Why Agencies Are Better Equipped To Get Search + Social

Fellow Search Insider Rob Garner recently summarized a few of the key findings from this year’s SEMPO marketer survey, noting an interesting data point related to the intersection of search and social marketing. Rob focuses much of his summary on the survey’s finding that “60% of companies treat ‘social media and search marketing separately,’ as compared to agencies, where 58% state that ‘social media is very much a part of our search activity.’”

Rob goes on to refer to search and social marketing activities as “interdependent,” and as a result of that interdependence invites readers to share their perspectives around why such an agency-company divide exists in practice. I started to share my thoughts in the comments field, then decided this was a topic deserving of deeper exploration.



Note that my thoughts are just that: perspectives informed through my day-to-day experiences, NOT through any deep primary research exercises. There will always be exceptions; I’m simply listing my broad-brush observations.

#1 Companies don’t understand these channels to be “interdependent.” Communications activities are often silo’d, and that trend only becomes more evident the larger the organization. Many companies view paid search as a marketing activity for lead generation, organic search as an IT best-practice, and social media as the digital extension to public relations. It’s all very black-and-white. This view is adopted because it’s the simplest way to define who’s in charge of what.

Even among companies that have determined that search marketing and social media are both the domain of the marketing organization, the delivery teams may be divided between brand and demand-generation aims.

This doesn’t lend well to pursuing cross-channel opportunity. The infrastructure itself is often the impediment to more synergistic programs.

#2 Annual budgeting doesn’t support synergy. As an extension of #1 above, companies that plan and budget for marketing activities for the entire year in advance are often incapable of capitalizing on what’s uncovered about the synergies of search and social. Dollars are committed and resources are identified to deliver those programs. That commitment is often inflexible because of corporate bureaucracy or internal politics.

It’s the antithesis to the concept of agile marketing. The budget dictates everything. I’ve been a part of discussions where we asked clients for unlimited search marketing dollars, if the ROI warranted it. Despite the logical argument that, “If I hand you two dollars back for every one dollar you invest in search, why would you ever stop investing?” the client’s answer would be that budgets are budgets, and such spending would have to wait until next year.


#3 Agency model is more conducive to communications innovation.  When you’re the producer of the services, you’re naturally going to seek out new ways to sell to those who consume your services. That’s logical. Embracing trends and innovation in marketing communications gives agencies a reason to meet with clients to explore cross- and up-sell opportunities. Agencies sell communications packages; client-side marketers sell products and services to end-users.

Anecdotally, I was recently asked to defend a recommendation my team and I had made for a client to get involved in a particular social media channel. My client had just closed the books on a financial quarter where revenues exceeded forecast by several million dollars, and therefore our recommendation was perceived as all risk without any discernible reward potential.

Many client-side marketers are comfortable with sticking to what’s worked in the past. There’s not much incentive in being an early adopter.

BONUS: Evolution of the search practitioner

For those of us who hail from the search half of the search-social mash up, it’s easy to see how social was an evolution that was somewhat forced upon us. Social signals became key ranking criteria, and search became more personalized through social annotations on the results pages. We’ve had to adapt to this more complex environment if we wanted to stay current with the market.

By contrast, many social marketers come from public relations backgrounds, and I’m not convinced that the traditional social marketer’s (if such a thing exists) view of the world is affected much by things like search engine algorithm changes.  Couple this belief with my own observations that in-house search marketers tend only to be retained by large(r) companies, and you can see additional reason for the delta between search + social adoption by agencies and companies.

As a result of numbers 1 and 2 above, in-house search marketers may be incapable of breaking through the barriers that keep search and social quarantined from one another.


1 comment about "Why Agencies Are Better Equipped To Get Search + Social".
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  1. Kathryn Gorges from Kathryn Gorges Courses, September 24, 2012 at 11:10 p.m.

    As a marketing person in the true sense of the word, I don't see these boundaries -- they are all part of being on top of what it takes to market. Marketing is the umbrella that holds all the disciplines together. The problem is that organizations don't often focus on marketing, but on several tactics that make up marketing, and therefore lose the perspective of the bigger picture.

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