Most of us working for the media have taken note to the recent activities in the social media space in the last one year. Twitter grew more than 1500% in mid-2009, Facebook has almost caught up with Google in web traffic, while the once-popular social network Bebo is on the verge of shutting down. In the meanwhile, marketers and agencies have been coping to keep up with this fickle, evolving industry. The power of communication has landed in the hands of the consumer, and instead of a traditional business to consumer marketing model, we are now faced with consumer to consumer conversations, pondering what are the best ways to insert our brand in those conversations. In this shifting ecosystem, roles for agencies has changed and the question has surfaced – who will handle the social media marketing for a brand? Is the traditional advertising agency, the digital shop or the PR agency?
Traditional ad agencies are not competing for this business. Most Americans still watch TV and the need for TV advertising will continue. The real competition remains between the digital agencies and the PR shops. During the recession, marketing dollars were reduced and companies scaled back on building fancy websites and expensive online media buys, affecting digital ad agencies’ business. Social media marketing factors accountability, measurement, monitoring, impacting the Share of Voice – disciplines that online public relations excels in and have been doing so for a while. Brands are realizing that. In industry movements – Starbucks assigned most of it’s social media to their PR agency – Edelman. PR agencies are also welcoming those changes by staffing. To keep up with their client’s creative demands, Edelman’s Digital team bought David Armano on board, a creative advertising veteran, who created large scale web builds for ad agencies such as Digitas and Agency.com. We are going to start seeing these changes more frequently. And specific PR industry hires from the advertising field, brands rewarding their social media businesses to PR agencies are just the beginning of this change that has started to shake things up.
Coming from an digital advertising background myself (in fact – Publicis Modem and Agency.com, as Mr. Armano), I’m nervous that business model is losing to its PR counterparts. If brands need to focus on creating and measuring conversations and effectively execute social media programs – that is not the traditional advertising process. Sure, agencies for decades have been creating mind blowing creative campaigns, building brands, turning commercial jingles into household tunes – but while are approaching a Generation Y era, powered with Web 2.0 and iPhones and GPS mobile applications like Foursquare, the need for communication channels focuses on audience engagement and activation. Finding and recruiting influencers and making them brand evangelists are the true form of viral marketing. Being a digital marketer, everyday I encounter questions from our clients asking newer ideas on reaching their audience in unique and innovative ways, using social media. And in all honesty, I think a PR angle is far better equipped to answer that question than the standard advertising rationale. Communication and interaction will win over one-way messaging in today’s social media strategy.