What is a Social Media Marketing Agency?

When Social Media became the Shiny Object of the marketing world, it blew up some common conceptions about “who does what.” As I’ve written before, we now see PR agencies backing into digital and digital/advertising agencies creeping into relationship-building practices, etc.

Result: prospective clients are confused.

Thus there have been cases when SHIFT is pitted against everyone from Razorfish (digital) to Arnold (advertising), and even Media Buyers(!), not to mention our erstwhile competitors from the traditional PR world.

We can’t blame the clients for this confusion; the infusion of Social Media principles across disciplines means that the current befuddlement is actually quite appropriate.

But, maybe we can take responsibility for clarifying things a bit?

To that end, I reached out to friend (and client – and sometime competitor!) Aaron Strout at Powered, and to friend (and partner – and sometime competitor!) Adam Cohen of Rosetta, to draft a few words about their companies and their capabilities – including some words on what they DON’T do.  I do the same, below.

The goal is to clarify the subtle differences between the capabilities and focus of pure-play Social Media Marketing (Powered), Interactive Agencies (Rosetta) and PR/Social Media Agencies (SHIFT).

See if you can spot the points of clarity, as well as the points of incongruity!


This is my company…
Powered is a dedicated social media agency that helps brands fully capitalize on their social initiatives. With 75 employees in four offices (Austin, New York City, Portland and San Francisco) we brings “best-in-class” expertise across the social spectrum to our clients by offering a combination of strategy, planning, activation and management for social presence and programs.

What we do…
We help big brands with strategy and activation (getting their key stakeholders like customers, prospects, partners or employees) to do things that create value for their brand. Those activities might include evangelizing, contributing, participating or learning.

Twitter_sxswThis is why you should call me (type of challenge or project)…
We’re really at our best when we’re helping big brands (mainly B2C) connect their social efforts to their marketing efforts. We start by fleshing out a cohesive strategy and then move toward the activation. In many cases, this includes focusing on things like influencer outreach, ambassador programs, Facebook Fanpages, applications and customer tabs and the building and managing of branded online communities.

This is when you should call someone else…
We’re still not particularly good at media buying, custom web development (outside of Facebook and community building), SEM and general site SEO. We also don’t do any traditional PR. For those activities, I’d strongly recommend talking to our friends at Rosetta and SHIFT, both of whom we partner/work with.

Rosetta Final Logo_021609ADAM COHEN, PARTNER, ROSETTA

This is my company…
Rosetta is the largest independent digital agency in the US. Using a patented approach to segmentation, called Personality® Segmentation (yep, it’s patented and a differentiator), which provides deep insights into the drivers of consumer behavior, Rosetta’s teams translate these insights into relevant marketing solutions to attract, retain and strengthen a brand’s most valuable customer relationships. With 720+ team members, Rosetta is headquartered in Princeton, NJ, with offices in NYC, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Denver and most recently Toronto.

What we do…
We help companies develop strategies and implement marketing tactics, combining the best of insight + technology – from eCommerce to Paid Search to Creative to Analytics to Relationship Marketing. With all the tools in a marketer’s toolbox, we strive to be a CMO’s most trusted partner.  Our industry expertise includes Retail & Consumer Products; Healthcare; Financial Services; Communications, Media & Technology, and B2B.

AdamCohenThis is why you should call me (type of challenge or project)…
We’re best when we bring to together marketing disciplines and industry acumen to provide measurable integrated solutions.  We shine we get the opportunity to demonstrate business results across tactics – like integrating eCommerce with paid search/SEO, driving the best creative with analytics and measurement, or infusing CRM with Personality Segmentation.

This is when you should call someone else…
Traditional media outlets are outside of our sweet spot (TV, print, radio), along with traditional PR.  Our social media practice is focused on infusing social into all of our marketing disciplines, but we are partnering with world-class agencies like SHIFT on outreach programs and Powered on designing the best approaches to engage and activate communities.


This is my company…
A top-25 PR agency in the U.S., with offices in NYC, San Francisco and Boston, SHIFT Communications is an agency that helps organizations of all sizes better communicate with the people that matter to their business.  Sometimes that’s “the media,” sometimes that’s “some loudmouth on Twitter.”  Companies ranging from Club Med to Quiznos, from tiny start-ups to established tech companies, look to SHIFT for counsel and execution on both branded and earned media.

What we do…
SHIFT emphasizes “on-going engagement” vs. spray-and-pray “campaigns.”  And because relationships change over time, our targets and tactics evolve as-needed.  Thus the portfolio of services a client will tap into may include: Traditional Media Relations (coverage in NYTimes, TODAY Show, eWeek, etc.) + Social Media Relations (dialogue with relevant Facebook Group admins, Twitterati, etc.) + Content and App Development + Community Management (running a YouTube channel or Facebook Fanpage).

TN-91_image_SHIFTThis is why you should call me (type of challenge or project)…
We are generally called on by large brands that need to be more nimble and engaging, or by small companies that want to take things to the next level.  If your company needs more overall visibility (“get ink!”); needs to better engage with consumers (“that Social Media stuff!”); or needs to brand or re-brand in the marketplace, it’s worth a conversation.

This is when you should call someone else…
While we bring plenty of creativity to the table, when it comes to execution portion of app development, videography, website development, advertising campaigns, media buying and SEO, SHIFT will turn to quality partners like Powered and Rosetta, among others.  Investor Relations is also not a core offering, though we routinely play a supporting role.

I want to thank my pals Adam and Aaron for helping out with this project.  Where we compete, we do so with respect and good humor.  Where we can cooperate, we do so with gumption and gusto.

What do you see on the horizon for Social Media Marketing consultants? Will the pendulum swing toward “best-of-breed” or “comprehensive” offerings?  What types of vendors are best adapted to survive the new era?

Posted on: May 10, 2010 at 9:56 am By Todd Defren
16 Responses to “What is a Social Media Marketing Agency?”


  • Derek says:

    I agree with Stan: “Some things won’t change. Such as the desire of some clients to want everything under one roof and the service providers who are only too glad to pretend that they provide it”

    I see the ‘best of breed’ really winning the long game when it comes to overall results. As with life, there is no ‘one size fits all’, no matter how well it’s sold.

    This was a good read, lots to ponder, so thanks!

  • This was a really interesting idea. I know you wanted to point out differences between you three but I come away with the feeling that:
    1. You all do strategy and focus on larger marketing objectives, not just social media.
    2. You all do social media, although reading between the lines, I think each of you approaches the task from some very different starting points. I wish you had articulated them a little more.
    3. The biggest difference between the three of you, from just reading the text, is that Rosetta is more of a full-service digital agency (Tradigital?) providing both development and Search engine marketing, which neither you nor Aaron provide.
    4. The other difference may be that you and Aaron both provide more offline marketing than Rosetta might, but that you provide this in different areas (you – PR, Aaron – customer service/PR programs. Is an ambassador program PR?)

    I wonder how the differences would show up in each of your client pitches? Great idea to put this out there, I’d love to see more of us engaging each other in this way.

    • Todd Defren says:

      You all do social media, although reading between the lines, I think each of you approaches the task from some very different starting points. I wish you had articulated them a little more.

      Fair enough! Worthy follow-up material. Though I suspect you got the gist based on the rest of your comment, Rich!

  • Thanks for the anatomically correct “map” of these service offerings. Much needed for clients AND agencies. The latter, as we all know, struggle to resist the temptation to want to appear larger than life. As for the future of social-media marketing consultants, they will evolve right along with SM itself. Some things won’t change, however. Such as the desire of some clients to want everything under one roof and the service providers who are only too glad to pretend that they provide it.

  • I marvel at the synergies and talents in this remarkable article. To me, a simpleton, at the end of the day, what makes a sale? A good product, service, or brand, that you can trust and depend on – one that measures up to its promises – i.e. – we need honesty and integrity back in the game.

    I am a tiny player in your world, but I have played with the big boys and have learned quite a bit by listening and watching them play others. The one thing I have learned, is when you are honest, upfront, and do not embellish yourself or what you stand for, the ambiance around you is a positive and attractive one.

  • Interesting article, but having sat client side (PR) as well as agency side, it was ever thus.

    The message for agencies has to be: pick the space where you work best, stick to it and refer on when a client’s not the best match; and for clients to be confident and honest about what you want. It’s tempting to think ‘I want to leave the door open for x, y, z’ (read new ideas, glam campaign, etc) but if you water down what you want, you may well get a watered down result.

    There are ever more agencies and consultants ready, willing and able to offer advice, and the chemistry/getting a good match are what’s likely to proffer best results, so being honest and upfront about what you do and don’t do/what you do and don’t want is going to lead lead to long term, successful business relationships from both ends

    It’s not confusion, it’s choice – there’s never been a richer selection, and long may it last!

    PS – thanks for using that format – it’s made me take a good look inside, and I’m just off to make my own blog a little clearer!

  • Joe Buhler says:

    This post confirms some of my own opinions about the whole social web marketing scene as it’s unfolding today. One, there are no “one-size fits all” solutions or respective providers as no one really covers the whole range of services and does all of it well and two that shift happens (pun intended!) and it does happen extremely fast. Organizations are still confused how to address this and are, in my opinion, best served when they receive honest advice as delivered here. Partnerships among providers often make sense to achieve the best client objectives. So, I guess the Rosetta, Powered, Shift will continue to happen as we go forward!

    • I agree with Joe. One size does not fit all, ever. Whether clothes or an email campaign. Demographics coupled with behavioral stats, are the only way to accurately target your market segment. There are so many avenues with wish to travel, so marketers really need to test the best ones that work for their clients and prospects.

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