Recently, Jay wrote a post here called The Only 4 Reasons agencies Should Care About Their Own Content. In addition to making me think about the specific content marketing angle, Jay's post brought to mind what may be a key problem haunting the reputation of agencies in the business world. In a desperate effort to prove their value, I fear some agencies may try to guide their clients in areas where the agency lacks knowledge or expertise. This can sometimes create miracles, but it can also create the scenarios that inspire people to cast agencies as the "bad guy."
To illustrate this point, let's take a look back at another post Jay wrote, this one back in 2010. In this post, called The 7 New Roles Agencies Must Play To Survive Real-Time Business Jay talks about different roles agencies need to undertake in order to be useful in this new world of marketing. Let's look at each of these 7 roles and how a lack of knowledge or experience could create disaster instead of value.
The Cartographer: Jay suggests that agencies need to be able to guide companies on how to map a social media campaign, not only so that the company can interface with the external world but also so that everyone within the company is on board.
The agency must understand how to navigate the online waters and the agency must also understand how the internal workings of the company have been formulated. What needs to change within? What messages will or will not work in the online world? If an agency moves into consultation mode without understanding or experience, they could map a path to disaster for their client.
The Scout: Here, Jay notes that an agency needs to be able to know how to insert the company into relevant conversations in the social world. Opportunities are out there and the agency's role is to guide the company towards those opportunities.
One need look no further than the recent Camry debacle on Twitter to see how bad advice can create a PR disaster instead of a social media success story. If an agency does not understand the difference between tweeting conversationally and spamming everyone in a certain demographic, they are only going to create heartache for their clients.
The Interpreter: In this mode, the agency should be able to dissect a company's message and spread it like dandelion seeds across the online world.
If an agency attempts to counsel a company on how to do this, or if an agency begins to work in this manner without understanding the company's true brand in addition to the best ways to repurpose and alter content for different platforms, the entire effort will once again backfire.
The Politician: An agency in today's world needs to explain to companies how to converse in the online world so that brand evangelists or fans are not simply collected but are actually nurtured into the role of customers (you know, people who buy things).
On the surface, this can seem like an easy goal to achieve. All you have to do is talk to people and drive them to a page where they can buy your stuff, right? But if an agency begins to guide their clients towards just that mode of operation, or towards buying fans and then trying to nurture them, what will happen? An agency must be well-versed not only in the company's brand but also in how that company's customer base wants to receive communications. Where are they? What do they respond to? This is only the tip of the iceberg, too. If an agency does not have experience in legitimate marketing, they may misdirect their client away from a branding message and more into a "what is our Klout score" type of campaign. What is the pay-off for that kind of scenario?
The Firefighter: You've seen companies like BP melt down in the online world. More recently, the Susan G. Komen Foundation had to battle an online blaze. The agency in the firefighter role needs to have a plan in place to fight these fires as soon as the first spark is lit.
An agency that is unfamiliar with the intricacies of PR, not to mention PR as it exists via the prism of social media, could cost their clients everything. An agency must have enough familiarity with policy-making, their clients, the online world, and potential reactions to different types of news so that they can guide their clients away from these ugly disasters. If the agency guides their client towards a misstep in these cases, it can cost everyone involved everything.
The Accountant: An agency working in the marketing world today MUST be able to understand how to measure everything. Yes, that includes social media marketing. A recent survey indicates that only 24% of companies measure social media success based on increased revenue. An agency that fails to show the impact of social media marketing on overall sales will lead their client straight to the red. Agencies must be accountable for the marketing they propose and execute for their clients, and marketing carried out on social media platforms is no exception to that rule.
The Trainer: In this case, an agency can take on more of a consultation role as it provides suggestions and advice to a client executing its own social media marketing plan. It's not hard to figure out that an agency with little experience in or knowledge of social media marketing can easily create disaster for this company. Bad advice about blogging, tweeting, or a Facebook page can make the social media gaffe grapevine in 5 seconds flat, and then we are back to the PR disaster scenario.
It's easy for companies and their agencies to feel like the world of marketing today is nothing but silver bullets that can cure all of those recession ills. However, it is incumbent upon agencies to make sure that all knowledge handed out to their clients is credible, backed by at least some knowledge and experience, and verifiably true and useful. If some agencies out there are missing this key point, it could be the primary reason that agencies get such a bad rap in the online world these days.
What do you think? Is a lack of preparation creating the bad reputation that agencies have today? I'd love to hear your thoughts!