How to build a successful social agency

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“Building a social agency”, a free webinar hosted by Argyle Social, explored what it’s like to start, expand, and scale a social media agency. The webinar, which took place January 26, 2012, used the experiences of Ignite Social Media, a social agency from North Carolina, as a case study. Eric Boggs of Argyle Social and Jim Tobin of Ignite Social Media hosted the hour-long webinar.

Jim generously offered lots of tidbits about his experience with Ignite. Here are five tips that stood out for me:

1. Walk the walk – a.k.a. Do social media well.

This is true for any type of agency, but it’s even more true for social media agencies – clients expect social agencies to walk the walk and be doing well with social media.

Are you blogging to demonstrate that you know the industry? Is your Twitter account properly managed and do you have systems in place to listen to what’s being said about you and your industry? These are just some basic things you ought to be asking yourself if you’re positioning your company as a social media expert.

Jim also touched on declining clients. He said social agencies should do one thing really well and should not be afraid to turn down work if it doesn’t align with the company’s core competency.

2. Specialize in social media.

Know your core competency, and specialize on that. If you’re positioning your company as a social media agency, then don’t get bogged by adding in PR or advertising services. Just focus on what you’re really good at.

I thought that this was actually a particularly controversial stance. I’d think that clients expect agencies to provide integrated marketing services, but given that Intense is experiencing success, perhaps there’s still something to be said about being good at one thing instead of being mediocre at several things.

3. When creating strategies, think beyond platforms: think POST.

Jim emphasized the importance of taking the time to create winning strategies for the client. Ignite Social Media’s workflow, for instance, calls for 8 to 10 weeks to come up with a strategy. Good strategy takes time to shape.

He also offered the following as a basic structure when coming up with tactics for clients (abbreviation is POST):

  • People – This refers to your clients’ audiences. Where are they hanging out? If they’re tech geeks who are early adopters, they might be on Google Plus. If they’re creative women, Pinterest might be their social media of choice. Don’t start coming up with tactics unless you have a super clear idea of the audience you’re trying to reach.
  • Objectives – What are your client’s objectives? Is it to increase brand awareness? Increase sales? Let your clients have clear objectives so you can craft strategies and tactics that support those objectives.
  • Strategies – Determine the end point you have in mind, and be sure that you and your client clear about it.
  • Technologies – Once you have a clear picture of your audience, objectives, and strategies,picking the technology  (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) comes naturally and easily.

In a nutshell, the POST method encourages agencies to think beyond platforms and to consider outcomes — an important message, I think.

4. Create workflow and feedback loops. Use them.

Social media disasters (such as the recent one with Papa John’s) are not unheard of. For many companies, a social media disaster (either in small or a big scale) is a matter of when, not of if.

A social agency should therefore have “escalation paths”. Be clear on who the social agency needs to contact (PR, legal, etc.) if ever there’s a crisis. Jim also recommended maintaining good relationship with your clients’ PR or marketing departments.

5. Crush your competition by providing valuable content.

Finally, Jim emphasized the importance of content marketing if you’re a social agency. Simply put, you can win clients with your content.

At the very least, your social agency should be blogging regularly. Ignite Social Media provides incentives for employees to blog. Jim said, “If you really want to understand something, blog about it.” I agree with this, and it’s a huge reason why I blog regularly.

It’s also important to be interesting. When hiring new employees, ask them about their passions. Look beyond the skills they’ve listed on their resumé.

Applicable to any agency?

I think that professionals from any industry can learn a lot from Ignite’s way of crafting a social media marketing strategy. These days, clients trust and do business with companies that have clout and that can provide additional value. Blogging is certainly one way of establishing reputation.

What do you think of these tips? What other tactics can social media agencies use to stand out?

Photo: Matthew Burpee

© 2012, KC Claveria. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please link back to kcclaveria.com

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  • http://ItsDifferent4girls.com Linda Sherman

    POST: People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology. Nice. Passing on to my pals at @SocialMediaClub #SMCHI

    • http://kcclaveria.com KC Claveria

      Hi Linda! Thanks for the comment. Not sure if you’ve seen @twitter-8064862:disqus’s follow up response. He mentioned that POST was a concept originally put forward by Forrester. It’s definitely a great framework when thinking about social media marketing strategies.

      Cheers!
      Kelvin

  • http://twitter.com/jtobin Jim Tobin

    Glad you enjoyed the webinar and thanks for the nice write up.

    A couple thoughts:
    1) I got the POST acronym from the smart folks at Forrester. That’s not  mine, but I use it all the time;
    2) If you’re going to be a social media agency, specializing and rejecting other work seems to me to be the only way to go. But there are lots of folks who are setting up generalist agencies and doing well and others with, say, PR firms adding social. Some are doing well with that business model. I just believe that you can’t be good at everything, so you shouldn’t try.

    Thanks again for spending the time. 

    • http://kcclaveria.com KC Claveria

      Hi Jim. Thanks so much for the clarification. Really great to hear about Ignite Social Media.