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There is some talk over at NMA about the battle for control of social media. In one corner we have the PR agencies, and in the other there are ad agencies.

Personally I can’t see any value in allowing either of these types of agencies to develop and manage your social media strategy. Or any other agencies for that matter, even those dedicated to social media.

Controversial? I should hope not…

So who should own and manage your social media strategy? 

I firmly believe that a company’s social media strategy should be owned and managed by the company itself, rather than by external agencies.

Why? Well, mainly because…

a) Your people are your best asset, when it comes to social media, or at least they should be (if they’re not then you’re doing something wrong). 

b) You cannot fake it. The people you want answering questions and dreaming up ideas are the people with real insight into your business. The best agencies can definitely get to grips with what you do as a business, your products and services, your goals, and so on. But there’s nothing quite like working at a company, in order to fully understand - and care about – what it does.

c) You need to share the workload. An in-house marketing team shouldn’t control social media any more than an agency should. You want your product development people to listen and respond to product feedback. You want your sales people to handle sales enquiries. You want your customer service reps to deal with complaints and questions from existing customers. No agency – or single department – can cope with it all. 

I created a quick Twitpoll survey to see what our Twitter followers think. At the time of writing almost 60% of those who responded agree that a brand’s social media should be owned in-house, versus 15% in favour of the social media agency, 12% of the PR agency, and 7% of the digital marketing agency.

I included an ‘Other’ category, which one in ten people clicked. The feedback here was often that it should be a combined effort between client and agency. Perhaps that’s the most sensible option, though I believe that the client should own and drive the strategy, with the agency in a support / guiding role.

Notably only one person voted for ‘The Ad Agency’. It’s nice to know that Sir Martin Sorrell is tuned in!

See the full set of results here.

Help vs ownership

Agencies can play a massively important role in helping to define a roadmap for social media success, but helping is very different to ‘owning’. 

The responsibility for developing and managing social media needs to be borne in-house if a business seriously intends to realign its culture. And make no mistake: social media is a cultural and organisational challenge for most businesses of any scale. Only by embracing engagement and by becoming more open - both internally and externally - can a business transform how it is perceived in public (and in private: staff retention and satisfaction are hugely important). 

The pace of change is going to be incredibly important for some businesses that are obviously struggling to adapt. Many long-established (and seemingly slow-moving) brands are trading on their former glories, and have been found out. Companies with rubbish service levels might not be around in a decade or so. Yes, it can be hard to adapt to the demands of the modern business environment, but paying an agency to manage social media isn’t going to help these companies to directly deal with the challenges that face them.

Besides, outsourcing the management of social media sends out the wrong message. Where’s the commitment to interaction, to customer-centricity, to empowering staff, to giving a shit? Unless a brand really commits to engagement then it will seem fake and hollow to people who tune into you via social media channels. It’s the difference between a journalist interviewing a CEO directly to unearth some answers, and talking to a PR rep. 

It’s not just about driving and embracing participation, it is about the quality of interaction. The right people need to be involved. I believe that the right people are in-house employees. 

Who should own social media in-house?

Somebody within a company should own the direction of social media. It might be the marketing director, or the content manager, or head of comms, or maybe there’s a need for you to create a specialist role and hire a social media governor. But even then, the burden should be shared, and you need multiple stakeholders to do this properly.

Part of my role at Econsultancy is to oversee and steer our social media strategy, but I’m really just a cheerleader (I’ve seen what it has done for our brand in the past two or three years). I manage Matt, our social media manager, and work with him to define and implement our tactics. But others are involved too: our marketing director, our CEO, our commercial team, and certainly our content team and forward thinking analysts (one of whom - Aliya - set up our Twitter account while I was still bitching about it being a repository of updates relating to the dining habits of people’s cats). 

It’s a team game, and that extends to coordination too. There’s no way that I, or Matt, or anybody else would be able to answer every question that is directed at us via social media channels. Nor would we want to. Others are often much better placed to comment. For example, we ideally want the analyst who wrote a report to answer questions relating to that report. We share the workload. It’s a case of horses for courses.

I know that Econsultancy lives and breathes the internet, and with fewer than 60 staffers it is easy enough to transform the way we work, but I don’t think we’re unique in thinking that we are better placed than any agency to coordinate, manage and develop our own social media strategy.

And if that sounds a bit arrogant or insular then it’s really not meant to be, it’s just that I think we know our business – and our audience – better than any agency does. 

Where agencies can help...

I’m a huge fan of specialist agencies. There are some amazingly talented people in our industry, working in agencies that focus on PR, SEO, advertising, conversion optimisation, user experience and so on. We know a little bit about these areas too, but there’s nothing like hiring an agency to bring new ideas to the table, to look at things with an unbiased eye, and to drive strategic projects aimed at helping us improve our business. We’ve hired all of these types of agencies in the past, and will do so again.

There are also some brilliant social media agencies out there, which can help brands at a campaign level (which is often where many start off with social media… a little toe dipped into the warm water), and also at a strategic level (to figure out how social media channels can support wider business goals). Social media agencies can also help brands to put their houses in order, to plan and prepare, and to show staff the ropes. They can implement the technology and monitoring tools needed to run a slick social media operation. And they can be brilliant for brainstorming – and executing - creative ideas that can put an old brand on the new social media map.

But at an operational level, for large brands, I doubt that any agency in the world is best placed to deal with the kind of feedback we see on the likes of Twitter and Facebook, on a day to day level.  

It’s like PR agencies that deal with crisis management, which is increasingly becoming something of an old school concept. Nowadays a crisis will erupt on social media platforms, and there’s no way that a PR firm can ‘manage’ it. Twitter, as a broadcast medium, is in the hands of the people who use it, and it cannot be manipulated by PRs in the same way that a newspaper can be. The PR agency can provide guidance on how a brand should react in difficult circumstances, but the response needs to come from the brand itself. Twitter is a personal medium, a publishing platform for consumers, and they will use it to ask questions and complain in public. And questions and complaints are normally best answered by customer services reps, not PRs (or social media agency staff, nor in-house marketers for that matter). Horses for courses.

So for me, agencies should be used tactically. They should be brought in – or retained – to help develop social media strategies, and to execute social-orientated marketing campaigns, and to provide relevant advice on planning and operations. I maintain that social media best practice is about sharing the workload internally, and that agencies should be used tactically in a support role. And there is potentially a lot of support needed, so don't for one minute interpret this as a suggestion that social media agencies are redundant. My underlying point is all about who 'owns' social media, which is - I think - vastly different to something like paid search, which can be comfortably and fully outsourced in the blink of an eye. 

As mentioned, for most companies the challenge is a cultural one, and an organisational one. Handing the social media reins to the best agency in the world, no matter what their discipline might be, is not going to help a firm to help itself in the long-run. 

I am braced for your thoughts!

Chris Lake

Published 27 January, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Brendon Kenny

I agree wholeheartedly - some very good points here. A company should own and manage their social media policy but there's no shame in calling in the experts to help them set things up.

The only problems really come about when agencies are greedy and want to maintain control so they can justify charging clients regularly.

Keep up the good work!

over 5 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

A good post Chris and I agree with much of what you say.

I generally have a number of issues with the 'ownership' debate.

Firstly I think it's hard to 'own' a channel; it can be used in many ways - and is in many companies already - and used by different departments in different ways. Clearly this still needs to be managed.

Secondly, of course you are right that ownership (for want of a better word) should reside within the company itself. Social media is all about individuals and conversations. I don't want to be talking to a brand's agency, I want to be talking to the brand itself. Our ethos is very much along these lines: http://t.co/Ksukuwp

Thirdly, when the ownership argument does arise I think what we are generally saying is 'who is best placed to help brands with social media'. My argument is always that it is the PR industry's to loose (and yes, I know I am biased). In the 'earned' and 'owned' media world in which much social media and SEO fits, PR - or (integrated) communication agencies - are well placed. However, it is not all plain sailing and PR agencies need to equip themselves for this new era http://t.co/KTPjK44

over 5 years ago

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Ruth Wagner

Very good post Chris. Another reason social media strategies need to managed by the client is if proper disclosure and transparency is not managed & tracked, the responsibility ultimately falls on the advertiser or brand, per the FTC requirements and regulations on social media.

@Rwagner731
CMP.LY

and of course, my disclosure for transparency
http://www.cmp.ly/4/gropz5

over 5 years ago

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Raechelle Dias

You make some very valid points Chris, although I'm not sure what you mean by "owning your social media". Agencies create ads, press releases, brochures, websites - all items they create, but don't own. A client 'owns' all of it, that's why they've paid for its creation and execution. That being said, I agree entirely that there is no one better than your staff to respond to complaints and inquiries. The reality is the social media world, particularly at the moment, is being flooded with businesses joining the Twitterverse and Facebook. The reality for most businesses is not that they are being bombarded with comments, but the opposite. No one seems to notice they're there. That's where hiring an agency to generate and establish your presence and keep the momentum going is vital. Unless you are a Fortune 500 company, (for which none of this applies as they have entire departments dedicated to social media) your biggest challenge will be offering something worth engaging with and taking note of. Opening up social media accounts will not get you noticed, you need to establish a strategy and business plan. Once you're established and you're social strategy is in place, then yes, run with your own social media. To get you started though, an agency most certainly comes in handy. Thanks for the conversation Chris, it is a great question.

over 5 years ago

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Jeff Ryan

Chris I have to disagree with the notion of ownership. I never heard of agencies "owning" a client's social channel. In my company's case, we work in concert with our clients' PR departments and community managers on their social CRM campaigns. http://elinks.us/wvxl

over 5 years ago

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Paul Roberts

Really good stuff Chris. I don't think what you say is controversial at all. Some people may not want to hear it, but it is very accurate. The only issue I have is regarding customer service being the right folks to handle complaints. There is a point where public complaints and online criticism becomes a PR issue. Otherwise, I agree with all. Thanks for sharing.

over 5 years ago

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Susan Proulx

While writing an article about social marketing yesterday, I thought about my own recent experiences talking to various companies.

The companies who reached out to me directly on Twitter without an intermediary came across as personal, engaging and concerned about their customers. These exchanges enhanced my perception of their brand immeasurably.

We're living in an era of people-to-people communications. Businesses small and large need to personally join the conversation in order to promote and protect their brand. That's been my experience over the past month.

over 5 years ago

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Susan Hamilton

I agree with you, but working in the local small business sector I see that many don't 'embrace' social media, they feel like it's getting forced down their throats by virtually everyone. Many don't initially see the value of their time spent in this manner, but recognize its trending importance.

While some go ahead and learn the ropes, to their betterment, others still need to understand the 'hows' and 'whys' if they are going to survive this economic climate. And I believe that's the biggest argument for social media interaction anyway - as a nation of small business owners, we simply can't afford to NOT be anywhere our clients might be.

I think marketing agencies can help them with strategy implementation and tutoring, but the company has to do it themselves to be truly effective in the long run. Personally, I don't want to speak for anyone else by 'owning' another company's social media presence. I do, however, know some need to be shown how to do it and hand-held for a period of time. I'm happy to help with the understanding that I'm handing them the keys. I'm glad you've addressed this and opened up the conversation.

over 5 years ago

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kids games

Nice article and great food for thought there.

over 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Chris,

Interesting post. I agree from experience, and from keeping an eye on what some brands have been doing, that social media ownership must remain in-house.

Many comments centre around the definition of ownership. For me ownership is taking full responsibility for strategic direction, implementation, review, monitoring and evolution. Ownership is not outsourcing activity to an agency and occasionally looking at data to see if ticks the boxes. It's about believing in social media as an effective commercial/communication tool.

For me the most salient point is that social media is not brand marketing. It should be a genuine conversation between real people. I'm not denigrating the value of brand marketing but there are times when you need to cut through the conceptual and communicate directly, often 1-on-1.

For me brand building/extension is a side effect of social media, not the raison d'etre. To initiate, sustain and evolve genuine conversation you need your own people otherwise it come across as fake and that can do more damage than good.

I was once asked by a CEO why he should bother with social media because it's "a waste of money and only for teenagers". I told him that if that was the company's cultural attitude they shouldn't bother because the negativity would result in poor execution and first they needed to look at changing their culture to embrace what social media could provide.

I think ownership has to come from the top, regardless of who in the company has day to day responsibility. If you don't have board level support, it will only ever be a plaything that isn't correctly aligned to organisational challenges, targets and culture. That opens up another discussion about measurement, integration with analytics etc. Another day....

thanks
james

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Thanks for the comments. To clarify, when I talk about 'ownership' I'm really talking about the level at which the company buys into doing something. Social media is for me something that requires a *total commitment* from an organisation, and it isn't the kind of thing that you can outsource to agencyland without that commitment.

While I suggest that agencies should be used to support clients, it's kind of the other way around, when you think about it: the client needs to commit to social media in such a way as to support an agency's efforts.

over 5 years ago

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Israel Rothman

Very good article and exactly what we are saying for 10 years. please consider joining us at Uplog.org

over 5 years ago

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Martin Soler - Hotel Marketing

Hm some valid points. Probably would work out for a 100+ room hotel. But for the smaller ones I can't see that workout. Managing a Social Media strategy requires quite some understanding of the medias. Turning that over to the one who handles the reservations, the director or the front-desk is setting yourself up for a failure.
I've managed campaigns for some 10+ hotels directly and entirely. It requires constant coordination with the hotel but those hotels to whom I handed this over, let it die in a matter of weeks. And there's no surer way of loosing your followers.

Yes ideally it would be run entirely by a hotel, but practically it's not going to happen until it becomes a surefire revenue generator that deserves a well trained pro.

over 5 years ago

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Rob Mason

Is ownership about someone internally having ultimate accountability for the success or failure and the decision making power? It must be a collaborative process, I agree, however one person needs to ultimately be put on the block otherwise it's death by committee. Also excellent project management skills come with the territory, something that shouldn't be left up to the agency to provide.

over 5 years ago

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mike kirner

I agree with your article and your points. With the experience I have as a blogger and marketing director in charge of social media, you are correct. Ownership definitely should be "in house" and everyone needs to get involved. This, however is easier said then done. Some Senior Vp's just want you to "handle it" so they don't have to worry about social media. Unfortunately they need to get with the program - or get left behind. It's fine to hire an agency and or SEO help, but it must involve everyone to be truly effective and belieavable.

Mike Kirner
Marketing Director

over 5 years ago

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Mike Lanigan

Excellent article and some great feedback.
My concern here is for the small businesses that could benefit from embracing social media but who simply do not have the resources to employ an agency nor do they have the manpower to devote to it. My own focus is small independent luxury hotels, a sector that, in theory, could well benefit and those with a high public profile certainly do. However, without proven ROI, there is no way those that don't are going to devote time and therefore money to the opportunity. They simply cannot afford it. They succeed with successful websites that enable them to dispnse with most other marketing costs...and these days, costs are trimmed to the bone.
The social media opportunity is certainly there but the best thing most small businesses can do is to have a presence on Twitter and Facebook. Alas, any initial enthusiasm will often fade into desultory attention that achieves very little.
What really concerns me, and perhaps I do have a bias here, is when businesses decide that social media is a marketing opportunity when their own websites are underperforming hugely. In my opinion, it's only when a company's website is achieving all the objectives set for it that they should complement the activity with social media. Attention to the latter will not compensate for failure of the former.
Another concern I have is the addictive nature of social media. I have witnessed, first hand, personnel spending amost as much time on their own social media activities as on those of their employers.
In summary, if a company has the resources to fund a marketing department or an agency, then someone in that department/agency can be charged with optimising the social media opportunity. Those that can't tend to dabble and might well conclude that the return simply isn't worth it.

over 5 years ago

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Penny Haywood Calder

Difference between strategy & activity.
Agencies can help to sharpen up both (and all the related communications materials) to encourage integrated posts on major news in an organisation, but authenticity is key and it is all too easy to flatten individual voices with the editors' pencil.
It's also tough for smaller organisations to monitor and keep on top of real-time engagement.
Every organisation has to balance:
a) The achievable in terms of skills, tech savvy to extend reach quickly and time.
b) Plus the affordable (time, resources, energy, money).
c) Plus the effective in terms of engagement and results (in line with the overall goals).
An agency can support from brainstorming, nagging, filling in for absences (best on corporate rather than individual accounts) to drafting up ideas, helping with monitoring, ensuring channels are fed regularly etc.

over 5 years ago

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Paul Harrison

Good timely piece Chris.

As a 'pure play' social media strategy practice, we obviously believe that external advisory has a vital role to play in helping large-scale enterprises realise the value in corporate social networks (in terms of strategy development, research, training, business integration etc).

But when it comes to active participation in open (owned/paid/earned/neutral) networks, it *has* to be the organisation's thought leaders / internal advocates who do the actual engagement (albeit Authorised Users rather than "anyone").

Someone wrote above that we live in an era of person-to-person communication, and I couldn't agree more. We work primarily in B2B and the enormous opportunity for organisations in the context of long, complex sales cycles is to use social media to make their employees more accessible, more helpful - and more human. But this can only happen of course if its real (and digitally demonstrably knowledgeable) people doing the participation.

Final point around Change & Cheerleaders: organisations that are adopting a 'social layer' are going to go through tons of the first, and cannot do it without the second. Its the classic 80/20 split of People/Technologies. Get the first bit right, and the rest will follow. We believe external firms are ideally placed to create the right environment for change, but there has to be that internal buy-in, that enthusiasm, those empowered employees. Zuckerberg tells organisations who don't have a social layer to "Get on the bus". Maybe one could append that by advising them to take a (road)map and get an enthusiastic drivers.

over 5 years ago

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Paul Harrison, Managing Partner at Carve ConsultingSmall Business

Good timely piece Chris.

As a 'pure play' social media strategy practice, we obviously believe that external advisory has a vital role to play in helping large-scale enterprises realise the value in corporate social networks (in terms of strategy development, research, training, business integration etc).

But when it comes to active participation in open (owned/paid/earned/neutral) networks, it *has* to be the organisation's thought leaders / internal advocates who do the actual engagement (albeit Authorised Users rather than "anyone").

Someone wrote above that we live in an era of person-to-person communication, and I couldn't agree more. We work primarily in B2B and the enormous opportunity for organisations in the context of long, complex sales cycles is to use social media to make their employees more accessible, more helpful - and more human. But this can only happen of course if its real (and digitally demonstrably knowledgeable) people doing the participation.

Final point around Change & Cheerleaders: organisations that are adopting a 'social layer' are going to go through tons of the first, and cannot do it without the second. Its the classic 80/20 split of People/Technologies. Get the first bit right, and the rest will follow. We believe external firms are ideally placed to create the right environment for change, but there has to be that internal buy-in, that enthusiasm, those empowered employees. Zuckerberg tells organisations who don't have a social layer to "Get on the bus". Maybe one could append that by advising them to take a (road)map and get an enthusiastic driver.

over 5 years ago

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laurence vandelanotte, Digital Marketing and Strategy at Delaware DigitalEnterprise

Exactly the question I asked on @Quora. The main issue in my opinion is with 'community management'. My answer:

"It is of course a business reality. Companies often do not have the adequate resources/knowledge for community management.

In my opinion conversations should however be held by company representatives, since social media is all about authenticity and transparency. A consultant can also never fully comprehend the mission/vision of the company for which they will engage. Any company that is really serious about its social initiatives should understand this.

However, I do believe companies should be guided in this process until they are ready to do it themselves. An agency/consultant could thus help with contributing (well-defined types of) content for the first
couple of months, while training staff in the meantime. A direct line (!) with an authorized business responsible (e.g. senior marketing manager) is however necessary in case a potential crisis presents itself. Time cannot be lost here."

http://www.quora.com/Should-an-agency-be-doing-community-management

over 5 years ago

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Christopher Boughton -- Memory Box Backup

Great Post Chris! (Awesome name too BTW)
At Memory Box Backup we outsourced a professional (Thanks Mike Seyfang-- @fang) to help bring us up to speed on how to start engaging in social media as well as maintaining an agency to help with other marketing channels. We now have a dedicated team to interact and respond to any social media, and it's vital that it is in-house. The nature of our technology can make it highly technical and most agencies can't really understand let alone respond and react on the fly to questions about it. This means that dedicated professionals that know and believe in the product are the only people qualified to take on this role. Would you want someone who only gets "the sound bite" leading your companies brand? We don't either.

over 5 years ago

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Dan Green

Yes great post. Reviewing the results of our clients’ social media campaigns over the last two years, those with the best results have been engagements where we helped set strategy to match objectives, created integration strategies, trained personnel, and worked with them before handing over the reins entirely.
We stay engaged to measure ROI, re-direct as new opportunities present themselves, or to keep them up to speed on changes, with frequency contingent on client resources and abilities. I’ve learned to enjoy watching clients outperform us in some areas.
We also work with small clients. Large or small, I think ownership is a state of mind first. If the enthusiasm isn’t there at the top, it doesn’t seem to matter who is doing what.

over 5 years ago

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Nick Bowman

I THINK I agree with you...but when has an agency ever owned any sort of communications strategy - social media or otherwise. Any business that allows that to happen is in a dangerous place. Agencies should be brought in to advise, help and support...but ownership should always remain with the client.

over 5 years ago

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Geraldine Daly

I would agree with your comments. I have identified that many smaller companies have not got a proper brand identity, USP and brand strategy which is critical to SM . It's more important now than ever. I find most of the businesses I speak to are not transparent or developing staff - budget always used as an excuse. So they are terrified of staff and customer engagement.

There is great free resource being shared - time is the issue for many now struggling to keep their heads above water. I believe getting specialists in at the beginning, developing the brand and brand strategy, setting up the relevant accounts, monitoring, analysis and benchmarking systems while developing the key staff at the same time is totally necessary.

over 5 years ago

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Tom Huxtable, CRO at EngageSciences

I agree with you. But the various departments that need to get engaged with social media need help. That is why www.engagesciences.com created a platform that templates social media marketing campaigns that the marketing department can use via simple to execute wizards. They can then take ownership of pushing their campaigns out via social channels, without having to bug the overloaded Social Media Manager to do tweets on their behalf, which is frankly not grasping the power of interactive social promotions integrated to the core social features of the main networks which is what marketers need to be doing to engage people on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc

over 5 years ago

Peter Duffy

Peter Duffy, Business Development Director at e-Dialog

Yes, it's perfectly reasonable to own a social strategy in-house, and now is the time to include social as an integral component of a CRM strategy.

But if you're planning to use social media across your company, you may want to consider using a social media management systems (SMMS).

A good SMMS tool will allow you to manage, monitor, and measure your voice across multiple social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, blogs, and more. An SMMS tool will help ensure your messages are consistent with your overall marketing voice, and that your social media work is scalable, repeatable and measurable.

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

Nice post, Chris. In my view, the strategy ownership debate is a bit of red herring (of course a business ultimately owns its strategy, even if an agency helped to form it), but I think you are making two big points:

1) The human, unpredictable, authentic aspects of social media interaction are hard for an agency or supplier to do well on behalf of a business.

- That's certainly right, yet businesses DO outsource things like customer service, online moderation and PR. The problem exists outside of online channels too (eg telephone customer service). In these cases the supplier must become like an extension of your business (hard, but not impossible). The customer views them as being part of the business. The supplier gets to know the culture, values and detail.

2) Being truly successful in social media requires cultural change within a business. Businesses need to appreciate this and go through the change process themselves.

- Absolutely agree. Keeping social media at arm's length by outsourcing means the business won't reap the full benefits of interacting with their audience in real time and taking personal responsibility for these relationships.

over 5 years ago

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Anna O'Brien

I have spent time on both sides of the fence both as a VP of Social Media of a top 10 worldwide brand and as director of social media for agency and speak to both side ( something not many posting here can do). You'll notice that recently many brand people have gone to agencies. And there's a reason. Yes, dialogue and customer engagement should live within the brand, but that's a very small portion of the activity. Building the beast, planning, and content organization often end up in the agency. You mention listening being an internal function. In part, you're right. Day to day monitoring of a brand should live within the brand. But, monthly reports and large scale analysis likely will be outsourced. Why? Two reasons. 1) There is frankly a mass shortage of social media measurement specialists.2) That's what happens for most large scale data analysis within a brand from web analytics to database analysis.

Agencies are in many ways faster, less biased by internal politics, ans better equipped to act as a sounding block.There's less red tape, more focus on collaboration, and generally more comfort with the subject matter at a macro level. That said, an agency should be a partner to social success, not a social media overlord. That means empowering the brand to make decisions and drive the road map. This is not easy for most agencies to do.

Also, this arrangement works best with how large companies are structured. Many companies are limited in their head count, but have a sizable budget for agency spend- something you neglected to mention here. That means, we'd have to be in some social media utopia to assume every brand would be able to retain the type of headcount it would take to run a proper internal social media group.

over 5 years ago

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Gifford Morley-Fletcher

A great post Chris, and I for one totally get what you mean by 'ownership'. In the world of B2B, where products are often far more complex, the knowledge, and therefore the ability to communicate intelligently, exists within companies and not with their agencies. Our primary role is to educate, help define and manage a strategy, and also to co-ordinate. We find that in many cases the knowledge and the will to communicate is there, but that the resources aren't always available to ensure that things happen, and to analyse the results and keep the strategy on track. That's where the agency fits in.

over 5 years ago

Simon McClure

Simon McClure, Group Account Director at MotortrakSmall Business Multi-user

I agree with most of what you are saying. In my opinion the digital marketing agency should provide the tools for the brand to easily see what is being said, and give the appropriate medium to respond. They should not be the responder as they can never know the brand as well as the brand itself. Where the digital solution scores highly is by providing an interface that monitors, allows fast reaction and consistency of voice across multiple SM sites / profiles.

over 5 years ago

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Alison Cort, PR Director at Browser Media

I agree with most of the points raised but think external agencies are absolutely vital in the stage before execution – ‘the listening’. The article focussed mainly on the execution of social media campaigns (who is actually responding and answering questions be that the sales team, CEO etc.) but agencies can be a real asset at the listening stage and a valued extra pair of ears.

By properly reviewing the online noise it is possible to capture the current zeitgeist for the benefit of an organisation – whether that be reviewing product ranges to meet a new trend or getting a heads up on a potential industry issue before it snowballs.

Our experience is that most clients do want to be at the coal face but they struggle to find time to monitor as well as respond. As Chris says, social media needs to be collaborative and savvy clients will use agencies tactically to their benefit.

over 5 years ago

Steve Richards

Steve Richards, MD at Yomego

Punchy headline, Chris! But I think you're right.

There must be a commitment by all stakeholders within a client company if a social media strategy is to taken seriously and adopted effectively. The should 'own' it; agreed.

Agencies can add value, as you mention, and specialist who live and breathe social are arguably best placed to apply expert help. Our work is always a stepping stone towards a client 'owning' and implementing their own strategy.

Specialist agencies are well-placed to provide context, best practice, training, tailored monitoring, new ideas, and help clients to embrace new technology but ultimately there's nothing quite like the horse's mouth.

over 5 years ago

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Susan

The words "ownership" and "control" shouldn't be associated with social media. An agency providing strategy and training to a their client's employees is a good combination.

over 5 years ago

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Karen Emanuelson

Does it really matter if Kellogg's outsources their Samoas Facebook page to an agency and pays the agency to maintain the site or if they pay an intern to monitor it inhouse? As long as the company's personality and voice come through, the ultimate employer of the social media manager doesn't really matter.

In either case, the social media manager must truly understand the company's vision and attitude as well as the company's goals and objectives for the social media network. The disconnect comes when a company pays (or doesn't pay, as in the case with an intern) someone to "go do our Facebook stuff." Without a sense of direction, it doesn't matter who is doing the work -- the social media interaction will not represent the company and their brand.

over 5 years ago

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John Cass

Hi Chris,

Good post, you are right brands do need to own social media. But I ask, can they quickly and effectively?

I think the issue is rather how agencies can help a brand to get up to speed successfully. I argue as such in my response post to your post, and give examples of how. http://bit.ly/gQvnuc

over 5 years ago

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Lisa Devaney

I'm not sure any business can *own* a social media conversation, but what works great is when they act more as facilitators, being a brand's online comperes.

Applause for presenting an excellent case for why social media should be driven internally, and developed with agency engagement. Stop the dumping please: http://su.pr/6caWV9

over 5 years ago

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Tom Cornish

I think Lisa makes an excellent point about 'owning' Social Media conversations. Social Media is fundamentally user-generated. In Social Media the consumer controls the brand, but there is scope to engage with them, facilitate their conversations, and monitor their feedback.

Agencies do have a role to play, but it's better to look at agencies who operate in Social Media themselves rather than those who have 'Social Media services'.

The strongest credentials an agency can have are a popular blog, twitter feed etc. These people are fluent in Social Media and will provide an unobtrusive, but effective service.

www.blurGroup.com

over 5 years ago

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Allister Frost

It's a the cultural change piece that requires most attention in my world. Old style marketers are used to buying influence, writing a cheque to gain the standout they need for their brand. That alone doesn't work any longer, but I can understand why that's the default choice for many marketers starting out on a journey into the social web. And, that's why it's also understandable that many marketers will look to outsource the heavy-lifting job of engaging with real people online. Of course, wholesale outsourcing doesn't work, but old habits die hard. I expect the current generation of young marketers will look back with some fondness when they remember these awkward times when the old guard eventually surrendered to the new... Thanks for the article.

over 5 years ago

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SEO expert

You're right on the money here Chris. If you're referring to small to medium sized business. But the big guys need do need to draft in outside assistance. Frankly, not many corporates will have the capability to build new Facebook aps in house. Nor will they necessarily have the networks that are needed to generate rapid, viral penetration into the social networks. Great post .. and plenty of people agreeing with you. Well done.

over 5 years ago

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Rax Lakhani

There are some really interesting comments in this thread which mainly reinforce my own view that social media is not really a channel that is 'ownable' due to the wide range complexities, depth and possibilities that these emerging platforms offer marketers.

I also read the PR Week piece that also appeared last week here in the UK about the "Who owns social media" debate.

Onlinefire's views are written up on our blog. Click my name above to read the full comment.

Thanks Chris for doing the subject justice. Great piece!

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Rax - Thanks for the mention in your own article. I just think that a company needs to really commit to SM to do it properly, and that for many it's a cultural and cross-departmental challenge. But once all the stakeholders are singing in tune, they can bring in as many agencies as they like to help them to execute the strategy. It doesn't work the other way around because no agency can tell the Customer Services Director at BigTelecomsCompany what to do.

@Lisa / @Tom - It's not so much about owning the conversation, which is impossible, but more about taking ownership of the commitment to social / customer centricity / engagement within a business itself. As Rax says, it is incredibly complex, both externally and internally. Unless real buy-in exists at board / senior management level then I think any agency, no matter how well it does, will be hamstrung, and progress limited.

over 5 years ago

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Alex Hardie, Founder Director at HowDoYouDo Marketing Ltd

Nice peice. Well researched and well thought out. I think where social media agencies can play a role in some of the more 'executional' day-to-day peices of the campaign is in their experience of your industry. Having said that, you're right, there's nothing like being an inhouse employee who cares about the company. I introduced this to an IT company recently. The opportunity they were missing was that their techy guys were hugely knowledgable which was a massive value add for their customers and prospective customers. By showing them how to blog, for instance, you could easily drive up engagement and offer numerous SEO benefits while you were at it. And that's just one tactic.

over 5 years ago

Alexander Lund

Alexander Lund, Digital Marketing Manager at Study Group

Very interesting article. What about small businesses that can not afford to hire an employee to manage their social media strategy or are not able to use this techonology? Could a social media strategy be outsourced for foreign hotels that have a target market in a foreign country and do not have the assets or knowledge and even do not speak the language very well the language of their target market? In this case could be justified for a small hotel to outsource their social media strategy to an agency that understands the target market and speaks the language.

over 5 years ago

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George Phillip

Great post on social media. I definitely agree that a social media strategy should be owned by the company.

over 5 years ago

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anton

That why it is good to train the client on SEO and rather give him/her a service where you can adjust his or her articles for SEO purposes for them. In the end you also get the clients trust so that he can see for himself what he is paying a month.

over 3 years ago

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Helen Parker, Consultant at Helen Parker

Thanks for this interesting post. I have to agree with Jeff and disagree on the notion of ownership. An agency never owns a client's social channel - they just help to manage their accounts, and this is particularly useful for those small business that are keen to move forward and develop their own social media but luck the time or knowledge to do it themselves properly. Here is a good example of successful social media outsourced marketing and socia media http://www.bbsa-marketing.com

about 2 years ago

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