Solving Social Media’s Biggest Challenge…

Freelance or In-House

When I launched SocialNorth, I’d earned my street cred in SEO and social media during my time at working as an online editor and then communications director for an international manufacturer and I was ready to help more companies define their social media strategies. In the past 3 years, I’ve served as a social media strategist, SEO strategist, community manager, blogger, PR representative and have written reams of copy for websites, brochures and even product packaging.

Julia Rosien, Brand EngineerFrom a local advertising agency to an efficiency expert to national brands like Young Drivers of Canada and Dove, I’ve been blessed to have been the conduit for a wide variety of companies ready to seize social media opportunities. It’s been a hugely rewarding ride but now I work in-house for a brand I love. Restonic, a 75 year old supporting-dreams mattress brand, invited me to join them as their brand engineer to oversee their digital, corporate and external communications.

Moving from hired gun to company gal

When I launched SocialNorth, I struggled with the question of in-house vs outside agency for social media. While I enjoyed working on some very successful projects, there were failures too. The strategy may have been bullet proof but without dedicated resources implementing it, it was doomed.

If you’re struggling with your social media strategy and management, feel free to take what you need from my mistakes and successes. The more we share about this new and evolving medium, the better we’ll all get at it.

In-house social media – the benefits

If you’re able to recruit a smart social media strategist who understands your reason for being, drill it down to a sustainable tactical plan and then implement, you’ve just added a valuable asset to help grow your company.

  • An in-house person is tied to your brand – emotionally and professionally.
  • S/he lives and breathes your brand and understands how it answers the needs of your end consumer.
  • S/he is tied to the success of the project – her job security depends on it.
  • Social media can become a company-wide initiative and integrate smoothly with both your traditional marketing and internal/external messaging.

If you’re bringing this role in-house, choose someone who excels at strategy but is also comfortable at the community management level. S/he should have a grasp of SEO and understand that communication and community drives everything. If you’re really lucky, s/he’ll also be able to manage PR and tie together verbiage for your website, packaging and brochures.

In-house social media – the drawbacks

Julia celebrates with the 140 conf teamFinding and recruiting a social media strategist and/or community manager who embodies all the skills above is challenging. Last year, I recruited for a company and one applicant, Jason, wrote this to me:

“Anyone can drive traffic to an ecommerce site, but no amount of content writing and social networking that drives qualified users will actually make them hand over a credit card or fill out a lead gen form. Trying to mash 4-5 needs into 1 position is just going to not only burn out the person doing it, but not afford them the time and attention they need to do a proper job in driving results in each of those areas. Look at any understaffed bootstrapped company or agile entrepreneur and you will see what I mean. I should know, I’ve worked for small companies wearing multiple hats in both doing the grunt work and as executive level manager.”

While I agree with some of what Jason said, the truth is many companies can’t afford to add that many staff members for their digital marketing. And let’s face it, this field is still evolving and there are plenty of people willing to cross-train to grow what they can offer the companies they serve. Sorry, Jason, you don’t qualify as a go-getter
Julia and Leigh, WIBN

Agency social media – the benefits

Hiring an agency can have many benefits, not the least of which is being able to cherry pick the one that has experience in your industry and can share successful case studies. What’s more, working with an agency often solves the problem Jason mentioned. You get great talent, business strategies are aligned and measured continually and it frees up resources.

Agency social media – the drawbacks

While an agency can overcome some challenges, they can also create new ones. Your account manager might be top in his field but your day-to-day community manager is often a junior person. Free tip – get to know your community manager and make sure he knows he can bring issues to you as they arise. Welcome creative solutions and reward efforts by putting in a good word to his boss.

Julia and Shannon at NaturaAgencies often carry a lot of overhead and can be painfully expensive. A client of mine works with an agency that charges for every second spent on the account, which includes reading emails and phone calls. And every time the community manager copies her boss on an email, he gets charged twice. While this can be a smart tactic to manage a needy client, it’s a disturbing business practice for a long-term client who pays well and is fairly low maintenance.

The biggest issue with using an agency is the lack of personal experience with the brand being represented. If the agency is using junior people, staff turnover may be faster than normal, making it difficult for those people to truly understand each brand they’re working for – and they often manage multiple accounts at once. And if your agency handles multiple accounts within an industry, do they know what makes yours unique?

What’s your opinion on in-house versus agency? Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn (whichever one works best for you) or leave a comment below.

12 Responses to “Solving Social Media’s Biggest Challenge…”

  1. Julia as you know I see the value in both! I am an in house community manager (that wears a ton of hats as well), but when I had a stumbling block I came to you and Social North was able to help me over that obstacle and extend my online reach.
    Wishing you much success!

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Lisa, you are such a great example of using both strategies, really, really well. Having an internal person who has their finger on the pulse of the community AND bringing in resources when needed. By the way, it was a pleasure to serve you and then watch you build it even bigger!

      • Craig Silva says:

        Yes, but you can have your “finger on the pulse of the community” without being in house. The company i work for does social media and community management for a lot of huge companies, and they do it well. It’s because they are fully integrated with the client.

        From what I have seen, most companies that handle their own social media palm it off to an intern or someone low on the totem pole, and it is usually an after thought. Most of the time, it is not fully integrated in the marketing and PR strategies of the company.

        However, there are exceptions to every rule.

        • Julia Rosien says:

          Hi Craig,
          I agree that mass generalizations are always dangerous. I do think it does come down to skill set AND integrity. It sounds like the company you’re working for has a solid handle on those and takes the position seriously. In a previous post (Your Social Media Voice) I mentioned DKNY and their social media. Aliza is SVP of global communications and she serves as the digital voice of the brand – clearly not a junior person. As I’ve said many times, there is no one single right answer for all companies.

          Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here!

          • I agree, Craig. I keep a very small client roster so my whole team gets completely integrated in our clients’ businesses. I would, in certain circumstances, say that we uphold the brand positioning better than internal staff sometimes. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had client sales staff ask ME questions about product because they know I have the most current info after updating the website, doing the PR work or writing new product brochures. Even though we’re not internal, our performance is tied to job security too. If we are not doing a good job, we would lose the client, therefore income. We’ve only “turned the reins” over after training and an initial get up to speed period a few times, but each time, the social platforms received much less attention and care than when we were doing it and the results went down accordingly. I have a team of 6…5 of which are senior staff. Our junior does scheduling and execution and sits in on strategy only. Anyone working with us is working with a senior. Agency can live and breathe a brand just as well, I believe. Of course, I’m TOTALLY biased :)) And you’re right, Julia. It’s the integrity of the people, not where their desk is located.

          • Julia Rosien says:

            Great recap, Leaanne! I’ve found the same issue when I’ve turned sm over to an internal person – many times. I think the lack of engagement comes from too many priorities pulling them in other directions. If you’re just doing SM for the client, you’re 100% focused on it – not the firehouse of to-do’s coming down the pike.
            Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts on the issue.

  2. Ali Davies says:

    Love your honesty and call it is it is approach on this subject. Wishing you success and happiness in your next chapter.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Ali. This is such a new and evolving industry and we need to be honest with each other if we’re going to grow it with integrity. Sharing resources allows us to evolve more quickly – and together. Can’t wait to see you soon in Vancouver 🙂

  3. Handling social media at my previous position it was always a wish to have time devoted to only SM, like you mentioned. Because it was a lean startup everyone had to be a jack of all trades, so the social media moments were “on the fly”.

    Congratulations on your next big adventure, it will be exciting to see your assets applied to the Restonic brand development. I doubt you will be losing any sleep with your career transition 🙂 Best Wishes

  4. Thank you for differentiating the two options. I recently hired a freelance copywriter for my sales pages and your comments on the drawbacks makes me realize what I need to ensure she understands about my company, vision and goals.

    Luckly, she drills down into the world of her clients and she is excited to work with me plus believes in what I do!

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thanks for letting me know this post was helpful, Kelly. I do truly believe there are great advantages to both choices – but understanding limitations is truly the key to success. Cheers!

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