Social Media Agencies and Transparency

On Tuesday, Rachel Kay asked a thought-provoking question during a Twitter Q&A with fellow PR practitioner Sarah Evans:

How involved can an agency get in a clients SM execution & remain transparent?

In my view, agencies can get involved in every aspect of clients’ social media execution without sacrificing transparency. I say that not just from personal opinion, but because I’ve been there.

Note: I say “can” not “should aim to be.” More on that in a moment.

I place great importance on transparency (see my earlier posts on ghost blogging if you need convincing). However, that hasn’t stopped me from being involved in the full gamut of social media strategy development and execution, from brainstorming and drafting through to manning the Twitter account and blog.

How do you achieve that level of involvement while maintaining integrity?


We make a point of disclosing client relationships at every turn. That runs from disclosure in blog comments, to naming individuals in bios on blogs and Twitter accounts, to even naming who is writing individual tweets. By disclosing who you are, transparency is maintained.

Now, on to an important issue: I don’t think this is an ideal long-term solution.

In the short term, there are many reasons why an agency might get involved in executing social media tactics:

  • Clients may not have sufficient capacity to undertake the work
  • Clients may lack the expertise necessary to execute at the best level
  • Clients may want to pilot-test an initiative before committing in-house resources

All of these are valid short-term reasons.

However, in the long-term I think the best solution is for much of the tactical execution to be taken in-house if appropriate staff with the right skillsets and framework within which to operate are available. Agency roles in the long-term are best played as a strategic advisor, training staff, developing ideas and strategic direction and offering advice on tactics where required. Agencies can also play a valuable role doing some of the “arms and legs” work – monitoring, reporting, designing and developing online properties, email campaigns, etc.

In summary, agencies can be involved in every aspect of social media execution without compromising transparency. That just doesn’t mean they always should be.

For the record, here’s Sarah Evans’ response to the question:

I think that agency SM involvement should ultimately result in biz’s online sustainability (i.e. can they do it themself?)… #prexaminer

It’s a lot about working with them, teaching, listening, identifying (or creating) the right tools. #prexaminer

…I created a “clients” section on my blog to disclose who I’m working with. I’ll be up front if we’re connected. #prexaminer

What do you think?