Outsource_Social_Media_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

Social media is an increasingly important and effective marketing tool to connect with today’s customers. But is it better to handle this function of your business in-house, relying on your team’s creative and communication skills, or is it better to bring in a third party to handle the job?

Answering that question depends a lot on your business’s needs and your team’s capabilities. Here are some factors to keep in mind while you’re making your choice:


Advantages of outsourcing social media

One reason to outsource your social media marketing is to get better results. “Business owners don't always understand how to leverage social media to grow their businesses,” says Susan Payton, president of Egg Marketing & Communications, a content marketing and social media management firm based in San Diego. “Outsourcing means these businesses get professionals who understand the medium and can build a strategy around it.”

Crystal Dempsey, owner of From The Hip Communications, a content and social media marketing company based in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that as a small business owner, she realizes she can’t do everything herself. “I use contractors to do my taxes and to handle graphic design,” she says. “A smart social media marketer will put the small business owner on the right channel and develop strategies and use tactics that will increase sales, enhance customer loyalty, and grow brand awareness.”

One of the most common reasons business owners choose to outsource social media is the lack of time to devote to the job. Managing social media can be incredibly time consuming, explains Julia Campbell, founder of J Campbell Social Marketing, a nonprofit communications and digital marketing consultancy based in Beverly, Mass. “It involves research, writing, editing, formatting, finding photos and videos, developing content, posting, monitoring, measurement, and reporting,” she says. “If you are a small business owner overwhelmed with the day to day of running your business, you may want to trust an outside person to manage this for you.”

Outsource_Social_Media_PQ.jpgAdvantages of keeping social media in house

The three primary advantages of keeping social media in house are creative control, cost savings, and responsiveness. “No one knows your business better than you do,” says Dempsey. “Also, doing it in house allows for nimble moves. Say, you own a dog grooming salon and on Tuesday afternoon, you notice that you have a lot of openings and plenty of staff on hand for Thursday. You can use social media to try to fill that appointment book with a special offer for that day.”

When it comes to posting something fun about your business on Instagram, you might find that it takes an outside person 24 hours to post a photo, even though it's always best posted in the moment, says Campbell.

Try a mixed approach

One thing the experts do agree on: Social media management doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor, where you either do everything yourself or hand off all responsibility to a social media management company. “There's always a middle path,” Payton says. “I know business owners that want to Tweet when they have something to share, but rely on social media professionals to maintain consistency and stay on point for strategy.”

One area to consider keeping in house is customer service, according to Dempsey. “If you have a social media presence, customers will use it to praise, ask questions, or criticize. The business owner and employees know how to work with their specific questions.”

Do your homework before hiring a social media professional

If you choose to hire a company to handle some or all of your social media management, be selective and take the time to research the company before you commit to a working relationship.

“You should never hire someone who says they are an ‘expert’ or a ‘guru",’ warns Campbell. “Social media and online community managers realize that the field is changing so rapidly that none of us can seriously be experts. We can have expertise and experience, and we can know what we are doing.”

Another important aspect of hiring is making sure the person has social media expertise in your industry. “Different industries use different platforms, and the ways they use them may vary from one field to another,” Payton says. “It's one thing to get people to follow you. It's another thing entirely to get the right people following you and then visiting your site.”

Make sure your prospective social media management company is capable of listening to you. “You want someone who is asking you a lot of questions about your business, your customers, your long term and short term goals, successes, challenges, and competition,” Dempsey says. She also recommends getting three references. “Call these people, don't email them,” she says. “References provide more information and nuance in a phone call.”