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Is the Social Media Department an Oxymoron?

  |  November 4, 2010   |  Comments

A look at how social media has influenced experts and changed their process, communication protocols, and client opportunities.

The team in our agency that handles social media is deeply engaged every day with facilitating conversations and interactions between brands and their customers but so are our search and media teams, the creative department, the technology experts, the e-mail group, and the client service and project management folks. Social media has changed all of us in digital marketing – not just those involved in the day-to-day practice of social media. The impact is pervasive.

I thought I would poll our subject matter experts across the agency and get their take on some of the ways in which social media has influenced them and changed their process, communication protocols, and client opportunities.

Integrated media team (search and display):

  • Social media allows us to find out what truly resonates with consumers to reinforce or contradict research and use it to better target search. We use social data and insights to align campaigns, content, bidding strategies, and ad copy with what people deem most important. These insights can change how we structure site content, ad copy, and keywords. For instance, you may find out that the calories of a given food product are much more important to the consumer audience than cholesterol or, vice versa, when your initial focus may have been on the lesser important variable. You might not find that out by just checking search volume.
  • For display media, social provides another opportunity to effectively reach consumers using social targeting with a richer, more recent, and more relevant consumer profile. It also facilitates the ability to reach friends of friends through highly effective social activation ads on social sites.


  • The biggest impact social media has had in the creative realm is in bringing down departmental walls, both inside the agency and at the client level. Boundaries are becoming blurred between creative, media, PR, search, research, and planning. The successful parties will be the ones who are able to embrace that new landscape. Individuals or departments who find they are fighting to hold on to their piece of the "old" pie are going to find they are empty-handed eventually as true integration is on the horizon.
  • Much more "big thinking" is required; whereas previously a narrowed, single-focus idea was a great jumping off point to a campaign, we now need to take 10 steps back and take so much more into consideration. It's critical to tie offline with online and social media in smart ways where the online elements complement the (usually more expensive) offline and make it work that much more effectively. When that is done, it's like a huge, magical value-add that puts the campaign or program on steroids.

Marketing and business development:

  • Social media enhances our ability to engage with our customers and prospective customers. If you don't know them, you can't talk with them - you'll be talking at them .
  • Social media has changed how we prepare for client or prospect meetings. Clients and prospects expect that you know what social media platforms they are using, and how they are interacting with their consumers within those environments. They also appreciate when you bring social media data/insights to the table that they may not have been aware of. A lot of times this data will confirm or deny assumptions they have made. It always makes for interesting conversation.


  • Social media has challenged us to keep up-to-date on new technologies, products, and services and learn new solutions as soon as they're discovered. This is particularly difficult to do in tech when something is new every day, but this model allows us to help each other. The inverse of this is the need for improved information management internally.
  • We can draw on a broader set of resources to "meet" non-local people who use the same technologies that we do (for example, a WordPress fanatic in Seattle). This allows us to research solutions to known problems and benefit from direct contact with the experts and the product developers themselves.
  • We use social media input as part of the evaluation process when looking at tools and technologies. Good feedback can help us edit down the list of potentials. If no one is working with a tool, then we take a different approach – either finding another or performing a bigger evaluation ourselves. Reading blogs and articles are good, but tweets will often be more "raw." While we don't rely on individual tweets, we do take notice if a pattern emerges (good or bad).


  • There is almost no project, initiative, or digital marketing effort where social media or "socializing" the program/project should not be part of the strategic thinking.
  • It is now more critical than ever that digital have a seat at the strategy table. Social media has risen above the program or initiative level. Direction and buy-in has to come from the top to raise awareness of what is possible across disciplines, to identify the appropriate tools, technologies, channels, and messaging that will connect with your audience and support your objectives.
  • Social media requires that you plan for impacts outside of your control at a level well beyond just competitive response. Now you have to be prepared with a response to consumer feedback.

Client service:

  • For most clients, the initial enthusiasm for engaging in social media is soon eclipsed by the recognition that doing it right is hard work and requires a long-term commitment. It often requires the redirection or addition of resources. We need to help them understand and overcome these obstacles.
  • Effective implementation of social media is often at odds with deep-seated political barriers within the company organization. Working with one client's PR group, another client's marketing group, and another client's interactive department each presents unique opportunities and challenges.
  • As social media continues to grow in terms of number of participants and new applications of social media are adding momentum (e.g., social shopping, Groupons, etc.), agency partners need to research and vet these opportunities aggressively on behalf of our clients.
  • The economy continues to force most to do more marketing with less money, and social media is relatively inexpensive compared to traditional media. There is an ongoing education process with clients to help them understand the true costs of supporting these programs that resembles the conversations we often had in the olden days about the true costs of SEO.
  • Marketers continue to search for the best metrics to gauge the efficacy of social media. Some want to calculate social media "ROI" to make an apples-to-apples comparison to offline tools, some use criteria associated with traditional media (e.g., impressions and clicks), and others take measurement to the next level of sophistication (e.g., specific page views, number of Facebook "Likes," and number of Twitter followers). A few have even embraced the concept of segmenting social media messaging and results by a user's place in the traditional purchase funnel. Each client has specific and unique reporting and analysis needs which require definition and consensus, collection, and analysis.
  • Social media is gaining traction among progressive B2B companies who recognize that marketing is about ideas…and social media can accelerate the communication of ideas. B2B companies require a different social tool set and mind set.

That's the agency perspective - at least one agency, but corporate needs differ. The impact of social media on the client side would be a column – perhaps a book, unto itself. In-house social media leads or departments may be required to create change in long-established attitudes and business process. While an in-house social media lead runs a thread through all that is happening in the company back out to their audiences, the challenge for agencies is to bring social thinking and the social practice across the agency into all core disciplines. This makes a siloed social media practice an oxymoron for agencies.

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Robin Neifield

Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.

Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.

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