SEO, PR or Advertising Agency: Which is Best for Social Media?

confusedIf you’re a brand with a social media requirement and you’re looking to hire agency support, you have several options open to you. Pretty much every marketing agency now offers social communications as a service: you could go down the PR route, the advertising route or the SEO route.

But what’s the difference? What can you expect from each of these agency types? And how will the type of agency you select influence the type of social media programme you will implement?

Over the last couple of years I’ve had exposure to the approaches of all three. And they differ significantly not only in their goals and what they deliver, but also in terms of how they bill clients. Here’s what I’ve learned to expect.

SEO Agencies

SEO agencies’ mindset is ultimately to increase a client’s position in Google with the aim of delivering increases in website traffic. They know that Google is trying its best to produce natural search results and bypass the effects of SEO completely, and that with the likes of Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, it’s making significant inroads into this. So they are naturally turning to more creative digital executions delivered via social networks to create the natural backlinks and social share signals that Google is placing ever increasing emphasis on.

However, in my experience SEO agencies may struggle with the concept of any social media activity that doesn’t positively affect search engine rankings. They view social communications as one or a series of discrete initiatives in owned media, each of which requires a separate approach, a separate creative execution and a separate budget. They tend to bill clients with a small monthly fee topped up by separate projects. So while creative ideas are often good as each project needs to be ‘sold in’ to the client, the executions may be costly or not always quite live up to what is pitched. Blogger relations, for example, can be somewhat clumsy.

Good for: short-term social media campaigns that impact search
Bad for: ongoing results and strategic brand building
Most likely to measure: click-through and backlinks

PR Agencies

PR agencies focus on managing reputations. PR people are experts at creating and maintaining beneficial long-term relationships, so when it comes to social media they are naturally drawn to building online communities and serving those communities with content that engages them on an ongoing basis. They want to see their communities, whether bloggers or on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere, commenting, liking and sharing their content, and their focus is normally on earned media.

PR agencies take a long-term view of social media, and produce lots of content intended to start conversations. They bill using flat monthly fees based upon an agreed number of hours’ work and you normally sign up for a minimum of six months. The long-term view has benefits in that messages and content are usually devised to reinforce brand positioning over time and repeated exposure, but content may lack the ‘wow’ creativity of SEO agencies or the executional quality of advertising agencies.

Good for: building beneficial, personal online communities that gain repeated exposure to key brand messages over time
Bad for: instant wins and one off creative projects
Most likely to measure: engagement metrics

Disclosure: I work for BOTTLE, a PR and social communications agency

Advertising Agencies

Advertising agencies’ background lies in mass media that sells products and services. Accordingly, they tend to view social media as a one-to-many medium through which to broadcast key brand messages. As such, they are naturally drawn to paid media and are used to coming up with the ‘big idea’, and billing against creative commissions and media spend.

This approach can result in highly creative and extremely well-executed campaigns that may grab big short-term attention. However, it may lack the benefit of ongoing relationship building, with bloggers or social networks viewed as transient and a means to an end rather than as opportunities to create lasting, strategic dialogues.

Good for: the big idea and one-off, high impact campaigns
Bad for: long-term brand building, engagement and community advocacy
Most likely to measure: reach, impressions and fan/follower growth

These summaries should not be viewed as a rule for all agencies, but generally speaking each agency type has its own benefits and drawbacks. It’s important to be aware of the variations in implementation and billing structure when considering your options, and matching the agencies you talk to with your specific objectives.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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