The time has come where marketing can no longer take a back seat and you’ve decided that it is finally the right time to invest in social media.
But… you are no marketing expert.
You don’t have time for posting schedules and counting retweets.
The whole “doing social media” thing is so ludicrous that you’re not even sure where to start.
So, you’ve been scouring the net trying to learn all you can about hiring and working with a social media marketing agency, and figuring out if hiring an agency is the correct path for your business.
And we applaud you.
Researching your options is always a good start, and that being said, hiring an agency might not even be the best way for you to grow your business.
That’s what this post is for: to give you the full rundown on the process of choosing whether to hire an agency, and what to expect from them if you do decide to go down that road.
Free Agency Vetting Spreadsheet
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What is a Social Media Marketing Agency?
Before you can come to a conclusion about which agency (if any) to hire, you should probably know the basics.
Different Types of Marketing Agencies
Agencies come in all shapes, types, and sizes, all with nuanced service offerings and pricing structures.
Figuring out the best fit for you will depend 100% on your business, industry, goals, budget and company structure.
Since we always say that social media is the last optimization, at Vulpine, we prefer to work with small to medium-sized companies who already have product / market fit and a proven, working business model.
But, other types of agencies may prefer to work with startups, and others might focus on enterprise-level companies or may only work with brands in certain verticals / industries.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg…
Some marketing agencies will be full-service digital marketing solutions, while others may only focus on one thing: PR for example.
Before you begin narrowing down the options, decide what your marketing goals are, what type of agency you may be looking to hire, and which services you believe are must-haves for right now, and in the future.
What Does a Social Media Company Do?
If you’ve decided that Social Media Marketing is a must-have service, you’ll need to understand what a social media marketing agency does for a client.
And even that can vary from one agency to another.
Speaking from experience at Vulpine, we focus on our client’s customer (or end user, audience member, client…), the person they are attempting to reach with their marketing messages, and we create multi-platform social media strategies that align with our client’s business goals with the aim of uncovering information about the people we engage with on behalf of our client’s brand.
Social media platforms are just the channels we are using to get to know our client’s audience.
And our findings often influence many other areas of business strategy (or at least, they should).
I could go into the nitty gritty about some of the tactics we use in order to gather this information, but I won’t bore you with the details.
All that really matters to us is that our client’s customers are delighted by the brand we are representing, which is why we see ourselves as social media branding experts.
But, of course, not all social media agencies are going to use the same strategies that we use or even care about the same things we care about.
A lot of social media agencies are only focused on paid social (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter advertising), and don’t have anything to do with organic posting, content creation, account management, or customer engagement.
We’ve found that a healthy mix of both paid and organic is usually the sweet spot, but of course, that depends on the client.
How Does an Agency Operate?
Again, how an agency operates will vary from one to the next.
In a small agency, you will likely be working with the founder to strategize and execute on your campaigns.
Since there isn’t a large team to help with the various tasks, small teams are not usually equipped to handle larger budgets or workloads.
Typically speaking, the larger the budget for agency services (not including advertising spend), the larger the amount of work, and the longer it will take for a 1-3 person team to turn around on tasks.
However, with a smaller team, you can be confident that the agency owner has a deep understanding of your business and goals since it is their job and no one else to drive those results for you.
Larger teams mean larger workloads and budgets can be handled, but again, there is a point at which workload can drain agency resources and create delays in task completion.
Finding the right fit for your budget and timeline is extremely important when vetting social media marketing agencies.
Also, most agencies with more than 4 people will likely have some sort of structure or hierarchy.
At Vulpine, we have business strategists who handle the overall strategy and internal operations at the top, social media account managers who manage the day to day for our client accounts and speak directly with our clients on a regular basis. Then, we have assistants who execute on a lot of the social media tasks like social listening, active engagement, and content creation, then we have virtual assistants who help us with the behind the scenes tasks like post scheduling and data mining.
For us, this structure allows for flexibility and efficiency in our daily workflows, however, another agency may have a completely different model.
The important thing to consider is whether or not the agency is structured to provide you with the best experience and results.
And we’ll get to that in just a second, but first, what are the benefits of hiring an agency?
Benefits of Hiring a Social Media Marketing Agency
When your company is ready to begin social media marketing, there are a handful of options to get the job done.
• Delegate the tasks to your current team members and hope for the best
• Hire internally for the role
• Hire a freelancer
• Hire an agency
There are pros and cons to each of these options, and in a future post, I’ll dive into the specifics of hiring in-house vs hiring an agency vs hiring a freelancer.
But right now, I want to go over some of the benefits of hiring an agency for social media.
1. It can cost less than hiring an employee
Now, I’ll warn you that there are some conflicting opinions to this statement.
Mashable (and some others) believe that hiring an agency is actually more expensive, and obviously, this can depend on the agency in question and their pricing, etc.
But what they are specifically referring to is hiring a social media marketing agency rather than delegating social media tasks to team members who are already working on other projects within the company, not hiring an in-house social media manager.
A lot of small businesses with minimal marketing budgets will not be able to afford a social media marketing agency OR an in-house person dedicated to social media marketing.
What I want to discuss here is the cost of hiring a full-time employee dedicated to social media.
And when you are weighing this option versus hiring an agency to do your social media, you are most likely going to pay less on a $3,000 per month retainer than an experienced social media manager who will set you back around $4,200/month (or more) according to Glassdoor.
…And that is just the cost of their salary.
This number doesn’t factor in other costs, like tools and technology, for example.
Agencies Utilize Tools and Technology
One of the reasons agencies are able to cost less than an in-house marketer is because they have their own marketing stack – a bundle of applications, software and other technology – that allow them to do their job more efficiently.
Agency team members are trained on how to use these tools effectively, and they can spread the costs around to multiple clients so the burden of paying for the tools is equally divided.
When you hire an agency, you reap the benefits of advanced technology without footing the bill for employee training or monthly fees.
Employees Require Training
Another reason why agencies cost less is because employees require training.
This training period eats up valuable time.
Not only do you need to train them on your brand, you also need to train them on all of the internal tools and processes you use, AND you need to brief them on the responsibilities of their specific marketing role.
An agency will already have individuals trained on social media best practices and strategies, so the only training needed is on your brand and industry.
You may end up investing a good chunk of time training an in-house employee, just to have them put in their two weeks 6 months after they’ve been hired.
This is a huge cost, and it is inevitable.
2. Agencies Are Results-Oriented
When you hire an agency, it is in their best interest to help you succeed.
Their company depends on your success, so a good agency is always going to do the best they can to drive (and prove) results.
Most social media marketing agencies will have an advanced understanding of social data analytics and they should also have a proven reporting process in order to show their results in a digestible manner.
The fact is that agencies derive a lot of their new business from word of mouth and referrals from happy clients. This is one of the reasons it is so important for them to be results-oriented.
If clients aren’t seeing results, the agency will fail.
3. Agencies Have Experience
Agency employees eat, sleep, and breathe marketing, and if they’ve been around for a few years, they have a great deal of experience across multiple industries.
Their experience in working with many different types of clients allows agency team members to bring their learnings from testing strategies across many clients and apply them to your brand. Since an agency will have this insight, they can easily create a plan of action and pivot or optimize on top of their initial hypothesis without need to do as much trial and error.
That being said, no two companies are exactly alike.
In a lot of cases, social media is just a test. But, the advantage an agency brings is in the initial strategy and the ability to quickly recognize areas of success or failure.
Not only do agencies have a wide variety of experience, they also have proven systems and processes for getting shit done.
If you are contemplating passing the social media tasks off to someone who already has a dedicated position inside your company, they may not have the same advantageous starting point for creating and implementing a strategy that an agency would have.
Also, there is a level of strategy that an agency can bring that most in-house employees wouldn’t understand, especially if they don’t come from a social media marketing background.
4. Agencies Can be Objective About Your Company
In-house teams are so close to the company and brand that it can be tough for them to be objective, especially if their job is on the line.
However, an agency will be able to offer outside perspective on ways your business can be improved both from a marketing standpoint and an operational standpoint.
An outside social media strategist will be far enough removed from your business that they can provide insight into new, unique ways to reach and engage your audience instead of returning to the same strategies and tactics your internal team may be limited to.
What are the Downsides of Working with an Agency?
We talked about the good, now let’s get into some of the negatives you may encounter if you hire a marketing agency instead of an in-house employee.
1. Agencies Don’t Have Insider Information
What goes on behind your company’s closed doors won’t always make it down to the agency. Therefore, keeping your agency partners in the loop is paramount for a successful relationship.
2. Agencies Won’t Have As Much Specific Industry Knowledge
You are the expert in your industry, what agencies, specifically social media marketing agencies, specialize in is: marketing.
There is potential that an agency may lack critical knowledge of your industry, and this might be problematic if you try to pass the work to an outsider.
You know your audience better than an agency will.
3. Agencies Will Not Know Your Brand Right Off the Bat
Just like when you begin working with a new employee, an agency will require training on your specific brand. Sometimes, it can take a while before the agency is up to speed with the idiosyncrasies of the brand voice and personality.
If the brand voice has to be super specific (for example, it is based on one person in your company’s quirky mannerisms), an agency may never be able to emulate it as well as you or your team.
4. Agencies Aren’t Always Permitted to Act
In some cases, brands request approvals for certain activities like posting content, responding to customer service inquires, or changing information on a social platform that the company owns.
This can cause delays in publishing and if communication breaks down, the approval process stalls out and services may be halted.
How to Choose the Best Social Media Marketing Agency
If you’ve come to the conclusion that it is the right time to hire a social media marketing agency, you probably need to know how to choose the best one.
We’ve already talked about the different types of agencies and experiences you may encounter with each type, but when considering which agency to hire, you should ask yourself the following questions.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Vetting
1. What are my goals?
This is the most important question to ask because it will help you narrow down the options.
Let’s say you are in a competitive market and you are looking for brand awareness, engagement, and brand differentiation, you probably wouldn’t want to go with an agency that specializes only in paid media buying.
Sure, running ads is great for awareness, but an agency who only specializes in paid social might lack the engagement and creative differentiation components.
Or, if you aren’t really concerned about building a strong, recognizable brand, you just want to sell as much product as possible, a paid social advertising agency might be a better fit than one who specializes in branded experiences and community management.
Once you’ve determined your immediate and long-term goals with social, you will have an easier time deciding which agency to consider.
2. What is my budget?
This question will help you determine how much you can comfortably invest in social media, and will dictate the level and breadth of agency services you can afford.
Since price always plays a large factor when making any purchasing decision, it makes sense to shop around. But, remember that this is your brand at stake here.
I’ve seen social media marketing services start as low as $500 per month for the bare minimum on one channel.
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
As we like to say at Vulpine, “cheaper” isn’t always less expensive in the long run, so consider your budget (and who you end up choosing) wisely.
If someone represents your brand poorly on social, your audience might never forget it.
Since social media marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all service, different agencies will have different prices for their offerings, so you should probably call around to the different places you are considering in order to find the best fit.
Questions to Ask the Agencies You Are Vetting
Now that you know what you want to accomplish and have an idea about how much you can invest, you can start your search. Here are some questions you should ask any agency you are considering:
1. Do you have experience in my industry?
The way an agency answers this question will determine whether or not you think they have the capacity for understanding the nuances of your niche.
The more experience an agency has in your industry, the better chance they have of producing quick results.
If they don’t have experience in your specific industry, ask if they’ve worked with a similar type of company or in a similar niche.
For example, if you run a company that sells medical supplies to doctor’s practices, and you already know they don’t have experience in medical sales, ask the agency in question if they’ve ever worked with a B2B brand. If they say yes, ask them to tell you about their results.
Unfortunately, some agencies will apply the same tactics to every account.
And it is true that certain tactics are best practices and will produce positive results for pretty much any functional company, different industries require different approaches. Make sure the agency you choose is able to tell you the difference between a strategy they would implement for say, an e-commerce skincare company versus a compliance law firm.
2. How will you measure your success?
Another important question to ask the agency, and to understand yourself.
Measuring the success of the campaigns is the most important thing an agency can do. If you are misaligned on what success looks like, the agency won’t provide the results you expect.
A good agency should be able to define KPIs related to your specific business goals and tell you how they plan to track them. Agencies who are only focused on vanity and surface-level metrics (likes, followers, posts per month, etc) are probably not going to be able to prove any ROI.
This is a sign of inexperience and poor strategic thinking: something you might get if you hire a freelancer, small agency team, or in-house employee.
If the agency you are considering says that they only report on vanity metrics and don’t seem capable of tying their results back to the things that matter for you, run away.
A good agency will tell you that your website, landing pages, and assets need to be properly set up to track the KPIs important to you, and they will spend the extra time to make sure that you get your pixels installed, onsite conversion tracking and goals set up, and any other tracking needed to prove their results.
If you have no interest in investing in or installing the proper analytics tools or systems to track the traffic sent to you from social, you might not be ready to invest in social media marketing to begin with.
In this case, the agency should run away from you!
3. Do you have any case studies or proof of concept?
Obviously, an agency should be able to produce some form of social proof, whether it be a list of current clients whose accounts you can analyze, a case study outlining a specific successful campaign, or a wide range of industry experts willing to vouch for the agency team and brand.
If they don’t have any of the above-listed items, this could mean that they are brand new to the field, and their price should reflect this lack of experience.
That doesn’t mean that they are a bad option necessarily, but they will likely be deriving their key learnings from your account, which means they won’t be able to use their experience as a benefit to your brand. Essentially, you will be paying for their digital marketing education.
If they aren’t brand new and still don’t have a proof of concept, this likely means there are a lot of unhappy clients out there and no one is willing to recommend them or work with them.
You can always do a google search and see if there are any reviews about the agency in question as a starting point.
4. What platforms and strategies do you think will work for my business?
Asking the agency to give some strategy advice is a good call because you can immediately see how well they have listened, how invested they are in getting your business, and how determined they are to stay on top of industry trends.
Anyone who gives you a blanket statement like “all of them” and then sits there waiting for you to say “let’s get started” clearly doesn’t deserve to call themselves a social media marketing agency.
You want to hire an agency that understands:
• The nuances and differences between each platform,
• The details on how each social media platform works,
• The up and coming tactics they feel would be beneficial to test on your account (Facebook messenger chatbots for instance)
• Where your audience is the most active, and
• Where they might be the most reachable (these could be two different places, you know what I’m saying?)
5. How often will we communicate?
The answer to this question may vary, and you should be aware of how often you would like to communicate with your agency partner, and how much time you or your team has to commit to the relationship.
Typically, you should be communicating with your agency partners frequently enough to elicit collaboration and maintain alignment, but not so often that it veers into micromanagement or causes a distraction to your agency partners.
The Costs of Over-Communication
As is the nature with most agencies, they are managing multiple client relationships, and if they frequently have to take extra time on unnecessary communications with you or your internal team, that will add up and slow progress on your account.
I’ll give you a little industry insider info: the fact is, there is a limit on the number of hours an agency can spend on your campaigns per month. The more you pay and the easier you are to work with, the more hours they can dedicate, end of story.
Look at it this way.
Most agency pricing models are based on “value provided,” not “hours worked.”
But, if communications with a client continuously get in the way of an agency’s ability to provide that value, the agency has to work harder (in theory), which may end up costing the client more.
For instance, if you decide mid-month that you want to change plans and implement a different strategy than the one that is currently underway, an agency will have to regroup, restrategize, and go through another setup process to align with the new objectives.
Or, if you decided to have a flash sale, were featured in a publication, or found a handful of articles you want to be promoted to your audience, this puts pressure on your account manager to prioritize new tasks with existing tasks, and figure out what is going to drive the bottom-line results the agency is being judged on.
That’s not to say you can’t make requests of your agency, but there are costs. Especially if these requests happen often and out of the blue.
However, over-communication is not the worst situation.
The Perlis of Infrequent Communication
An agency who you cannot get a hold of, or who only wants to send you a monthly report without a meeting, or who doesn’t at least attempt to schedule a time to talk shop with your team, is not going to be a good partner.
If an agency isn’t communicating with you regularly about what they are working on, the learnings they are experiencing, and the results they are driving, it will feel like they don’t care about your account.
This will stress the relationship and cause problems like distrust.
Same goes for an agency who can’t get their client on the phone every once in a while.
As a client, you need to make sure you are available to communicate with an agency at least a few times a month, and as an agency, they should be willing and excited to synch up with you to talk about your account on a regular basis.
6. Do you outsource any of the work?
Some agencies don’t complete all of their work in-house. You should absolutely ask if this will be the case for any agency you decide to work with.
While there can be great results when two complimentary agencies come together to provide a full solution to a client (let’s say one agency specializes in content, and the other in social media and content distribution), beware of an agency who outsources all of the work and doesn’t fulfill in-house.
When an agency outsources the work to a third party, the quality of the work won’t be as high.
However, there is a difference between a company who outsources fulfillment to a third party and a company who has internal, remote team members in different countries.
At Vulpine, we have virtual assistants who work for our company.
In fact, many agencies have remote team members who work all over the world.
These virtual assistants are just as much a part of the team as any in-house employees, and are under the direct management of the agency.
On the other hand, a third-party fulfillment company will be in charge of managing their own internal team off of the guidance of the original agency who you might be partnering with.
In this situation, there is an extra layer of management and message passing which can end up diluting your brand vision, just like a game of telephone.
7. Who will be leading my project and how many accounts is that person responsible for?
This question will help you understand the way the agency is structured, how busy the team is, and how capable they are.
You will have a different experience if the agency has a dedicated account manager versus if the agency owner is going to handle the bulk of account. Whether you see it as an advantage to work with a dedicated account manager or with the owner themselves is on you.
There are pros and cons to each of these scenarios.
If you are working directly with the agency owner, you will be getting to work with the top strategist in the company, but they are also concerned with growing their own business and won’t always have as much time to dedicate to your specific account.
And as far as current workload goes, you wouldn’t want to work with an agency who has no other clients.
But, an account manager who has too many clients might get overwhelmed and make mistakes in managing your account.
Social media marketing is time-consuming, and you need a company that has the resources to get the results you are paying for.
A company of three people who have committed themselves to working on 50 different brands is probably going to produce shitty results.
You know that they need to focus on optimizing processes within their own company on top of the 50 clients (who all probably have 3 different channels), so they are clearly not in a position to take you on as well.
It is true that some strategies are less intensive, and budget heavily dictates what an agency might propose to do for a client. But, in general, a single social media account manager inside an agency shouldn’t be responsible for more than around 10-20 brands, respectively.
And this is assuming they have a structure like we have at Vulpine with an account manager who oversees the client’s campaigns and 1-2 assistants who have time dedicated to work on every account every day.
Free Agency Vetting Spreadsheet
Use this spreadsheet to record the answers to the above questions so you can vet and compare your options with ease. Spreadsheet will automatically calculate a total so you can see who’s on top and who should be cut.
How to Work Effectively with Your Agency
Hopefully, you’ve now decided whether to hire a social media marketing agency, you know what your goals and budget are, you know what type of agency you want to work with, and you know how to vet and choose the best agency for your company.
But how can you get the most out of the agency you want to work with?
I think most companies forget to ask this question.
As with many other things, there is a learning curve when you first start utilizing any strategic partnership.
And that’s what your agency is: your strategic partner.
They have a company to build and run, just like you, but they can’t do it without your business.
And you, you can’t get the results you want out of them without collaboration, trust, and investment into the relationship.
Taking the time to develop the relationship with your agency partners through open lines of communication will yield the best (and quickest) results.
When you hire an agency, you are all in this together.
As a client, you should never forget that.
And if you hire the right agency, they won’t ever let you.