Marketing researchers are seeing a lot of significant trends these days: Social media spending has been steadily increasing for years (and peaked during the pandemic); increasingly, companies are outsourcing their social media activities to third-party agencies and laying off in-house social media staff; and social media has a more positive impact on companies’ overall performance than ever before.
Regardless of these changes, marketers are often unhappy with their capacity to manage social media agency relationships. This article provides marketers with actionable tactics for enhancing their relationships with social media partners – and achieving a greater return on investment.
Enterprise expenditure on social media soared 74% during the first two months of the COVID-19 epidemic, rising from 13% of marketing budgets in February 2020 to 23% in May 2020. This increase, which was published in a special COVID-19 edition of The CMO Survey, marks a record high for social media expenditure since 2009, and marketers anticipate that it will remain at this level for the next year.
Spending on social media seems to be paying off right now. Companies indicated an increase in the contribution of social media to firm performance (increasing from 3.4 to 4.2 on a 7-point scale, where 1 = not at all and 7 = very highly). While this may seem little to some, it is really extremely significant; it is the first time we have witnessed a rise in social media contributions since we originally posed the topic in 2016. During the epidemic, however, social media proved to be a valuable tool for marketers that needed to swiftly adapt and contact their isolated clients.
So, how can businesses take advantage of this opportunity to maximise their social media efforts and get a favourable return on investment?
One response focuses on how businesses arrange and manage their relationships with social media organizations. Companies are increasingly outsourcing their social media efforts (the proportion of social media activities conducted by external agencies has risen from 17% in 2014 to 24% in 2020) and decreasing in-house social media expenditures (since 2014, the number of social media staffers per company has dropped from 4.1 to 3.1 people). Despite this increase in outsourcing, marketers do not give themselves good marks for managing these relationships (they rank their own competence to “manage external digital marketing partners and agencies” at 3.8 on a 7-point scale, with 1 being poor and 7 being excellent). Companies should take the following actions to maximise their partnerships:
Place A High Value On Trust
Trust is a fundamental characteristic of effective agency collaborations, according to 30 years of study. Trust opens the door for sound judgement, measured risks, and innovative thinking. However, creating trust takes time and effort. According to research, qualities like honesty and secrecy are just as crucial as knowledge. Companies should search for these signs in their partners, and social media firms should consider how to indicate these intangible attributes alongside their technical capabilities.
It takes two to tango. Agency partners that feel trusted form deeper bonds with their clients, resulting in increased communication, motivation, and cooperation, as well as a virtuous cycle that delivers stronger marketing. “One genuine measure of having a trustworthy agency-client relationship is the amount of strategic connectedness between the teams,” said Aaron Lavin, Senior Manager at Deloitte Digital. When this works, it’s as if you’re doubling your creative thinking on your most difficult strategic marketing problems. “What customer wouldn’t want that?”
Establish Clear And Continuing Communication Routes As Soon As Possible
Without frequent communication, trust may quickly disintegrate. Decide which channels are ideal for your relationship (for example, Slack, email, Zoom meetings, or conference calls) and agree on how often you’ll communicate. Setting these limits early on can help you and your spouse maintain a regular and timely workflow. Don’t forget to build a process for exceptional communications: how will you expedite strategy changes, content production, and approvals in order to serve an ever-changing market?
Strong communication begins with good onboarding. So, in addition to developing a curriculum that teaches your partner about your consumers, brand, voice, offers, and business model, use the onboarding process to define your partnership’s culture. Strong relationships are socially compatible. Is your culture hierarchical or horizontal? Is it official or informal? Being unified on culture is crucial to maintaining a good channel of communication throughout the life of your relationship.
Combine Internal And External Viewpoints
You know the industry; the agency understands its trade. Agencies also offer a breadth of industry knowledge that may assist you in identifying new prospects. The idea is to weave these internal and exterior viewpoints together. To that end, encourage your agency account manager to attend important meetings where your company’s overall marketing and brand strategy is addressed.
How will you know whether the merger was successful? One sign is the degree to which your marketing plan and social media activities are integrated. In the August 2019 CMO Survey, respondents were asked to assess how well social media benefited their companies’ overall marketing objectives. Marketing executives reported an average score of 4.2 (on a scale of 1–7, with 1 being “not at all integrated” and 7 being “very integrated”), which is much too low to provide a sufficient return on their social media investment. As a process measure, we advocate using this level of integration to evaluate agencies.
Another measure to consider is if customers can tell whether the material was written by you or your agency. If your customers assess and respond to your brand differently based on who provided the social media post, you may have a problem.
Define Specific Goals And Agree On Measurements
Many businesses do not have defined goals for their social media activity. This may make determining the value of agency contributions challenging. The most successful social media efforts have specific goals and demonstrable results. Before beginning a social media project, discuss these KPIs with your agency partner.
Companies’ most frequent aims during the pandemic, for example, were “brand awareness and brand growth” (84.2%), “retaining existing consumers” (54.3%), and “acquiring new customers” (51.1%). Each of these goals needs unique, attainable target measurements so that both parties understand what constitutes successful performance. It’s also critical to evaluate objective progress and make relevant modifications on a regular basis, so include this kind of assessment into your communication plan.
Hold The Steering Wheel With One Hand
Many businesses lose out on meaningful client input by delegating complete responsibility for screening comments to the agency. Instead, create a regular cycle for obtaining client sentiment and critical summary information from the agency. In this moment of unparalleled market change, doing both is extremely vital.
This also implies that businesses should not “set it and forget it,” i.e., develop and schedule social media postings but neglect to check them for relevance. The COVID-19 epidemic and the events of 2020 in general have required marketers and their partners to respond quickly. Be aware of current events and prepared to adapt. Partnerships that are prepared to rethink their social media approach in light of the continuously changing market will not only reduce risk but also optimise their ability to interact with customers. (To that aim, a recent Journal of Marketing paper discusses how real-time changes in social media activities increase online virality.)
Look For Partners Who Can Adjust In Times Of Turmoil
Digital disruption is continuously posing new challenges to social media management. The epidemic has highlighted this requirement, with marketers reporting significant improvements in the last few months (5.6 on a 7-point scale, with 7 equaling a great deal). Companies want agile partners that can swiftly adjust resources and strategy as required. Indeed, when asked to rank the most critical qualities they would want in future marketers, “ability to pivot when new objectives arise” ranked first. This is likely to be the case for agencies as well; digital markets are filled with uncertainty that must be handled. The perfect agency partner will be wise enough to handle change while also being brave enough to take calculated chances with your brand’s message (not to mention your company’s money).
Maintain An Awareness Of Social And Political Concerns Via Your Agency Partner
Social media firms are likely to be more tuned in to political and cultural dialogue than you are after all, it is their job. Pay attention and learn from them. What is the proper approach for your firm to show its support for racial justice in the United States? In an election year, what kind of political voice can your corporation have? How should you balance the dangers of speaking up regarding social or political issues?
Seeking such advice from agency partners is likely to make marketing executives uncomfortable; marketing leaders frequently do not advocate engaging in politically charged topics (4 to 1).However, you must trust your agency partner to advise you on when and how to properly communicate your company’s voice.
Assist The Rest Of Your Company In Learning From Your Social Media Agency Collaboration
Social media relationships are simply one of several collaborations on which your organisation will depend. Think about what you’re learning about maintaining a good relationship in general while you work with your social media partner. What procedures and structures are effective? What isn’t working? Once you’ve developed an analysis of your successful collaboration, codify and disseminate it across your organisation to help other partnerships operate better.
Many company executives are flying blind in the present market landscape. Don’t squander the value that social media agencies may provide by recognizing the voice of the consumer and delivering the company’s message to generate value.