SiriusDecisions Says Selecting the Right Social Media Agency is Serious Business

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Based on its latest research, SiriusDecisions notes that organizations resisting the temptation to quickly succumb to social media's "shiny new toy" allure and instead adopt a more thoughtful approach are reaping the greatest rewards.

That sound you just heard is the rush of communications agencies trying to get a piece of the social media pie.

One of TV's classic moments occurred on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show when George Gobel, the next guest following legends Bob Hope and Dean Martin, quipped: "Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?" Given the significant increase in total marketing program budget invested, companies still sitting on the social media sidelines can identify with Mr. Gobel's sentiment.

In fact, in its most recent b-to-b Social Media in Business survey, SiriusDecisions -- the leading global source for b-to-b sales and marketing research, data and best-practice guidance -- found that while the average marketing-specific social media spend is still relatively small (4 percent), that investment has doubled in just the past year. In addition, when asked to project future budgetary impact, respondents estimated a soaring 25 percent average rate of increase over the next year.

So, your company decides to take the social media plunge. Now what? That question can pose quite a quandary, particularly if your organization has little social media experience or expertise. SiriusDecisions has found that while some organizations use a partner to outsource content creation and participation, this can prove to be a perilous path. It's much better to blog and tweet less with more authenticity than simply push out content to grow your numbers. In other words, quality trumps quantity.

"That sound you just heard is the rush of communications agencies trying to get a piece of the social media pie," notes Jonathan Block, vice president and head of SiriusDecisions' Reputation Management Strategies (RMS) advisory service. "If you choose to outsource, look for agencies that understand your market and the social media behaviors of your buyers, influencers and stakeholders. Increased numbers of posts and followers does not demonstrate success; look for agencies that focus on results."

SiriusDecisions recommends evaluating social media agencies using three core categories:

  • Goals. Before selecting an agency, you must ask two key questions: Do they embrace your goals and offer advice on how to improve them based on their experience, or simply expect you to submit to their vision? Does the agency recognize the importance of integrating social media activities into the overall marketing workflow, rather than treating them as isolated activities?
  • Capabilities. Any agency that you evaluate should be active in many social media settings; depending on your goals, you'll also need to determine its level of experience in specific marketing areas (e.g. reputation, demand creation or sales enablement). In addition, an agency should know the social media penetration within your target markets, the ways competitors are leveraging it and the types of social media used the most.
  • Measurement. Ask prospective agencies to provide a sample dashboard of how they report their efforts. Beware of agencies that only report quantitative metrics (e.g. number of Twitter followers); instead, opt for those that understand the importance of tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) such as response rates and integrating them with your more traditional public relations and analyst relations measurements.

As social media costs are often much more weighted toward time and resources than dollars, it's no surprise that companies are increasingly looking for outside help. However, Mr. Block cautions: "While using an agency for content creation may be necessary in the short run, avoid completely outsourcing these tasks based on authenticity and transparency concerns."

Mr. Block concludes: "When choosing an agency, references and case studies are helpful, but realize there are few organizations operating in the b-to-b realm that have been doing social media long enough to show substantial business gains."

Contact Jonathan Block at jblock(at)siriusdecisions(dot)com for specific guidance in how to determine the best social media strategy for your organization, and for more revealing highlights from the recent b-to-b survey. Social media will also be one of the hot topics covered at the 2010 SiriusDecisions Summit, set for May 12-14 at Arizona's Fairmont Scottsdale resort. To register or obtain more information about the annual event, which brings together the best and brightest from the b-to-b sales and marketing world, please go to http://www.siriusdecisions.com/conference.

About SiriusDecisions
SiriusDecisions is the world's leading source for business-to-business sales and marketing best-practice research and data. SiriusDecisions Executive Advisory Services, Consulting Services, Benchmark Assessment Services, Learning and Events provide senior-level executives with the sales and marketing operational intelligence required to maximize top line growth and performance. The unique combination of thought leadership, benchmark data, analytic tools, best practices and access to a peer and analyst network allow SiriusDecisions clients to quickly receive the critical insight they need to make decisions effectively. For more information about SiriusDecisions, headquartered in Wilton, CT, visit: http://www.siriusdecisions.com.

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GEOFF HILTON
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