This started out as a reply to a post on AgencySpy about what ad agencies need to look for as they staff up their nascent social media departments and turned into a full-fledged blog post.
Maybe I'm too cynical, but my fear with creating a department specifically to oversee social media (rather than making social media a part of the overall marketing scheme) is that it then becomes yet another piece of what Brian Morrissey aptly calls the "matching luggage" and a passel of social media ideas get trotted out at every meeting alongside the TV spots and the print ads and the banners and the microsites and the iPhone apps whether the client needs them or not.
Smart agencies get that many clients don't need any kind of social media ideas. Their products just aren't interesting enough to generate a whole lot of buzz and/or they don't have the budget or inclination to create any kind of buzz.
Many brands don't have the resources (e.g. time and money) necessary to properly maintain so much as a Facebook page (let alone an entire social media program) and you don't need to be a "guru" to know that having a Facebook page that gets updated once every three months is a lot worse than not having one at all.
But once you add a "social media department" to an agency’s roster, it becomes too easy for the agency to fall into the trap of expecting their new social media department to contribute something to every pitch or client presentation, even when it makes no sense.
Because otherwise what exactly are they paying them for, right?
Even worse will be those rare times when a heavy social media plan makes a lot of sense - brands for whom social media should be the bulk of their marketing effort - and the agency can't let that happen because that would be giving the social media department too much power and influence and so the politically expedient move is to trot out the matching luggage yet again.
Social media works when the client gets why they’re doing it and has practices and structures to support it. That’s a really important distinction that gets lost in the shuffle: Zappos (to use an easy example) is “good” at social media because they have really amazing customer service. Not the other way around. That’s why people talk about them-- because they’re impressed with the customer service, not because Zappos has a cool page with all their Twitter streams.
Hiring people to force clients who don’t get what’s needed to be successful in social media (better business practices, better products) to adopt social media programs that are doomed from inception is in no one’s best interest.