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Are social media management companies worth it?

Although ‘horses for courses’ applies, I’m going to attempt to address this question with the help of a few brand case studies.

Personality and rigour

These are arguably the two sides to social media management. These words sum up what it takes to engage, to serve and do it all quickly.

Is it possible another company can display enough personality and rigour to properly promote your brand?

Snapple is an interesting example. Let’s look at some campaign activity.

The Snapple Real Facts campaign was roundly criticised for, well, not being factual. See this great article on the Atlantic explaining how quickly one can disprove some of these ‘facts’.

You can read the Real Facts on the Snapple website. The campaign involved printing caps with these facts, but it was carried through to social media, too.

And, to be honest, the campaign didn’t prove particularly inspiring on social. Check this out. Not exactly brimming with personality and rigour.

Let’s look at some reactive Twitter action. Here’s a strange one, below. Leticia clearly shows negative sentiment, but looking back through her timeline one can see the cause. It’s nothing heinous, just Snapple’s glass bottles that cut her leg. 

One would think Snapple would have some content ready on their website about why it uses glass bottles. The brand could show sympathy and then point to that page and wish Leticia good health. Instead, Leticia is invited to call a phone number. Nobody wants to do that. 

To me, this is not the best social media management and if your agency provides this, you have to better equip them to deal with these enquiries. 

Is the answer in engagement?

This article from UBERVU shows a worrying sign. Snapple beats Nestea for mentions and sentiment, showing that there is good awareness and love out there. But Nestea trounces Snapple for engagement.

This is the worrying sign of poor social media management.

engagement snapple vs nestea  

I must state that I don’t know if Snapple outsources its Twitter account. I know the group uses multiple agencies. What we’ve looked at suggests that if they don’t use one for social, maybe they should (or get some training). And if they do, this shows the perils of using a management company that isn’t up to the task. 

Don’t decry my inconclusiveness here. My points still stand. Snapple’s approach can be improved upon. 

I’d say FMCG is a sector where social media management companies work well. 

FMCG brands often work on a campaign basis that an agency can be well briefed about. There generally won’t be the immense amount of social customer service demanded by other sectors, such as travel, retail etc. 

And in most cases personality is easy to display as the risks of appearing inappropriate are fairly low. 

Speed of resolution 

Not just speed of response, speed of resolution. 

This can be quicker when social is done in-house, but also relies on social being well-integrated with other teams. KLM does this well

And a brand that doesn’t? Virgin America is a good example. The account has great tone and information, but look at this example of a customer query. It just isn’t great service. 

This could be because departments aren’t yet talking to each other, but there’s definitely work to be done. 

virgin america twitter

Dampening agility is another side effect of using a management company.

By that I mean if you suddenly decide to do a Twitter chat or to jump on a quickly developing hashtag, this can be done quicker in-house. Using a management company entails getting in touch to ensure there isn’t an overload of content and that they know what is planned. 

But they’re really good at it!

There’s no doubt there are social media management companies that have experience with social media that you and I can only dream of.

Here’s an example (Arena Flowers) of a brand that uses a company to increase engagement and awareness through humour. Not many marketing teams can boast this kind of talent in-house.

OK, it’s not an example of savvy service and isn’t related to the proposition, but it’s definitely an area to be exploited. Some gambling companies such as Paddy Power do the same to great effect. 

How complex or sensitive is your proposition?

The Trainline is a great example of a brand that takes care of its own social media activity. All customer care staff get trained on Twitter.

This is great in a sector where tension often arises and bookings need to be looked into.

thetrainline 

Long term expertise

If an agency runs your social channels, how will knowledge within the group grow?

Price

Social media management costs thousands a month, and the strategy still needs to be done or outsourced on top of that. This can be too high a cost for some SMEs.

Time saving

Of course, if you successfully outsource social to a team that fits the bill, you’ll save time, and ultimately that’s the goal for those outsourcing.

Whether it’s worth it is a subject that’s still up for debate, even as the trend for in-housing continues.

Conclusion

In conlusion, I know I've painted a slightly negative picture and in the poorer examples I've given I can't be sure if Twitter management was outsourced.

There are loads of skilled social media consultants and management companies out there, though I know not all can talk about their clients. If you've got any great examples please do highlight them in the comments. 

Ben Davis

Published 13 June, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (17)

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Jeniece

"Social media management costs thousands per month."

Actually, it doesn't have to. Emphatic.co is one service that offers highly personalized social media management at small business-friendly prices, but there are many others. In addition to personality and rigor, frequency and consistency are also very important and arguably the biggest challenges to solve for time-challenged entrepreneurs. Seeking outside help is a great solution.

over 2 years ago

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Tony Wheeler

This is, without doubt, the poorest article I have ever read on E-consultancy, which on the face of it is not that hard because the vast majority or articles here are insightful, informative and well worth the time spent reading them...

This one however, is in a class of it's own.

Sat in the corner.

Facing the wall.

Wearing a dunce's hat.

I had lots of constructive criticisms and points to back that sentiment but have decided to save the time I would have spent laying them all out for you here and use it to write my own damn article. Very disapointing.

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Tony

Thanks for complimenting Econsultancy on the quality of its articles.

I can't pretend the rest of your comment wasn't painful to read.

I would appreciate your constructive criticism, or at least a link to the article you are no doubt furiously composing.

over 2 years ago

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Peter Imbres

Brands need to realize that social media isn't a new channel anymore and the people that craft your messaging for social should be as experienced and skilled as the people that craft messaging for your traditional marketing channels. I cringe every time I see a job posting for "social media intern." If you're tapping people with 15 years of experience every time your write a press release, you should be working with the same caliber of people for any public messaging. It doesn't matter if you outsource it or not, just make sure you're hiring experience counsel and not someone with 3-5 years of experience in making the Radian 6 graphs look impressive.

over 2 years ago

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Vaibhav

I think they are worth, because you can’t manage your all social account at the same time. For Social medium we need to be much more focused on the content we post. If we post good content impact will be best for required output. So, at end to achieve the required output and maintain efforts, we need the focused team to do the all the task.

over 2 years ago

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Digived

As businesses rush to get into social media, they forget to take visitors back to the primary website in order to fulfill their sale. So many companies question the time involved and the results returned. Time management is tough enough already, so what will Twittering a few hundred times a month do for a company? The answer is that different social-media sources bring different results, so businesses need to focus on different ways to use each channel. Simply throwing time and fresher’s at social media will not produce results. The social-media efforts need to be tied into the company integrated marketing strategy so that the message is always consistent and results in leads and more business for the company.

over 2 years ago

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Debra Carey - SiteReach

Social Media now needs to be integrated with SEO and I guess vice-versa in order to reap the most benefits. Social Media Management agencies can work with brands and businesses much more intimately. Getting to know those businesses as if part of their in-house team. Then social media can be authentic and effective. Have technical skills to know how to construct a great post that will drive traffic and generate links for sites, is a skill that really only an agency can have. It's something that requires focus and skill development and I don't think that brands will invest that in their own staff.

over 2 years ago

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Justine Wyness, eCommerce & Digital Marketing Consultant at Justine Wyness Ltd

I worked with IMP Media whilst at Hobbycraft - they took our Facebook campaign from 10k Likes to over 70k Likes and increased engagement to 5 times that of the average retailer - all in about 18 months, maybe less. I'd say it depends on your agency but we couldn't have done that with our internal resource. Maybe we just got lucky!

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Justine

Great to hear! Would love to get some more success stories in the comments.

I was partly playing devil's advocate to bring out examples of best practice and good agency-bred results. Will check out Animal's social stuff.

Best,

over 2 years ago

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Justine Wyness, eCommerce & Digital Marketing Consultant at Justine Wyness Ltd

Hey Ben - I'm not at Animal anymore, old profile details! They do theirs internally though - they are very Brand-led and so feel they have their own voice.

over 2 years ago

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Joe Pelissier, Managing Director at Pelissier Communications

In my experience most companies fail to identify all of the different types of conversations that clients will potentially have. This is because it is time consuming.

Once you have done this you have to role-play the conversation scenarios so that it is impossible for the Snapple glass situation to happen. You also develop the social writing skills of the team. They then avoid delivering bad news that ends with a positive sounding !

For this to work well you need to have a strategy, an awareness of the risks and a willingness to train.

If you are going to outsource check that those who are going to do it understand the mechanics behind written digital communication. I have first-hand experience of outsourced 'experts' admitting they have received no training. They are just on the account because they are young and enthusiastic about social.

I like your article. It raises a lot of the issues I come across when working with clients.

Nespresso may not get it right all of the time but it has invested a lot of time in trying to deliver a good experience for all international markets.

over 2 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Ben,

I think you raise a good question but it's disappointing that the examples aren't definitive examples of outsourced social media. I was hoping for more insight into brands using the outsourced route and the impact this has had.

In my experience, using external specialists can add a lot of value. But you have to have thought through how you will integrate this external support with the existing business. You can't simply give social to an expert and expert it to rain gold. You need a clear comms & content plan that social will support and a vision for how you want to use social as a business.

Of course an agency or freelancer can help you define the strategy and plan but you need to be proactive in shaping it as it's your brand and reputation on the line. It's not good enough to say 'we're paying the experts to tell us how to do it'.

I'm a big fan of using freelancers who specialise in social media management. It's the approach we're taking with CrowdShed because, as a startup, we don't have the time to do everything we want to with social in-house. Using an experienced freelancer, giving them a clear strategy brief and setting out how social fits within the overall marketing plan helps take away the day-to-day demands.

However, we're not sat back doing nothing. We will work closely with the freelancer, inputting each week into what we're talking about and why, providing content, identifying key influencers to build social relationships with, keeping them updated with the overall business and other marketing activity like PR....

I guess my key point is this - in-house/external isn't the most important factor in my opinion, it's the quality of your planning and the effort you put into understanding the role social media plays for you and your customers. If using an external specialist helps you do this in the most effective and cost efficient way, then great.

Thanks, James

over 2 years ago

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Chilla

I think only the ones worth it, which are actually experts on that. For example i would hire Neil Patel if had the budget for it..tried also on Elance to hire social media ,,experts" but did not go well. It is also hard to determine, who is great at it.

about 2 years ago

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Lisa Marie Wark

Managing a brand's social media presence may be a strict and long endeavour for firms. Since it's well ANd actually become an integral a part of the majority brands' digital presence, managing the ever-growing social presence is currently a full time job.

about 2 years ago

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Tony Wheeler

@Ben Davis

Ben, thanks for your good natured response, I doubt I would have been able to be so gracious if the shoe were on the other foot!

Rather than begin "furiously composing" the article I wish I had read, I instead went off on holiday. Now I have returned I do feel that if I'd read the article AFTER I'd had a rest, perhaps I wouldn't have responded at all - but I would have remained disappointed.

I have a foot in both camps - working full time as a Digital Marketing Manager within a very specialist/technical B2B legal services firm and also a B2C in a highly competitive legal arena - for each of which, I would find it hard to find an SMMC that could do the job as well (or as cheaply!) as an internal resource.

Outside of the day job, I also have an interest in my Wife's digital marketing firm which offers SMM services to SMEs, on which I am sometimes called in to consult

I opened the article, ready to share it - whatever the conclusions were, hoping to stimulate conversation, but was disappointed when I found that, to me - it wasn't worthy of a share - which as I say, is unusual on ec.

I think James comes close to expressing my feelings in his comment;

"I think you raise a good question but it's disappointing that the examples aren't definitive examples of outsourced social media. I was hoping for more insight into brands using the outsourced route and the impact this has had."

I think what I value above all else about EC's content, is Insight - and this article had none. Anybody can pick a few tweets from a company, decide whether they're good or bad examples of SMM and then take a wild guess at whether the person who posted them sat in the companies office at the time, or a few miles down the road.

They'd still be no closer to having any insight into the true value (or otherwise) of outsourcing their social media.

James is right. It was a good question, unfortunately the article, to me, never came close to an answer... I wasn't sure it was even trying. The equivalent to shrugging shoulders and saying, "Dunno, Maybe...maybe not, I guess it depends, I suppose it might.... SQUIRREL!"

It was undermined by ridiculous statements like; "Social media management costs thousands a month" (not always, in fact from one aspect, I wish it did!), "If an agency runs your social channels, how will knowledge within the group grow?" (clear communication with your agency - it's not rocket science!), "Whether it’s worth it is a subject that’s still up for debate", well yes it is, and this hasn't helped that debate one iota.

Hopefully, although still painful - that was at least a little more constructive than my first comment!

about 2 years ago

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Graham

Tarring all social media management companies with the same brush is grossly unfair, in my opinion.

Some companies that do very little to add a brand's reputation by just scheduling a tonne of meaningless and identical updates across a number of different platforms deserve this, but those who actually spend time learning about the brand they're representing do not.

about 2 years ago

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Pradyumna Malladi

I recently did a little consultancy for a niche (green e-commerce) start-up. They had poor (if any) social media presence and were looking on ideas and strategies to harness social media for their business. Also at the same time, I built a social media strategy for a company in the BFSI sector. I sat for a few pitches on behalf of this company. I realized one thing clearly and agree with you that the social media management partner must have expertise. But at the same time the company (client) should also have a sound understanding of social media and what can be done using social media for their business. Without this knowledge, I see their social media management companies taking business on a ride.

about 2 years ago

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