Agency vs. In-House Social Media Managers: 5 Misconceptions

Agency vs. In-House Social Media Managers: 5 Misconceptions
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the role of social media managers — from convincing arguments about the benefits of hiring an agency vs. in-house marketers to a feature on the one woman show behind the Grammy’s social account. My reaction to these articles revealed two things:

  1. I’m passionate about the value of having an in-house social point person.
  2. If Lindsay Gabler can manage a major event like the Grammy’s all by herself, there’s something to be said about the power of in-house knowledge and brand familiarity.

Social media is very much an “always on” job. Hiring an agency to support your social mission can be an easy way to get more man-hours for the job and fill critical gaps you might be missing, but if you’re really looking to build and amplify a successful, holistic social marketing strategy, then you should hire someone in-house. Before I go on, let’s all acknowledge that I’m biased as an in-house social media manager. Despite that bias, I urge you to read on.

5 Key Misconceptions about Agency vs. In-House You Should Consider

1) In-House Costs More than an Agency
If you’re a lean startup, which by nature you probably are, spending frivolously for something that may or may not work isn’t likely or optimal. While it’s been argued that a social media agency costs less than hiring someone full-time, I’m going to plant my foot firmly in the ground and argue that rarely is that actually true.
Agencies, particularly the awesome ones, are expensive. On the other hand, depending on the nature of your business and where you are with your strategy, hiring someone more junior to come on board won’t cost too much. Getting someone more senior who can manage other aspects of the marketing game can easily be worth the money, as well.
2) Agencies Breed More Social Knowledge than You
As Jacques Bastien points out, social agencies breed social nerds. Yes, that’s true, but if you’re a good social media manager, you’re probably a nerd, too. The short of his point is that social agencies breed a culture where they have access to the best tools, are always on top of new trends, have a keen sense of what will work for what type of audience, and will be able to dig into the data in a way that in-house managers may not be able to.
I get all that, but here’s where I disagree. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a social strategy and when it comes to tools, one really good one (we use Spredfast) is really all you need.
When you launch a new campaign with a social agency, you’ll have the privilege of not having to get ramped up on a new platform you may not understand like Slideshare or Google+. That said, every business is completely different as is its audience. What works for one SaaS company is not guaranteed to work for another. What works for one VC firm is not guaranteed to work for OpenView, and so on.
Just because an agency may have more years of experience or have access to eight different social listening tools, that doesn’t mean they can automatically implement a strategy that will work for your business and your audience.
3) In-House Isn’t Worth The Time
While the time it takes to ramp up your strategy, test new outlets, and get a firm grasp of what’s really working for your business socially can be a drag, there is nothing more valuable than having distinct data and deep insights into the what and the why of those results. The very nature of getting into the trenches is what makes social marketers great at what they do. You miss out on that when you outsource it.
4) Outsourcing Leaves All the Work to Them
Just because you hire an agency doesn’t mean you can or should be totally hands off. This is still your business and you are still responsible for what’s coming out of your social channels.
Sure, the agency is going to work their hardest to make you happy — money is on the line after all — but when it comes to really pushing for a consistent voice, monitoring all channels for accuracy, and regularly being on top of every account, you may be better off keeping it in-house.
Having someone in-house provides for more accountability and more consistency across the board. While my entire day does not consist of posting on social media all, it does in many ways revolve around it. I’m always monitoring and keeping an eye on what goes out and how we’re responding to RTs, shares, and the daily banter on all of our 18 primary social accounts. No matter how much you pay an agency, you won’t have eyes on all of your accounts at all times.
5) There’s Less Downtime with an Agency
The argument here is that if your in-house social point person is out of the office or tied up with other projects, you’re entering a problematic zone of less coverage. When you employ an agency, sure, there’s the possibility of having more coverage from the team and perhaps fewer gaps since there’s always someone available to take over.
But how well with that cover person know the strategy? How closely will he or she be at following the tone or understanding the influencer relationships you may be managing and building over phone or email? There are bound to be gaps.

My Final Rant

Agencies are an effective resource for developing a social strategy and helping a team kickstart or reevaluate a program. For day-to-day social management, however, I’m a big believer in hiring in-house.
Here’s the thing, if you have no budget to hire someone to solely do social media (many people do not), there’s no harm in making this part of someone’s job and/or spreading out the workload across your marketing team.
By hiring an agency to do daily management, you’re introducing another step to your marketing team’s communication and adding another challenge. What about the content you’re producing? What about your email marketing efforts? What about your team’s latest promotion? All of these points need to be top-of-mind for your social media strategy, and keeping the point person in-house allows for a lot more collaboration and brainstorming. Trying to achieve something similar with an agency can end up costing you a lot more precious time and money.

So tell me, are you an in-house or an agency supporter? I’d love to hear your reasons!

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