4 questions to ask before outsourcing social media

It might be time to hire an agency to handle your company’s social media efforts. These questions should help you determine that.

It’s likely that most companies launched their social media marketing efforts with in-house staff. But as strategies shift, the companies that keep it in house may be rethinking whether outsourcing to an agency makes more sense.

For those companies, there are several factors they should consider before handing it over.

Admittedly, I work for an agency that provides social media marketing management, so I have a vested interest in companies outsourcing their social media services. But not every organization should take this route. If a company doesn’t know what it wants from an agency, the partnership won’t thrive.

Here are four questions to ask that could help determine whether outsourcing social media capabilities is the right move:

What are we gaining from our metrics?

With exception, most companies—business-to-consumer and business-to-business alike—that handle their social media presence in-house don’t have the metrics capabilities to get the most out of their social media presence. You can look at Facebook Insights metrics, but that’s only telling part of the story. And unless you’ve shelled out thousands for a sponsored campaign on Twitter or hired a company to do a one-off analysis, you likely have little insight as to who is actually following you on Twitter.

A full metrics outlook will tell you the audience you’re currently reaching, who you could be targeting and how you should be communicating your message.

Good agencies will have a dedicated metrics team that is equipped to analyze post-by-post metrics and provide insights and make recommendations based on their findings (and your company’s goals).

If you’re gaining nothing from your metrics other than which posts are getting traffic, it may be time to start looking at how a social media agency can help.

How have our social goals shifted?

By nature, social is an ever-shifting media. Therefore, the goals your company had when it launched its social media presence in-house have likely shifted with it. If you look at how brands and companies are using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn now compared to 2008-2010 (when many companies joined), you see that they’re completely different tools now.

One way that agencies help is in devising overall strategy that lines up with your company’s goals and considers emerging trends in the medium.

I recently worked with a B2B company that was using social media in much the same way one used Friendster back in 2005—basically as you would use a hallway bulletin board in your office. It was posting nothing more than promotional material several times per day with no sense of an overarching strategy and no regard for engaging its audience.

When we dug into its metrics, we found that the vast majority of people that had “liked” the company had since hidden it from their newsfeed. It essentially put up a bulletin board in a hallway where nobody ever walked.

What was most interesting about my work with this company is that it thought it was “rocking” social because it posted frequently. Perhaps this was the goal when it launched the page a couple years ago—to serve as a proxy news feed for company goings-on. But with the way social media has shifted, this goal is irrelevant.

In the absence of a social strategy, you’re wasting your time and resources. An agency will help you establish realistic, achievable goals in the social space—all the while planning how to help your brand adjust to the shifting landscape.

Do we have the time and resources to handle social media marketing in-house?

A phrase I keep hearing is “social is an afterthought.” Companies and brands that are getting the most out of their marketing have made the medium a priority—and shifted their budgets to reflect it. I’ve heard dozens of reasons why organizations are reluctant to spend on social. But there are far fewer stories of companies that have regretted it (I can’t recall any, but I may be biased).

One sign that your company isn’t dedicating the necessary time and resources to social media is if there’s a person in your company who describes his or her job as, “Oh, I also handle our social media.”

If there’s an “also” involved in your social media manager’s main job duties, chances are you’re not getting the most out of your social media presence. If you don’t have the resource in-house to handle it, then you may want to think about outsourcing the duties.

Who owns social?

Another question that’s become increasingly common in companies is “Who owns social?” For some, it’s a marketing function, for others, it’s public relations. Some organizations have a dedicated social team that functions separately from these departments. Whatever it is, make sure that within your organization, someone or some department takes ownership of the social space before you hand it over to an agency.

This person should serve as the main point of contact with the agency and should have a vested interest in making sure the agency’s work aligns with the company’s goals. He or she should be the filter for social requests coming from PR, marketing and other stakeholders with an interest in getting their messages across through social.

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