Today will be my last substantive post on the Unica Marketing Consortium blog. Tomorrow I'll be introducing next month's bloggers, Rand Schulman and Steve O'Brien. So I wanted to leave off on the one area of social media that I haven't really discussed in depth, the impact of social media on agency services, since that's where I spend most of my time.
Social media is dramatically redefining the role and relevance of the marketing services agency. Unfortunately, I don't believe most agencies realize how. With the advancing popularity of all things "Web 2.0", agencies are jumping on the bandwagon in droves, maxing out capacity in every conference and seminar on Web 2.0 and social media topics. It's becoming a feeding frenzy.
But in this flood of newfound interest in social media, there's a surface current and there's a deeper tidal shift. The surface current is the Buzz. It's all about social media applications. Blogs, and wikis, and forums. Viral video. Consumer generated content. If an agency isn't offering it, they're falling behind. Quick, get someone on staff who can build a blog. Grab a Web guru who speaks XML and Ajax. Post an offering on your products page that is socially savvy.
Technology has always been a challenge for marketing agencies, and they'll get all caught up in trying to keep up with the flood of new Web 2.0 tech. But the deeper current is what really matters, and it runs directly opposite from the entrenched world view of most agencies. Think about it. How many fake quotes have you signed off on in a press release? How many "thought leadership platforms" have you seen embraced with no input from customers or the market? Most agencies pride themselves on their strategic and creative brilliance in getting attention--not in listening and responding to customers and the market. Over the years that has elevated quite a number of rather ugly and manipulative practices that consumers resent--spin that positions fantastic product and business capabilities that no one believes anymore.
The tidal shift that social media represents is the ability for consumers to see beyond the packaged spin and hype. The technology is merely a vehicle. Agencies need to embrace the technology, but far more important, they need to bring a new game to the market that helps businesses enage with their market communities responsively and responsibly, and not simply embrace the new technology as a shiny new club to hit consumers over the head.
It's not an easy shift. Just a few weeks ago I relaunched my own agency to focus exclusively on social media programs and techniques, and struggled for a long time over positioning. If I publicly embrace the Web2.0 ethic, I run the risk of being categorized as just another "me too" agency serving up social media. But if I don't embrace the ethic, I run the risk of failing to connect with the obvious trend that most marketers recognize. In the end, I decided to fully embrace the social media ethic and vocabulary, but to focus on programs that go deeper than just viral video and blogs, and develop programs around the creation of customer communities and marketing innovation. I'm hoping to rebuild a clientele of customers that understand both the surface trend and the tidal shift, and that see the opportunity to leverage the interest in social media as a way to build more meaningful and profitable relationships with their market community.
If you're exploring programs in social media, have fun with all the new tools and technologes. Whether you're trying out viral video or a corporate blog, there's an endless buffet of opportunities to gain attention. But don't lose sight of the deeper trend. How do these tools help you build a sustainable relationships with your customers? How do they help you earn a role as a respected member of your market community? Every effort and campaign should be taking you one more step in that direction, and your agency should help you get there.
I'll continue to participate as a member of this community, and I'll be launching a blog in the next few weeks to focus on the same topics I've been discussing here. It'll be called Social Plug, and it will be part of the network of marketing-related blogs based at my agency, MotiveLab. I certainly hope to see these discussions grow with meaningful input from people who value a community like this one. Thanks for reading. Tomorrow, I'll have the honor of introducing Rand Schulman and Steve O'Brien.