The benefits of using an agency for social media

by Morgan Siem on November 4, 2010

in Social Media

Talk to the Experts

Why should you use an agency to handle your social media efforts?

I just read an Adweek article advocating that companies should “keep it simple and keep [their] social media interactions in-house.”

I think that the article makes some good points, but here are some reasons why I do recommend using an agency:

  • proper planning / execution / measuring / reporting
  • familiarity with the audience / language / protocol
  • they stay up on trends for you (Facebook privacy settings change every day, new sites emerge, search algorithms change, etc.)
  • they make social media a priority, not a side project
  • they see the bigger picture (how does social tie in with your overall brand image & marketing efforts?)
  • they have connections (think: blogger outreach, Facebook reps, etc.)
  • they know upfront how much it should actually cost your company in time & money to implement social media
  • they know the rules (did you know that you can’t run contests on Facebook? Do you know how to work within those guidelines to run your contest?)
  • they have knowledge of and access to the tools you need for posting / monitoring / tracking efficiently (and they can negotiate the best rates for you)
  • they have advanced design capabilities
  • everyone can focus on what they’re best at

When it comes to your online presence, you want to put your best face forward. Ensure that the person handling your social media accounts is someone who understands the communities and who is authentic in his or her desire to spend time in those crowds. A common scenario is that a top exec will hear rumors about “this social media thing” that is generating revenue for other companies. So, they say, “Someone get on it. We need to be doing this social media thing, too.” Then the task lands on someone’s plate, alongside a mountain of work they are already responsible for. They begin to fiddle around. No plan. No goals. No strategy. No metrics to measure success.

Often the in-house person tasked with implementing the social media efforts is someone who either doesn’t like social media or doesn’t see the value in it. We often hear that it takes a backseat to other work, and that it feels like a chore. If the person handling your social media feels like it’s a chore, then you are doing your business a huge disservice. No one wants to hang out with someone who doesn’t want to be there.

The article says, “This person is speaking on behalf of your company, but no matter how good they may be they can’t offer the same experience your in-house employees would provide.” This suggests that an agency works in a silo, rather than hand-in-hand with its clients. When we work with clients to provide social media support, we become very integrated into various departments in the client’s company, including customer service, marketing, internal communications, legal and product development. The agency person becomes part of your team(s).

“What happens if a customer asks a question in a tweet that your rent-a-moderator can’t answer correctly, completely or quickly?” asks the article. Have you ever been to a store and the sales associate had to grab the manager to help get the question answered? Same thing. There will be times when the person designated to monitor the comments needs to reach out to someone else to get more info. This will happen regardless of whether the person is in-house or with an agency.

Or, the article asks, “What happens when a golden nugget of insight is shared through a customer exchange and this is completely lost on the rent-a-moderator?” Proper reporting will ensure against this. A good agency partner will get you all the information you need. By having a section of the report dedicated to product research and customer feedback, the social interactions will get properly relayed to the necessary parties.

And, while we’re on reporting, it should be noted that agencies take the time to do that, while – based on experience – many in-house employees do not. Since agencies are held accountable for the results, agencies measure ROI.

Finally, I recommend using an agency because they’ve done this before. They understand how social media works and how it integrates with your brand image overall and your other marketing efforts (tv, print, radio, SEM, display ads, etc.). They have the design capabilities to match your website’s look and feel. They also have a broader view of opportunities beyond Facebook and Twitter. They should also understand how social media affects search engine optimization and how your website’s functionality can and should be built out to leverage your social media efforts.

Of course this is all contingent on finding the right people at the right agency :)

Besides, it’s up to you to determine which services are comfortable getting help with. Think of agency services as a-la-carte. Perhaps you want the agency to provide the strategy and training so that your in-house team can implement. Or maybe you want the agency to do the design work, build custom apps and monitor the page, but then have your employees respond to comments. Often, agencies work to triage comments and pass them to the appropriate parties (some go to customer service, some go to sales, some go to product development, some go to legal, etc.)

I could go on. What are your thoughts for or against using an agency for social media?

photo by: Mai Le

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Sullivan November 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Funny you should be writing about this very topic as I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago on the same, emphasizing my personal goal to find a position as an in-house social media/community builder for a company or non-profit organization. I commented on the Adweek article but I’ll say the same here as well.

I think BOTH authors have stated their positions beautifully…and I agree with each. Both of you made many valid points. I’m actually in favor of the in-house social media position but I caveat that by saying I also believe in a combined approach as well. As I said in my response to the article, there are many factors to be considered and I don’t think any ONE way is the definitive answer.

It’s like saying Peanut Butter and Jelly is best on white bread. For some people it is. For others, they prefer wheat or multi-grain (or something completely different). Maybe not the best analogy but I think you get my point.

There are positives to having an Agency do your social media marketing for you and there are positives to handling it all in-house as well. I think the best thing to do is define the goals, create the strategy that will take you there, include in it the many ways in which it can be executed (in-house or outsourced), and then begin execution. Sometimes an Agency is best, sometimes in-house, and often times, a combined approach.

That’s my two cents anyway. For the record, if I ever needed a social media strategist to help formulate a strategy (& potentially execute it), I’d hire you. :)

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Janet M. Kennedy November 4, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Thoughtful post, Morgan, and advice small businesses should take to heart. I think the biggest reason that businesses (small or large) are hesitant to use an agency for social media is thinking “it’s all free” or “it just costs some entry level employee time”. There is also the concern about opening up a new media channel and not knowing how much should be budgeted to cover the planning, implementation and on-going maintenance of a good social media program. It’s always seems to get down to the bottom line, doesn’t it?

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Lisa Jeffries November 4, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Great post , Morgan! I tend to disagree with AdAge quite often because they’re sort of the mass media of this business, really. Once it’s come across their desk, I think we’ve all done that particular song and dance many, many times. I do like to flip through it when it comes in the mail however to get the gears turning in my head take good ideas to great ;-)

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Michael Hubbard Michael Hubbard November 4, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I can stitch myself up, but I prefer to have a Doctor or Nurse do it. I could try landing a plane, but I’d rather let the pilot. I think you get my point… At some time, companies need to decide where their time is best spent – and sometimes, it’s on their core business rather than trying to keep up with why Facebook changed its privacy settings, or why Twitter now has a new interface that no longer matches the design specs that were currently in place. The voice needs to come from the company, but saying that social media should only be kept in house is like asking me to fly my own plane rather than just buying a ticket.

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Lisa Sullivan November 10, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I want to “Like” this post. I realize it’s not Facebook but the heck with it. I *LIKE* it! ;)

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SEO Outsourcing November 5, 2010 at 5:00 am

Simple concerns may be addressed through social media channels. However, for serious problems, customers would prefer to find any direct communication. It would be absurd to ask how to assemble a product on Twitter. Social media is just for marketing and customer inquiry purposes. There should be a different avenue for other concerns.

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Phil Buckley November 7, 2010 at 7:09 am

I’ve done both now and both have advantages and disadvantages, most of which you covered. I’d add one more scenario in here – evolution.

Sometimes you can start in-house and prove to the boss that there is value in the social space, but then you run out of bandwidth. If you’re doing it right, participating in the social space around your business can be half of your day – every day. That doesn’t leave much time for you’re “real job”. Not only because you’re chit-chatting with your company’s best customers, but because you’re also tracking, analyzing and reporting those results. If you’ve also been tasked with blogging then that can be an ever bigger chunk of time.

Finally there’s the learning curve. When you start trying new things some will work, and some won’t. It will take months in many cases to find out, and that’s a high price to pay. An agency has already ramped up and can help you focus only on the best ideas.

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Daphne November 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I would also add as an advertising and brand designer that clients asking to hand over work who will in-house source to an Entry Level or secretarial, extra time task has great potential of eroding what was a carefully constructed brand or company image —a “devolution” [if you don't mind Phil] of branding given inconsistencies that inevitably crop up in graphics, message and visual presentations being created by non-industry skilled professionals. Result is a negative impact on a companies overall marketing effectiveness and this will follow suite into social media networking.

Client short term cost benefits look good but ROI in long run comes up short. They having to invest in expensive hardware, development tools, teach employees to use the tools, and this doesn’t take into account knowledge of marketing, design, analysis, etc. Whether it’s a big agency or a specialized consultant history has shown that very successful companies leave marketing and image creating to marketers and designers. History will show that social media networking will reflect nothing different.

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Audrey of Infinit Outsourcing November 17, 2010 at 2:40 am

As part of a company that offers social media outsourcing services (just analysis, monitoring, etc), I know from experience that this is a time consuming task either way. The question is whether a company can invest the time, energy and effort doing it in-house, as opposed to hiring someone outside to do, it but you will have to trust them to do it right for you.

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Kim Whitley November 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Your post is very timely…have been thinking this weekend about this very topic. I would like to talk to you!

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Morgan Siem November 21, 2010 at 7:08 pm

I’ve just sent you an e-mail, Kim :)

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DeShelia Spann November 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Great article. I really appreciated the fresh perspective on this topic. Having worked in both an agency and in-house setting, I find it valuable that we share both sides of the coin with clients. Often in-house social media support is challenged to tackle an already massive list initiatives with social media tacked on as an additional line item. Realizing how an outside agency can provide fresh insight into your social networking goals is very important.

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Tina Richardson February 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Morgan,
Really like your blog & great to have your thoughts & expertise down for others to share.

Well done!
Smiles Tina

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Outsource Social Media August 10, 2011 at 2:30 am

Hiring experts does wonders for a campaign. No more beating around the bush, and we are talking about people who really know the business. As for costs, doing something correctly the first time is better than paying for smaller portions that just don’t cut it. If a business cannot afford the services fee then maybe they can hire the social media experts as consultants or part time.

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Jobsclark May 10, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Experienced people in this field can help you greatly because they are experts in social media. They plan and focus on your campaign most of the time.

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Organic Baby Wool Clothing October 29, 2011 at 5:54 am

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