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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The Blind Side Kinda Sucked

A chronicle of my trip to San Fancisco.

Skip to the part about The Blind Side, if you so choose.

Last week I attended Eye for Travel’s Social Media Strategies for Travel conference at the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf. I haven’t updated the blog in a while, so I thought I’d write about the trip in general and the conference specifically.

First, for what it’s worth, I didn’t have any trouble with the signal on my iPhone while I was there. But, I stayed near Fisherman’s Wharf most of the time.

I flew out at four on Tuesday, so I had time to rally the office (and some people from other nearby offices) for #takotuesday at the Boka Tako Truck. The tacos were great and I highly recommend that you check them (they post their schedule on their web site and on Twitter).

The conference, which was all day Wednesday and Thursday, had an interesting format—it was organized into panels, but the panelists gave presentations individually, then answered questions from the attendees as a group. As you can imagine, the results were somewhat mixed. I particularly liked the presentations by Virgin America, Google, InterContinental Hotel Group, Forrester Research, and Vail Resorts. The conference organizers promised to make the slides available, and if they’re on the web somewhere, I’ll link to them with some more detail about the presentations.

There was some talk about Foursquare at the conference (but not as much as I thought there would be, considering all the hotels represented) and someone added the event as a location, but after just two checkins at the hotel restaurant I was awarded mayorship. I guess I was the only one willing to publicly declare my presence in a hotel bar.

I’ve been to several SMCRVA events, and even a social media conference in Fairfax, so I was curious to see if people outside of Virginia had anything different to say about social media. I did learn some new things about how hotels and other locations are using social media, but for the most part there doesn’t seem to be anything big we’re missing in RVA. I wonder if a general-interest social media conference would have been a different experience.

A buddy of mine from college happens to live out in San Francisco, so we caught up on Thursday after the conference. It was great to see him, but my main takeaway from the experience was that I’m old: I hadn’t seen him in nearly ten years.

(Skip the following long story about my flights home.)

Friday morning after breakfast I stopped by the hotel’s business center (a euphemism they use for a closet with two crappy computers with credit card readers on them) to print my boarding pass. (Fortunately, they did provide the ability to print boarding passes for free.) That’s when I found out my one o’clock flight was delayed until after three. Meaning I’d miss my connection to RIC. Delta’s web site nicely offered to let me book an alternate flight, but the slow-as-molasses “business center” computer had time limit, which expired while I was looking for a new seat.

I called the airline who nicely offered to let me stay overnight in Detroit and fly back to Richmond in the morning. Thanks, but no thanks. I tried to talk them into booking a different airline that would get me back to RIC around midnight as planned, but the best I could do was book a 10:45 p.m. red eye to Atlanta, to arrive home at 10 a.m.

For some reason, my boarding passes would not print from the Delta site. Expecting a problem (my day hadn’t been going swimmingly so far), I cut short my tour of San Francisco and headed to the airport four hours early (unwisely subjecting myself to rush hour). I checked in at the ticket counter, and still didn’t get a boarding pass—I would have to get my seat assignment at the gate just before boarding.

When they finally started handing out seat assignments, I had the sinking feeling I’d end up jammed in a center seat for a 5+ hour flight. They asked for volunteers to get bumped to morning flight. Figuring I would rather be comfortable in a hotel in SF than jammed on an overcrowded flight, I jumped and was the second volunteer. And the offer of a $400 voucher didn’t hurt either.

As it turned out, they were able to put me on a flight through Cincinnati (which, for airline purposes, is actually in Kentucky) only an hour later than the flight I volunteered to give up. And the only seat left on the flight to Cincy was in first class. Yeah, we call that a bonus. Snuggled cosily in my first-class seat, I watched the in-flight movie:

The Blind Side

I do my best to go into movies with, at best, neutral expectations. I find it leads to much greater enjoyment of all kinds of movies. So, I wasn’t expecting for this to be the best movie ever, or to get bowled over by Sandra Bullock’s performance. And in sports movies, I expect a certain level of cheesiness. The Blind Side, however, failed to meet even my minimal expectations. The acting was fine, but the writing and directing… sheesh. I’m not sure I even have the vocabulary to describe how corny it was.

Now, I happen to have known a little bit about the story going in, from reading about the book (and even reading some excerpts in the New Yorker). Perhaps that colored my experience with the film, but I’d like to think I still would have groaned at the part early in the film where the teacher told Bullock’s character that “Big Mike” was basically an idiot, but he scored in the 98th percentile on “protective instincts.” Have you ever been given a test that graded your protective instincts? Is that something they only give to foster children? And then I groaned again when it came up in the scene where Mrs. Tuohy knew better than anyone on the practice field how to get Michael to be the best damned left tackle ever. (“Your team is your family; protect them like you would me and SJ.”)

Here is my summary of the movie:

Voice over, sad part, groan-inducing part, training montage, groan-inducing part, inappropriate laugh, more voice over.

Oh, and that training montage? Playing the Mickey Goldmill role was the youngest Touhy, SJ. Maybe I left my suspension of disbelief back at the airport. Good thing the little white boy was there to teach the big black boy how to play football.

I thought Sandra Bullock was good, but that Tim McGraw was better. The best part was the parade of cameos by current and former Division I college coaches.

Now I’m back safe and back to work on Monday.

Does your brand need an iPhone app?

Writing about the Sonos iPhone app got me thinking about branding (and brand extension), so I thought I’d get a little brandsignerish today. If you have an iPhone, you’ve probably seen the free Lightsaber app, which is now essentially an ad for The Force Unleashed, an iPhone game. But, did you know that Ralph Lauren has an iPhone app? And so do Pink (or is it P!nk?) and Nine Inch Nails (theirs is a paid version of the normally free Dance Dance Revolution-like Tap Tap Revenge).

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