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15 Ways PR Agencies Can Help Companies With Social Media

"Help wanted" signAs social media has grown in acceptance within companies over the past few years, one debate never seems to go away — whether agencies should be involved in social media communications, or whether the only way to maintain an “authentic voice” is for companies to undertake it all themselves.

Agencies can help

Not surprisingly (given that I work for a PR agency), I sit in the camp that says that agencies have a significant role to play for many companies. For sure, companies can do some or all of these things themselves, but there's no reason agencies can't help without compromising the company's efforts.

Here are 15 different activities an agency can undertake — legitimately and effectively — to help companies engage in social media.

Getting started

1. Baseline audits

One of the first steps in any communications initiative should be an online audit to both understand the current environment and to set a baseline for measuring results of future activities.

2. Audience research

Alongside an initial audit, learning to understand your target audiences is a foundational piece of a communications strategy, be it online or offline.

3. Corporate policies

Whether your company is engaged in social media or not, it is important to set boundaries around social media. If you are engaging in proactive outreach online, it becomes a somewhat  more involved process covering more areas (for a quick start, check out this ebook on corporate social media policies)

4. Workflow processes

What happens when you spot an issue? When someone asks a question? When someone discusses your company with other people? When someone criticizes you? Who is involved in the response? What will you (and won't you) respond to?

These are the kinds of questions you need to consider before the occasion arises, and which experienced agencies have encountered often enough to help you answer.

5. Social media training

While it doesn't take much expertise to send a tweet, the norms of communicating in social media channels can require education and explanation. Social media can require a bit of a departure from the way companies have traditionally communicated. It doesn't mean anarchy, but traditional “messaging” approaches don't fly so well in these informal channels. Agencies can help to transfer the necessary knowledge around this to clients new to the social media realm.

6. Social media scoping

You don't need to be everywhere online. Twitter and Facebook might not be the right places — perhaps your audience is primarily hangs out on forums or message boards. An agency can help to scope-out the right places for your company to establish a presence online.

Strategic planning

7. Strategic development

Agencies can bring together a wide variety of communications experiences and expertise that make them well placed to assist with or lead the strategic development process for social media for their clients.

8. Campaign ideas

Right now my perspective of the ideal approach to social media is a foundational long-term strategypaired with well thought-out campaigns that provide spikes in attention and engagement. As above, agencies can bring together creative minds to design those campaigns.

9. Campaign extension

Unfortunately, PR is still often at a point where it is called-in last minute to support other initiatives, whether it's announcing something that's already decided or supporting a marketing/advertising program. At those points, it can be difficult to come up with anything effective that benefits the organization. Agencies aren't a silver bullet, but again they can contribute ideas.


10. Ongoing monitoring

Monitoring can be very resource-intensive, especially if your company has a significant footprint online or in peoples' minds. Agencies are well placed to help deal with this pressure.

11. Online engagement

This is one area that I'll rarely recommend the agency take on. It's a lot of work and requires a thorough understanding of the online environment, but it's something that (in most cases) should be done in-house. It allows for shorter approvals processes (important in a fast-moving conversation) and a more authentic voice.

Still, sometimes companies either can't or aren't ready to take this on. It may be resource issues, uncertainty over the medium, trust issues or a variety of other legitimate reasons, but there are times when an agency can undertake this work, as long as it's transparent. It's not ideal, but it's possible, with the goal that, over time, the company will in-source this work.

Regardless, agencies can help to advise companies on their outreach — be it advice wording and norms or on whether in fact to engage or not with specific people.

12. Influencer outreach

I used to call this “blogger outreach” but online influencers are so much broader than just bloggers nowadays. Just as agencies undertake media relations activities in traditional public relations, so they can also reach out to online influencers in the new form PR has taken.

13. Issues management

If your company is interesting and matters to people, they will talk about you. That talk won't always be positive. Sometimes it's something you've done; sometimes it's something about your product; sometimes it's “news.” The list goes on. Regardless, monitoring for issues, identifying them early and coming up with suitable responses isn't easy.


14. Design and creative

More often than not, you'll need some kind of design work done for your social media properties. Maybe it's a Twitter background; maybe it's a Facebook page or YouTube channel design; maybe it's something more involved such as a stand-alone site. Either way, a full-service agency can help if you don't have the in-house resources to undertake this work.

15. Development

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their ilk are tremendously powerful sites, and they may well be where your audience hangs out. Still, there are times when they just may not suffice, or where you want to build on top of the platform they provide — Facebook or mobile apps, for example.

What do you think? Are there other areas I'm missing?

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Join The Conversation

  • Aug 9 Posted 6 years ago Josh (not verified)

    One thing I would add is that a social media agency can help identify what is of value to an audience so that a brand can engage audience meaningfully - quite often brands just set up channels and begin to share links where audience is looking for much more than that.

  • AlisonCummings's picture
    Dec 1 Posted 7 years ago AlisonCummings Excellent overview. Coming from a corporate environment where I was responsible for implementing a social media strategy, I found your advice spot on.

    I especially appreciated the clarification on the services and expertise the PR agency would offer versus what is required from the organization.  Each organization needs to consider its own culture, resources and business objectives when determining the appropriate social media strategy.  "Walk before you run" is always a wise approach,  especially in conservative environments, and you put forward the basic questions any company should answer before making a commitment - or worse, going online understaffed and unprepared.

    It is great to see included in your roadmap metrics/tracking and issue management.  Every crisis communication plan should include a social media component. The reality is that online conversations are taking place, but are organizations aware of them or participating? These conversations only intensify during a crisis. And as Dell can testify, ignoring them becomes the crisis.

    While not an agency's responsibility, I would add that having a strong, knowledgeable social media sponsor in the organization is vital.  This role identifies risks and opportunities, educates and ensures ongoing visibility of both hits and misses so that executive management commitment and buy-in are sustained over the long term.  It is easy for leadership to get distracted by the next shiny thing. As the social media champion, the sponsor will help promote the required level of engagement and investment.

  • Nov 21 Posted 7 years ago FrancescaCarozza Very helpful and organized summary of how and where an agency can get involved. Social media sites are a way for small businesses can leverage their resources, but it's challenging to efficiently use the medium.  I would add  providing clients with a road map to manage their social media presence.
  • Nov 17 Posted 7 years ago DemandCreator I certainly believe that PR has a role - often a critical role - to play.  And while I think the list here is a good thought starter, my concern is that it still takes a very tactical approach to the whole issue of social media.  The nature of campaigns, scopes and "audience research" rings of social media being something we "do," often "to" an audience.

    PR firms have a unique opportunity (or should I say, the PR firms that are willing to transform their business models) to drive real change in companies - large and small, public and private - and create real value, by lifting the conversation above tactics into the critical realm of strategic results.  The can teach their clients how to stop looking at marketing/communication as an expense and instead build high-value assets with it.

    This type of conversation would give PR firms a "seat at the table," where the real decisions are made and change is anchored.  The failure for PR firms to be "at the table" will mean a continuing focus on tactics and a degradation to their sustainability. 

  • davefleet's picture
    Nov 17 Posted 7 years ago davefleet @Norm - that's quite the assumption; one that I'm not sure is fair. For example, the people at our company who give social media training are all Director level or higher, and most certainly aren't digital natives. YMMV, of course.
  • Nov 17 Posted 7 years ago NormPenn @filho... Most companies don't give the training because the training would be conducted by social media natives who do not understand how big multinational companies operate, or even small companies for that matter. What you suggest, moves away from the learning by doing model that emerged from Doc Searles group and the Cluetrain Manifesto.  What you suggest means taking the process out of the hands of traditional corporate governance and putting it into the hands of revolutionaries who put their personal lifestyles and values before those of  the society that gives light to corporations, whether private or public. This is why the process could take generations, and by that time, a new model or models will replace social media. 
  • Nov 16 Posted 7 years ago CurtisLipsey

    Thanks for giving some insight into this.  I have hand numerous clients of mine want us to run a social media campaign. It's very difficult, as an agency, to run a social media campaign directly for a company, without being an expert. For example, I have dentist that wants our company to run a SMM campaign, yet we are obviously not experts at cosmetic dentistry.  So the issue becomes, what do you 'tweet" about? What do you "facebook" about?  What do you "blog" about? 

    I believe that the company itself must be invovled in order for it to work properly.  Your post is exactly the advice I was looking for.  I believe as digital pr companies we have to take a more consulting approach and engage the entire client's office in the program.

    thanks again for the post!  Great insight and advice.

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