Who should own Social Media?

Who should own social media? Advice for businesses on outsourcing social media

The emergence of social and digital media has pushed ad, marketing and PR agencies into a battlefield where the format is suffering a bit of an identity crisis. Above and below the line in this realm has become blurred, and brands and businesses don’t know where to turn. It’s a baffling tug-of-war between digital agencies, media-buying, advertising and PR all vying for this space. The likelihood is, that if you’re a brand or business with a serious growth plan, it’s a necessity for you to engage with one of more of these agencies in their traditional disciplines, with layered social responsibilities and input.

My background is in Digital Public Relations, so naturally I have a biased attitude to how this should be divided. In a break with convention though, I truly believe your social media should sit exactly where your aspirations and goals are as a brand or business. Let me explain.

Advertising agencies produce all manner of impressive graphic elements and assets that have a strong look and feel consistent with the brand. However what ad agencies lack is relationships with influencers. Their goal has always been a one way conversation traditionally – see ad on billboard, buy product. There’s also no experience with handling crisis issues (even with traditional advertising and crises that arise are usually left to the PR agency to handle). Issues with your product (they do happen!) – a fan with an issue or a particularly unfavourable story about your brand hits the headlines and be sure it will be on your social media. It’s worth bearing in mind that you can’t advertise your way out of a crisis with nice graphics or a cool video – or in Ford’s case a massive crisis sparked by a renegade advertising agency, which the brand was slammed for on their social media, yet didn’t engage with their fans about.

Media Buying
This one is cheeky. Media buying agencies are pivotal for all brands to advertise and get their message out there. Most media buying agencies also have an associated digital agency and will use their foot in the door to attempt to push their digital agency in place as the go-to social supplier. Media buying agencies are essential for growing your fans, engagement (by recruiting the right fans) but often squander budgets with notoriety advertising linked to no real call to action (sound familiar to the advertising agency, one way conversation?). Ultimately they usually hold the budgets though so they’re essential nonetheless in this big mix, but as part of a wider team.

Digital Agencies
The cool, hip newcomer to the market completely challenging traditional PR tactics. They know all the bloggers, they can turn around a website in 20mins and a shiny app in half that time. However, they too, have little experience of managing crises or relationships with media across the spectrum. (Imagine being questioned by a newspaper editor on Twitter and having no knowledge of the media landscape, not ideal). If your aim is to have shiny things that work to impress then a digital agency is where to go, but be prepared to pony up a fair few quid. If you want to build an engaged community, engage with influencers across the media spectrum and handle crisis issues too? Then maybe not.

Public Relations (PR)
By its very nature public relations is the building of important relationships between people and brands/businesses. Previously it was the public and media through print, TV and radio – nothing’s changed, the conversation has just moved online and into social. To address this new medium your PR agency needs to be digitally equipped. Strategy planners, graphic designers, videographers, coders, copywriters. All the things which ad agencies have in plenty, except combined with PR specialists. People who are skilled in managing those relationships and have the contact list across all media (including online and influencers).

PR agencies that haven’t moved with the times will die and disappear. Digital PR is emerging as the perfect blend of creative design, strategic planning and people managing to grow a meaningful and engaged community. Real life PR activities are seamlessly translated into the online space – Doing a topical, well-timed media drop? “@influencer Hey, we thought you might like some ice creams to cool you down! Keep an eye out :)”.

Your PR agency can connect all elements from outward press messaging to events and social so when a crisis hits they can advise from the top down on reputational management. Remember when BP struck out on their social media response? Missing crucially simple apologetic messaging. Media professionals live on social media and a lot of news stories are sourced from Twitter, Facebook etc. with social outlets becoming news channels in their own right. Knowing how to engage them with what they want while managing the reputation of the brand is key.

Whatever you do choose, I can’t stress the importance of keeping it local. Employing an agency to handle social for your brand outside of its destination audience is fraught with danger. From Starbucks Ireland’s serious gaff offending thousands of fans asking why they’re proud to be British, or NIKE pushing their Black and Tans sneakers. Being aware of local culture, history and tone of voice is crucially important. Anyone who tells you they can run social from the UK for Ireland is overselling. Similarly no US agency would employ someone to run social for Canada and the US.

Seán Earley

Seán works as Digital Manager in Slattery Communications PR agency, one of Ireland’s longest established public relations agencies. He works across digital strategy and implementation across a wide variety of household names in a Consumer, Corporate and Sport capacity. You can follow him on LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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