The Social Media Agency Conundrum

‘So what makes you different?’, was the cliche question that popped in the first meeting. It’s almost customary that your introductory meetings with a large number of SMBs or even established enterprises cannot happen without a discussion on this subject. You sometimes feel puzzled, you tell yourself, ‘this wanna be client is asking me about what makes ‘me’ different’, but would he dare to answer the same question if I asked him what makes their business unique. Ignoring that, you prepare to cook up reasons — a new reason every time, a new promise every time or more simply a new lie every time :)

The truth is, India is largely a trust deficient nation — We don’t trust people easily. When was the last time you shopped from a new e-commerce portal (You wonder… why do they even exist in the age of Amazon?) When was the last time you watched the weekend movie in a new theatre? In the context of the digital industry, only a handful of 20% suspects talk at 80% of the conferences and occupy all the panels because they have won the trust of the organizers. Trust my friend, goes a long way!

So it’s obvious, that the trust battery also applies while window-shopping for new agencies. The client meets the agency for the first time and they discover that there is a common LinkedIn friend between the two that gets the battery charged upto 15%. More conversations and you hope the battery levels can reach upto 60% if not more.

The only difference is, unlike ‘products’ which are tangible, client-agency trust is built on perceived experiences. As an agency, you presume that the client would have ‘X’ budget and the client believes that you would deliver ‘Y’ value. On the contrary, both are lying to each other: ‘Would/Will’ is the keyword that sets the fundamental tone of the relationship.

Social Media is looked upon as a child’s play, where neither the agency nor the brand knows what’s the purpose of hammering those daily posts that are only liked by the social media executive him/herself. But that’s not how it all starts, ‘Oh, look at the approach that Swiggy follows, we want to be viral like Fevicol’, the strategy guy with a sheepish smile defends himself, ‘but sir, Rome wasn’t built in a day and look at the advertising spends they make’. In reality, it gets down to business as usual because the marketing guy is fulfilling a dual sales role and is more concerned about the top-lines. The agency on the other hand, is more worried about timely invoices!

So what’s the point I am trying to make?

Brand managers need to be crystal clear about the approach they want to take and the specific social media objectives they want to fulfill. More often than not, we go in with open objectives and get fascinated by Ixigo’s viral videos and want to be like them. But then, we also want ROI because we’re paying to the agency and we need to justify those spends to our bosses.

Agency teams, on the other hand, need to do some self-realization and ask themselves what they are good at. Can your team of 20+ yr executives, fresh out of Ghaziabad engineering college, genuinely create deeply impactful content? If they can’t, then you’re not fit for the ‘creative side of social media business’ or you need to hire fresh blokes altogether. Many times, the representation of fresh college executives becomes the brand’s tone of voice and that’s a problem for the majority.

As agencies, we are eager to enter into a new client relationship, because we are so desperate to acquire new business that we ignore everything else before it becomes a compounding loop of ‘X’ number of posts at Rs. ‘Y’ model.

Can’t be just that, right? As agencies, we are not selling grocery after all.

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