How can agencies help brands on social media

Dave Fleet’s interview with Guy Kawasaki on the by now infamous ghost-written Twitter feed has gotten me thinking. How does this effects our clients.

Social media consultants love to bang on wax lyrical about how new tools are changing the face of communications forever. Fair enough. But when someone doesn’t play by their ill-defined and never codified “rules” they herd up and attack – making it very scary for clients to actually, you know, change their communications habits. Even when talking to clients, I can’t ever pretend to have the right answers. There is a best practice you can follow or a way that get’s you raked over the coals. The third way is even worse – you get ignored and it doesn’t matter!

The exact same thing happened with blogging. A company would start a blog and then the social media experts would shoot it down – “no rss feed”, “comments aren’t published in real time”, “no interaction with readers” – and so on and so on ad infinitum. Never about the content. Always about the mechanics.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

For instance – let’s say I wanted to start a Twitter stream for a client. We’ve determined that the core demographic is going to be on Twitter and we want to reach them. We work out that we want to engage with users and share cool links – just like any other Twitter user – and we want to provide some updates on what is happening with the product and maybe some updates on a campaign that’s running. Whatever it is, the hard part is done – the client is happy to be on Twitter, engaging the core customer and getting involved. But the client doesn’t have the time to actually source those cool links and to update frequently. Plus, as the social media agency, we know our way around Twitter pretty well so why not just have us handle it?

But how do we do that?

Do we set up an account as the brand and link to a Web page to detail how we’re using the account? “This account is run by XYZ people from ABC agency who will be doing HIJK”? Would that help or hinder adoption and followership? Probably the latter.

Do we say that XYZ people are updating and identify their updates by appending each update with their initials (this works for Britney Spears) but not disclose they are agency folk? Technically they work for the brand but aren’t really part of it.

Do we tell the brand team – here’s the account details, go for it? What if the brand team/client doesn’t have the bandwidth to keep up with the volume of updates needed to work up a decent following? The same applies if we set up accounts like MolsonFerg on Twitter – will the team be able to keep it up if they are busy executives for global brands? I think not.

If we do go down that route, it is pretty distracting. After all, we want people to engage with the brand based on its attributes, not the actually brand manager and his/her personality.


All which is a long winded way to say that there must be a balance to be struck between serving the community, serving the brand and making sure the social media marketing folk don’t get worked up about the mechanics and distract from the core objective. Like Dave, I am a pragmatist and a consultant. I want my clients to be able to take advantage of these powerful new tools but I don’t want to the reason their brand suffers when it can be easily avoided.

What do you think? What is acceptable for the client-agency dynamic?

5 Responses to How can agencies help brands on social media

  1. Scott says:

    Great post Ed. I think you’ve touched on some of the major struggles marcomm/pr/sm folks deal with everyday.

    I think you’re likely to hear a lot of, “if a company won’t dedicate resources to keep a steady, transparent dialogue with their customers, they shouldn’t do it in the first place,” in response to this post. These are the same individuals who go after those who ghost blog or have ghost bloggers.

    I do not believe it’s effective to claim that updates are coming from one individual when they are actually coming from a team (ala Kawalski circa one week ago). But what if the execs don’t have the resources, or don’t believe they can do it as well as their agency people.

    What about the corporate twitter accounts that do not identify the actual individual who updates it. The accounts that simply act as an omniscient voice of the brand. These accounts are affective by my standards because they are driven by content. Do these accounts lose too much value on the personal level? Do they work otherwise?

  2. Parker says:

    I love shooting down blogs that don’t have the mechanics done right…don’t take that away from me, Ed.

    But as far as an agency Tweeting/blogging on behalf of a company/executive, I think there are ways to do it.

    If I remember correctly, David Jones used to help out the Molson team with their Podcast. I think he acted as occasional interviewer, and it was made clear in the podcast description that he was part of the PR team, and not necessarily part of Molson.

    This is much different than him pretending to actually be someone from Molson, which is what ghost tweeting is.

    If an executive doesn’t have time or doesn’t want to tweet or blog, they shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean someone else from the company (or the company’s communications team or PR agency) can’t. They just have to be clear about it, and I think a page on the company’s own website is all that is needed for that.

  3. […] Después de una decena de años como el que no quiere la cosa desde que comenzó todo esto de los blogs y luego el resto de herramientas de comunicación participativa, se están produciendo una serie de evoluciones desde mi punto de vista que resultan muy interesantes, evoluciones que tienen que ver con las normas, el uso y las prácticas. Una de ellas hace referencia al protagonismo que están adquiriendo las marcas en sitios como Twitter o Facebook. Sobre este asunto hablan en Blogging me, blogging you, aportando una perspectiva interesante. […]

  4. Doug Haslam says:

    I have no problem with a PR team publicly communicating on behalf of its clients. It is something I struggled with to find a comfort level at first, but in this day when the best of us have blogs and Twitter accounts and are sometimes even writing about our clients anyway, I did become comfortable.

    Here are a few things I have participated in:

    – Commenting on blogs; a client didn’t have bandwidth– I commented as Doug from XX agency, working with the company, and answering questions I could, pointing to sources and people for those I couldn’t. It ended up working, it was transparent, no one complained

    – Producing and voicing a podcast – in my case, like David I acted as interviewer, but deferred to the client/guest as expert and person getting the name in “lights.”

    – Commenting in forums under “brand” umbrella. This was tricky, as the username was “[brand].” but the idea was to speak with one voice, and there was no rule against self-identifying – (I’m Doug working with [brand]) if appropriate.

    – My former agency produced a blog, lock, stock and barrel for a client. Again, this spoke in a corporate voice rather than an individual’s- not everyone’s cup of tea as far as engagement, but it was and remains effective as a business tool.

    So, what do I consider when thinking about being a public rep for a company?

    – Transparency– I know, big buzz word, but I will never pretend to be who I am not

    – As a PR agency, we are hired “agents” of our clients. we have drifted away from being spokespeople because we are not employees, but that is drifting back somewhat. We are under NDA to our clients, and always talk about being considered part of the marketing “team.” Think of it that way, is serving as spokesperson/commenter/podcaster really out of line here?

    Also, since ghostwriting came up– every time someone complains about ghostblogging I have less of a problem with it. Again, one really needs to be careful with the “ghosting” of anything, but does a ghostwriting example really fail tests of honesty and ethics? One really needs to believe that before condemning an example.

  5. jamesq says:

    Hi Ed,

    Great post and definitely a dilemma for agencies and companies themselves. I think a couple major issues arise from Twitter and social media. Like ensuring the momentum exists to maintain the channel into the future and how do you prove the effectiveness and justify the effort needed to effectively maintain the chosen media channel. Probably the same issues faced when maintaining a customer newsletter or developing a PR strategy.

    At the end of the day the channels need to fit the brand and fit the brands relationship, or relationship objectives, between the company and its audience. The decision of to ghost or not ghost again probably depends on the audience and being open and honest from the outset. If the information is relevant, fits brand and is engaging then a source on behalf of the company may be entirely relevant and may even build a respect and niche of their own.

    I think the idea of sharing the account details with the team and presenting a mixture of sources identified through attaching initials or a tweet alias is a great idea.

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