While the extent of his deception seems somewhat inconceivable, it is a story that is still being played out every single day. No, I'm not referring to Frank Caliendo's impersonation of every celebrity from John Madden to George W. Bush. I'm talking about well-meaning companies that have spent years building their brand and their reputation, choosing to engage in authentic online interaction through a third party. Marketing agencies and social media professionals are assuming the online identities of their clients.
Every day in most every industry, companies are turning over the keys to their online reputation and customer relationships to agencies and consultants who are then tasked with becoming the online voice for their organization. How authentic can those online relationships really be, however, if the interaction is delivered once a week in the form of a spreadsheet showing the number of comments, Twitter mentions and video views?
The reasons and rationale for companies delegating their online voices range from lack of resources to fear to just plain incompetence. Some reasons are more valid than others, but if your company is outsourcing its online customer relationships, you should ask yourself if someone outside of your organization has the same passion for your product or service, the same understanding of your value proposition, the same knowledge of your company's culture.
If you have a physical store, and a customer walked through the door, would you want to talk to them yourself or hire an outside consultant to speak with the customer and then relay the contents of that conversation to you? The value of that one-to-one connection you make with a customer in the physical world is not really all that different in the online world. While agencies and consultants have the expertise needed to get you up to speed with your online communication strategy, the true measure of success comes when the keys to the car are handed back to you.
Who represents your brand online? Is it the Frank Abagnale Jr. agency -- or have you stepped up to the plate and taken responsibility for your online customer relationships?
Great post. And to a certain extent, I agree. But, I think it's important to remember that brands have been "handing over" their brands to ad agencies and PR firms for decades and this subject has never been an issue. Agencies drive creative, campaigns, CRM, PR spin, look and feel of a brand, company, etc. And, in much the same manner, a great social media agency can - and does - do the same for brands. The key, just as it's been in these brand relationships for a long time, is the relationship between a brand and whomever they work with to assist with integration of social media into their overall marketing strategies.
So, I don't think of this as "handing over the keys" to clients - I think of it as a partnership, the same way I do when someone hires my agency to develop an identity package or an ad campaign, build a website or assist with their social media efforts. All of my relationships with my clients are partnerships - which is, I believe, exactly why they hire me. I have their best interests at heart - whether related to traditional media or social media. I very much have a passion for my clients' products and services, understand their value propositions and am completely dialed in to their corporate culture. That, my friend, is my job. And if, as a result of our efforts, my clients don't reach the goals that we set together via our strategic efforts, then we BOTH fail. Their business is MY business. And I'm not ever in the market for failure.
Bottom line, just like it matters which ad agency or PR firm you work with, it very much matters who you work with for your social media needs. Experts, gurus and mavens abound. Find someone who is as passionate about what you do as you are - and you'll have the right fit.
Your column raises important concerns, but it also ignores the elephant in the room -- most companies are not media companies. Publishing on an hourly, daily, or even weekly basis is not a core competency. How many corporate blogs have you seen that start with a flurry only to flame out as employees re-focus on their "day jobs"?
Yes, outsourcing such tasks to your traditional agency can prove worse than trying to do it yourself. Such agencies may have as little publishing experience as you do. But smart outsourcing to custom publishers that understand the various online vehicles can prove extremely fruitful.
Great Post, Kery...it gets us thinking. I'm guessing that you purposefully chose to come down hard on agencies to help spark the debate - it worked!
As in most issues there is a middle ground. All companies, large and small, have a division of labor and responsibilities according to skill and experience...this includes responsibility for managing, shaping and measuring the company's on-line presences and effectiveness.
Companies constantly run the risk of loosing touch with their clients and the market. Lots of reasons for this - often senior management gets tunnel visioned on their specific areas of responsibility.
Human nature being what it is - too often they just get arrogant and complacent. They do not want to hear the valuable feedback of the social media managers - particularly when it includes bad news (i.e. unsatisfied customers, market share loss, etc)...any more than they want to hear the same from Customer Service or the Sales - who also are in a position to know what the market is saying.
I agree with Shelly's response- that a passionate social media consultant/agency can be as effective as an employee - if goals and expectations are aligned.
The REAL issue is whether the company has:
A) Realistic and measurable goals and expectations for their social media programs - rather than just doing it because they think they have to, and
B) Communications Channels and internal processes to ensure that the senior management hears, understands and effectively responds to the input.
Disney and Chick fil A require their executives to work in direct customer serving roles on a regular basis, to keep them in touch with their clients and to share the customer experience. I propose that the same philosophy be applied to a company's social media interfaces to ensure that this valuable source of insight is not lost or squandered.
In other words - it's not bad to use external social media communications firms - but it IS wrong to not pay attention to what the market is saying - regardless of the source.
Kory - a thousand pardons for the typo on your name!
Thanks for the feedback...even if you did call me Keri :)
This article is clearly just focusing on one side of the issue and I do think that agencies and their clients can reach a balance on sharing responsibility for ownership of their online communication. I represent the agency side so obviously I am a proponent of companies seeking out the expertise of agencies and consultants. The issue I see, however, is when brands become too reliant on outside help, or don't recognize the value in investing in the internal resources needed to build relationships with their customers online.
Having worked on Dr Pepper at Y&R in the early 70's, I can tell you it was not widely available in NYC. That changed, I believe, when Dr P allowed Coke bottlers to distribute the product.
I'm a little late in leaving a comment, but I believe the responsibility for social media lies both with the agency and the client. A great book called Join the Conversation has been written that suggests that companies have Chief Conversation Officers. I believe this may be an excellent suggesstion. This person doesn't have to necessarily be the social spokesperson for the company but can be the catalyst for "Joining the Conversation" within the company. The outside vendors, agencies, social media companies, PR companies are then the strategic and tactical arms and legs of the effort. Part of the value of social media is the immediacy of being able to join an existing conversation. Legal and political roadblocks at companies, in many cases, handicap the ability to accomplish this. Having a CCO who can make immediate decisions about social opportunities and can let their outside resources be the brains, arms, and legs, of executing the discussion seem to be a great solution for both.