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(eM+C)—There’s a standing rule about hosting a dinner party: never cook up a new dish for the occasion. It’s best to try it out for yourself first or with close family members before seeing if the concoction will be a hit with others. The same rule should apply with social media initiatives, but I’ve witnessed several instances where an agency’s first usage of a platform was on behalf of a client. While it may not end up a disaster, it’s risky to not test out the approach with the one client that’s always available. By treating “agency as client,” you can become your own test case, identify key information and then when it’s time to launch the site, know that you’re leveraging the opportunity to its maximum potential return on investment.

Agencies need only to look within the walls of their own offices to find a viable beta environment. For example, my firm Red Door Interactive will be moving into new headquarters this fall. To engage employees around the impending change and to drive them to use Pinterest to better understand its functionality and opportunities for clients, employees were asked to pin design suggestions onto our “San Diego Office Inspiration” board.

The approach drove employee participation, gave them firsthand knowledge about how Pinterest works and provided greater understanding across disciplines as we move forward with including Pinterest into our marketing mix on behalf of clients. The project was the perfect way to demonstrate to employees and clients how Pinterest can elevate an organization’s brand value.

Whether it’s Pinterest, Instagram or another social media platform, agencies should make sure they can validate its potential benefits — and shouldn’t be afraid to use themselves as the case study. There are multiple reasons for this, including the following:

• Showing that you practice what you preach. Clients will appreciate that you put your own brand equity on the line for such efforts and will be more likely to give an ear to the possibilities of leveraging the platform for their own initiatives.

• Being able to work out the kinks. Like any new system, understanding all the benefits and pitfalls is usually done through trial and error. It’s best for an agency to try out the platform itself before deploying it on behalf of a client.

• Showcase your differentiation. Being able to use new systems in a visible, creative and effective way will set your agency apart from the competition faster than practically anything else.

The bottom line is this: Don’t make your client the test bed for social media initiatives. Instead, demonstrate your thorough understanding of each platform by experiencing it as an agency, user and consumer. These insights will increase the viability and success of your client programs.

Crosby Noricks is the director of social media at Red Door Interactive. Crosby can be reached at or @PR_Couture.