Who should own social media?

Who should own social media? PR, digital or ad agencies?Which agency discipline – PR, digital or advertising – is best placed to control and lead a brand’s social media strategy?

In a constantly-evolving area, it’s a pertinent question – and one that clients must find particularly challenging when, in the financial land grab for scarcer and scarcer marketing budgets, seemingly every agency in town is saying ‘We can do it’. So where does the truth lie?

It would be extremely foolish or arrogant for any one agency to claim they could do it all without collaborative working, especially with media agencies. In this respect, agencies should be clear and honest both with themselves and their clients about their relative strengths and weaknesses with regards to social media, leaving them to concentrate on what they’re really good at. Not doing this does neither party any favours in the long run.

Developing social media strategies requires a number of key considerations: consumer, conversion, content, conversation and community. Each demands its own unique set of skills, ranging from insight and planning to creative  as well as reputation management – again underlining how inherently broad and complex the medium is.

As with any ‘traditional’ campaign, social media needs to be fuelled by consumer behaviour and insight, and considered in the context of both the consumer’s journey and the brand’s wider marketing mix. So, essentially, what does the consumer actually want and expect from a brand’s social media presence? Conversion draws heavily on the skill sets of media agencies and is absolutely vital in driving consumers to brands’ social media activity and building communities.

Unfortunately, too often brands assume that their social media audience will grow quickly and organically, consequentially they often neglect the requirement for additional planning and underestimate the media spend needed to raise awareness amongst the target audience. The art of content marketing is relatively new and is the lifeblood of social media, fuelling on-going consumer interest and interaction. In this respect, agencies need to employ more of a publishing/journalistic mind-set and it’s here where the underlying skills of planning in conjunction with creative will really come to the fore. Finally, conversational tone and community management are often underestimated. The skills inherently found within PR teams underpin reputation management and will be central to the growth of agencies in the future.

It is essential, then, that creative, digital and PR work together – either through an integrated agency or with individual agencies working collaboratively with the right media agency. Things go wrong only when an agency assumes responsibilities in areas outside their core expertise and experience. So, on the one hand, it falls to the client to establish a clear brief, specifying which skill sets are required and giving unambiguous delineation of roles and responsibilities. Which agency actually leads the strategy can often come down to what the key social media objectives are for the brand and it’s not common for agencies to share creative responsibilities.

However, when it comes to implementation, clients need to be very clear on who’s doing what and offer clear direction. To a certain extent, herein lies the problem. Social media is such a fast-moving channel and still a relatively new territory for a lot of brands that some clients don’t always know what skill sets are required. This is of course understandable, but not something that should be ignored. Clients need to invest in training and instilling very clear digital and social media processes to ensure there is strong leadership from their own internal teams.

This is not to say that agencies don’t have anything to learn – there is a joint responsibility here that needs to be addressed. In addition to playing to their strengths rather than playing for the financial land grab, agencies must put aside their commercial rivalries and continue to push for closer collaboration.

Everyone recognises a massive conversance of agency skill sets in the marketplace at the moment and there’s no sign of it slowing down. PR and digital experts will need to become less rigid in their roles and adapt with more fluidity to the role of digital communicators.  However, for this to happen, both need to work together to gain the insight and understanding of their respective fields. This depth of understanding doesn’t come overnight, but to ignite conversations and enhance reputations, the marriage of skills is a must.

Sophie Daranyi, CEO at marketing agency Haygarth.Who should own social media? PR, digital or ad agencies?