There’s considerable momentum right now behind companies wanting to improve their social media presence and ramp up the business results this is producing. Where a couple of years ago a social media strategy was seen as a “nice to have,” today it’s increasingly perceived as business critical.
But how best can you take that next step in developing your social media strategy and results? In this post I’ll be helping you answer the question “should I hire a Social Media Manager or outsource?”
At this point though I feel I must be totally transparent! My opinion is formed from running a social media marketing agency that provides an outsourced social media marketing service for SMEs. So if some of you reading this decide to book in for a call and ultimately work with us, that’d clearly be a great outcome from my perspective. However, I’m going to be very transparent about when employees are best and when agencies are best, so for lots of you reading this, the advice will be not to engage a social media agency. So I hope you finish the post feeling like I’ve been objective in my assessments.
Costs – Hiring a Social Media Manager vs. Outsourcing
First up, let’s talk about cost. According to Glassdoor, the typical social media manager salary in the UK is £28,500 per year, while the corresponding US figure is $59,965 per year. Add in your employer costs (office space, medical, pension, etc), subscriptions to some essential social media tools and a tiny budget for social media advertising and I’d estimate you’re unlikely to be able to go down the route of hiring a full time social media manager for much less than £45k or $75k per year.
Generally speaking, agencies will work out a lot cheaper than this. Our Ultimate+ package, which replicates the activity levels that a full time employee would achieve, costs £10.8k or $16.8k per year. That includes the costs of the your social media tool subscriptions and a modest advertising budget, so is absolutely a like-for-like comparison. And let’s not forget, we’ve also assumed that you can hire an employee for zero cost – whereas in reality you’re likely to have an up front cost to find and hire a social media manager too.
If cost were everything, then, outsourcing would be the clear winner.
How Outsourcing De-risks Your Investment in Social Media Marketing
The other big reason to go down the route of outsourcing your social media marketing is that you can significantly de-risk your investment. There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, hiring an employee incurs you some fixed costs. You’re going to invest considerable time and / or money finding and employing that member of staff. Once they are on board, chances are you can’t just stop that cost at a moment’s notice if things aren’t working out or if your business circumstances change. Firing someone also carries legal risks, has an impact on morale and may harm your employer brand. By contrast, an agency will probably be working with you on a rolling monthly contract. So there’s no cost tying you in to continuing with social media if you need to make a change.
Secondly – and just as important – is being certain of the quality of hire. If you engage a social media agency that has good testimonials and reviews – and that’s delivered strategies in sectors similar to your own – then the onus on hiring and providing a high calibre social media manager is taken off your shoulders. The agency wants to retain you as a client, so will be doing everything they can to assign you someone who has the relevant experience and track record to be able to deliver on your project. By contrast, hiring a social media manager and feeling confident they can deliver is quite a challenge. Particularly if you’re in a business that’s not already expert in social media marketing. You don’t know how to pick apart their experience and you’re less well placed to assess if the previous social media successes they’ve achieved will translate into success in your particular business environment.
The Limitations of Outsourcing Your Social Media
There are many companies that simply shouldn’t be investing in social media at all. Let’s leave that to one side for a moment, as I cover this point below. But assuming you are a company that should be investing in social media, the main limitations of outsourcing your social media will be getting your personality across and leveraging your employees.
For certain types of businesses, getting a feel for the business is critical to success on social media. Think of a restaurant chain or a team of gym instructors. Photos of your latest dishes, live feeds of today’s workout, video clip testimonials from delighted customers. These sorts of social media posts really make your potential customers warm to you – and help you solidify repeat customers too. So there are some businesses where being on the ground in the day-to-day workings of the business is absolutely critical to your social media success. For such businesses it’d become a huge hassle and cost to have someone in the business produce that content and then on an ongoing basis feed it through to the social media agency. So if potential customers getting a feel for the business is critical to success then I wouldn’t outsource. Whereas if your business is a consulting firm, a web design agency, a recruitment business or the like then that isn’t nearly as important. An occasional “insider post” will help your presence, but it’s not the lifeblood of your social media strategy and your results aren’t contingent upon having this.
The other consideration is whether you need to leverage your employees. In a ten person business, the reach that your employees have on social media is pretty minimal. Whereas in a five thousand person business, your employees collectively reach a huge number of people on social media and getting them all on board could considerably enhance your results. Getting that internal buy-in to share company posts and participate in leaderboard contests will be most easily achieved if there’s someone in the business championing that and regularly drumming up enthusiasm for the initiative.
So What Decision Should Your Company Take?
Broadly speaking I see three categories of companies. Which one best reflects your company and your situation?
- Companies that are so small and limited in resources that they simply shouldn’t be investing in social media at all. Doing it themselves produces mediocre results and takes their attention away from the things that are most critical to the business. But outsourcing is something they can barely afford and so they can never invest in it for long enough to give themselves a good shot at producing results. Take the decision not to invest in social media at all – and then revisit the decision when the business has more success under its belt and can afford to invest without needing miraculous overnight results to be able to persevere with this.
- Companies that have the budget to be able to invest in social media for the medium term, but don’t have the resources to be able to fund hiring an in-house, properly resourced social media team. This gets to the heart of the upsides and downsides of outsourcing social media marketing. In my experience, a team of external social media specialists will deliver results for a business for around one third the cost of that business trying to generate results in house. But the downside is that an external team can never be quite as representative of the business and with their finger on the pulse of the business in the way that an employee could be.
- That is why there is naturally a size of business for whom outsourcing social media marketing is no longer the preferred option. Once a business can genuinely afford an in-house team of experts, with all the tools and subscriptions and training and advertising budget to get similar results to an outsourced agency, then the ability to better represent the passion and character traits of the business may become paramount. We will from time to time lose clients simply because we have proven to them the value of investing in social media marketing, but they are of the size that having their own true voice is a price they are willing to pay even though that means tripling their investment in social media marketing.
I hope you feel this assessment has been suitably objective rather than just a pitch for our services! If your conclusion is that you should be outsourcing your social media, the main thing to be wary of is that social media marketing agencies are like SEO agencies. There are some that are truly experts and have a track record of getting great results for businesses just like yours. There are others who are just starting out and who – whilst potentially trying very hard – will be learning how to get results at your expense. In other words, there are great agencies and there are charlatans.
So if you do go down the outsourced route, just be careful to talk through with the agency some examples of strategies they’ve worked on where the desired outcomes are similar to the ones you’d like to achieve. Maybe you want to achieve sales leads, maybe generate event attendees, maybe attract candidates to apply to your vacancies. Whatever your goal for social media is, if you have an agency on board that’s already figured out how to generate those types of results for other clients then the chances of the engagement proving successful are far greater.
It should go without saying that if you’d like to have a chat with one of our team about outsourcing your social media, we’d be delighted to find a time for that and invite you to book in for a call.
The original version of this article was first published on Social Hire.