Social media practices a good choice despite recession

In the midst of an economic downturn, agencies are looking for strategic ways to grow their business. For some this means launching new practices or capabilities.

In the midst of an economic downturn, PR agencies are looking for strategic ways to grow their business. For some this means launching new practices or capabilities. Several firms have recently launched digital and social media offerings, ranging from a traditional social media practice to a Twitter-monitoring service. Initiatives in the digital space bring many benefits to agencies as they look to set themselves apart during the recession.

Laura Borgstede, CEO of Calysto Communications, says the economic downturn offers a valuable time to launch a division like the agency's new social media marketing practice because social media offerings can be less expensive.
"There is a lot more pickup and a lot more interest [from clients] in [social media] because it is less expensive and they can see the ROI pretty quickly," she explains.

Calysto works with clients in the broadcasting, telecommunications, and wireless industries, and about 90% of the firm's work is b-to-b .

"We are definitely trying to educate b-to-b companies that it is something that they can and should do," she says, noting that consumer-facing companies are more active in this space.

An additional benefit is the ability to work with more clients, including those who have hired a traditional PR firm or a company competing with another client, she says.

"We can be only their social media AOR and not their traditional media AOR," Borgstede explains. "It also opens up competitive opportunities. [Because] the tactics don't compete, we're not competing for the same editors."

Todd Defren, principal at Shift Communications, says the changing digital media landscape made the decision to launch a new digital content creation practice easier. The new offering, launched on March 31, sets up blogs, creates video and podcasts, orchestrates live streaming of events, and more for clients.

"If you think about the economic downturn, the opportunities to get mainstream coverage have dwindled," he says. "In the social media world, and with content marketing in particular, you have an opportunity to create content that bypasses the traditional gates of mainstream media and can go directly to consumers."

As consumers look to interact with brands more directly, Shift's new practice, and others from agencies across the country, will add to the things agencies can offer, keeping them relevant in difficult times.

"In any downturn," Defren says, "the wise company tries to get more creative."

Waggener Edstron's digital influencer division, WE Studio D, launched Twendz, its monitoring service for Twitter, on March 11. The service looks to analyze the sentiment and emotion associated with Tweets about certain brands or products.

The agency wanted to make its mark in Twitter because it "is a real influence platform," says Jennifer Houston, SVP and global lead of WE Studio D, Waggener Edstrom's digital influencer arm. "People are spending a lot of time there and engaging.

"The first benefit for an agency to get into the digital influence space is that that is where audiences are these days," she continues. "And [with] audiences' expectations of experience and involvement in the brands that agencies represent, it is a requirement, a cost of entry."

Key Points:
-    In an economic downturn, social media practices can serve as a practical addition
-    A separate social media practice can allow agencies to add clients that may already have a traditional PR firm or those that compete with current clients
-    Clients are attracted to the lower cost and quicker ROI of social media offerings

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