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Boutique social media firms carve a market niche

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Articles - November 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Jeff Selin of DoJo Agency uses a wall-sized whiteboard to brainstorm his company's social media strategies.
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina

“It’s still very wild, wild West,” says Todd Pitt, owner of Zero Strategist, a digital marketing firm that helps small businesses establish or refine their online identity. The uncertainty makes for a volatile market. Not only is the technology evolving rapidly, but the boutiques trying to harness and package it to clients come from a buffet of different backgrounds, from advertising and marketing, to public relations, search engine optimization and so on. Their approaches to social engagement and campaigns can differ significantly. Choose the wrong path and business suffers.

In addition, Portland itself makes the market more complicated, observers in the industry say. With an educated workforce and struggling economy, the market is saturated with tech-savvy folks jumping into social media marketing, regardless of whether they have the ability to synthesize what a business wants and needs or deliver a product that will help them manage their brand amid swirling online conversations and a shifting landscape. What you end up with, Pitt says, are “social media snake oil salesmen,” unprepared to juggle the many needs of small businesses.

Ryan Lewis, president of Bonfire Social Media, takes a glass-half-full view of the sometimes drastic differences in the approaches of the city’s digital marketing firms. “There’s no one way to do social media,” Lewis says, “just wrong applications for different strategies.”

Some companies can post Facebook updates all day without rankling fans. But with other companies, any more than two updates a day begins to feel like spam.

The shifting landscape of the social media world isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Portland’s specialty boutiques. Smaller firms believe they are more nimble and better able to keep up with changes than larger agencies that might have a long-standing predilection toward old-school techniques.

Alisa Zwanger, head of marketing strategy for Mambo Media boutique, says that while the region’s bigger advertising houses can do amazing social media work for their clients, it’s the smaller, specialized boutiques that can understand and adapt to changes as they happen. “I think the bigger your ship, the much harder it is to steer,” Zwanger says.

That dexterity, coupled with a real depth of experience, has already started to separate the gurus from the greenhorns among the city’s social media boutiques. As the market matures and client loyalty builds, that experience and ability will be how the West was won.


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