NEW YORK GroupM is launching a social-media unit and pairing the new operation with its search offering.
The Social Media Marketing practice will operate at Outrider, the St. Louis-based shop that's part of GroupM Search. The unit will be a shared resource for GroupM media networks Maxus, MediaCom, Mediaedge:cia and MindShare to tap when developing social media strategies for clients. The practice plans to help marketers identify key communities and properly tag social content to show up high in search results.
The move is an acknowledgment of how much social media activities like blogging and consumer-created content play in determining search results, which are routinely filled with blog posts, YouTube videos, Flickr photos and other user-developed content.
A challenge for a consumer packaged-goods marketer is it often does not have the sort of informational and deep Web site Google favors for search results, said Chris Copeland, CEO of GroupM Search, part of the WPP Group. Instead of a meal-replacement drink maker simply buying keywords, a smarter strategy is to infiltrate the top search results for a key term like diet. The opportunity is to take the same-tagged advertiser content and distribute it to the sites already judged relevant for a "diet" search.
The Outrider search team currently has four members, all of whom are active on their own in social media. Reem Abeidoh is one. She blogs, podcasts and is an active submitter to Digg, the social news site.
"We're not expecting her to trade on that currency but that she understands what kind of currency works in the space," said Copeland. "You're relying on the personal credibility and understanding."
GroupM is not the first to realize this: search-focused shops like 360i, iCrossing and Reprise Media have started social media specialties. The breadth of social media is causing several types of agencies to begin social practices, including PR and digital shops.
"There are some natural similarities to how people search today and how they actively seek out communication and information on the social Web," Copeland said. "We see a lot of the same assets and conversations that in the search space we try to start that in the social space are that already."
Although part of a media buying organization, the social media team is not concentrating on buying ads on Facebook and MySpace. In fact, one of its big tasks is to educate clients of the opportunities beyond placing their ad messages on social sites, said Patrick Garrett, Outrider's U.S. managing director.
"There are a lot of people whose pure interest is in banner ads," he said. "Our interest is in building relationships in a proactive manner. We're trying to break down the concept of the campaign. Social media is a long-term investment."