What is really behind the ‘social’ campaign brief?

The industry isn’t short of smart people. We constantly hear how to ‘do social media’ right and how people are ‘doing it wrong’. For example, we now all know likes don’t mean sales and that content is the bed rock of campaigns. Why is it then that many campaign wrap ups still heavily feature metrics such as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and so much content produced is really bad (i.e. irrelevant and poorly distributed?).

Here’s my hypothesis:

Getting people aligned around an idea is not easy. Getting consensus on something you know to be right is one of the toughest jobs of a leader. And it’s even harder if you aren’t the boss and are trying to get the boss to do what you know to be right.

This is a scenario that I’m sure happens a LOT in the agency world.

Client: We need to do something social. Can you come up with a few ideas for us?

Agency: Can you give us some more details on what the parameters should be?

Client: Not really. Our Board is keen to do something to increase our brand awareness with social. It would be great if you could come up with a few ideas that could wow them?

Agency: Right. What kind of budget are you looking at?

Client: We’re not too sure. Can you give us a range of options on what’s possible?

Agency: Yes we can do that. However it would be helpful if you could give us some ballpark figure. Also what would you say success looks like?

Client: Well that’s difficult to say. We’re aiming to increase brand awareness so anything that delivers that would be considered a success. Oh, and anything that the board really like.

Now if you’ve worked in an agency setting, I’m pretty positive you’ve been involved in a scenario such as this. Here’s my take on what’s at play in these scenarios.

From the client standpoint – they probably work within a hierarchical organisation where commands come down from the board/senior management team. These commands are rarely questioned and those in the chain of command live in constant fear of getting results that are often judged on the whim of a strong personality or a group of people with different expectations of what success looks like.

From the agency perspective – as much as they try to understand what the client really wants or what lies behind the clients requests, there comes a time when they just think, ‘hey we need the revenue. Let’s just go along with what the client says and give them a generic campaign’.

While this scenario might fill some with despair, the reality is many in these situations can only deal with the scenario they are in. The client is unlikely to tell their board that they don’t get social so shouldn’t be involved in it and the agency is unlikely to walk away from the potential revenue. Hence we often arrive at campaigns that aren’t rooted in solving any real problem. Or put in ‘wanky’ business speak, moved the needle in any meaningful way.

I’ve probably oversimplified the situation, but in my view unless much more attention is paid to understanding the organisation culture, motivations and structure of individuals both on client and agency side, we’ll constantly go round in the endless (and tiresome circle) of clients getting disappointed with so-called social media results (whatever that means) and agencies coming up with campaigns to satisfy these requests but never properly scratching the itch. By the way, if you’re interested in understanding this more, I’d strongly recommend reading Attenzi – a social business story by Philip Sheldrake.

Disagree? As ever, I’m happy to be told or proved otherwise.