The role of the agency in social media strategy development

I happened upon a great series of blog posts, via Steve Farnsworth, which focused on the role of the agency in the client’s social media strategy.

My favourite links are below but I also wanted to share my thoughts.

The four things I believe an agency can offer its clients, and that we try to offer our clients when it comes to this stuff are expertise, resources, impartiality and partnership. What do those things mean? I’m glad you asked.


This is a fast moving, fast evolving space and even my team and I find it hard to keep up with the changes and we live and breathe this stuff everyday. No matter how much you want to, unless your (rare and highly sought after) role within the organisation is solely focused on social media, it is very hard to show true expertise in social media. Within the agency construct, we are encouraged to develop skills and keep developing them as a competitive advantage. To paraphrase Arsene Wenger, “everyone wants to have the prettiest wife” and the same is true of clients and their agencies – only prettiness is measured in expertise and creativity. The agency model is built on building expertise and then selling it to clients.


The agency sells expertise but we also sell time. Social media is a time consuming activity and, even if your role does focus on social media, if you are just one or two people within a large organization, chances are that your time is a sought after commodity internally. Who can spend the 2-3 weeks you need to develop a full blown strategy? This is coupled with the fact that clients will always be able to get approval for budget items for strategically important tasks – but will find it very tough to get approval on additional hires. Again, the agency can help here by offering time with an expert resource – or resources.


A social media strategy can not be written and developed in isolation from the rest of the organization. The medium simply touches too much of an organization from sales to marketing and communications, to customer service through to human resources for us to ignore stakeholders. In fact, we must embrace them – finding out the needs of their business unit and any problems they need for us to solve within or through the social media space. This means a deep stakeholder discovery process and I’ve found both at High Road Communications and now at Tribal DDB that these interviews are best conducted by an impartial third party – an agency. We can speak to stakeholders without some of the baggage that comes with speaking to a colleague, get people to open up and uncover real insights. When it comes to working on the strategy itself, these insights are invaluable but so is the detachment from the organization. However, detachment can only take you so far…


Which is why this has to be a partnership. We must work in concert with the client to develop the strategy, to have it approved to the highest levels and then for it to be operationalised. This process must be a true and trusting partnership for it to succeed. But even partnership isn’t enough – as I said, social media touches many disciplines and we need to have all the players involved. My old boss David Jones recommends setting up an agency council dedicated to working with the client team tasked with social media to steer social media strategy, share best practices and ensure activation is successful. This means having the brand agency, the creative agency, the media agency, the online agency, the event/activation agency, the PR agency and, dare I say it, the social media agency meet regularly under a circle of trust where no one is scared they may have to give up budget or stature.

So that’s it. That’s the role, as I see it,  of “the agency” in a client’s social media strategy development. To provide expertise, resources and impartiality under a multi-disciplinary partnership model. If that can be achieved, great thinking will be done to enable great work.

The Links

Steve Farnsworth – What Role Should A Communications Agency Play In A Client’s Social Media?

Paul Roberts – What Role Should A Communications Agency Play in a Client’s Social Media Program

Lou Hoffman – What Role Should A Communications Agency Play In A Client’s Social Media Effort?: 4 Perspectives On 4 Communication Issues

Todd Defren – Role Playing in Social Media Marketing

Hans De Groot – What Role Should A Communications Agency Play In A Client’s Social Media?

Dan Holden – The Agency’s Role in a Client’s Social Media Strategy


Clearly agencies have a role to play throughout the marketing process – whether they (we) can add value to a particular client remains to be seen.

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