Where To Draw The Line With A Social Media Agency

Social media marketing is a long-term process. Don't staff it with a short-term solution.

by Ilana Rabinowitz |

An agent is an entity that acts on your behalf.  When you are hiring a social media agency, you are hiring someone to provide any of a range of services for you that you either don’t have the time or the ability to handle.  In other business matters, you may hire a lawyer or an accountant to handle matters you are not capable of dealing with.  No one can be an expert in everything.

But in our interpersonal relationships we rarely hire agents.  You can’t very well hire someone to discipline your child or date for you or grow your social circle.  Well, in some cases you can, I suppose, but long-term your not being in the relationship becomes an issue.

So if social media more closely replicates personal, rather than business relationships, where do you draw the line with the work you hire out?

Agencies are ideal for handling work that is campaign-based.

Short-term projects require short-term help.  Longer term projects should be handled in-house. That’s my general belief about staffing.  You may need outside help to set up the social media accounts — people who know the principles and the legal aspects and can steer you in the right direction.  People who can explain what it means to create relationships online, and a myriad of other things, like brand voice,  that you need to know to make your social media efforts a success. Most companies just don’t have the expertise to set up their social media accounts in an optimal way.

But what about the day-to-day conversations?

Social media is a long term commitment, taking time to develop a critical mass of followers and then, the effort goes on indefinitely.

Social media is not a campaign. It’s a way of life for business, so once you get the expertise to launch, you need to take the helm.

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What if you are ready to get serious about social marketing but you don’t have anyone in-house who can handle it?  

In those situations, the agency may need to jump start the process. They do the posting. They do the listening. Your team watches and learns. But the goal is to ultimately turn it over to one or more people in-house. The agency’s representation of your brand should be temporary and there are three main reasons, outlined below.

If the agency’s job is anything more than providing expertise and training, this is where the line should be drawn. Yet training is not a minor matter.  There are nuances to communicating with the public that can’t be outlined in a book of rules. Good judgement is an important skillset and training the team in the what-ifs is a challenging job.

Success will be determined by the people involved.

If you are launching your company on social media platforms and you don’t have people in-house who are good communicators; who are capable of grasping social media principles and who you are comfortable sending out into the Wild West world of social media, you have a staffing problem.

Four Reasons You Shouldn’t Outsource Your Day-To-Day Social Media

1. There is no proxy for personal relationships.

Social media is about nurturing relationships in the service of building your business.  The relationships are between you and your community. Having an agency employee do this is like asking your friend who is a good shopper to buy your spouse a birthday gift.

The names and faces of the people who represent your organization should be shared with the the audience so they know who is talking to them.  At Lion Brand, the people who handle podcasting, blogging, Facebook and Twitter are named. Then, when we attend face-to-face events like conferences, and people meet them in person, the relationship deepens. Meeting the virtual voices of your social interactions in person is exciting to people.  Our customers love meeting our bloggers and podcasters person.  You can’t put a company t-shirt on an employee of an agency and take them in tow to conferences.

2. Your best shot at social media success may not come from a marketing person at all.

One of the greatest opportunities to connect with, and excite people about your content comes when the people outside of the marketing or p.r. departments tweet and blog. The backstory of your business from the point of view of your CEO, chief engineer or creative director is where the most golden content can come from.  Michael Hyatt, Matt Cutts, Mitch Joel., and Bill Marriott are examples of people whose position, expertise, or access to specialized information draw readers, commenters and fans.

An agency may be able to tweet for your marketing department, but no agency can step in for these masters in their fields.

3. Great content on real-time platforms, is spontaneous.

Social media is always on. Great stories happen in the moment. Like the best photographs, great social media is candid, not posed. It is spontaneous, not scheduled. (That is not to say that it is never scheduled. Scheduling is a fact of life.)

The moment of the tweet may be a spontaneous thought or observation but it results from being in the right place at the right time not scattered by social media commitments by other brands.

4. You can’t outsource passion.

Great social media community managers, bloggers and podcasters love what they do. They love the community. They are passionate about the topic and about sharing it.  Show me a person working at an agency on your behalf who passionately lives and breathes your business.

These are the reasons I’ve come to believe that social media should be done in-house. But there are many reasons why companies outsource the day-to-day social media interactions. Sometimes their strategy is to outsource as much as possible. Sometimes it’s a financial matter.

What has been your experience? Do you outsource your day-to-day social media interactions successfully?  I (and I think everyone who reads this blog) would love to hear a virtual roundtable discussion in the comments about what your practice and experience has been.


About the Author

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.