Are You Social? Unmasking the Social Media Gurus
Social media expenditure by big brands and small businesses alike is set to grow during 2010. With it comes a growing band of social media agencies, ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’, prompting cynicism from some quarters. New Media Knowledge’s Chris Lee caught up with one fast-growing agency to find out what they do.
If social media had a good 2009, then next year looks even more promising. According to recent research from market-watchers Econsultancy, 86 per cent of companies expect to increase their spending on social media campaigns during 2010.
One of the UK social media industry’s rising stars is London-based We Are Social, whose clients include brands including Ford, Eurostar, Skype and the WWF. NMK caught up with We Are Social’s managing partner, Nathan McDonald, to see how social media agencies operate and how they differ from other more traditional marketing and public relations consultancies.
Briefly explain what We Are Social does and why it’s different from a ‘traditional’ PR agency?
We help brands to listen, understand and engage in conversations in social media. We do this via consultancy services, research and insight, and by developing strategies for engagement which we then implement and measure.
We view social media in a different way to PR, partly because we have all been living and breathing social media for many years, and partly because the team here is a real mix of disciplines. Some of us have worked in digital marketing for 10 years or more, some of us in PR, whilst others come from client side marketing or community management backgrounds.
But mostly I think our philosophy is fundamentally different: we view social media as so much more than a channel which messages can be communicated to the public. So our approach to any given brief is far less restricted than a traditional PR agency.
You’ve grown really quickly. What do you cite as your most impactful campaigns?
We're very proud of the work we did with Skype, which is a really exciting brand to work on, and whilst there were specific campaigns (for example the launch of their Version 4.0 for Windows last year), we developed and implemented a range of social media programmes and processes across a number of key areas of their business - both operational and marketing.
We're also really proud of the current work we are doing with Unilever to launch "Marmite XO" in social media - without a penny of paid-for media.
There’s a lot of cynicism around towards the value of social media consultants - one thinks of the social media guru spoof, for example. How do you cost-justify what you do to clients and potential clients?
We always start by asking what the business and/or communications objectives are. We then work with the client to agree meaningful measurement criteria. It's not always possible to get a direct return-on-investment figure, but we track things like the volume of conversation, sentiment and the authority and influence of the conversations we generate.
Social media marketing expenditure is due to go up again in 2010 – what questions should brands ask of social media consultants in the selection process?
They should ask what experience they have in developing a strategy, implementing it, and measuring it against the objectives that were set. They should look to see what tools and processes the agency has developed and refined.
They should also evaluate the amount of (and expertise of) the resource that will be working on their brand. Participating in social media can be time consuming, so clients need to make sure there is some depth to the team they appoint: it's one thing being sold a great strategy by the senior people in an agency, it's another thing to have Account Managers that know what they are doing implementing it.