This is a repost of an article I wrote for Sprout. The wave of social media adoption is continuing to bring new brands online and as this trend unfolds the social media eco-system is changing to absorb the new participants. In this post, I’ll share a simple diagram that can help make sense of how the eco-system currently works and how it’s evolving. In the past I’ve written about how social media works its way into brands. In this post I’ll focus on those brands that have identified value in social media and are looking for ways to grow their investment. If you’re working for a brand and want to stay on the forefront of social media you’ve probably looked for a creative agency or a social media agency who can serve as a guide. It’s almost impossible to have an internal team lead this function because the landscape is changing so rapidly. Agencies have more experience, but even they struggle to keep up with the latest opportunities. At Sprout we’re seeing that traditional agencies rely on technology partners not only to help them understand what’s possible with social media but also to help them by building the campaigns. Sprout is a hybrid of a technology company and social media agency. We’re not alone in this approach. Many of our peers are also trying to combine these disciplines in order to deal with the challenges mentioned above. A differentiating factor is that Sprout began as a technology company with a solution for building engaging and social brand experiences. The rapid rate of change in the social media space has given us an advantage over creative agencies. Of course, after working with creative agencies we’ve learned a great deal about designing experiences and combine that knowledge with the detailed reporting, which our platform enables, to improve the performance of our projects. It’s important to understand how the creative/technology mix works at the agencies with whom you’re considering working. At Sprout, we use our platform to help brands power continuous conversations across the web, but we also use it to power campaigns that we develop in conjunction with agencies creative agencies. Further, we offer designers and agencies a way to subscribe to a base level of our platform through Sprout Builder. When the first wave of social media rolled in there was a greater separation between the creative agencies and the technology providers. For the next several years, we expect to see an increase in the number of integrated agencies, like Sprout, because they are better positioned to take advantage of rapidly evolving networks like Facebook. The left side of the diagram below reflects this trend:

sprout ecosystem

Today, it’s the technology platforms that serve as hubs within the eco-system, connecting brands and creative agencies with social networks and distribution partners like DoubleClick, Clearspring, and Gigya, There is also some consolidation taking place between the distributors and ad networks that will continue to drive down the cost of online advertising. Part of what will ultimately stabilize this devaluation is the integration of social content and connectivity into campaigns such that they become significantly more relevant. This is part of what we do at Sprout. Finally, if you’re interested in learning about how you can organize your internal team to work with service providers, check out Jeremiah Owyang’s post about how brand’s adopting social media should adopt a “hub and spoke” model. Think of it as an internal eco-system for brands. Thanks for reading and please post a note if you have any questions or comments!

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