Archive for August, 2008

A Social and New Media Specialty Practice Strategy: An Outline for Communications and Public Relations Firms

While the major advertising, communications and public relations agencies have all created digital specialty practices, the medium and small agency still struggles to adapt to the digital age. Competition from these specialty practices as well as that faced from interactive and social media agencies combines with the tight client budgets and lack of comfort with the new medium form traditional practitioners. This combination leaves many agencies still unprepared for the impacts the industry is facing from social media.

These are some thoughts of how a small to medium sized agency can integrated social media practice into their agency. Please by all means comment and let me know your thoughts.

The Success of Social Media

Social media is a success because of the confluence of three factors:

  • inexpensive, high-speed Internet access;
  • easy to use technologies;
  • and the inherent human desire to participate in like minded communities.

Social networking in and of itself is not new and has been studied by academics for decades. Social networking is now exciting as it has been invigorated via the Internet to apply its concepts on massive scales across geographies, demographics and other barriers.

In the long term all agencies will adopt the variety of new communications strategies currently being pioneered by leading-edge agencies and boutique interactive firms. Along this path, PR teams need guidance from specialists to bring the services into the routine operations.

Social media as the focus of a dedicated practice is justified through the market demand for the specialty services of strategic planning and tactical implementation fulfilled via knowledgeable experts. Based upon requests from clients large scale firms such as Fleishman Hillard[i], Edelman[ii], Weber Shandwick[iii] and others have already established such practices to deliver such services to new and existing clients. Many boutiques have sprung up to address requests for services as most traditional communications agencies have not begun to integrate and fulfill these services. These factors demonstrate that the demand exists and models can be adopted to support a social media practice.

Practice Definition

Social media is the current major impact point for online to marketing. In a little while there will be something new in the limelight. Edelman has named their practice “Interactive, Social and Emerging Media” to match this constant state of change. An agency digital practice can have a similar growth pattern. The initial service set can target social media. Over time, these services can be adopted by the account teams as they become routine public relations tactics. Meanwhile, the practice can be profitably pioneering and delivering the “next big thing” such as the importance of high speed mobile and online interactions via a plethora of other devices such as your car dashboard to clients. This adoption timeframe may vary from a few months to a few years. The key factor is that the practice can maintain a leadership position to deliver high performance award winning efforts.

Balance of Practice Business Volume

It should be expected that forty percent of the practice volume would be from add-on sales to clients of the other agency practices. This can establish a set of immediate success stories. At the start of the practice the day-to-day execution of selected routine service delivery would be through the existing account teams. This delivery by existing teams should be expected to be needed until the volume of the practice’s new clients warrants additional specialty service staff. At that time the delivery method should be examined and responsibilities may switch to the practice team.

It should be expected that sixty percent of the practice volume can be for engagements from new clients where delivery is provided via the specialty staff. These efforts should be expected to entail larger scale strategy and implementation efforts or very rapid campaigns for new or exiting clients that require the skills of the practice staff. It can be expected that the breakdown of practice staff would be heavily weighted towards strategy and communications experts with design and technology being routinely implemented through freelancers or agencies.


The following is a list of expected services that can be further developed as the core deliverables from the practice:

  • Strategic Guidance and Planning
    • Social media
    • Social networks
    • CGM monitoring
    • Blogging
      • Branded, Corporate, Executive, product, Crisis, Issue
    • Videos, vodcasts, podcasts
    • Maps, widgets, dashboards and other features
    • Mobile marketing and outreach
  • Blogger Training
    • Executives, communications team members
  • CGM/Blogger Relations
  • CGM Monitoring and Measurement
  • Social network and community activation, monitoring and management
    • Creation of dedicated and participation in existing networks
    • Blog, social network
  • Wiki/Blog establishment and management
    • Strategy
    • Setup/establishment
    • Audience development and promotions
    • Content/authoring
    • Monitoring
    • Measurement
  • Activity awareness
    • i.e. Twitter, Social bookmarking (Digg, etc.)
  • Media center and press release optimization
  • Vodcasts/podcasts
  • Campaign Web sites and micro-sites

Baseline Services for Existing Clients

Initial sales should be targeted through the development of a base package of services codified and presented to existing clients to be adapted to their needs to deliver immediate social media impact to their programs. These would include:

  • RSS feed(s) for outbound news -press releases and a new outlet for news not considered suitable for a press release
  • Improved linking practices in press releases to related product and service pages on their Web site
  • Interactive press release distribution over wire services for online indexing
  • LinkedIn® and Plaxo® accounts for key communications personnel
  • Facebook and MySpace pages for the company and key products, services, alumni (employee or customer) supplemented with brand and business driving social networking applications
  • Social networking and blog strategies
  • CGM (Consumer Generated Media) monitoring
  • Twitter®/Friendfeed® feed setup and preparation for use in campaigns and crisis communications
  • Interactive maps and related application strategies
  • Mobile strategy and Web site and email optimization for mobile devises
  • Email newsletter optimization for inclusion of social networking tie-ins and improvements.
  • Media center improvements for inclusion of social networking
  • General campaign input for all projects cycled through the agency

Sales and Marketing

The expectation should be for this unit to be self supporting in six to eight months. This would require an aggressive new business development approach with matching marketing focus to demonstrate leadership, approach and expertise. The first few months would focus on immediate wins with existing clients. These early success stories would then be matched with a marketing campaign to illustrate to prospects the agencies capabilities and track record. These new business efforts could include:

  • Aggressive outbound prospecting and meeting schedules
  • White papers to demonstrate leadership, approach and expertise
  • Speaking engagements at target market industry events
  • Demonstrate strategies through the agency’s own marketing efforts
  • Case studies built upon initial delivery to existing clients and new client engagements.
  • By-lined article placement in advertising, marketing and public relations industry publications and blogs
  • Guest authoring and commenting on respected communications blogs
  • PR Practitioners Guide to Social Media – An agency branded practical guide to getting started building and growing communities for communications professionals.


The initial staffing solution would include a director and two existing staff members. One or both of these staff members should be expected to leave the agency in the first few months of the plan. For the director to drive marketing and new business efforts as well while also conducting the initial service delivery it is important that at least one junior staff member be available as a dedicate practice resource. The skills should match those currently exhibited by staff to complete such tasks as:

  • CGM Monitoring and reporting
  • Editorial – blog post authoring
  • Blogger relations – media relations with specialty on techniques to form relationships with non-traditional journalists and individuals
  • Social network participation (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg)


Most efforts would be expected to be executed via an in-house design team’s efforts applied to technology by individual freelancers or very small shops of animators and technologists. Larger scale efforts such as micro-sites and dedicated communicates would be delivered via execution contracts with boutique agencies that could be called upon for their specialties. It should be expected that a formal partnership with an interactive agency would be required in year two.

[i] Fleishman Hillard has been reinvigorating its Digital practice with an emphasis on social media with recent hires in DC and New York. Read more about this practice on their Web site at

[ii] Edelman established its practice in early 2006. This practice is run by Steve Rubel whose Micro Persuasion blog is one of the most popular covering Web 2.0 and its interface with communications. Good summaries of the Edelman practice goals and strategies may be found at and

[iii] Weber Shandwick has expanded its online special service under the name of the name “Interactive, Social and Emerging Media. See the following URL for the description from their Web site:

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YouTube Best Practices

Here are some thoughts regarding best practices for posting and promoting videos on YouTube.  These best practices would also apply to Google Video, Flickr or any other content sharing network.

  • Establish a YouTube, Google video and other accounts under the organization name.
  • Complete account details utilizing SEO (search engine optimization best practices).
  • Title and describe videos utilize SEO best practices.
  • When embedding videos, turn off the display of related videos at the end of the video play.
  • Add annotations to provide commentary utilizing SEO best practices.
  • Make the videos highly interesting, unique and engaging to your target audiences.
  • Keep videos short (under 45 seconds) unless longer content is clearly expected by the subject matter.
  • Have the last frame of the video contain the organization brand, message and URL.
  • Have the first frame contain a title, brand and URL.
  • Select a very good image as the still frame image to attractive viewers.
  • Promote video replies and comments.
  • Embed the videos in MySpace, Facebook and as many other social networks as possible to provide access to as wide an audience as possible.

Any more?

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Blogging Best Practice: Permalink Style

Search engines pickup keywords in file and path names. Readers also can see these in names when reviewing lists of articles to open. This makes it important to set the permalink style to one that includes the article date, category and post title. Do not use a style that uses an ID number. This is normally as simple as changing a radio button option in a blog CMS.

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Blogging Best Practice: Use a PING list

All blogs should be setup with an extensive list of public indexing servers to be alerted regarding new posts. This service know as “ping” and is built into a blogging CMS where the list may be managed by the account management team.

This is a short list of recommend ping servers. Copy and past this list into the ping server list in the CMS.


The are hundreds of thousands of ping servers.  Check out these lists for additional ping servers.

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CSS Best Practice: Leave
  • Intact
  • CSS production should not entirely eliminate the use of tags for common functions.  For example, it is not uncommon for the list item tag <LI> to be customized. <LI> may then be used to align images or other items outside of the common use to set the style of a bulleted or numbered list.  In these instances it is important that a class be assigned to the non-numbered or non-bulleted display.  If no style is applied then the use of <LI> for regular lists is hampered. 

    If the default LI tag is fully replaced, then be sure to provide a class that may be applied for the display of bullets or numbers.

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