NEW YORK 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."
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.
"I think traditional ad agencies have very little contribution to make," Bryan Simkins, a marketing specialist at FedEx, told TNS. "They are mostly driven by their compensation models which are made for closed media. Those models don't apply in open media."
The increase in social media has led other analysts to highlight the dearth of skills at agencies to help clients navigate the social landscape. Forrester Research, for instance, published a report  last month that found agencies are poorly structured to help clients leverage opportunities with communities of shared interests.
"The existing marketing partners do not understand the ins and outs of the social media space," David Harris, e-business manager at Suzuki, told TNS. "They can do more harm than good if they apply old models."
Jim Nail, chief marketing and strategy officer at TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony, said frustration from clients surveyed, only some of which was published, was across the board.
"You get the sense that agencies talk a good game," he said. "They put up a good presentation about what social media is, but when you get to implementing campaigns, the day-to-day management skills are not meeting the marketers' expectations."
That could haunt agencies as more clients make social media a top priority.
Nearly 50 percent of marketers said social-media efforts needed to be handled at an executive level with "significant" resources. Another 30 percent agreed social media is a "revolutionary opportunity."
In his comments, Intuit's Scott Wilder called it a "Pandora's box" of consumers relying on word of mouth to evaluate companies and products.
"One of the big barriers right now is people are struggling with where this lives and how it is incorporated into their organizations," Nail said, pointing out that social media cuts across marketing, public relations and customer service.
The perceived lack of social media competence at agencies will present opportunities for new providers, Nail predicted, as too many agencies hew narrowly to their niche, whether it's media, creative or PR -- something backed up by client feedback.
"I really think that agencies need to focus heavily on how they can build excitement within the live space of the Internet," Carolyn Holliday, e-marketing manager at Fila USA, told TNS. "Outside of just placing ads, they need to start dialogues with existing and potential customers."