As brands take social ‘in-house’, agencies must focus on long-term strategy

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Fleurie Forbes-Martin is business communications manager at Thinking Juice.

The social landscape is forever changing and the roles of agencies are constantly evolving too. It’s no secret that digital marketing agencies have to adapt to new technologies as they emerge and respond to brands’ shifting needs to stretch project budgets further and further.

In 2016, professional marketers recognise the value that digital social channels offer, but most fear that the investment needed to truly maximise effectiveness is too much. As a result, some brands’ are taking their social activity out of the hands of their digital agencies and creating their own social media teams in-house. However, for agencies, this doesn’t need to mean the end of the ‘social’ relationship with their clients.

The conversation of short-term Tactics vs long-term Strategy was one of the most prevalent at Cannes, highlighting the need for vision around social media as a marketing tool. In their desire to prove their worth as an in-house resource, internal brand social teams can be tempted to create campaigns that may deliver quick wins and short-term boosts to the next set of quarterly figures but also risk damaging the brand in the longer-term. A longer-term overarching strategy is required to shape and inform the day-to-day activity in line with the brand’s core values.

This is where agencies can continue to add value to brands by complementing the skills and resources already in place and providing them with the missing component - strategic expertise and knowledge to successfully measure, refine and deliver ROI in the long-term. Agencies like my own have a deep and diverse pool of experts to draw on to inform our client’s social activity and look at how it intersects with other digital marketing channels such as organic and paid search and the bigger picture as a whole. In addition, experienced agency executives are often capable of persuading stakeholders and influencing boardroom decisions in a manner that an in-house team of millennial content-producers simply can’t.

Rather than feel threatened by agencies, in-house teams can be empowered by the depth and breadth of experience, gained across a variety of sectors, that agencies can bring to the table, providing the clout needed to drive innovative projects forward with stakeholders.

In the early stages it’s important that the foundations are clarified – specifically, brand messaging, hierarchy and the role of social as part of the digital mix.

For a number of the clients we work with we create a beginner’s guide to social media, which can be anything from 10 or 20 pages to 150 pages long; a ‘Playbook’ which essentially embodies everything that you need to know about that brand, gives you the bigger picture and informs how social fits into the mix. So it could contain things like the ‘dos and don’ts’ of branding, how to use photography, tone of voice, so that all communications come together to tell a unified brand story.

In the long-term, tools like Playbooks help everyone within the brand to understand the role of social in the wider communication strategy. On a macro level, Playbook-style tools can also offer practical guidelines detailing how to effectively achieve specific business objectives.

Change is an inevitable and necessary part of our industry. Despite some brands taking ownership of their content creation and daily management, an agency’s strategic expertise will continue to be invaluable.

Fleurie Forbes-Martin is business communications manager at Thinking Juice

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