Why too many businesses are being short-changed by their PR agencies with social media

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

For any business, no matter how large or small, or the sector in which they operate, social media is an essential part of the marketing arsenal. At a time when organisational reputations can be built and bruised in an instant, social media’s role within the promotional mix cannot be understated. So, why are some businesses heeding the advice of those PR agencies who pay lip service to it?

I was at an event attended by other PR agency leaders and marketers. When we broached the topic of social media, I was rather taken aback when one person commented that we – as in Clearly PR – do “too much” on Twitter and LinkedIn. But, how much is too much, I asked?

Standard practice, it appeared, would be for these agencies to post just one Tweet per day for their clients, for instance. This, they suggested, was “sufficient”. It isn’t and I have the stats to prove it.

Opportunuties to be seen

Take Twitter as an example. The lifespan of a Tweet is just 18 minutes per day, which over the course of a working month equates to 396 minutes’ worth of exposure per month – what marketers call ‘opportunities to be seen’. Sounds rather good, doesn’t it?

‘Good’ it isn’t, ‘poor’ at best it is.

Many of the clients we work with have previously partnered with PR and Content Marketing agencies and when they come on board with us, they’re taken aback by our minimum standard of posting five Tweets per day. That’s a five-fold increase on what they have had before.

So, let’s do the maths: rather than 18 minutes’ exposure per day, our clients get 90 minutes – or 2,000 minutes every month. This is not a sales plug, it’s simply good practice. The more often we post, the greater the exposure for our clients – ask any business if they would prefer more of fewer opportunities to be seen by their potential customers, it’s a safe bet that they will err on the side of the former.

However, I do understand why many PR firms shy away from this level of social media activity. It often comes down to two things: time and perception.

For most other PR agencies, social media is a pain in the arse. It is time-consuming having to search for stories that are relevant to their clients’ audiences, and by the time they have created the imagery to accompany each post many of them have lost the will to live. That said, I find this hard to buy into given the plethora of new aggregator platforms at their disposal. These agencies need to reframe what social media is.

Indeed, at another event our team attended, a direct competitor of ours denounced social media as something that ‘doesn’t work’, while others have yet to fully get on board with it in a business context – despite the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn having been around for over a decade. But the results are clear to see.

At a time when reputation is top of the corporate agenda, can organisations afford not to fully embrace social media?

A report published by Deloitte and Forbes found that 40% of business leaders placed corporate reputation risk at the top of the boardroom agenda, ahead of threats to their business model (32%), the economy and increased competition (27%). Moreover, over half (53%) of business leaders cite social media as having the potential to positively or negatively impact their corporate reputation. In fact, research conducted by global PR giants Weber Shandwick, 68% of business leaders state that their online presence is the biggest driver of reputation.

Social media is not a nice-to-have, it is an essential ingredient within the marketing mix. My concern is the crap that other agencies both spout about and practice it themselves. For instance, I was recently looking on Eventbrite for any upcoming networking events in London that could be good to attend. One of the listings that appeared in the results was for half day workshop run by another PR agency on how to use social media to build a brand and drive sales.

Intrigued by how other agencies operate, I clicked on their website and checked out this agency’s social media activity. After all, this agency was charging c.£800 for the workshop so one would assume they practice what they preach. How wrong I was. In fact, in the preceding four weeks, this agency had posted a paltry five times on Twitter and even less on LinkedIn.

This is worrying: here’s an agency charging through the nose for something they claim to be ‘experts’ in yet they fail to practice what they preach. Surely if they believe – and rightly – that social media can have a huge impact both on building reputations and positively impacting the bottom line, then why don’t they do it themselves? If they’re nonchalant about their own brand and have no desire to grow their agency, that would make sense.

So, why do some agencies fail to protect and promote the reputations of the clients?

Social media is both a signposting and engagemement tool. If the content you produce via your posts is relevant and interesting, your audience will recognise you as someone with a finger on the pulse of what is happening in their sector. And by posting often you become positioned as a trusted resource. This in turn raises the profile of the business and the people within. It gets you on the radar of those you want to do business with, and drives traffic to your website. In the same way as  a window display in the shopping mall can entice you to enter a particular store, once inside your prospects can take a look around at what else is on offer and if your business has what that customer needs at that particular time, a purchase is made.

If these PR agencies posted regularly across their own social channels they would see for themselves. Indeed, over the last four years, we can attribute at least five new client wins that have come as a result of our social media activity. Not to mention the number of speaker and media opportunities we have generated for ourselves.

Managing corporate reputation effectively means maximising the potential presented by a variety of tools, from managing the message via key spokespeople and the media, to content creation and of course social media. It can take time to build and maintain an online presence, but the returns on that time investment are more than worthwhile both in terms of the reputation and the bottom line of the organisation.