As I wrote about late last week, we just experienced a difficult few days as we implemented a significant restructuring of the agency. There were really two key drivers of these changes:
The former was an operational work item which we knew we would need to address in our integration efforts, having joined such a large team of agency partners and with a growing list of shared clients. The latter is in response to a fairly substantial change that we’ve observed in the marketplace for social media marketing services. I’d like to take a moment now to share a little more on this topic with our clients, partners, and others also paying close attention to the dynamic nature of such a young and fast-moving industry.
One of our first full-fledged business units here, going back 5 years or so, was Social Analytics & Research. Observing and responding to nascent market demand for these services, we built one of the largest and most talented social media analysis capabilities of any agency in the field. For several years, this proved to be not only a vital and valuable component of our services offerings for clients but also one of the ‘door-openers’ that could spark insightful first conversations with potential new clients. Additionally, blogs and forums were initially of primary interest to social-engaged brands – not first party managed communities such as those on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and the like, which have become the primary focus of most large-scale marketers in recent years. Consequently, we created what were, at the time, innovative new brand research and insights solutions in partnership with some of the leading social listening & monitoring tools which were emerging.
Largely on the back of this initial strength and capability, we then grew to add Digital Community Management, Social Technology Consulting, Social Marketing Campaign design, and related services which our clients desired. This mix of services matched the scope of what the marketplace required, and it delivered on a full spectrum of needs that large consumer-focused brands were willing and able to contract from a qualified social media agency partner to deliver with and for them. However, in the last year or two, we have observed a fair amount of change in the marketplace for what we do here at SCG.
First, the demand and value ascribed to ‘pure’ social media analytics and research has declined rapidly as two factors have influenced innovative brand marketer thinking on the subject: one, social listening tool costs have declined rapidly as additional innovation and market entry have driven down pricing; and, two, many brand marketers have elected to bring social research in-house just as many have chosen to license these software tools directly (rather than rely solely on PR or social agency partners to supply it). The net effect has been that we have had to evolve our analytics and research model to focus more on managed brand communities (i.e. first-party / branded Facebook pages, Twitter handles, YouTube brand channels, and similar), and less on broad-reach brand listening and monitoring.
Second, we have seen the rise of increased demand for truly strategic advisory support by senior business executives (not just marketers, although they are vested in this too) related to the topic of Social and Mobile Business Change. Social and mobile media plans are no longer a marketing luxury, but instead a marketing requirement and now represent a significant proportion of both paid and creative content marketing budgets amongst clever and innovative marketers. Also, many organizations have come to realize that social and mobile media just haven’t introduced dramatic change – and strategic and operational implications – for the marketing function. Indeed, most core functions of businesses targeting end-consumers and operating at national or global scale are being forced to change by the formation of ‘global customer unions’ which have altered the balance of power between buyers and sellers of all manner of goods and services. These include Customer Research, Customer Support, PR & Communications, Product Research & Development, and even traditionally ‘back office’ functions such as Human Resources and Finance.
Simply put, there aren’t many functional pockets of a large-scale brand or business today which are immune from the impact of social and mobile media information exchange. The implications of this are two-fold: one, innovative businesses today must view social and mobile media technology platforms as enterprise software investments rather than campaign-supporting tools; and, two, C-suite business executives must apply a more coordinated, cross-functional effort to the task of evolving all of their core business functions – not just marketing – to this new social media enabled world in which they operate. With the customer’s demands on every business being exerted with greater and more immediate force, enabled by these new media channels, a social media software plan and the social business change imperative have become the things which keep CEOs and COOs up at night. CMOs have their own fair share of challenge and opportunity to address, when it comes to social media, but they are not the only senior executives seeking qualified strategic agency partners any longer to help them improve customer engagement and drive customer demand and loyalty.
I consider us to now be firmly rooted in the ‘Social Marketing 2.0’ era. ‘Social Marketing 1.0’ was characterized by a mad dash to hire a reasonably experienced social media agency primarily to help with social listening programs, basic community management blocking-and-tackling, and to hopefully release the occasional ‘viral video’ (remember that idea?). These needs were largely tactical, they were almost always funded and managed by either a digital marketing or PR team lead within the company, and they were primarily reactive in nature. “Something is happening over there, and we need to get on it.” However, the channel - and the business services marketplace – has evolved rapidly in the last several years. As I mentioned above, certain core social media management functions (notably social listening & customer research, and social media customer support) have been moved largely or entirely in-house for many brands. Also, while copywriting is *still* a vital skillset to apply to the task of digital community content creation and posting, several additional skills have become vital for talented Community Managers to apply to large, well-established digital communities: editorial calendar creation, content curation, image selection and editing, tagging, content pass-along measurement and analysis, day-part post analysis, Facebook newsfeed and ‘PTAT’ sophistication, and content type resonance and reach assessment. These are more senior marketing content creation and distribution skills requiring comfort with digital analytics, use of new social software tools, and the ability to optimize content for reach, relevance, and engagement goals on a daily basis using data – not intuition or ‘trial and error’ – as the source of insight. Whereas the Social Marketing 1.0 objective was primarily about growing the absolute size of branded digital communities (“How many Fans do we have now?”) and demonstrating active-listening for unhappy customers online, the Social Marketing 2.0 era is increasingly about investing in social communities as a CRM and loyalty opportunity where the overall health – rather than strictly size – of the key branded communities is of primary importance. We are no longer simply feeding these new children so they will grow bigger and stronger; we are investing in fitness programs designed to sustain healthy, mature brand communities for the long run.
The ‘Social Marketing 2.0’ era is not only characterized by more mature and rapid-optimization of engaging content within key Digital Communities. It is also characterized by an urgent need within most companies for scalable social media software. Despite the Merger & Acquisition frenzy that has swept through the social listening and social CMS tools marketplace in late 2011 and early 2012, it is still a dizzyingly confusing marketplace for social media technology software. By my count, there are at least 10 strong software vendors in each of the following classes of social media management need: Social Listening & Analytics; Social CRM; Social Content, Application, and Communities Management; and, Social Advertising Planning & Buying. With so many different potential alternatives – even in a world where some are being consolidated into enterprise-ready ‘Social Marketing Software Suites’ (see: Oracle and Salesforce) – innovative marketers today need an experience consulting or agency partner who can help guide both their decisions *and* their implementation plans and usage processes.
Lastly, the ‘Social Marketing 2.0’ era has seen innovative companies shift from simply trying out new forms of promotional content and marketing campaigns to more programmatic efforts to drive social-enabled communications and organizational change throughout the entire company. A spate of Social Business Change pure-play consultancies have seen dramatic growth in recent years (notably Ant’s Eye View, which was acquired earlier this year by PwC). And qualified “Social Media Strategists” within digital agencies large and small have found themselves booked months in advance all over the world to speak at conferences, present on panels, and most importantly guide senior executives through the current wave of operational and organizational change that they are facing. Social and mobile media haven’t just facilitated a few notable recent political revolutions, they have also ignited countless instances of customers demanding their rightful place in the minds and hearts of senior business leaders. The Customer-Centric Business can no longer afford to relegate social media strategy to the one conference room where digital marketers meet and hash out monthly campaign roll-out schedules with their creative and media agency partners. The perspective that knowledgeable and qualified Social Media Strategists can share with innovative business leaders is increasingly demanded in the Board Room, not just a few specific conference rooms.
I believe this is the market we must now serve as one of the first, and still one of the leading, social media agencies in the field. Last week we undertook a significant strategic shift as an agency which we designed in order to better position our unique talents at SCG for this new class of social media services need. The implications on an agency like ours were increasingly obvious, and we chose to institute fairly dramatic change here within our org structure and staff ranks in very rapid fashion. Change is never easy, especially within such a close-knit team and culture which we are proud to have built over our short but intense history. The restructuring we implemented reflected our desire to more fully integrate with Mediabrands and IPG, for sure, but more importantly it reflected my belief that the ‘Social Marketing 2.0’ era required a different model for agency services delivery that will better meet the needs of our current and future clients. Without outlining every last detail, let me emphasize a few points of note about changes we’ve implemented which I believe allow us to better serve where our market for social media marketing services is now and is headed in the near future.
First, we have aligned Social Media Reporting with our Digital Communities and Campaigns practice in order to more tightly affix content and campaigns with impact and outcomes for our clients. Additionally, we are aggressively implementing a small number of best-of-breed digital communities health assessment software tools with our Community Management team. Both of these changes are designed to create a closed-loop of insights, optimization, reporting, and most importantly impact and accountability for all of our Social Communities & Campaigns clients.
Second, we have shifted our Social Audience and Competitive Intelligence capabilities into our Social Strategy practice. I believe that all powerful Social Media Strategy and social business change advisory support requires data-driven insights about what customers most value, what competitors are doing well, and what best practices can be gleaned from constantly monitoring what innovative brands are doing to elevate social media beyond marketing to a core strategic capability of their operations. Accordingly, we chose to align our Social Intelligence activities with our Social Strategy solutions to better support our Strategists and Planners in their efforts to deliver timely and high-value advice and deliverables to clients.
Third, we have created a new Social Campaign Concepts team from a small set of talented idea-generators within SCG. As an embedded function within our Social Campaigns practice, this team is chartered exclusively with designing content and customer-engagement concepts which will drive marketing campaign outcomes. Different campaigns may focus on different goals: Reach, Advocacy, Loyalty, or Community Health. However, in the ‘gift economy’ that has emerged in a highly saturated social media environment, the ideas that we devise for ways our clients about ways to provide unique and exciting (read: shareable!) content and calls-to-action for customers take on far greater importance than simply cranking out another Facebook App or Twitter hashtag. As such, we are liberating a small number of our strongest idea-generators to focus fully on breakthrough social marketing campaign and program concepts which will have a half-life longer than just a week or a month. We are excited about the increased scale that we can offer for the realization of these Concepts, through interactive apps or multi-channel content, through both our existing creative agency partnerships and new ones we are developing actively within the impressive network of agencies across IPG.
Fourth and lastly, we are redoubling our efforts to build a world-class Social Strategy advisory team which can support current and future clients through large-scale internal social business change initiatives. The first step in this process was the addition of Eric Weaver to our team several months ago as SVP, Social Strategy & Intelligence. Eric has already proven instrumental in identifying new directions we can go as an agency to serve clients with new social strategy solution offerings. And he has become a key partner of mine in expanding SCG internationally this year with a presence in key Asian and European growth markets for social media services, through our MAP and MBWW divisions in many of the G14 markets abroad. As Eric continues to attract senior talent to his growing team, and to inspire the best that his team of Social Strategists and Planners can offer to our clients, I have no doubt that SCG is well positioned to take on more significant and strategic internal projects designed to help innovative brands move ever closer to their goal of becoming fully customer-centric organizations.
Our Mission at SCG of helping create the healthiest digital communities possible doesn’t change, but our organization and staffing growth model for the future has shifted from a ‘1.0’ to a ‘2.0’ world of social media services. We have elected to do a smaller number of things with greater efficiency and scale. We have made a careful choice to enable greater investment for the future in strategic insights and creative ideas. Given where the market for social media services is headed, I am confident that we have driven the difficult changes necessary to better serve our clients. Our Content, Communities, and Strategy services are now better aligned for precise focus on one common goal: “Our work increases the health, quality, and value of our clients’ digital marketing communities.” If this is what your senior marketers – indeed your senior management team – have chosen as a core mandate, as we believe most brands today should, then we would love to share more about our vision for the future with you. Our teams in Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, and now overseas stand ready and excited to help you deliver the one thing that your customers have shown you matters most to them: respectful engagement and compelling content.
Thank you. Onwards.