For a variety of reasons, some companies choose to outsource their social media management to independent, third-party service providers. But how does an organization ensure that it is appropriately represented by an individual or an agency from outside the company? What questions and ground rules need to be said between a brand and its social media agent to both ensure success and avoid a catastrophic social media failure?
Sprout Insights spoke with two independent social media managers who work with a variety of brands, as well as two organizations that hire third-party contractors to handle their social media management tasks. Let’s take a look at both sides of the outsourced social media management coin. Take note of the common themes and apply them to your own situation, whether you’re a brand or a service provider managing its social media footprint.
The Service Provider’s Perspective
Alexandra Golaszewska is an independent social media strategist who works with a variety of organizations and brands. Her services range from one-off strategy sessions to longer-term training and even content creation for her clients. “I’ve dealt with clients who won’t let me thank someone for a retweet, or who won’t let me post anything without approval. Others barely look at what I do. It runs the gamut,” she says.
When asked if there’s anything common in her dealings with clients — whether they’re hands-on or hands-off in regard to her social media management services — Alexandra says she always requests the following two things. “Firstly, I insist on a 3-month minimum contract. Experience has taught me that it takes at least that long to gain some sense of traction and measurement of accomplishment for a brand’s social media presence. I want to make sure the client starts out with realistic expectations.”
Secondly, she says that it’s an absolute necessity for her to have someone at the organization with whom she can send questions and get feedback about her social media activities. She usually tries to establish that connection with the company very early in the process of accepting a contract. “The higher up in the organization that person is, the better,” she adds. “That way I can talk with someone in authority at the company to get the big-picture vision for the organization and what he or she expects to get out of social media.”
Setting Expectations Is a Common Theme
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We also spoke with Jennifer Schaus, principal and founder of Jennifer Schaus & Associates. Like Alexandra, Schaus says that setting client expectations for what social media can and cannot achieve for a brand is one of the first and most important things she discusses with all of her clients.
“I’ve had clients not know what Twitter is, so sometimes clients require some education around what these platforms are about and how I will be using them on behalf of their brands.”
To make sure proper expectations are set, Schaus also requires a four-month minimum contract from her clients. “I don’t need to make my clients experts in social media but I do have to ask them what their objectives are, what they think it is, and what they think it will do for them.” Schaus says that setting a proper time frame around ROI [Return on Investment] and what that looks like is “different for every company,” but that all service providers should have this conversation with their clients at the very beginning of every contract.
The Brand’s Perspective
Ali Afshar is a film producer, former NHRA champion, and founder of ESX Motersports. He says when hiring an independent social media manager “it’s important to understand what they offer and if it that person or agency fits with your goals.” He also makes sure that they’re provided with all the content, pictures, copy, and so on that are so important to his brand’s identity and corporate strategy.
Interestingly, Afshr mirrors the perspective of the service providers we just mentioned when it comes to establishing a baseline for his social media requirements. “Making sure the social media goals — whether they’re likes, followers, fans or even interaction and audience feedback — you need to make sure your goals are clear from the get go!” Afshar says he’s learning to be more accessible to his service providers, making sure that he has “enough time to reply to their requests, phone calls, and emails, so I can capitalize on all the opportunities.”
He’s also careful to establish the right tone with his service providers. “The tone of my ESX brand and my sponsors such as Subaru have to be communicated, as the incorrect info or tone could really be damaging. What I want people to know about me and my brand, and how I want to be perceived is key. I usually set the tone and let the team take it from there.”
Mutual Trust Is Key
Last, but certainly not least, we asked Jeannie Mai, host of The Style Networkʼs television program “How Do I Look?” and digital correspondent for the NBC show “Fashion Star,” for her perspective on hiring third-party social media managers for her accounts. Mai says she’s such a detail-oriented person that she can tend to lose focus on the big picture of why she is on social media by trying to respond to everything in her social media streams. With over 130,000 fans on Twitter alone, that can be a challenge, to say the least.
Jeannie says that prioritizing the importance of her relationships with her fans is something she relies on heavily from her social media management team. “Since my attention can be spotty due to my TV schedule, I appreciate it so much when my community manager tells me of an outstanding fan’s post or a really cool comment that was posted, so that I can personally respond to those types of incoming messages right away.”
Ms. Mai has some great parting advice for any brand that’s considering hiring a third-party agency. “First, know your own brand so your team can know who they’re dealing with. Second, know your goals so your team can manage the overall expectations. Third, be cooperative to understand the strategies that they recommend, but still be true to your natural tendencies and will.”
At the end of the day, your social platforms are your voice. “Your community is made up of real people who are trusting that the relationship with you is authentic. Make sure you hire an agency that you trust and that really cares about your brand.”
Have any advice or tips on establishing effective lines of communication between clients and third-party social media management providers? Let us know in the comments.