>> Monday, September 28, 2009
Advertising Week last week was loaded with rich content on virtually every aspect of "advertising", or as I prefer to say "marketing". Our digital guru, William Martino, participated on a panel about social media, so I asked him to recap his experience here.
Hope this finds you well -- Jim.
This past Thursday (Sept 24th), I had the pleasure of participating in the ANA's 2009 Agency/Client Forum as part of Advertising Week here in NY. Moderated by Steve Rubel, SVP, Director of Insights at Edelman Digital, I joined Paul Dunay, Global Managing Director of Services Marketing at Avaya, and Phyllis Joseph, Senior Lead, Communications at Unilever, as we discussed "Who Owns Social Media?"
Although social media has been with us for a few years, the space continues to change and evolve at an incredibly fast pace, so our discussion was rich with questions to answer and areas to explore. Beginning with our own definitions of social media, and ranging all the way to how agencies and clients are selling and buying it -- we covered a lot of ground, but we touched upon two areas specifically that I find intriguing.
The first is about agencies, and which type of agency is "right" for social media. Personally, I don't think there's a right or wrong answer, although some agencies are better suited than others. As an integrated marketing agency, I feel strongly that our proximity to brand strategy, coupled with our ability to identify and understand consumer insights, puts us in a position to create opportunities within the social space that are truly engaging and relevant. We love big ideas and innovative tactics, but when they are not strategically grounded or tied to brand goals, they are misguided.
We're certainly not the only agency with these capabilities or this point of view, and great thinking is coming out of a variety of different shops, be they digital, PR, or integrated; independent or part of a large network. Clients should be less concerned about the type of agency they are working with, and more concerned with the people within these organizations.
Do they have a passion for (not just knowledge of) social media? Do they have a presence in the space where they experiment and share a point of view? Do they use these technologies day-to-day, as an indispensable part of how they do business?
This industry has always been about people and team chemistry, and it's no different now that we're creating Facebook pages instead of TV spots (if anything, it's MORE important).
The second area is about organizational change, which I feel is the single biggest obstacle standing in the way of companies fully embracing social media. As I mentioned during our discussion, a radical shift in thinking and working is now necessary—from an approach where it takes 4 months to create a stand-alone piece to thinking and acting like a content publisher, where the dialogue is rapid, the expected response time is immediate, and your work is never finished.
Thankfully, agency teams and brand teams alike are starting to make necessary changes so their people and processes can be more nimble, flexible, and better equipped to live in a social world.
Paul and Phyllis touched upon how they are facing these challenges within their organizations, and their approaches, while a little different, mirror the two major philosophies that I see when working with our clients.
One, which is similar to what Paul is doing, is to centralize the thinking so that best practices can be shared across teams and there is clear accountability in terms of leadership. Whether these types of teams are formally created or organically grown, I'm seeing more and more of them sprout up.
Contrasting that is a decentralized approach, which is similar to what Phyllis shared. Here, the thinking and empowering is "pushed down" so that individual brand teams have the autonomy to do what's right for their individual needs and the people that are closer to the customer handle the major decision-making.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each: centralized thinking can certainly help unify a company's approach, making sure thinking from one brand can be applied to another, missteps are minimized, and efficiencies are gained. But it can also paralyze teams, making them timid to try anything unless they have the green light from above.
Decentralized empowerment fosters healthy trial and error, experimentation, and unique solutions that solve unique needs. However, effort may be wasted and success may not be shared across teams without clear leadership or if lines of communication are not open.
Just like identifying the right agency to partner with, companies must look at their distinct needs, culture, and people to define an approach that is right for them.
Despite the healthy discussion, I think we all left with more questions than answers, which is indicative of a space that is maturing by the minute. But after letting our conversation sink in for a few days, I realized that we never really answered our primary question, which was "Who owns social media?"
The reality is, CONSUMERS own social media, not brands and certainly not agencies. Whether we like it or not, we now must market our brands in a landscape where consumers have the tools to make their voice heard, and the technology to hear what everyone else is saying. Any more hesitation on the part of a brand to participate and engage in dialogue with their consumers is extremely risky. It's not about waiting to get this "right", but about participating now (ie. small pilot programs with a focus on learning, experimentation, and quick wins), and doing so with a spirit of honesty and transparency.
Our consumers expect this dialogue and if they don't get it, they're going to vote with a lot more than their wallet.
- William Martino, Digital Strategist at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness