Agencies “don’t get” social media: sad, but true…

If you know anything at all about the agency world, this new report tells you a whole lot of what you already know.

‘Agencies Don’t Get It,’ Survey Says
Feb 28, 2008

Clients are placing more emphasis on mastering social media but find their agencies ill equipped to help them succeed in that space, according to a new survey.

TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony polled more than 60 marketers in North America, France and the U.K. to gauge how they are faring navigating the world of social media. It asked them for feedback on their agencies’ abilities to help. TNS found, in its words, “Agencies don’t get it.”

What’s the problem?

Clients complained that their agencies — creative, media, public relations, design and others — typically treat social channels like blogs as traditional media. In other cases, their ideas are not backed up by practical skills in the area. What’s more, one client pointed out that his agencies have little of their own experience using social networks or video-sharing sites for themselves. [Emphasis added]

In a way it’s just stunning that we can be this deep into the world of Web 2.0 and mobile without ad agencies – you know, those businesses that are built on creativity – would still be so far behind the curve.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not surprising, at all. Everybody makes a big deal about their creativity, but think about it – how many people and businesses do you know that are genuinely innovative? By that I mean how many of them do things that nobody ever did before? Taking what others are doing and finding a way to push some part of the envelope a percent further passes for creativity in our business culture, where even the most convention-bound drone in the most backward-looking legacy company pays lip service to thinking “outside the box.”

The truth is that even today, when we all live on “Internet time,” businesses are very, very slow-moving when it comes to adopting innovation. This is a growing problem when the pace of technical innovation outpaces the rate of adoption – that is, if the innovation curve advances at a rate of X but the rate at which companies adopt and master those innovations is X-1, it means we’re potentially facing a widening adoption gap. I don’t have any studies to point to here, but this seems to describe what I see in the area of communication practice. We are, I believe, further behind the curve than we were a year a ago, and we’re dramatically further behind than we were a decade ago.

One of the main reasons is that technological change is usually driven by younger, edgier elements of the population, and how many companies entrust high-level strategy to The Young & the Edgy? With respect to the agency world, we need to acknowledge just how conservative and conventional it really is. I wrote last year about how ridiculously slow agencies have been in developing mobile strategies, for instance, and when things that were being done successfully in 1999 are still viewed cautiously, you know you’re going to need to look for your new ideas somewhere else.

The message, of course, is that there’s tremendous opportunity for those who can help businesses develop social and mobile strategies and campaigns that take advantage of media use patterns that their customers have been engaged in for at least a couple of years now. Given how far off the pace most businesses are these days, the best news of all is just how easy it can be to get out in front of the rest of the pack.

We’ll see who gets it and who doesn’t, I guess….


10 responses to “Agencies “don’t get” social media: sad, but true…

  1. Pingback: Scholars and Rogues » Social media, innovation and clueless agencies: new report tells us what we already know·

  2. This speaks a little to why I think that Hasbro & Mattel (Hastel) going after the maker of Facebook app Scrabulous was a bad move. There’s no doubt that the Facebook app infringed on Hastel’s copyrights, but at the same time there’s also no doubt that it was making them money too, albeit indirectly, and coming into Facebook doing the copyright MonsterMash was just going to make them enemies.

    Scrabulous is still up and running, BTW, so the Scrabulous maker and Hastel must have come to some form of arrangement. Which means, IMO, that Hastel got smart and realized that their old legal approach (shut down hard everyone who doesn’t ask for permissions first) might be counterproductive.

  3. You have no doubts that it was making money for them but I’m not so sure. I’m trying to figure out how this one benefits the company materially. Still not sure, but you’re right – it’s still up and that has to mean something.

  4. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Jason Whitmen

  5. The point may be that those who were really good at traditional advertising just won’t be good at social media. Kinda like Barnes & Noble is not You can’t just add social media to what you’re doing. Social media changes it all, and we’re all trying to figure out what that means (obviously too slowly).

  6. I think that it benefited the company by introducing Scrabble, albeit in an online form on a social networking site, to a whole new generation of players who might not otherwise been exposed to the game at all.

    In the days after the announcement that Hastel was going to shut down Scrabulous, a Facebook group was formed specifically for people agitating for Scrabulous to be left alone. One of the more interesting common threads throughout the group was the large number of people who had gone out and purchased the Scrabble board game after playing Scrabulous. Another common thread was people dusting off their old Scrabble boards that they hadn’t played for years. And a third was people swearing to never play Scrabble again if Scrabulous wasn’t left alone. Put it together and it was a huge amount of very bad publicity for Hastel as well as a marketing opportunity they, IMO, flubbed pretty badly.

    The fact that it’s still up means that they probably reached an agreement with the Scrabulous developer to revenue share or something similar. Unfortunately, to teh best of my knowledge, the details of any likely agreement aren’t public.

  7. If what people say they did is accurate, great. If I’m an exec and I don’t see any change in my sales numbers, though, I might conclude that people are saying one things and doing another. Hard to say from here.

  8. Hi, Brett. You may be right about this – maybe they’re just different skills. Although it’s been awhile since I was overly impressed with the agency world in any sense.

    I will say this is. If you’re good at traditional and bad at social, the coming years are going to be increasingly hard on you.

  9. Sam, a well-done blog. You are correct…most agencies don’t get social…yet. As demand grows though, so will supply. Two main reasons why the big agencies don’t get social, as I see it:

    1) They’re still making a ton on television.
    2) Most clients don’t get social yet…and aren’t asking for it. This will change.

    Chris Mitchell

  10. Chris: No doubt, demand is going to drive some major changes. The thing that always mystifies me is how you can see a change THIS BIG heading your way and not do anything about it. Make no mistake, there are shops that are doing quite well at the moment that are going to be out of business as a result of their failure to adapt.

    Whistling through the graveyard, I guess….

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