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.
From 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
Finding 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…
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.
Agencies 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?