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Social Media Insider: The Social Agency of the Future

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If you look ahead at the agency business several years out, where will social media fit in, especially once some of the hype dies down?The question occurred to me after hearing a speech by someone I’ve worked with for over four years now: 360i CEO Bryan Wiener. When I saw how Bryan touched on social media in his “Agency of the Future” talk at the IAB Annual Leadership Summit last month, I was itching to go deeper, and I happened to know how to reach him. For full disclosure, the idea to interview him was mine alone. I rarely mention 360i at all in these columns, but this was a story I was excited to run.

You can read a few of Bryan’s broader thoughts about the coming evolution of agencies on 360i’s blog. In this exclusive interview, the focus is entirely on social media.

Social Media Insider: How does social marketing fit in with the agency of the future?

Bryan Wiener: The unfettered rise of digital, and of social media in particular, has brought about staggering shifts in consumer behavior — and this requires equally dramatic changes to the way agencies operate in order to help brands connect with consumers in this new dimension. The agency of the future must have digital expertise in its DNA, with search, social and mobility — three things that have completely transformed consumer behavior — as the three key legs of the stool.

Not surprisingly, social marketing serves as an indispensable leg to this stool for the simple reason that it provides a channel for developing a direct, unadulterated relationship between a consumer and a brand. And building relationships is becoming a more critical component of brand marketing as the media landscape becomes increasingly fragmented and cluttered.

SMI: Which skills in particular will be needed for agencies to ‘own’ that leg of the stool?

BW: Brands of the digital age need to keep pace with consumers — and when it comes to the social space, this is no small feat. How can marketers navigate the changing terrain of the social Web in order to capitalize on those opportunities most relevant for their brands? Which emerging arenas hold tremendous promise, and which are flash-in-the-pan media darlings with little or no value to marketers?

As an agency, we are committed to staying innovative and ahead of media and technology trends, and to being change agents for the brands we represent – to throw out everything that’s comfortable when necessary and innovate at the speed of consumer behavior. For agencies that want to be indispensible marketing partners to their clients, they need to commit to developing expertise within social and, even beyond that, commit to keeping pace with consumer behavior and bolstering their skills at fostering consumer relationships across all channels.

SMI: Agencies undoubtedly have their own hurdles in really getting social media to the point where they can be strategic advisors for their clients, yet marketers have their own issues managing social media. To what extent do client-side marketers need to change, and what in particular needs to change there?

BW: Digital engages consumers throughout the marketing funnel, simultaneously in real-time, which requires both agencies and their clients to adapt. The old, siloed model of advertising, promotion, sales, customer service and IT just doesn’t cut it anymore. Put simply, if marketers really want to rapidly and radically impact change in the agency ecosystem, it starts with how they allocate their dollars. And while many are paying lip service to relationships and conversation, not enough marketers, media properties or agencies have made the structural and budgetary changes necessary to adapt to this new model of marketing.

What’s more, marketers need to understand the dire importance of value exchange in their social programs. Consumers aren’t going to follow you on Twitter or fan your Facebook Page in the absence of something in return — entertainment, information, utility of some kind or some form of social currency. Understanding that there now NEEDS to be a value exchange between consumers and brands in their advertising and marketing is probably the single biggest change to the marketing industry since the advent of TV advertising.  The strategy of intruding and interrupting is replaced by informing and engaging.

This article was originally published as part of MediaPost’s Social Media Insider.