Letters, June 15, 2009

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Should We Segregate Social Media?

RE: Jonah Bloom's "Dedicated Social-Media Silos? That's the Last Thing We Need" (AA, June 8). Nice piece. Couldn't agree with you more. We addressed this ourselves by creating a team that incorporates strategy, media, creative and technology across our global team. We did this as we recognized that social-communication skills must not sit in a silo. They should instead course through the veins of the agency. This being said, we do have some specialists at strategy level (the space moves so quickly that this is essential), and have introduced some new skill sets (e.g., online PR). But ultimately our aim is for all our people to integrate social communications into all our strategies.

What I think the piece probably misses are some of the challenges that exist in the space for agencies. For a start, many marketers view social media as cheap and quick, which it isn't and shouldn't be. It takes time to deliver meaningful results, and time, as we all know, means money. Delivering through the existing agency framework and making it cost-effective just isn't working. There is definitely an education job to be done here, and some of the more entrenched agencies are going to find it hard to adapt quickly.

Secondly, digital natives' behavior has fundamentally changed. It's changed so much that it now requires a certain rewiring of the brain for many people within agencies.

I have no doubt that for those that get it right, there are amazing opportunities to be had here. Matching basic human motivations with the evolving online behaviors allows us to play in a far wider marketing sphere. In the short term though, it is clear that some agencies will struggle to cope with this shifting landscape, and some specialized outfits will continue to make hay whilst the social sun is shining.

Daniele Fiandaca

Jonah's position misses some important points: Social media (or, more accurately, the social web) is much more than a marketing channel. It's a customer-service channel. Like it or not, consumers will use it this way even if you think you're just creating a marketing campaign.

That means smart engagement in that channel will always require a much deeper, on-the-ground understanding of what customers need and want than most agency people will ever be privy to. So it makes sense for agencies to develop expertise in social-media strategies and methodologies to guide clients in the right direction. Likewise, agencies will be helpful in building stuff for the social web, but actual engagement will more likely need to be handled by client-side marketers and customer-service agents. Hybrids will emerge who have a deep understanding of this environment, yet sometimes don't even think of themselves as marketers.

It's delusional for agencies to think they will "own" social media in the way they owned media buying, direct marketing, creative, etc. It just won't happen. The role agencies should play in this new milieu is to guide clients in the right direction, provide them with initial support services, and then push them out of the nest to work on it themselves (i.e., grow and manage their own communities, however those are generated) and dive in to help out whenever their expertise is warranted. Obviously this approach will not provide agencies with the type of gravy they were accustomed to with media buys, direct mail, etc. The revenue models for agencies will be completely different down the road. But that's another column.

Carri Bugbee
Big Deal PR
Portland, Ore.

Jonah, great commentary. I am in total agreement.

I have had so many arguments with social-media "gurus" (or, I should say, "fauxrus") who deny that social media is exactly what its name suggests: another media channel. They argue passionately that social media is an entirely new form of marketing and communications that deserves an entirely new infrastructure, methodology, set of rules, religion and even professional organization. In short, as you noted, a big, fat, battle-hardened silo!

Patrick Dichiro
San Francisco


RE: "Universities Finally Espousing Branding" (AA, June 1). The story incorrectly reported the year for the most recent operating revenue for UCLA, the University of Maryland and Cornell University; it was fiscal year 2007-2008, not 2008-2009. Also, the revenues for the University of Maryland and Cornell University were incorrect; Maryland took in $960.5 million and Cornell $2.6 billion. To clarify, the University of Maryland referenced in the article is the flagship institution of the University System of Maryland.

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