According to a recent MerchantCircle survey of 8,500 small businesses across the U.S., more than two-thirds of small merchants are using social media to market their business. At the same time, one-third of these companies say that lack of time and resources is their top online marketing challenge. Taken together, these two data points underscore a growing need for social media support among small businesses.
But hiring a social media consultant may not be as straightforward as hiring other types of professional service providers, such as a Web designer or an accountant.
Here are four questions to consider when deciding whether to outsource your social media.
1. Can effective social media drive your business growth?
Randa Yezak of Southern Jewlz spends three hours per day on social media
Just like with any other marketing effort, it's important to look at the potential impact of social media on your business goals before investing time and money in the process.
For some small business owners, social media is the lifeblood of their business and warrants the time investment. Randa Yezak, founder of women's apparel company Southern Jewlz, spends at least three hours a day on social media marketing.
"I have a young clientele that utilizes Facebook all day, every day," says Yezak. "When updating between my Facebook, online store or e-mail list, Facebook is always first." This approach has helped Yezak grow her fan base to over 11,000 Facebook users.
But while investing in social media might make sense for an online merchant or local restaurant, a small tax preparation service or local plumber may have more difficulty justifying the time and effort. These businesses may get a better return on their time and money by ensuring that their business shows up in online searches, or by engaging with customers for positive reviews.
2. How well is your social media working today?
Assuming that social media is important for your business, chances are you're already engaging and seeing some results. You're posting regular updates, you're connecting with fans and followers and you're getting creative with your social marketing. Some small business owners strike the right chord from the start and see their social media fan base skyrocket, and they want to continue driving this on their own.
Yezak attributes a big part of her social media success to the personal connection she creates with her customers.
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"The majority of my customers are just like me. I'm a 23-year-old business owner with a funky boutique, so I always make everything sound really fun and sassy," says Yezak. "I have not justified hiring a consultant yet, because I like to stay up-to-date with Facebook myself."
For many business owners, though, it can be tough to continually come up with new ideas and programs to engage fans on their own. It's also not easy to keep up with the ever-evolving capabilities of Facebook and Twitter—and stay on top of new third-party tools and features—and still have time to run your business.
An experienced social media marketing consultant has the advantage of thinking about social media 24/7—with multiple clients, they're also sharing the cost of staying ahead of the curve. They not only know what works, but they also have the luxury of experimenting and trying new things with different clients.
3. Could outsourcing free up your time to focus on business operations?
Consultant Kesten Migdal works with PROBAR on its social media programs
While there are many ways to find efficiencies in your social media efforts, the fact remains that effective social media takes time. You need to respond quickly to fan queries and thank people for their retweets and posts. You need to monitor your social media channels for complaints and immediately attend to these. And these are just the basics—actually engaging, growing and monetizing your fan base can take several hours a day or more.
Even if you're pretty savvy when it comes to social media, you wear many hats as a business owner... and you probably want to have a life outside of work. For some businesses, the choice to outsource social media comes down to the relative value of their time.
"A big part of our growth will come from new product development and expanding distribution channels, and this takes a lot of dedicated focus. At the same time, we want to make sure that we're building a thriving community, engaging customers and broadening awareness of our products," says Trisha Layton, marketing coordinator at PROBAR. "We believe we get much more leverage on our time by focusing on the things that we can't outsource and working with trusted partners in areas where a consultant can be just as effective, such as social media."
4. How do you measure ROI?
The costs for social media support can vary widely—some social media consultants charge a flat fee per month for an agreed-upon scope of work, while others charge by the hour, at rates varying from $50 to $100 or more per hour. Whatever the cost, the bar for success will be set much higher when you're actually paying someone to do it. Make sure you've established some measurable goals to ensure that your social media spending is moving the needle for your business.
Examples of common social goals and ways to measure these include:
- Fan base growth: Hitting 1,000 fans or followers over a set period of time
- Customer acquisition: Getting 50 redemptions per campaign on social media offers
- Support of direct marketing: Adding 200 names to your e-mail database per month
- Engagement: Achieving 20-percent participation by your fan base (e.g. Facebook "likes" and comments)
What went into your decision to outsource your social media or keep it in-house? Let us know in the comments.