When Agencies Can’t Be Transparent

When approaching clients on objectives to begin social media, agencies focus on three overarching areas: consumer trust, brand engagement and transparency. Is this the approach of all agencies? No, but it can be a starting point to figure out specific end goals. Transparency can come in a few forms: the form of humanizing the brand; the form of understanding the consumer and responding; or the form of disclosing sensitive information.

But, what happens when you can’t be transparent?

The agency / client dynamic is one that varies, dependent on the brand. Agencies can be completely different than in-house PR. Some utilize their agency as a partner; while others utilize their agency as a tool. The difference lies in the fact that there is trust and disclosure with a partner, and often times, they are brought into high level discussions.

Think of your own Twitter stream. Think of what you do behind the scenes at work. Is that knowledge the same as the impression you relay on social mediums? Brands operate in the same way. There are instances and circumstances where their hands are tied. It’s not just public relations involved in social media, but the C-Suite, Legal team, customer service and more. All groups have opinions, regulations and people to answer to.

Those circumstances are never relayed, with only the facts conveyed. In crisis communications exercises in journalism school, we were taught to share only important and straight to the point facts with the public. Why, then, do we throw stones at companies and critique their responses? Should we further investigate the how of the situation, instead of jumping to the ‘Why’ so quickly?

Agencies have the double edge sword – they have pressure from their own higher-ups to execute the scenario correctly, while also answering to a client. In this world where consumers want brands to be as open as possible, it’s quite true that expectations can be set too high when an actual business comes into play. When an actual crisis happens, many tend to focus on one key area without exploring others.

Is there a point where you step back and realize the client has to make the decision, and go with it? Or do you continue to bridge your case? Is it fair to throw stones when we don’t know the situation?

Let’s discuss.

Photo credit: W Promote

This guest post was written by Lauren Fernandez, Agency Community Manager for Radian6. She blogs at LAF, is on Twitter @cubanalaf and has an insane love for the Green Bay Packers.

25 Responses toWhen Agencies Can’t Be Transparent

  • Hey LAF/Mr. Fleet –

    You won’t get any argument from me about the difficulties agencies face when trying to “play” in the social media sandbox for clients. However, where I’d disagree is in this notion that agencies lead with consumer trust, brand engagement and transparency. Consumer trust and transparency are byproducts of social, while brand engagement is a tactic (though I think some could argue it is a strategy). Where agencies lend the most value, in my view, is in the planning/strategy development. We provide real business intelligence for them to decide where/when/if they want to play in social/search/web. My experience so far has been that the most engaged parties in social conversations tend to be the market research folks – particularly when it aligns with existing research. All companies want to be making fact based decisions, not knee jerk reactions to “trends.” If we’re leading with data then the role of an agency within social becomes moot.

    Anyway, rant over! 🙂

    Thanks for the post!

    • What overarching themes would you ask of agencies? I agree that agencies are strong in planning/strategy development – but you can’t get there unless the brand defines end goal first. Hence those themes. 🙂 I want to hear more about the market research folks, that point sounds interesting. I’m a big believer that multiple depts have a finger on the pulse.

      You got me thinking, Hemann. As usual.


      • Potentially, but most brands have no idea what its social goals should be. In most cases, they only know that brands are starting to use Facebook, Twitter, SlideShare, YouTube, etc… in interesting ways. They are looking to us to help them define the goal. I’d assert that the only way you’re going to define the goal is through pretty rigorous research. Hence why the market research folks tend to be in love with this stuff. Data that aligns with their existing offline research agenda is always more powerful. And, by the way, active engagement is actually pretty low value for agencies. Strategic planning/research are much higher value to the agency. Just my $0.02.

        • Very true. I like to look at it three-fold: Where are they at? Listening, Engagement, Measure. You’re right, research has to be able to back it up. However, how many agencies that aren’t large have the manpower to do that? I think that an analytics dept is vital to any agency setup, but very few have them. I think the disconnect is that clients don’t understand the value in market research, because they aren’t being educated to do so. The overlaying themes are what they understand, and from there, you can approach everything else. Leading with data is your best bet, but many don’t see the value in it. How pun-tastic.

  • Transparency seems to hold two distinct definitions.

    One the one hand, the consumer has information available to them which to them is enough information to suggest there is transparency.

    One the other hand, the agency wishes to conform to the ‘rule’ of transparency but performance behind the scenes are not totally displayed, leaving the thought that enough information has already been provided to conform to the imposed rule.

    Who is the winner here.


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