Why Ad Agencies Shouldn’t Do Social Media

The short version

Managing a brand’s social media presence is a waste of time for creatives because it requires them to use a different set of skills and spend time cultivating communities and building relationships, which takes time and energy away from creating killer creative.

The long version

Winning social media is not promotional and it’s not creative, at least not the way advertising is. It’s about building relationships. It’s about having authentic interactions with your followers and fans (likers?). It’s about content, yes, but not about selling or soliciting. And it’s not about concept. (Although, in some cases it can be about providing special offers.)

Great creatives should spend their time making great creative.

Public relations, however, is already set up to build relationships, develop trust through authentic content, and handle consistent and effective communications.

At The Hodges Partnership, we’ve been able to forge some interesting partnerships between our clients and their audiences. (I feel compelled at this point to draw attention to the disclaimer to your right expressing that this post represents my opinions only.) For instance, last year Morton’s The Steakhouse held a quarterly series of “community conversations,” called An Evening at Morton’s, where panelists discussed topics over dinner at Morton’s and interested citizens followed along on a liveblog and on Twitter (using the hashtag #steakchat). The program was successful enough that it was renewed this year as a partnership with Richmond.com, and now takes place every other month. (Look out for the next one June 22. I should also mention that this event predates my employment at THP, so I had nothing to do with its development.)

Now, maybe that doesn’t strike you as a fabulous idea, but it has generated wonderful conversation around the topics, from exploring Richmond’s identity as a participatory sports town to discussing the Richmond arts scene or the environment local non-profits and charities face in the current economic and political climate.

Some of our social media projects involve collaborating with our friends at various ad agencies to create promotions to build up communities on social networking sites, but the real work for us is cultivating the community — that is, maintaining and developing those relationships, and equipping our clients with the tools to do the same. Engaging fans, followers and readers not with promotion or marketing, but with useful information and authentic interactions.

You may shake your head in disagreement reading this, saying to yourself that advertising copywriters are adept at creating content of all types. Through my own ad agency, PR firm, corporate and freelance experiences creating (and refining) different kinds of content, I’ve experienced how easy it is to cross the line from informing to selling. While things are always changing in the nascent social space, so far users haven’t reacted well to being sold to, even in the opt-in worlds of Twitter and Facebook.

This isn’t a question about what ad agencies CAN do, it’s about what they should do. If you’re an ad agency, you have talented writers who create winning concepts, write compelling headlines and script successful commercials. It’s tempting to put those writers to work creating tweets and status updates. But what of the opportunity cost of asking them to manage a brand’s social media presence? The time your copywriter spends reading brand mentions on twitter and responding to comments on Facebook and blogs is a distraction from what she was hired to do. Perhaps you’re thinking billable time is billable time, but when that set of ad concepts is due by 5, you want your creatives to be free to concentrate on their primary jobs without letting your social media presence lapse.

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