Do you know who Danny Kaye is?
I think I can be appropriately curmudgeonly in saying that most kids today don’t know who Danny Kaye, the great 20th Century entertainer, is (was).
For those of you who are unaware, he was a huge star of his time, incredibly well-rounded, with a career that worked through stage, screen, television, records, and food. He died in 1987, after giving us the classic films such as “The Court Jester,” The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and “White Christmas,” as well as a variety show and a handful of special TV shows. Kaye was a classic comic, too, always pushing the envelope even in serious situations.
A huge part of Kaye’s appeal was his incredible well-roundedness. No matter the situation, he was able to bring something to it: a little soft-shoe, his lovely singing voice, his wide variety of foreign accents, or his in-depth knowledge of food (especially Asian cuisine).
Kaye was a real, old-fashioned entertainment jack of all trades.
A Dying Breed
Today, being a jack of all trades isn’t necessarily something people aspire to, in entertainment or otherwise. Everyone seems to want to be a specialist in something: Hydraulics engineering. Periodontistry. A mass tort litigator.
And yes, a social media marketer.
Being someone who knows a lot about many things doesn’t seem as valuable today as it might have been in the past. With education costs rising sky-high, you want to come out of school knowing that you have a very specific (and ideally marketable) skill set. Once in the workforce, you want to move up, so you want to gain as much in-depth knowledge in your field as you can, to put you in line for a promotion. And later, when you become a senior manager, or even as a mentor, you’re often valued for your specific skill set and knowledge.
What happened to being a jack of all trades?
The Niche Marketer
Over the last ten or fifteen years, marketing has gotten more and more specialized as well. I got my MBA in Marketing at a time when there was mainly one graduate marketing concentration: the one with the 4Ps and 4Cs of the marketing mix, and taught using endless marketing case studies. Now you can get a Master of International Marketing, a Master of Health Care Marketing, or an MS in Integrated Marketing Communications. You can get an MBA, an MA, or an MS (not to mention undergrad degrees in various marketing disciplines). You can find a program that focuses more on digital or add a digital marketing strategy certificate onto your existing degree.
More and more often, we find our digital marketing agency being compared by potential clients to highly specialized social media marketing agencies. Many of these agencies do only social media: Facebook and Twitter posts, Instagram and Pinterest graphics. Many of them do not also do influence marketing and manage SEO and build websites. Or if they do, they sometimes learn it on their clients’ time (and dime).
A common origin story for some of these specialized agencies (which are often only one or two people) is that they are influential bloggers. Or they are Instagram influencers. Or YouTubers. And they believe that their experience managing their social media presences gives them the knowledge (and license) to manage corporate social media as well.
Jacks of All Trades Are Better
I contend that highly specialized social media agency (or a single individual providing social media services) is bad for corporations and small businesses. It’s one thing to train and manage someone internally to be your brands’ community manager – the person with their finger on the day-to-day content and engagement for your company social media channels. You need that person on your team, or else your agency should have that person on their team, and make sure they’re specialized in your subject matter.
It’s another thing to hire an agency that only knows social media marketing. Think of the old adage: if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I’d say, if you only have social media marketing, everything looks like Facebook.
So how do you know that an agency that only does social media marketing will make the right suggestions for your company’s marketing efforts?
Do they know the 4 Cs (context, customer, competition, company), and the 4Ps (product, price, place, promotion), of marketing? Can they understand where your product(s) fit into the market segment, and how to position them appropriately? Can they look beyond the digital realm to develop the correct promotional mix?
The best agency will have a good understanding of fundamental marketing principles, going well beyond social media. Your agency contacts may not be marketing majors or marketing MBAs, but they should have had enough marketing and business experience outside of social media so that they can understand how your social media fits into your overall marketing strategy.
Hire the Best Agency For Your Company
To ensure that your company is getting the best advice from your social media agency, inquire about their broader experience outside of social media marketing. You can ask some or all of the following questions of potential new agencies (or even of the agencies you’re currently working with):
- Who in their organization has formal marketing education?
- At what level of education, and when did they complete their degree(s)?
- Have they had experience working in agencies outside of the one they’re currently running or working for? (This helps you understand if they have seen appropriate, professional marketing agency processes and solutions….very important to know that their delivery to you will be buttoned up.)
- Have they worked in other aspects of marketing, outside of social: brand management, marketing strategy consulting (ideally with a larger, well-disciplined consultancy such as Bain, PwC or Accenture), web design and development, partner channel management, etc.
Of course, these questions are on top of the standard questions you should ask before hiring any agency, including their work processes, who will be doing the work, and how do they bill their clients.
If your current or potential future agency seems like they aren’t very well-rounded, they probably aren’t. And then you should wonder if they’re going to pick up a hammer and give you Facebook.
They just might. And that would be very bad for your business.