whatever the objective of the social media effort, it requires the brand to speak with one voice, that’s in keeping with the brand’s tone in mainline media.
The challenge? When every stakeholder wants to use social media to support its work on the brand, who will ensure that the brand presents a cohesive, coherent and consistent face to its online consumer?
Sherlock Holmes once said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer.” I’ll apply the same principle to figure out the answer to my question.
We’ll begin with the online publisher. Typically, an online publisher makes money by selling advertising space, branded editorial content and, in a few cases, offering creative solutions for the same. It needs social media to promote the content it creates for the brand, but that’s about all. A publisher is generally too occupied with managing the campaign’s efficiency to get involved in managing conversations – and neither is it set up to do so.
Next up, the media agency. It’s close to the brand, understands the business and the consumer, controls where the money is spent. But creativity has never been a media agency’s strong suit – and getting people’s attention on Facebook and Twitter takes a certain amount of creativity. So, we cross the media agency off our list of possibilities.
Now for the social media agency. These guys would make great partners in theory, but I have three problems with them. Firstly, they don’t understand the brand’s voice very well. You can see that in the case of brands like Tata Tea. Jaago Re has a voice of it’s own – distinctive, youthful, fresh and provocative. I don’t see that voice in its social media effort on Facebook. And, after having devoted three years of my career to Jaago Re, it hurts.
Secondly, most SMM agencies today aren’t organised very well. They don’t have the resources or, very often, the domain knowledge to execute all that they promise. Plenty of them are startups trying to jump on to the bandwagon, or fly-by-night operators. I’ve been on the receiving end of a poor SMM agency…and it isn’t a nice place to be.
Thirdly, SMM agencies are not yet very high up on the pecking order for marketing managers. You can judge that by the irregular stream of updates on certain Facebook Pages and Twitter profiles. It means the marketing manager isn’t updating them very often on what’s going on in the company…and a brand that doesn’t tweet very often is as good as a brand that doesn’t tweet at all. Knowing what content to put up can be an SMM agency’s bugbear.
Next we move on to the creative/digital agency. They understand the brand and its voice. They know what’s going on, and hence what to tweet. Sounds good? Yes, except for one fundamental problem. Agencies handle multiple clients. Which generally means lots of work on the plate. In the rush to meet deadlines and expectations of clients and accounting executives competing for their time, creative folks simply don’t have the bandwidth to handle consumer conversation in a timely and effective manner – which is what social media is all about.
That leaves us with only one option that ticks all the boxes – the client. So how do you help your client manage his social media conversation?
What the agency needs to do is this: hire a dedicated resource on behalf of the client to handle his social media conversation. This resource will be a print journalist, someone who knows how to spark conversation with his/her news headlines. He/she will be paid for by the client, and sit at the client’s office, embedded into the marketing team. He/she will be trained by the agency to understand the brand’s tone of voice, and will liaise with all the brand’s stakeholders to provide social media support to their marketing innovations.
Several brands have started doing this. I have had fruitful interactions with Jet Airways and Le Royal Meridien Mumbai, to name a couple. The former resolved a query relating to their frequent flyer programme in a matter of hours. And the latter created a relationship with me, incentivised me and eventually made me a paying customer.
It’s not so surprising, really, that the responsibility for social media conversation is best rested on the client’s shoulders.
After all, who better to speak for the brand than the brand itself?