19 October 2009

Who provides social media?

The other day's question about who "owns" social media* leads to a related question.

Who provides social media?

This question came to mind upon reading an article in this morning's Adweek. The reporter describes a pitch for VSP, the eye-care insurer, where the client sought "social media" services from a range of public relations and digital agencies. VSP ended up hiring the Lewis PR agency and the EVB digital agency, who worked together. "There wasn't one agency or partner that satisfied all our needs," explained the client.

My favorite part of the article was the head of another digital agency describing the overlap of many agencies in the social media space: "It's like this gigantic Venn diagram where you can't make out the circles anymore."

Is that bad? I don't think so. In the same way that a world with three TV networks was served by traditional ad agencies, a world with a billion eyes reporting a billion things through a billion sources to a billion readers can be served by... a lot of different kinds of agencies.

In other words, technology has democratized not only the media business, but the agency business. In the old days an agency needed sufficient technological resources to actually make a TV commercial. The technology isn't as expensive in social media, so we wind up with many more providers.

A big caution here: We must not confuse technology with strategy. In the old days some agencies who had the technology made some really bad advertising. In the same way some modern agencies have the technology but don't necessarily have the smarts to use them effectively, i.e. to build their clients' businesses.

Conversely, some agencies and individuals have the smarts without the technology. They are capable of directing those who have the technology in a very strategic way.

These dynamics benefit clients because they can choose among many providers. The key is to choose provider(s) who understand the client's business and can fashion an effective social media strategy.

* Answer: Users, not any one agency.

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