Agencies Going Anti-Social Were Never True Social Specialists

July 13, 2012
Posted by: Peter Friedman, Founder, Chairman & CEO

At LiveWorld, we believe this agency anti-social pivot in the July 9 Adweek article, reflects that most agencies that hung out a social shingle are not now and never were true social specialists; it was a land grab. In some cases, such companies were genuinely evolving into another type of company. But most were opportunistically or defensively jumping into a new hot territory that they were not really best suited for — just as so many traditional media agencies made a land grab for digital, eventually they withdrew, and/or acquired and/or began to pitch the “integrated value” story. Most that hung out the shingle are now either encountering customer disappointment with their social delivery or finding they need to lean on the other disciplines (their strengths) to have enough substance in their proposals.
Indeed most of the marketing that takes place in social channels isn’t true social, but rather traditional broadcast, PR, or digital interactive marketing that happens to be distributed in social media channels. True social marketing is based in human-to-human dialogue and relationship building, which is a very different model than traditional broadcast, PR, and digital marketing.
Our clients, which include the #1 brands in retail, CPG, pharma, and financial/travel services, tell us they very much want social marketing specialists, just like they usually want best-in-breed for each of TV, PR, and digital. Sure, integration is a plus for consistency; but they expect their various agencies and partners to be able to work from a common brand positioning and marketing strategy, and play well together. They’d prefer best-in-breed specialists that work together, rather than dilute the result by having one vendor do everything.
This isn’t to say that no vendor can produce good results with an integrated cross-discipline approach. Just that usually the best results come from firms with best-in-breed focus by discipline, which is then well coordinated and integrated by the brand.
We agree with the point Jeff Dachis makes that even the use of the word  “agency” sets the conversation off in the wrong direction. (Although Jeff Tobin’s use of social agency works, because he is acknowledging it as a distinct specialty.)
Jeff Dachis speaks of a data-driven model rather than shouting at customers. This shouting is along the lines of my comment above regarding traditional marketing implementation in a social media channel. To this we add that a human-to-human, dialogue and relationship, cultural approach is at the center of effective social marketing model. We liken it to a party in which the cultural theme and the feel among the guests is the starting point and main driver. Crafting and managing that party is true social marketing. Most agencies to date following traditional and digital marketing models in social have been, as Jeff says, shouting at the customers, promoting the party with ads and PR (that would be invitations and promotions in our party metaphor), creating the graphics (signage) and maybe even some party games (interactive apps). But they have not been focused on the true dynamics of the party, the guest-to-guest dialogue and relationships that are the true dynamics of social.  As such they have not created a true social experience that leverages the medium.
Most of this talk about social not being a specialty, but just being part of overall digital or traditional marketing, is simply a retreat from the core fundamentals of social and recognition that these agencies never were truly social.
Peter Friedman, Chairman & CEO, LiveWorld   @peterfriedman   @liveworld