The past hundred years have challenged the status quo with remarkable frequency and speed. New technologies have impacted the way we live and communicate, disrupting markets in motion and forcing adaptation, innovation and change.
The introduction of the empowered and connected web surfer brought increased prominence to the voice of the individual and the power of the community. While nearly everyone now recognizes the power of social engagement, an intense debate has raged over where this discipline should live. While some have suggested that PR and Digital Agencies are poorly positioned or equipped to address this new communications dynamic (and in many cases they are right), I believe that this is more than a discipline, it is an actionable philosophy that lives across all marketing and communications streams. Oh yeah, and some agencies have proven more than capable at adapting to and activating in the social dynamic as well.
Point #1 - This isn't one size fit's all
Nobody truly owns social. Not a single division within a brand, not a PR agency, not a digital agency, not a word of mouth agency, not an unagency. Social is owned by a team, not by any individual person. Because no one person or agency represents all aspects of the marketing discipline.
- CRM would never own product ideation discussions on their own.
- Engineers would never own customer service discussions on their own.
- Marketers would never own design discussions on their own.
So why would one suggest that social listening, activation or cultivation would live in any single agency?
Point #2 - Agencies are Evolving
Clearly the face of the agency world is evolving. It always has. And successful agencies will continue to evolve. To suggest that digital agencies can only focus on banners and PR folks can only focus on journalists is ridiculous. New competencies are emerging within agencies of all stripes. New structures are being introduced regularly.
This is not an all-or-nothing world. Just because a capability wasn't embedded in an agency 10 years ago doesn't mean that it can't be there today or in 6 months from now. All it takes is a commitment to learn, to build and to optimize for success.
Point #3 - Good relationships often drive budgets
Agencies with good relationships with their clients are being asked by their clients to bring social expertise to the table. Smart agencies are proposing these solutions, bringing this expertise in house in advance of these requests, proactively proposing social marketing efforts and when appropriate, are even restructuring their teams to better meet social demands. There are relationships in place, and these should not be tossed out with the wind.
That being said, when agencies fall short of expectations or fail to deliver beyond expectations, smart brands look elsewhere for solutions. And these solutions may come from a "new media shop" or a "social consultant". But even the strongest social solutions should not live in a vacuum. Everyone who impacts the brand and their communications belongs at the table (not necessarily at every meeting, but at least in the loop).
Point #4 - We all started somewhere
Even the smartest, most savvy marketer was once a child learning to walk. Part of this process involves falling down.
While some of us are not falling down as often as some others, we are all listening to one another. We are all engaging in the same industry conversations, reading the same blogs, participating in many of the same twitter conversations, attending the same events and having many of the same behind closed doors conversations with our peers about what has worked and what hasn't. We may not have the same perspectives, frameworks or operating infrastructure, but one has to believe that anyone with a brain, two ears and eyes, a will and the drive to build successfully can and will do so.
Change has challenged the establishment. But that doesn't mean that an industry built on survival of the fittest can't evolve.