This is a guest post by Brad Shorr. Want more? See How to Hire Your SEO Partner from November.
After taking the social media plunge, companies quickly discover that it is vastly more complicated and time-consuming than they thought. The normal response is,
But companies must avoid a panicky response, because hiring a social media marketing (SMM) partner requires careful study. As I’ll run down in a minute, SMM involves a wide range of activities that require totally different skills. So,
- First, we’ll take a look at what the activities are, to help clarify the type of support you need.
- Then, I’ll review your best SMM support options.
- In conclusion, I’ll offer several suggestions of what to look for in a potential SMM partner.
Social Media Marketing Activities and Skills
There are any number of ways to slice and dice social media activities. This is basically how our agency organizes the work. (If I’ve left out anything, your comments and suggestions would be most appreciated!)
Pre-launch SMM Activities
- Strategy involves competitive research, benchmarking, messaging, audience identification, determining platforms for engagement, setting overall program and conversion goals, and setting up metrics. It requires experience and analytical skills.
- Setup and implementation involves setting up and optimizing company pages within each platform, designing landing pages for offers, and creating editorial calendars and syndication schedules. Required skills include web design, web development, conversion optimization, editing, and familiarity with the platforms.
Ongoing SMM Activities
- Content creation is original text, images, video or HTML content created for publication on Twitter, Facebook, the company blog, etc. Writers need to understand SEO copywriting and have the ability to write in a conversational and engaging style. Skill in videography, photography and web design may also come into play.
- Content syndication involves the actual publishing and sharing of content on social media platforms. This requires a lot of organization and repetitive activity.
- Social media monitoring is the systematic procedure, ideally executed in real time, of scouring social platforms for mentions of your company and perhaps competitors or other topics. People doing this work need to be comfortable with repetitive work but also savvy enough to respond to tweets and otherwise represent the company on social platforms.
- Engagement and community building is the time-consuming task of connecting with relevant social media participants. It’s about finding the right Twitter followers, managing a Facebook ad campaign, and attracting blog subscribers and members of LinkedIn Groups. It requires creativity, experience with a variety of platforms, and very good communication skills.
- Optimization is a set of activities aimed at increasing the visibility of your social content on search engines and within social platforms. This work requires a basic understanding of SEO and keyword research, along with an intimate knowledge of the mechanics of how information is shared on the various social platforms.
- Reporting and continuous improvement involves capturing the appropriate social data (e.g., Twitter mentions, Facebook Likes, referred traffic), analyzing it, and then acting on the information. This is a strategic exercise that takes a fair amount of technical skill to set up.
Companies usually discover they have some, but not all, of the necessary resources in-house. They may have great strategists, but no personnel available to do the grunt work. More typically – at least in B2B – there are people who can handle day-to-day activities but nobody with a strong grasp of strategy or SMM best practices.
Once you know what you need, where do you turn for help?
SMM Support Options
- By now, most big traditional ad agencies have SMM departments. They generally fit well with large consumer brands, especially if they are existing clients. They have the ability to support you in any or all of the areas I just described, but are probably looking for a very broad scope of engagement. The advantage here is, or should be, full integration with all advertising activities. Possible downsides are cost and lack of flexibility.
- Fully dedicated SMM agencies are much smaller shops that focus exclusively or primarily on social media. They may specialize in B2B, B2C, particular size companies, particular industries or even particular platforms. They, too, are probably looking for broad scope engagements, but not necessarily. The advantage here is, or should be, a very high level of expertise and creativity. A possible downside is difficulty integrating with other marketing activities.
- Many Internet marketing agencies, including mine, offer SMM in addition to SEO, PPC and other widely used services. A major advantage here is solid integration with other Internet marketing activities. A possible disadvantage is less sophistication than what a specialty shop would offer.
- The world is full of freelancers who specialize in one or more areas of SMM. These people are, or should be, extremely knowledgeable in their area of expertise, and are also extremely flexible in how they work with you. Flexibility is definitely an advantage; a possible disadvantage, not likely with the other three options, is that you could wind up with a team comprised of several outside and independent resources.
As I see it, these are the major options companies (or entrepreneurs) have at their disposal. Again, if I’ve left anything out – please share your knowledge with us in comments.
What to Look for in an SMM Partner
Understanding the types of resources that are available should help you identify agencies or freelancers that fit your situation. Once you’ve done that, here are ways you can drill down to the SMM partner that fits best.
- Size matters. You don’t want to be a small fish in a big pond. How important will you be as a client? It can be frustrating to be a small fish, but on the other hand …
- Scalability. The other side of the size coin is this: Can the SMM grow with you as your social media program gains momentum? I suppose the best advice is to be toward the top, but not at the top, of your partner’s client list.
- Can you be a happy cookie? Some organizations are eager to customize a program entirely around your needs; others offer fairly regimented, cookie-cutter programs; many more are in between. Make sure your SMM partner has a process that suits your taste.
- Are their resources in-house? Bringing in an agency or freelancer who then has to farm out parts of the assignment is a little too fuzzy and wobbly for my taste. Communication breakdowns and discontinuity can cause things to go haywire in a hurry.
- Communication. Speaking of communication … unless you have a zero-engagement strategy (and they exist), it’s a horrible idea to totally outsource your program: somebody (preferably somebodies) within your organization needs to interact with your community and guide strategy in order for you to attain any level of authenticity. With this in mind, you and your SMM partner will need to communicate on many levels, very often. Chemistry is key.
- Expertise. Anybody can (and seemingly everybody does) claim to be a SMM expert. Don’t take such claims at face value; instead, ask for work samples, case studies, credentials.
- Relevant experience. Once you’ve established expertise, next find out if the agency/freelancer has achieved results in your niche or in a related niche. Get specifics: you don’t want to be an unsuspecting guinea pig.
- Documented process. Any SMM expert should have a documented workflow process. If this is absent, you will have constant trouble understanding what you’re getting for your money.
Over to You: What factors would you consider most strongly when selecting a SMM partner?
Brad Shorr is Director of Content and Social Media for Straight North, an Internet marketing, Chicago based agency. They work with B2B firms in industries such as military fire resistant clothes and food contract manufacturing.