Local Firm Sold In Social Media Deal

This also ran on the Post I.T. blog:

By Kim Hart

Social media isn't just for Web-addicted teens anymore. It's now a full-blown marketing business that has sparked a cottage industry of public relations firms that specialize in helping corporations infiltrate the world of blogs, wikis and social networks.

Geoff Livingston has been a well-known evangelist for social media marketing in the past couple years. His firm, Livingston Communications based in Alexandria, has made a name for itself on the East Coast for being at the forefront of the movement toward using conversations to reach customers and build brand equity. His Buzz Bin blog has also become a reference point for marketing professionals. (Check out his latest post--"Top Ten Reasons Why I Sold Out.") He helped organize BlogPotomac last month, a conference about the intersection of blogging and marketing.

Social Media Group, based in Toronto, has announced today that it intends to acquire Livingston Communications. The combined firm--a total of 20 people--will be the "largest independent social media operation in the world," said Maggie Fox, chief executive of Social Media Group.

Current clients include Ford Motors and the Consumer Electronics Association. Both Fox and Livingston admit there's still a lot of work to be done to persuade corporations to harness social media, and to guide them in the most effective ways to do so.

"Right now we're seeing the shiny object syndrome, where every company thinks they need a blog, or a wiki or a widget," Livingston said. "In corporate America, the rules are different but everyone wants to know how they can communicate in a measurable way."

Many chief marketing officers are having a hard time finding social-savvy people who can help direct them on this path, Fox said.

There are already several agencies--many of which operate in the Washington area--that offer some social media services. Ogilvy, New Media Strategies, Viget Labs, Fleishman Hillard and Edelman are a few of the well-known names.

Fox said Social Media Group is not trying to "squeeze into the agency model," but is instead taking the consulting approach. Using blogs and Facebook groups doesn't work for every company, and it all depends on what the end goals are, she said.

"There's definitely still fear about what it all means, but there's a tremendous hunger for it out there," she said.

By Dan Beyers  |  July 21, 2008; 2:06 PM ET
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