The real problem with social media strategies? Traditional agencies

Social Media

Media strategists are slowly starting to understand digital as both the client and the agency demand a more holistic approach, but what about social media?

For many, the environment is daunting as it goes against what most media strategists are trained to investigate (such as reach, frequency and Gross Rating Points). Social media means consumers have the voice to talk back, but for many, it doesn’t even feature as a blip on the radar as a channel because it’s foreign to traditional media strategy which is all about broadcast.

To me, social media fits in the media mix just as much as TV, radio or print. However, the current agency briefing model doesn’t lend itself to this type of thinking. A few different approaches I’ve seen are:

  • Creative agency leads communication strategy with TV thematic
  • Media agency develops media strategy based on campaign objectives (separate to creative)
  • In a few cases these two align in some way or form to discuss an integrated big idea but the social media team is still left “to make it social”
  • Social is an owned channel, and therefore it’s someone else’s problem because it (most of the time) doesn’t require a budget.

In all of the examples above there’s a serious problem in the way “integration” is taking place. TV execution should not lead your communication strategy. We’re so obsessed with ARs, reach and TV in this country that we are falling flat when it comes to thinking beyond TV as the core of strategy. Media agencies shouldn’t be developing media strategy independently from creative communication strategy; these should be developed together around the central communication idea.

Social media might be an owned channel, but that owned channel in many cases is the largest base of loyal customers you have who are willing to engage, respond and share your messages. That’s a powerful thing and should be at the core of your communication strategy. You need to ask yourself, ‘How do you leverage that audience first?’

Social media does one thing better than any other medium, and that’s facilitate engagement and create communities. Where TV and radio can reach masses and print satisfies certain niche needs, social media captures the conversations around those niches and allows the brand to leverage and engage over the long-term. Yes, Facebook now reaches over eight million people in an emerging market country like South Africa for example, and large brands can generate over ten-million impressions on owned Facebook pages, but that’s not the channel’s strong point yet. Mxit in itself is South Africa’s (and indeed Africa’s) largest social network, that not only provides the reach, but also the engagement and community.

I encourage media strategists to include the role of social media into campaigns, building social at the core. As a strategist, I find that being involved in the briefing and construction of the communication strategy is the ideal time to make sure social is baked into the core. These communities and platforms are where the people who use your product or service and endorse your brand will have their conversations, resulting in lasting impressions. Create or curate the space for them to do this, target them and channel them there. Campaigns should drive these platforms to start thinking beyond the campaign, and on to the larger, more lucrative community and conversation.

When media strategists start thinking beyond the short-term campaign metrics of reach, frequency, efficiencies and target GRPs, but include social media’s long term metrics, we’ll see brands that care more about community and conversation, and less about campaign and cost.



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