Social Media Content Plan Ping-Pong Between Client and Agency

Ping Pong

Forgive the alliteration, it was intentional.

This article is the fruit of a midnight twitter rant by yours truly after being embroiled in a Social Media Content Plan approval Ping-Pong situation, client-side. Having worked both agency-side and client-side as a Digital/Social “content creator/strategist” there’s only one thing that I’ve learnt so far about social media here in Delhi – it’s big words in the beginning and then confusion thereon.

Let me try and describe how it works:

The super-clever guys with the last-updated-5-mins-ago-by-XYZ Social Media Giant insights go for pitches as warriors armed with big words. More often than not, the client doesn’t but pretends to understand these big words. (Sometimes the client asks the right kind of questions and the warriors turn to wet beavers and tell the client “we will get back to you on this asap”.)

To be fair these warriors really are the Jedi of Digital/Social but their work is only to get the business. So, they do win the pitches – either because they convince the client they’re good or because they are a big agency or because the agency is already the client’s creative or media partner.

Any which way, the account is won and the “social media strategy” designed thereafter by the second-in-command, the “social media head” aka “director of strategy”, and it may even be the best strategy anyone in the whole wide world can create for your brand but the problem is that it’s usually downhill there on, or at best a plateau.

For something that creates SO much potential for a brand to connect with its consumers, we really aren’t doing much more than run digital sweatshops. I distinctly remember hearing the term “lalaji kee dukaan” being used for agencies at a social do for Social Media folk.

“People don’t know what exactly to do with it, and that’s making a lot of people in agencies as well as clients nervous”,

says CVL Srinivas, CEO, GroupM South Asia in an interview about Digital.

Once the account lead is assigned (usually not someone who is particularly knowledgeable about the product/brand – those are luxuries only big money can afford – no, 25,000 INR is not big money!) a format of sorts is created for how many updates a day, what “content buckets” for what day of the week, what kind of content (photos it usually is!), yada yada yada – all based on assumptions, speculation, some R&D or if you’re lucky, suggestions made by the god-almighty-of-all-things-social – the analytics tool.

And, before you know it, you’re playing content plan ping-pong with the clients’ usually disgruntled and/or overworked Communications Executive or Brand Manager.

You send them an excel sheet (with the plan for the next week or fortnight) with copy you cannot be more proud of with “creatives” next to it of images from the brand’s own photo bank (tada!) or something you’ve created (best case scenario!), and after much running around by the Client Servicing team the excel sheet comes back to you with the most ridiculous changes that do not make sense to you, but they make all the difference according to the client who knows the product like the back of their hand.

Then the revised plan goes back to the client and if you’re lucky some of it is finally approved and you thank your stars, schedule the damn posts and get cracking on your other three accounts and somehow get through days and weeks and months of everyone going home unhappy.

Then once you get a hang of the kind of things the client usually approves of, you start churning them content plans out with the patience of a stockbroker during an IPO and the so called social media strategy deck throws itself off the roof of your corporate office building to ‘a not-so-happy death’ (notice the clever Camus reference!).

Either the client makes peace with this pace or the relationship goes through tumultuous ups and downs and sometimes ends before overcoming the1-year-itch. (I’m not even getting into the Analytics Reports created to be shared with clients currently.

Most of them are farce and most of us don’t know what to do with the data and what insights/intelligence to go back to the client with and sometimes that’s because we don’t quite know what we’re trying to achieve through Social.)

What’s the alternative you ask me?

Well, it’s not something unusual, it’s not something that’s not been thought of or is not being done by someone else. I’ve heard many older, insightful, amazing advertising and media professionals talk about the need for empowerment – the absolute and dire need to empower the social media team/digital team.

Considering Social is increasingly becoming an important part of any brand’s digital journey, why not have a Social Media Head and team who are empowered enough to call the shots themselves (whilst staying true to guidelines) so we can all get this deathly hideous ping-pong game out of our systems.

How exactly this can be done, whether or not there should be: Social folk working with client team in agencies, embedded in client offices/teams, clients should DIYyaar(!) – I don’t quite know. I think some of the industry heavyweights are more than equipped to make these important decisions best suited to individual clients/brands rather than having blanket formats.

The important thing is this needs to happen, soon. (iContract’s Prashant Challapalli has interesting things to say about the Digital Agency manifesto)

Because it truly breaks my heart to see day in and day out one of my favorite auto brands (and one that I’ve spoken to about this) shove in my face update after update of: guess which car, what is this feature of the car called, look its xyz car, look its xyz car from another angle, where are you driving xyz car over the weekend, do you love xyz car or do you love xyz car… you get the drift, right? Logo bada karo, brand ka naam aur baar, photo mein brand and all that jazz. This goes on and on as the paid likes continue to ‘like’ update after update and make inane comments.

On the other hand, if you empower your teams, what happens: the likes of the Oreo 100 days/100 years campaign… and there are many more such examples out there.

On the whole I think the one brand (UK based), and I’ve thought this since 2011 or even before, that is doing it just how I’d like things to be is @InnocentDrinks – I love all their social media channels but their twitter account is just spectacular – considering I’ve had conversations with them about coming to India (they have no plans of doing so at the moment but that doesn’t stop them from talking to me, each time I tweet to them), the song that will play at our wedding – if the brand and I get married, how I spotted them in a French film that they didn’t know of… I’ve even flirted with their head of creative on twitter, who, umm, acknowledged it. Anyway, the point being, that team is: having fun on Social, making friends, talking about their products in the friendliest way possible, managing their ORM in the most gracious manner.

The Oreo ‘Daily Twist’ team made of agency partners and brand stakeholders sat together every morning, searched what was trending, did creative and copy around it on the spot and made it live shortly after.

The Innocent Drinks team, I don’t know how they function, if you do let me know, but I would like to believe they all sit under one roof (The Fruit Towers) working away on their funny animal/fruit/food photos, general merriment at the office and beautiful product creatives amongst other things.

In Delhi, Nestle is one company that has taken the leap and set up DASH – Digital Acceleration and Services Hub in its corporate office but I do believe the content plan ping-pong in the Social wing still continues. Have they reached ideal engagement levels? I don’t quite know. Are they doing well? Well, they’re doing a wee bit better than the others.

@Indigo6E I’m happy to see has upped their twitter game recently – from not being active at all the year before to swiftly responding by end of 2013 – they are polite and prompt; the contests remain. (What’s a social media campaign/account without a contest!)

Over time I’ve been associated with some small brands that have managed to successfully form fairly engaging communities, more so on Facebook, solely because the proprietors run the communities themselves. I remember an adventure store owner calling me and ranting about how unhappy he was with his agency.

The conclusion of the phone call was him deciding to start handling his Facebook page himself – best decision ever – there’s not one person in town who knows his business better than him and the fans/followers want exactly the information he has to share with them. I’ve also worked with a development sector biggie that has the warmest way of functioning when it comes to social media.

The Communications team prepares each piece of content with great effort, which in turn shows in the reactions their posts garner – of course, what they also have going for them is the high shareability factor of some the issues they highlight.

Anywho, enough from me, you tell me what you think is the possible solution. Should it be mini-Scott-Montys for some brands, agency embeds for others or shall we carry on with this content plan ping-pong?

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