Published on October 21, 2020, at 10:15 p.m.
By Kathleen McManus.
Social media marketing is a key strategy used by brands, and public relations practitioners are expected to be well versed in the various platforms. The tools and trends of social media, however, are constantly changing, making it challenging to stay up to date with the latest best practices of each platform.
In recent years, social media agencies emerged, providing an opportunity for brands to obtain support or even offload social media work to a team of experts. These agencies vary in size and services, but many operate as a small team of experts focusing on social media, email campaigns, paid ads and digital consulting.
These agencies help clients identify the best ways to use social media platforms to meet their public relations and marketing goals. Helping brands develop quality content and the best timing for releasing this content, social media agencies assist them in getting their messages to key audiences more effectively. Agencies use analytics to drive strategy that is in line with a brand’s objectives, whether that is growing awareness of the brand or increasing e-commerce sales.
Engaging publics and building community
Today, social media is used by many brands and provides an affordable way to connect with publics. Brands can use social media to build awareness and drive sales, but a key advantage of social media is the opportunity to directly connect with publics. By engaging specific audiences, brands build community.
Pinckney Palm is a social media agency in Charleston, South Carolina, that works with small to midsize businesses across the globe. Ryann McCall, social media coordinator at Pinckney Palm, said, “You can build such a community through social media. You can really let people get to know you and your brand.”
COVID-19 also increased the usage of social media agencies. “We’ve seen especially with small brick-and-mortar businesses that they can no longer have people come through their doors like they used to,” McCall added. “They’re depending on digital messaging to build the community, get their news out and share their messages.”
Homemade Social is another boutique social media agency located in Scottsdale, Arizona, working with small to midsize businesses. Becca Booker, owner of Homemade Social, said she started as a social media freelancer three years ago and noticed how small businesses understood that using social media was important but often lacked the bandwidth, talent or time to do it themselves.
Both McCall and Booker commented that in a small or midsize company, employees wear many hats. Offloading social media work to an agency takes a large task off these businesses’ plates while they can feel confident that this work is not being overlooked or underutilized, they said.
In a traditional public relations campaign, objectives, strategies and tactics are used to effectively reach an overall goal for a brand. Social media and digital campaigns similarly work toward an overall goal but operate differently across social media platforms to maximize how target publics use each respective platform. Each channel may require a different strategy depending on which public will see or engage with the content.
Booker gave an example of how email marketing will have a different message than paid digital marketing because publics are already familiar with the brand and have likely purchased from it before. Meanwhile paid ads target publics who have likely never heard of the brand before, so messaging will be different in an effort to grow awareness and familiarity, she noted.
Engagement and interaction with content are two common goals when creating social media content. Not only do brands want publics to take in the intended message but also to engage them in the content through comments, shares and other platform-specific tools to further build a relationship by creating a two-way conversation, unlike traditional media.
Public relations agency life, in general, is known for being fast-paced, and this is true for social media agencies, too. McCall referenced newsletters, including “Social Media Today,” and social media podcasts as ways the Pinckney Palm team likes to stay informed of upcoming app updates and changes. Booker commented that there is an education gap between the agency and the client with new trends like utilizing TikTok and Instagram Reels.
“When something new and shiny comes out, every client wants to hop on it. But they don’t necessarily think through questions like ‘Does my business have the tools or the funds?’ Does it make sense for my company to be on TikTok?’” said Booker.
Social media platforms not only add new features but also change the algorithm, which determines the order content appears on a user’s feed. Agencies monitor platforms to stay aware of algorithm changes and advise clients when they need to adapt content or timing to ensure posts are seen.
With frequent social media advancements in addition to real-time opportunities to seize trends, many clients choose an agency for its full services to stay up to date with current changes. Agencies also prioritize their own social media accounts in addition to their clients’, using them to explore and experiment with new trends before recommending advancements to clients.
In addition to paid clients, serving the small business community is at the heart of both Pinckney Palm and Homemade Social. Pinckney Palm provides tips and information on app updates on its own social media accounts and offers a six-week Zoom course on topics like Instagram Stories and content calendar creation.
“At Pinckney Palm, we recognize not everyone can afford to hand off their social media work,” said McCall. “Opportunities like our six-week online course are taken by small-business owners, and while they have to implement these strategies themselves, the course is empowering them with knowledge to apply to their own social media.”
Homemade Social also provides affordable alternatives to its full-scale client services. Booker hosts weekly Instagram Live sessions where followers can ask her questions, regardless of whether they are a client. Booker also hosts group Zoom calls that are limited to eight people. These calls are a personal and affordable way for businesses to gain advice on better utilizing social media for their goals, she said.
Social media has significantly evolved in the last 10 years, and brands have recognized social media marketing is a valuable resource. As social media continues to become an important tool for connecting brands of all sizes to consumers, social media agencies will likely continue to emerge and grow as a necessary function of the public relations industry, especially for small and midsize businesses.