PR & Marketing Agencies, Know Your Stuff Before You Offer Social Media

I’m both heartened and worried by the number of PR and marketing agencies that are offering social media.

I’m heartened, because it means the business world is that much closer to accepting social media as a real form of communication. It means they know it’s going to be around for the long haul.

I’m worried, because a lot of these agencies don’t even understand it They just threw their new junior account exec at it because she has a Facebook page and they think that means she knows enough to run a large-scale campaign for them.

A lot of social media professionals just come off as snake oil salesmen, like this guy.

Make sure you know your stuff, AND that it works.

Social media is not an entry-level position, people. It’s not something you turn over to the brand new employee who has never even run a traditional campaign. And it’s definitely not something an agency should try to learn on a client’s dime.

NOTE: This is not to say that entry-level people shouldn’t do social or that PR or marketing agencies shouldn’t get into it at all They absolutely should. But, your experience needs to be more than resuscitating the nearly-dead Twitter account you started six months ago with the “Still trying to figure this twitter thing out. Does this make me a twit?” tweet.

I’ve seen a number of agencies now that are starting to offer social media as part of their service offerings, but I think they’re out of their element, and are only going to screw it up.. For one thing, their Twitter accounts are less than six months old. The agency accounts have fewer than 500 followers, and the employee accounts are all hovering around 100, and are filled with retweets from the agency account.

That is not social media experience. Not enough to start providing services for clients.

Strong social media experience means running campaigns where you can measure the ROI and show how much money you made. Strong social media experience means having more than 2,000 followers, because you know the ethical way to break past Twitter’s 2,000 following cap. Strong social media experience means you have a blog that’s more than a year old, and it’s filled with new social media knowledge and opinions, because you publish 2 – 5 times per week, not per quarter.

Look, I know how to write a press release, and I know how to pick up the phone and individually pitch journalists and bloggers. (Jason Falls would say that puts me ahead of the game for knowing that.) I even know how to do good TV and radio interviews. But that doesn’t make me a PR expert.

If I wanted to open a PR agency, I could probably do a passable job. I could fool a couple of small clients, and learn on their dime. But I wouldn’t be giving them the best I could be (or, if I was, the best I could be wouldn’t be good enough).

If you’re in PR or marketing, and you want to offer social media to your clients, you need to do a few things before you ever you’re ready to start:

  1. Put together a team of people who are responsible for social media, not just one person. You at least need someone who can write and someone who knows how to read analytics and research. You also need one person who will be responsible for it all. This is not a time for committees and democracy. You need a social media account executive to take charge.
  2. Understand that social media is as much about sales and customer service as it is about marketing and PR. If you’re going to manage social media for a client, you need someone who can sell and deal with problems.
  3. You need to invest heavily in the ongoing education of your social media team. Require them to read industry blogs, read or listen to social media books, attend social media networking meetings, and pay for any learning they can get their hands on. I met an advertising agency that pays its staff to read books and give book reports to the rest of the agency at a monthly meeting. They pay $25 per book read (they even have a copy of Branding Yourself (affiliate link) in their library).
  4. Send your social media team to at least one conference a year, if not two or three. Better yet, have them learn enough so they can present at those conferences. The great thing about being a presenter is you have to know more than your audience, which means they have to stay on the cutting edge.

If you’re going to do social media, do it right. You can’t sign up for a new Facebook account and pronounce yourself a social media consultant any more than you can record a video on your mobile phone and call yourself a video production house. Take the time to learn as much as you can before you offer it. Don’t feel like you have to rush. There are plenty of clients available, and they’ll still be there in a year or two when today’s agencies are being fired by their clients for bad social media execution.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Photo credit: Inky (Flickr)

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


    1. albert maruggi says

      it’s a good post. Some of it is a bit over the top e.g. blogging 3-5 times per week. I don’t subscribe to that, but I understand why it’s a “rule of thumb” I’ve been podcasting since 2005, and as far as blogging goes., I was blogging in 1994, but no one called it that. Social media didn’t begin when your followers hit 5,000 and plenty of knowledgable people are getting into social media now for all kinds of reasons. That said, the bandwagon is getting pretty packed, and billable hours for new ideas are found $$$$.

      Not looking to argue the point, just to say that your post got me thinking about the essence of social media (not the tools). And i thought, hhmm, how about, making friends and influencing people, amazing i found the Godfather of social media – Dale Carnegie 1936. I suggest that be my “pay to read” book

      all the best,

    2. You said this brilliantly. I love this, “This is not to say that entry-level people shouldn’t do social media, or that PR or marketing agencies shouldn’t get into social media. They absolutely should…” All too often agencies are adding “social media” to their capabilities without understanding how to execute and it’s doing so much more harm than good. Your list of tips are spot on and I LOVE that you included analytics and research in #1.