15 Ways PR Agencies Can Help Companies With Social Media

"Help wanted" signAs social media has grown in acceptance within companies over the past few years, one debate never seems to go away – whether agencies should be involved in social media communications, or whether the only way to maintain an “authentic voice” is for companies to undertake it all themselves.

Agencies can help

Not surprisingly (given that I work for a PR agency), I sit in the camp that says that agencies have a significant role to play for many companies. For sure, companies can do some or all of these things themselves, but there’s no reason agencies can’t help without compromising the company’s efforts.

Here are 15 different activities an agency can undertake – legitimately and effectively – to help companies engage in social media.

Getting started

1. Baseline audits

One of the first steps in any communications initiative should be an online audit to both understand the current environment and to set a baseline for measuring results of future activities.

2. Audience research

Alongside an initial audit, learning to understand your target audiences is a foundational piece of a communications strategy, be it online or offline.

3. Corporate policies

Whether your company is engaged in social media or not, it is important to set boundaries around social media. If you are engaging in proactive outreach online, it becomes a somewhat  more involved process covering more areas (for a quick start, check out this ebook on corporate social media policies)

4. Workflow processes

What happens when you spot an issue? When someone asks a question? When someone discusses your company with other people? When someone criticizes you? Who is involved in the response? What will you (and won’t you) respond to?

These are the kinds of questions you need to consider before the occasion arises, and which experienced agencies have encountered often enough to help you answer.

5. Social media training

While it doesn’t take much expertise to send a tweet, the norms of communicating in social media channels can require education and explanation. Social media can require a bit of a departure from the way companies have traditionally communicated. It doesn’t mean anarchy, but traditional “messaging” approaches don’t fly so well in these informal channels. Agencies can help to transfer the necessary knowledge around this to clients new to the social media realm.

6. Social media scoping

You don’t need to be everywhere online. Twitter and Facebook might not be the right places – perhaps your audience is primarily hangs out on forums or message boards. An agency can help to scope-out the right places for your company to establish a presence online.

Strategic planning

7. Strategic development

Agencies can bring together a wide variety of communications experiences and expertise that make them well placed to assist with or lead the strategic development process for social media for their clients.

8. Campaign ideas

Right now my perspective of the ideal approach to social media is a foundational long-term strategypaired with well thought-out campaigns that provide spikes in attention and engagement. As above, agencies can bring together creative minds to design those campaigns.

9. Campaign extension

Unfortunately, PR is still often at a point where it is called-in last minute to support other initiatives, whether it’s announcing something that’s already decided or supporting a marketing/advertising program. At those points, it can be difficult to come up with anything effective that benefits the organization. Agencies aren’t a silver bullet, but again they can contribute ideas.

Execution

10. Ongoing monitoring

Monitoring can be very resource-intensive, especially if your company has a significant footprint online or in peoples’ minds. Agencies are well placed to help deal with this pressure.

11. Online engagement

This is one area that I’ll rarely recommend the agency take on. It’s a lot of work and requires a thorough understanding of the online environment, but it’s something that (in most cases) should be done in-house. It allows for shorter approvals processes (important in a fast-moving conversation) and a more authentic voice.

Still, sometimes companies either can’t or aren’t ready to take this on. It may be resource issues, uncertainty over the medium, trust issues or a variety of other legitimate reasons, but there are times when an agency can undertake this work, as long as it’s transparent. It’s not ideal, but it’s possible, with the goal that, over time, the company will in-source this work.

Regardless, agencies can help to advise companies on their outreach – be it advice wording and norms or on whether in fact to engage or not with specific people.

12. Influencer outreach

I used to call this “blogger outreach” but online influencers are so much broader than just bloggers nowadays. Just as agencies undertake media relations activities in traditional public relations, so they can also reach out to online influencers in the new form PR has taken.

13. Issues management

If your company is interesting and matters to people, they will talk about you. That talk won’t always be positive. Sometimes it’s something you’ve done; sometimes it’s something about your product; sometimes it’s “news.” The list goes on. Regardless, monitoring for issues, identifying them early and coming up with suitable responses isn’t easy.

Full-service

14. Design and creative

More often than not, you’ll need some kind of design work done for your social media properties. Maybe it’s a Twitter background; maybe it’s a Facebook page or YouTube channel design; maybe it’s something more involved such as a stand-alone site. Either way, a full-service agency can help if you don’t have the in-house resources to undertake this work.

15. Development

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their ilk are tremendously powerful sites, and they may well be where your audience hangs out. Still, there are times when they just may not suffice, or where you want to build on top of the platform they provide – Facebook or mobile apps, for example.

What do you think? Are there other areas I’m missing?

55 Responses to15 Ways PR Agencies Can Help Companies With Social Media

  • Excellent list, Dave. I agree completely on the issue of execution. One practice I find works well is to deliver a social media “playbook,” which can detail the kind of activity an organization should conduct via each social media presence, helping them feel more comfortable implementing the recommendations on their own.

  • Great list of items and ideas, however, where would you place the assessment?

    Comparing results and the initial audit, at specified intervals can help determine successes, areas in need of improvement etc.

  • Great list, Dave. This will keep us busy! I would add content creation, and writing optimized content to the list if that’s okay, and also identifying blogs for commenting opportunities as well, which probably falls under the monitoring category. Many of us are out on the Net and Social Net all day long looking for trends, stories, blog posts that we can tie to our client’s stories and offerings. How can they further the conversation, have more conversations with their publics? Many need to be focusing on their core business and may not have the internal resources to scour the Net for conversations and topics of interest. We can certainly help and compliment there.

    Again, great post. Very comprehensive.

    Mike

    • Content strategies are a great addition, Mike. I think the actual creation falls into my “online engagement” bucket, but the strategy is a piece that I didn’t clearly identify.

  • Couldn’t agree with this post more Dave. It’s clear that so many companies confuse ease of use with understanding. Just because the tools are seemingly simple to run with doesn’t mean businesses have an instant understanding of the territory.

    I find it odd that companies will bring in consultants for IT or Finance but think nothing of jumping head first into social media without help. You could argue that it’s more dangerous and costly to gamble with your company’s PR.

  • Good post, Dave. And a relevant topic for me, too, as a solo practitioner.

    One big one I don’t see represented here is “content creation.” I’d be interested to see where you fall on that topic, Dave. Isn’t that a big part of the sweet spot for tomorrow’s PR/social agency?

    I’m not a proponent of agencies tweeting on their client’s behalf (you refer to this in “online engagement” above), but agencies/solos do have a role in helping the client create content for the platforms they engage in on a regular basis. Ideas for blog posts, tweets and Facebook posts. Creative approaches for videos. A list of photos for a Posterous stream. Maybe the agency isn’t actually doing the posting or the tweeting, but in my view they have a big role in providing direction and ideas in that space. Guessing we may agree here, but I’m still interested in your thoughts.

    @arikhanson

  • Great post on the stages of involvement during which a PR agency can assist a company in social media. I second/third the comments by others on the importance of content creation. And in line with that, would add also the excellent point made by FutureBuzz that SEO is important before social media implementation ignites http://thefuturebuzz.com/2009/11/13/social-media-seo/ . Too often PR agencies forget this critical step.

  • Laurel Miltner
    ago11 years

    Great list, Dave. As a fellow PR pro, I agree that forward-thinking, educated agencies can help their clients get involved with social media, without stepping over the line and contributing on their behalf.

    However, I have to agree with the other commenters in regard to content creation. With copywriting at the core of traditional PR services, our industry is uniquely positioned to assist in this key element of online/inbound marketing. It’s finding the way to make it all (content, social media, community, PR, mobile, etc.) fit together that will be key.

  • Strategy and Execution are key. I feel that many businesses getting their feet wet with social media often seem to forget the importance of strategy and ongoing engagement. Thanks for the list. We put it up on our blog network as a resource for social media.

  • Dave:

    Excellent list.

    This is also a very relevant list for PR pro’s working on the corporate/client side of the biz.
    I like to think we at GM “get it” on the social media mix w/ PR, but nonetheless, this is a great list compare to and see what you’re doing right, but also to learn from. Agencies can be a great extension of a PR/social media campaign, regardless of how much the corp/client may “get it”.

    Cheers.

    @George_S
    @GMCanada

  • Hey Dave,
    I love that you broke this down in easy, manageable steps, so that clients and other PR professionals can take it one at a time. I find a lot of my clients, prior to my educating them, have a difficult time getting their head around why and how to use social media, especially when it comes to PR. I find this ironic since social media and PR often go hand-in hand. Haha. Thanks! I’ll be sending your article out to all of my clients tomorrow. 🙂

  • Dayo Adefila
    ago11 years

    This is really good stuff – interesting though, the lines between who deploys Online PR-like services keeps blurring. Pretty systematic. Also I enjoyed the comments of others.

  • Those companies who are building or maintain their own in-house PR teams will likely look for the authority to implement this excellent list of tasks. However, how many companies do you know, prepared to implement the organizational changes and handle the consequences of success from the execution of this task list?

  • paul jones
    ago11 years

    What a load of rubbish – if internet taught me anything is that PR agency in general like old fashion advertising agency are at least 5-10 years behinds – how I spent 2 years working for pr firm and another year for production company who still view TV as their main medium – big growth for 2010-11 will be SME most pr firm with £1000 per month fee too expensive if your small business you can do alot yourselves 0- master of your own domain

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