When things got spooky back in the '80s, "Ghostbusters" were the guys to call for help. But now there are lots of agencies, consulting firms and vendor services who can help you deal with those elusive (and sometimes scary) online social initiatives.
Social Media Marketing Agency
Most social media agencies, often offshoots from traditional advertising and marketing firms, focus on branding and awareness strategy and help clients manage social media marketing tools and campaigns on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. As an extension of online PR or advertising channels, agencies are well-versed in SEO, marketing content development and reaching "influencer" audience members. They address questions such as: How do we reach a wider audience? Raise audience awareness of our product or services? Build more customer engagement with our brands?
Agencies tend to employ armies of young go-getters who are expected to be well-versed in the latest social media tools. These agencies build and maintain strong relationships with influencers and journalists, and may have the resources to cover a sizable social media marketing campaign in a short period of time. Through their experience managing social media marketing initiatives, a skilled agency can help a B2C company who needs to reach a wide and diverse online audience get significant traction and lift in a short period of time. Some agencies also have a specialty in crisis communications using online social channels.
Social Business Consulting Firm
For organizations seeking assistance with an online social business initiative, there are business consulting firms with the special expertise needed to identify internal processes might benefit from the use of social tools to achieve specific business goals. A consulting firm will work with an internal team to identify greatest needs, understand desired outcomes and create a strategy and plan for achieving results. An example engagement might be to create a collaborative environment for customers and internal R&D to co-create a new product roadmap more quickly, with greater customer acceptance and buy-in, and fewer new product customer service issues.
Business consulting firms are generally platform agnostics, preferring to identify the business requirements and then determine the most suitable application or service provider for a specific need. These firms are staffed by experienced business professionals and online experts, who typically have held senior operational roles within larger organizations and are familiar with enterprise culture. In addition to project guidance, they develop frameworks and best practices, teach staff and coach executives on the nuances of digital collaboration, and provide knowledge transfer on leveraging additional internal process via online social business techniques.
Social Application Developer or Consultant
Many application and platform vendors also offer guidance and support for social initiatives. Once the marketing or businesses strategy is in place (through a consulting firm or agency) and a platform decision has been reached, the vendor can be brought in to deploy their application or assist with customization and training with their tool. Of course, a platform vendor may not offer the most objective guidance on business strategy or platform selection. Once a platform decision is made, their expertise with their own product can help translate the business strategy and requirements into a technical implementation. This underscores the importance of defining objectives, creating strategy and developing requirements first. Countless online projects have underperformed or failed altogether, because the excitement of choosing an online platform overshadowed the more important - and more difficult - task of understanding what the online project goals and results should be.
Here are the Cliff's notes:
- Social media marketing = agency
- Social business strategy = business consultancy
- Social application development = application vendor
Before your organization goes shopping for guidance about your online social initiatives, consider the above and ask yourself which kind of advice will best serve your needs. Think about how the different players view the opportunity to work with you, the value and offerings of the different players, their core competencies and their revenue models. In the end, it will be up to you to select best partner for each stage of your online social business and social media marketing needs.
To read The Social Business Buyer's Guide Part One click here.