What Works in the Long Run, Agency or In-House Social Media?

What Works in Long Run, Agency or In-House Social Media?

What will work?

As a business when you have figured out the ‘WHY’ of social media, the next question that hits your head is ‘HOW’. You go to your competitor’s site and lose your sleep seeing thousands of fans on Facebook. Some advise you to approach a social media agency and some may say to start on your own. The game really becomes tricky when you have so many social media agencies sprouting in every corner and gaining quality fans is no more a joke. Although it is a common question, it is still a debatable one that what is good in the long run for a business - inhouse or an agency?

During my recent visit to Bangalore, I got a chance to meet Adhvith Dhuddu, Founder & CEO of AliveNow. One of my questions to him was the same. Advith was very straight in his thoughts and he believes that in the long run, businesses should take the responsibility of managing their own social media presence. However, he also made it clear that selecting the right social media agency in the initial stages will always be helpful in learning the art of social media marketing. Sorav Jain, CEO of Echovme echoed the same sentiments too:

Opting for an agency is a good way to start and set the social media guidelines for an organization. Agency can help setting up the standards that is required for engagement, conversations and reputation management. This can be later handed over to the inhouse marketing team as Social Media cannot be outsourced unless the agency team works onsite (full time). Getting on Social Media is like setting up your office on web and you know it better what needs to be really shared with your well wishers there.

True, creating a social media presence is synonymous to opening one’s office on the web. However, it may also lead to lot of brickbats with applauses over the course. The same thoughts were shared by Swati Bhattacharya, VP Corporate Relations of Ingersoll Rand India in one of her interview to us. In such fragile situations where the stakes are high, an agency may not be as fruitful always as the founders or in-house members. These were also some of the problems that Zomato had visualized very early in their journey of social media. Saurabh Sengupta , Evangelist at Zomato believes that they have made the right choice by creating an in-house social media team and he adds that:

For us, Social Media is majorly a conversation medium with our users. They talk to us, criticize and encourage us. We normally respond to them swiftly. Our spontaneity strikes a chord with them. Only the members of the organization who feel, live and breathe the brand can be so spontaneous. We get loads of tricky questions and grievances. Imagine the agency calling you each time to discuss how they should reply to the user!!

In crisis situations, a third party social media agency may not be that effective and as an agency it will also not be available always for you to be active 24*7. Ekalavya Bhattacharya, who works at a large media house comprehensively adds his personal views on the same:

I’d always say in-house when it comes to social media.

Why? Consumer companies often receive a lot of queries and feedback. An instant feedback is of prime importance on this medium.

There is a lot of time lost in the agency contacting the marketing person concerned and then figuring out who to forward the query to.

A valid point shared by Ekalavya that most business are treating as a customer care unit and it becomes more frustrating when it is being taken care by a third party social media agency. Customer care is one of the ways but it can’t be the only reason for social media. At a personal level, I think perhaps if one handles on her own then she may not boast of a thousand fans in ten days but then over time she can. Facebook ads, one of the most pitched points by agencies to clients don’t impress Saurabh and neither he is keen to have such fans.

We are not in favor of building up a fan base with Facebook Ads - a service that is provided by most agencies. There are agencies who promise ‘highly engaged’ fan base but we’re not buying that argument.

Our blog is a very important Social Media. It is a medium of self-expression for us. We write about industry issues, our experiences as a start-up, sales gyaan, organizational issues, etc. We can never imagine an agency writing this for us.

Saurabh makes a strong and an effective point. You may have a thousand fans but the bigger question is how many are talking to you and about you. In the same way, social media is also not about likes and comments and Ekalavya expresses it well here. He thinks that,

Agencies showcase high number of likes and comments and the Brand Managers are happy and they forward it to their bosses, thus earning a pat on the back. Total likes and comments are just yardsticks for masturbation.

If a company is handling their social presence on their own, they’ll directly know the true engagement happening on the page and how it helps them.

True but when it comes to extensive social media marketing for bigger brands, it also becomes a challenge. In today’s time, larger brands face the challenge of holding fans for a longer duration on a particular social network. Prateek Shah, Trainer and Consultant of social media thinks that both models have their existence and explains further,

Personally feel both models, that of an agency and that of having an external team can prove to be good for organizations depending on their needs. For larger setups, where the objective is to perform multiple functions through a campaign involving application development/designing, an agency model works better since there is more than one brain working on the strategy and execution. When we talk about small and medium sized organizations though, investing all year long in an agency may not prove to be as beneficial since it may not be easy to sustain costs over a period. It may be a better case than to work with an agency on a project basis for a while before having the in house team trained to execute the same.

However, building a social media team in-house is not always easy. There are quite a few challenges that Ekalavya has expressed well. He thinks that there are specifically two major reasons why large companies do not handle it in-house. They are:

If 1 or 2 people are responsible in the company to handle the social presence, the company will be in a messy state if both of them suddenly decide to quit or get poached.

Out-sourcing to a company ensure continuity and gives sense of security.

If someone quits at the agency, it’ll be their headache.

Secondly for a non-digital consumer product company to handle the whole thing in-house, they’ll need to set up a team. A team including one writer, one designer, a programmer and a person to over-see all the work. Not all of them will be busy all the time. For some companies, it is difficult to justify the man-power and overhead costs. Also a lack of knowledge amongst peers makes comparative studies difficult. Even hiring good talent for such a role will be difficult, because working in an agency lets you work across multiple clients and multiple categories.

Challenges are there in both the choices. As a business if you are really serious then one may think of doing the following:

Only if it was so easy-Social Media

1. First and foremost get your objective clear to be on social media.

2. Start building your knowledge on social media. Best way is reading reliable online resources and case studies too.

3. Decide on your budget, approach social media agencies to find out what are their deliverables. Go for a small campaign and find out how crisis situations would be handled as they will be your face value.

4. Be involved in each decision, monitor on a regular basis, build your social media policy, question the agency folks and harness your understanding too.

5. Going further one can start thinking of building in-house team once she has some understanding and clarity. Train your resources and start experimenting. Fans like if you are real, so be real and manage it on your own.

If you still think that as businesses you don’t have the bandwidth to manage and believe in shedding this responsibility to agencies then Saurabh does have a view point to share here:

Some businesses employ agencies due to bandwidth issues. Well, if business owners have bandwidth issues to cater to their potential customers, they need to revisit their priority list.

Over to you now, what are your thoughts on this ongoing debate?