The Cost of Social Media.

I’ve been learning to say, ‘no’, to the strenuously optimistic, the forcefully self-righteous and the patently delusional.

Marketing communications has changed beyond recognition in recent years, and yet the commercial approach of both clients and agencies has remained constant. The assumption of ‘business as usual’ is painful to watch and even more painful to experience. Social media is very unusual.

Agencies struggle to execute their concepts and ideas through digital and social channels. Relearning, reskilling and retooling is expensive and time consuming. Simply finding the expertise, experience and staff to implement technical, multi-channel communications is a challenge. We’ve moved a long way from the magic-marker pen and photo shoot. Or at least some of us have. The remainder attempt to bolt digital strategies onto the back of a traditional service offering and call it ‘integrated’. They do this because they have to rather than because they know how to, and because few understand the implications of digital service delivery in cost or resource terms.

The clients are worse. As resolute intransigence has given way to overcautious acceptance in the digital arena, B2B marketers are attempting to develop social strategies within traditional planning models. But it’s not really working. It’s not working for the clients and it’s not working for the agencies. That’s because the client benchmark for all things digital is the same benchmark as it has been for all things traditional.

If there’s one thing we should all have learned in the last few years, it’s that the traditional models and measures have changed. Not just a little, they’ve changed fundamentally and irrevocably.

In a recent agency Round Table summary facilitated by Keith Hunt, Managing Partner of Results International, a leading adviser in the global marketing, technology and communications industries, one agency head estimated that, “digital is about ten times more labour intensive than traditional media.” I’d agree with that. It’s ten times more labour intensive and that inevitably makes it ten times more expensive to deliver than traditional media. Try and explain that to a client who’s expecting to pay ten times less for the project and you can start to see how difficulties might arise.

It comes as little surprise then, that agencies attempt to undertake digital projects at low margins or as loss-leaders in order to secure the client’s traditional work. If traditional media is their real area of expertise, that’s the (only) area where profit can be made. But robbing Peter to pay Paul is unsustainable in commercial terms. The clients (and the agencies) have some harsh realities to face up to.

I’m taking a slightly different approach. I’m telling everyone with unrealistic budget and delivery expectations to fuck right off. Or words to that effect. We’re not practicing, or learning, or experimenting with digital and social strategies anymore. We’re not easing in gently or sucking it and seeing. We’re not running pilots or proofs of concept. I’m no longer sympathetic to any of the things that allow clients to sit on the fence.

We’re delivering it. We’re doing it. You either recognise the potential of the digital market and you’re ready to invest in the delivery, or you’re not. Either, or.

Scot McKee