Agencies Slow to Harness Social Media

Most agencies have a presence on social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, but infrequently use them to market themselves or pursue client prospects, according to a new survey from RSW/US and Second Wind.

Nearly three-quarters of the 212 agency leaders polled in the online survey are connected to LinkedIn, 66 percent to Facebook and 56 percent to Twitter. But when asked how frequently they use each, the majority said no more than once a month. For example, 47 percent conceded that they never tweet, 7 percent said they tweet less than once a month and 4 percent tweet just once monthly.

The findings were similar for blogs, with 56 percent of the respondents saying that their agencies have blogs, but only 6 percent use them daily. A whopping 66 percent indicated that they blog no more than once a month.

And while 58 percent of the agency leaders pointed to LinkedIn as the social media tool they employ most often in account prospecting, only 4 percent use any type of social media “often” in this context, compared to 22 percent who “never” do.

The survey, which was conducted last month, provides yet another illustration of agencies not practicing what they preach to clients for the marketing of brands. This  “cobbler’s son” syndrome is also evident in everything from Flash-heavy, information-poor agency Web sites to shops neglecting to buy sponsored links to their names on Google.

RSW/US president Mark Sneider attributed the respondents’ limited engagement in social media to laziness and a lack of time. Such sites, however, can be powerful tools for getting to know CMOs or sharing agency thoughts about marketplace issues, said Sneider, whose Cincinnati-based firm helps agencies hone their prospecting skills.

“Any one [site] in and of itself on its own isn’t enough. You really have to use them like a media plan,” Sneider said. “And each of those components should have a different purpose. [Agencies should] stay true to that purpose, and then integrate the entire social space with other more traditional initiatives” such as e-mail marketing.”

Deutsch’s Michael Duda uses Twitter to track the thoughts of chief marketing officers. He sometimes tweets to spark exchanges in which he shares his agency’s point of view. “It’s a great opportunity to monitor and learn,” said Duda, chief corporate strategy officer at the Interpublic Group shop.

BBDO North American CMO Mark Goldstein also follows client CMOs on Twitter and blogs. But he finds some tweets “incredibly commercial” and not very revealing, most likely because “somebody on their staff” is writing them. So, there’s a fair amount of fool’s gold out there, which may also explain why agencies haven’t fully embraced social media as a tool for mining new business.

Furthermore, some account prospectors are uncomfortable leaving traces of their interactions with clients behind on quasi-public sites like Twitter. Goldstein, for one, prefers “silence and secrecy” when pursuing potential clients. Added Lou Rubin, director of business development The Gate Worldwide: “We try to be pretty discreet about new business in particular.”

Still, you never know when a client will reveal something you can act upon. And you certainly won’t know if you’re not paying attention.

“The thing we’re using the most for is active listening,” said Ben Bittman, CMO at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York. “It’s experimental. We’re figuring it out as we go.”