Today Maggie Fox of Social Media Group, which is headquartered in Toronto and has offices in Calgary and Washington, DC and Geoff Livingston of Livingston Communications based in Washington, DC join forces.
What this means is that there will be one company, Social Media Group, which will acquire The Buzz Bin and Blog Potomac as part of the deal. The acquisition of Livingston Communications will be completed in August, 2008.
This is good news for companies starting to ramp up their social media efforts. Traditional, full service agencies have been scrambling to add social media to their suite of offerings and what I have seen so far has left me wanting. According to their release, this deal crates the largest independent social media marketing firm in North America.
Social media is not just a wrapper, a cool package that you apply to the old models - it's an entirely different way of opening communications and collaboration channels with employees and customers. New dynamics and new demands for marketers and public relations professionals. Social media engages a company from its core and is a very demanding - and rewarding - proposition. Think long term, think participatory, think "always on".
That is why it's a good idea to work with a team that understands what it feels like to be in a two-way conversation with your business. I asked Geoff to expand on the news.
In your release, you state that companies are desperate for qualified social media marketing and communications services - would you like to expand on that? Would you work with internal staff? Do you take over? What does an ideal mix look like to you today?
Geoff: Companies know they need to evolve their communications — externally and internally — towards the social form. Not necessarily as a complete switch, but more as an integrated evolution. To do that, they need strong, experience based guidance to help them bridge the gap and transform into two-way communication-based organizations.
What’s available to them on the market is often a wide range of traditional PR and ad agencies carpetbagging their “social media” practice, or consultants claiming to be social media experts. These consultants include people who have achieved personal brand fame on the Internet, but don’t understand basic marketing or business strategy and cannot really help companies transform.
Transformation is the key. It’s not a switch you turn on. For many businesses this is an educational process that requires cultural shifts. Experience guiding other organizations through that... And aligning social media to achieve actual business objectives is essential.
A couple of days ago, we talked about PR 2.0.
Where do you think social media fits - is it with marketing, PR or does it depend on what the company does?
Geoff: It depends on the company. Social engagement transforms companies, and so two-way communications can affect many different aspects of the company from our PR and marketing echo chamber to workflow and talent management. That makes this a toolset that can do just about anything you like. It is very much a reflection of a company’s personality and soul.
There has been a lot of discussion around ROI. Both in terms of what return means and how to measure it. Will you support companies with the ability to research and measure the outcome of their efforts?
Geoff: We have Social Media Group’s Conversation Index to measure results at any given point of time. More importantly, we believe that performance benchmarks are set at the beginning. ROI is the result, and results have to be in mind before even the strategy is crafted.
So, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it’s hard to go somewhere if you don’t where that is. And similarly, no communications program should ever be launched without an end goal in mind. Measurement, is simply tying benchmarks to see if the goal is being achieved. It’s common sense.
Often one of the issues I hear being discussed about is that of monitoring tools. Do you have a way to assist companies with listening and responding? What's your philosophy around how fast and when to respond?
Geoff: We have a process for this, too (painfully forged by experience). Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for tools, but our process includes the use of Radian6, Twitter Search, Technorati and Google currently. Our system provides a daily round-up of general conversation, and also triggers crisis PR for negative posts of a certain assigned authority. It’s been working very well, and I’m pretty happy with it.
My feeling is you have to respond to a negative post within 3 hours if you hope to stymie the blood flow. Reputation is now shaped by not only negative opinion, or a response, but how fast you do it. A response two days later, while important to the blogger, is still a little late, and by then, you’ve lost your opportunity to converse with the readers, and perhaps stop the spread of negative opinion.
[image courtesy of Geoff Livingston]