The Social Agency Of The Future

If you look ahead at the agency business several years out, where will social media fit in, especially once some of the hype dies down?

The question occurred to me after hearing a speech by someone I've worked with for over four years now: 360i CEO Bryan Wiener. When I saw how Bryan touched on social media in his "Agency of the Future" talk at the IAB Annual Leadership Summit last month, I was itching to go deeper, and I happened to know how to reach him. For full disclosure, the idea to interview him was mine alone. I rarely mention 360i at all in these columns, but this was a story I was excited to run.

You can read a few of Bryan's broader thoughts about the coming evolution of agencies on 360i's blog. In this exclusive interview, the focus is entirely on social media.

Social Media Insider: How does social marketing fit in with the agency of the future?

Bryan Wiener: The unfettered rise of digital, and of social media in particular, has brought about staggering shifts in consumer behavior -- and this requires equally dramatic changes to the way agencies operate in order to help brands connect with consumers in this new dimension. The agency of the future must have digital expertise in its DNA, with search, social and mobility -- three things that have completely transformed consumer behavior -- as the three key legs of the stool.

Not surprisingly, social marketing serves as an indispensable leg to this stool for the simple reason that it provides a channel for developing a direct, unadulterated relationship between a consumer and a brand. And building relationships is becoming a more critical component of brand marketing as the media landscape becomes increasingly fragmented and cluttered.

SMI: Which skills in particular will be needed for agencies to 'own' that leg of the stool?

BW: Brands of the digital age need to keep pace with consumers -- and when it comes to the social space, this is no small feat. How can marketers navigate the changing terrain of the social Web in order to capitalize on those opportunities most relevant for their brands? Which emerging arenas hold tremendous promise, and which are flash-in-the-pan media darlings with little or no value to marketers?

As an agency, we are committed to staying innovative and ahead of media and technology trends, and to being change agents for the brands we represent - to throw out everything that's comfortable when necessary and innovate at the speed of consumer behavior. For agencies that want to be indispensible marketing partners to their clients, they need to commit to developing expertise within social and, even beyond that, commit to keeping pace with consumer behavior and bolstering their skills at fostering consumer relationships across all channels.

SMI: Agencies undoubtedly have their own hurdles in really getting social media to the point where they can be strategic advisors for their clients, yet marketers have their own issues managing social media. To what extent do client-side marketers need to change, and what in particular needs to change there?

BW: Digital engages consumers throughout the marketing funnel, simultaneously in real-time, which requires both agencies and their clients to adapt. The old, siloed model of advertising, promotion, sales, customer service and IT just doesn't cut it anymore. Put simply, if marketers really want to rapidly and radically impact change in the agency ecosystem, it starts with how they allocate their dollars. And while many are paying lip service to relationships and conversation, not enough marketers, media properties or agencies have made the structural and budgetary changes necessary to adapt to this new model of marketing.

What's more, marketers need to understand the dire importance of value exchange in their social programs. Consumers aren't going to follow you on Twitter or fan your Facebook Page in the absence of something in return -- entertainment, information, utility of some kind or some form of social currency. Understanding that there now NEEDS to be a value exchange between consumers and brands in their advertising and marketing is probably the single biggest change to the marketing industry since the advent of TV advertising.  The strategy of intruding and interrupting is replaced by informing and engaging.

9 comments about "The Social Agency Of The Future ".
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  1. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., March 2, 2010 at 4:33 p.m.

    what a good article.

  2. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, March 2, 2010 at 4:41 p.m.

    A "Social Media Agency of the Future" needs to work well with Brands, Media, PR, Search and Creative. As all are crucial and are currently participating in a "Land Grab" as to who owns Social. A "Social Media Plan" of the future can't be left up to an agency to handle like media has been left to the agencies to handle. To be credible, the brand has to be an enthusiastic participant. You can hand over some social media duties to vendors (like brands and agencies do with our agency) and it works great. But, as a credible long term plan, I don't see how it can work without the brands being a real participating partner on it.

  3. Kat Gordon from Maternal Instinct, March 2, 2010 at 5:32 p.m.

    Excellent forecast. As a Creative Director, I've wondered how the "ad portfolio" schools are adapting to create the junior people we need. If there's a single professor still having kids mock up print ads and 30-second TV spots, we are in big trouble.

  4. Jose Villa from Sensis, March 3, 2010 at 11:41 a.m.

    great piece... I particularly enjoy that you addressed what clients need to do to be "clients of the future"

  5. Shawn Yujuico from Becker Broussard, March 3, 2010 at 5:18 p.m.

    One fundamental that must be a part of the agency DNA is passion and engagement with the brands/companies you represent. It does not go without saying - too often AE's are servicing too many accounts and simply don't have the time or budget to dig in and develop an authentic passion or understanding of the brand. Further, if a client manages the agency defensively in fear of being upstaged by the agency, you will never be able to engage regardless of the medium (social, print, mobile, etc.). If your agency model does not allow for the people who service the accounts to become truly immersed in the brand and industry, forget about succeeding in delivering value in social media, digital or mobile. In my experience, an authentic engagement with the consumer comes from an authentic passion for the brand and many agency models built on media spend will have to recreate their business model to survive.

  6. Ignatius Kantoo from Make My Own Media, March 5, 2010 at 6:25 a.m.

    Such simple mandates for transformation, however, I'm beginning to believe that the more information that becomes available, the less people want to seek out assistance. I call it "ostrich marketing," agencies and marketers that believe they can just stick their heads in the sand and ignore the sweeping changes that are completely transforming the environment around them.

  7. Jenna Zizzo from Bulbstorm, March 5, 2010 at 12:59 p.m.

    Great article. I think that Bryan really hit the nail on the head when he stated in the last answer that "marketers need to understand the dire importance of value exchange int heir social programs." Social media has gone beyond how many fans or followers a company has, but what we will give them in return. An innovative way of doing this is by using game-like applications... asking the fan to submit something and the rewarding them points which are redeemable for prizes. This creates high levels of user generated content and engagement, plus many satisfied customers and fans.

  8. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, March 6, 2010 at 8:23 a.m.

    Fact is 'Social Media' is really just a term to describe a place people are viewing and talking. They do this in their everyday lives and Advertising always tried to invade and reach people to show them stuff and have them talk. The only difference with 'Social Media' is now these same activities are taking place where it can be measured. We knew people spent hours talking on the phone but no Agency could ever measure that or know what people were talking about. Now they can.

    But in no way will Social Media replace the other traditional media channels, especially since conversing on Facebook and Twitter is really, hard. We can spout. We can post. It's mostly one way with little comments back. But we really can't chat. We need Instant Messenger, Email or a phone call to chat and thus while Social Media can create or monitor Buzz. It still really has no idea what we are talking about. Only slivers.

    My one hope is that when the successor networks to Twitter and Facebook solve the how to communicate/converse in an easy way that people don't have to jump all around sites and pages to find started and stopped chats, that whoever offers this service protects the content by charging a subscription, vs trying to pimp out and exploit the content created by their customers who really are the user community vs the advertisers.

  9. Ellen Lebowitz from Ellen Lebowitz Press, July 14, 2010 at 5:17 p.m.

    I completely agree with Jonathan Hall in that social media agencies need to work well with Brands, Media, PR, Search and Creative.

    Social media is a component of a pr/marketing campaign - not the campaign itself.

    Securing media coverage from traditional media outlets, print and digital provides needed credibility and visibility for a brand.

    They all work together.

    Thank you,

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