The announcement this week that Nike has decided to move all social media activity in house has been met with surprise by many in the industry and has been trumpeted in the trade press.
The surprise is, in itself, surprising. Because it makes total sense. And I say that as someone that works in an agency where we advise on social media activity for a vast proportion of our clients.
I have always said - and will continue to say - that the best place for social media activity (particularly in terms of engagement) to be managed is in-house. Why would you outsource engagement with your customers and prospects to an agency? Both financially and logistically, it would seem to make no sense whatsoever.
All things being equal in terms of expertise and knowledge (and that is by no means a given), then I can see very few arguments against.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, especially in small to mid-sized companies. Many simply don't have the capacity to manage in-house. And I've also heard examples where budget for social and digital is easier to come by through agency hiring rather than through increasing headcount, particularly in these recession-challenged days.
But, for a brand the size of Nike, I can't see much of this applying.
The barriers are falling
I believe these barriers will continue to drop and we'll see more social media activity moving in-house, driven by two key areas.
Firstly, the time when brands went to agencies to help with social media because they lacked experience of this brave new world is over. In-house skills are reaching the point (and in many cases surpassing) that of agency practionners, so the argument for outsourcing becomes moot. The challenge for agencies is to try and stay one step ahead.
Secondly, there is a realisation that it is much easier to manage social media activity when there is someone internally - a community manager - that can have quick and easy access to internal knowledge that is so often needed when responding to enquiries and engagement on social channels, whether that is marketing, PR, technical support, customer services or product development.
Show me the value
Am I doing myself out of a job? Nope, I'm not. It's just the agency / client relationship - especially in the field of PR - is changing.
Over the last year I've been leading a workstream at the PRCA identifying what the future of the PR agency will look like.
One of the key discussion points to come out of this is that in the future, increasingly (and especially in the case of social media), an agency's ability to add value when it comes to implementation will decrease. Instead the value-add needs to come from higher strategic guidance, training and creative input.
Again, the value of an agency shouldn't be diminished, it will just exist in other areas. And it seems as though that is exactly what Nike has put forward here.
At this time of year, when everyone is throwing out their predictions for 2013 (which usually aren't predictions, they are trends from 2012 because, let's face it, none of us know what is going to happen), my money is on more big brands following Nike's lead and benefiting as a result.