Enter the New Marketing Subcategory: "Social Media"

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I was inspired by a recent article in Ad Age, "Agencies Should Be Defined by What They Know, Not What They Make". While the article is more on the same, how agencies stay relevant in a constantly evolving world, I was mostly struck by the articles first paragraph.

"At their best, advertising agencies grasp the magic of how people communicate with each other. At their best, agencies operate on the front lines of the communications world and harness the forces of culture and society to help their clients influence perceptions and behaviors. At their best, agencies lead their clients through changes in communications technologies, figuring out the most appropriate marketing strategies."

While I think all agencies would benefit from weekly team affirmations that include these agency "do's", I was most intrigued by the statement, "at their best, agencies operate on the front lines of the communications world and harness the forces of culture and society to help their clients influence perception and behaviors."  This got me thinking...

In the past agencies could define themselves through "one off's"--a singular tactic or idea.  But for decades now, agencies have worked to thoughtfully integrate a conversation into social discourse, through both traditional and digital communication.

Enter the new marketing subcategory:  "social media".

It seems to me that like the advertising days of old, we see agencies trying to define themselves in this new space through "one-off's"--a blog here, a podcast there, a twitter feed everywhere...  But one off's in social space won't sustain an agency' s identity in today's world or tomorrow's future, much like one off's in traditional space.  Being part of the forefront of today's communication means riding all the paths social media takes you, the well known and unknown forms.  You can't segment social media or think you'll be successful  engaging in just a few forms of it (a youtube, a widget, a ning site, etc.).  One Twitter page does not an agency make... or create a lasting reputation.  The most successful agencies submerge themselves into the endless portals and pathways social discourse takes them.   This is not as easy of a feat as it may seem.  Most agencies are challenged to jump head first into the sea of social possibility (very Shakespearian) because agencies are trained by their traditional upbringing to be very calculated in their planning and how they introduce "the conversation".  While of value in traditional space, the very opposite needs to be adopted with social media (read "Brands in Social Media Should Be Like George Costanza" by Reuben Steiger).  Social media can't be approached in calculated slices but has to be embraced in a way that reframes risks.  It's my belief that only the most nimble and progressively minded agencies will succeed in making this key model adjustment.