The Great Social Media Debate: In-House or Agency?

  Historically as an agency, we have always believed that social media should be handled in-house. We recommend that if an in-house social media team is possible, brands should pursue that option. It now seems that brands are finally catching on as Nike has recently moved all of its social media activity in-house and there are rumblings that other iconic brands are poised to do the same. We don’t believe there is any black and white definitive answer to the social media question such as “All brands should do social media in-house” or “All brands should hire agencies to handle every aspect of their social media strategy” or “social media is the devil”. We will, however, try to shine some light on the facts to making the decision to bring social in-house vs. hiring an agency.

Reasons why social media might not be possible to accomplish in-house

  There are two kinds of brands that cannot have internal social media teams: Brands that are too big for it to make sense and brands that are too small. Holding companies that have multiple and, in some cases, conflicting brands within their portfolios will always find it hard to act in real-time while being creative, conversational, and innovative. They are simply too big and often too corporate to pivot quickly, take on resources/risk internally and, more often then not, won’t have the core competencies to direct/manage social media teams. It makes more sense for them to just manage a roster of qualified agencies that ooze with communications prowess.

  Small brands are a different story. Smaller brands are typically either short-handed or not willing to risk adding a head or two to their staff budget in order to bring social media in-house. Time is usually their enemy in this case and they lack truly qualified experts or utility players that can set content strategy and goals, read and analyze data, gain insights, write, design, and manage multiple platforms and tools. In this scenario it becomes a much smarter investment to just find a strategic agency partnership.

  There is also a big technology layer to social media so both big and small brands will need to have a firm understanding of how these platforms work, forecast how they will change and put the brand on the right track for sustained success.

Five tips for bringing social media in house

  1. Clear cut goals should be established beforehand: Think of the internet as the Sahara desert. Large, unknown, and unforgiving. Without setting clear goals for your social media activities, you might as well be hiking across the Sahara and hoping for the best. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A BAD TIME. You need to figure out which metrics are important and why. Do you want to increase followers? Why? What value will both parties obtain and how can you align your strategies to that. If you want to increase interactions volume may most likely not be the answer. Maybe the goal of these efforts is to drive traffic or media impressions to your brand or site. Figure these out ahead of time so you don’t end up in a situation where you need to kill and eat a co-worker to survive the oppressive desert conditions.

  2. Get the right people on the bus: If you’re going to keep social media in-house, you need to have the right dedicated resources for the job. It’s not an interns job, nor the job of a secretary part-time. Asking your already inundated brand manager to do it is not going to cut it either. Try to hire and match the credentials against capabilities within a communications agency. This person should be accustomed to writing within your brand voice and essence. They should be have a fundamental understanding of all social media platforms: the technology that powers them, the different ways in which users interact on them and how to track all of these activities. These hires should have a strategy on how to translate your brand style into a theme based on each platform (i.e What is the visual theme of your Instagram feed?).

  Be forewarned, upon posting the social media position to the internet you will be inundated with responses from recent college grads who fancy themselves as “social media experts.” The sad truth is that just because someone reposts Mashable articles for their 200 followers to enjoy does not make them an expert. Likewise, steer clear of people that call themselves gurus (just because we hate that word here). Lastly, and most important, are the numbers. Just because a person has 10,000 followers or likes doesn’t mean they are popular or know social media. They could have easily bought the followers or joined a #followback club in an effort to boost their profile for people like you! Look at engagement metrics, look through their connections (likes, followers, etc) to make sure they are real and that their connections are real as well.

  3. Social media is not a “set it and forget it” solution: Why is social media popular? Because this generation is made up of sad, shut-in mole people who prefer digital friendship? Maybe, but also because it is entertaining, constantly fresh and easily digestible. We live in a real-time society. Whether it be research, reviews, feedback, whatever, you have to be prepared for anything and everything. An unexpected cultural event can be a great platform to pivot off of. Your brand’s content needs to be realtime. Tune in 24/7 because your consumers are. No brand that posts on Facebook and thinks “Phew, that should be good for the month,” will be successful.

  4. Proper tools should be purchased: Agencies don’t provide social media services powered by magic. Behind the curtain is a myriad of software solutions for listening, engagement, analytics, development, promotions and reporting. It generally won’t make financial sense for you to purchase all of these softwares for your in-house efforts, but you will certainly need to pick and choose the strongest offerings. Some platforms do more then others. Some integrate with other software like CRMs, marketing automation platforms or email systems. Do your research, go through the demos, and then do more research. Oh, there goes that time thing again.

  5. There needs to be buy-in at every level: Social media is the constant and public voice of your brand. For that reason, there needs to be input from every level, especially the highest level; yes, we’re talking about the Wizard of Oz him/herself. The CEO might understand why social media is important to a brand, but they also need to understand how valuable their input is. The biggest asset of having an in-house team is the close proximity to leadership; make sure you’re taking advantage of that close proximity to accurately disseminate the brand’s voice and to take the real-time value you’re getting from your consumers and turn them into actions. That is the magic and that will turn you into a truly social brand.

  Remember, whichever approach you are taking or planning to take isn’t going to happen over night. There is no silver bullet to solving the social-media “problem” or everyone would be awesome at it. Social media is a constantly evolving communications landscape which requires dedication, expertise and a wide array of skills that cannot be done by one single person. In most cases, a mixture of in-house and partnerships with agencies, consultants or production houses end up being the lions share of how brands are resourcing this problem today.

  We’d love to get your thoughts and philosophies on social media and how you are currently resourcing that.

  Digital Surgeons offers social media services at every level… from consulting and building in-house teams and strategies to full content creation and community management services. See us in action or give us a shout. Either way thanks for stopping by.