When we started Rose McGrory, our intention was that most of the work we do would be outsourced management; helping SME type businesses, or other smaller organisations, get up and running on social media even if they didn’t have the skills in house or want to commit to employing someone full time.

As the business has evolved, we do less and less of it.

As of now, probably around two thirds of our work is on bespoke training, consultancy, or projects which are a hybrid of the two. So that leaves a third which is management work. We were reflecting on the reasons why at a recent review, and thought that the explanation might be helpful to a lot of people – potential clients, but also other agencies in related areas who we’re working on joint projects with.

Why have we reduced our social media management work?

One reason is the type of client relationship that’s needed. For outsourced management to work well, it really helps if the agency and the client share a similar approach – in our case, pragmatic and with high standards of customer care.

Not everyone likes to work that way, it turns out: there’s been more than one presentation where the client’s disappointment at our lack of unprovable claims and hyperbole about what social media could do for them, was almost palpable, and our attempts to explain the practicalities were met with impatience.  That wouldn’t have been a comfortable working relationship in the long term.

But by far the biggest reason is the immense difficulty of costing the monthly figure in a way which is fair to both us and the client. And the amount of time it takes to educate businesses on *why* it’s hard to cost, what’s involved in the costing, and why it is that we can’t just promise them the moon on a stick for $99/ month like some providers out there.

So, here is that explanation!

How much to manage our social media?

Guaranteed to make my heart sink: the potential client who opens the phone call with “how much would you charge to do social media for us“.

If i weren’t being polite, I could save the company a great deal of time and money by pretending they got a wrong number, right there. Because if cost is the first item on the agenda, before quality or strategy or even telling us what they do, they’re not going to be a client for us. On days when i’m totally snowed under, i’ll just give out a website or two for the $99/month merchants and leave it there.

So, if you want to get this job done properly, here are just a few of the things which a business should discuss with a potential agency, before that agency can get even close to providing a meaningful cost figure.

1. What do you mean by “social media”?

Are we talking about the Big 3 by user volume (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn)? The sites most suitable for your sector (could be anything from Pinterest to Houzz to Tripadvisor?) The ones you’ll get most cost benefit from? Sometimes this question is easily resolved by asking what the business has already set up, but even then, there may be a huge difference between what that business *is* doing currently, and what they *should* be doing. If there’s not been any kind of strategy work to relate social media to their business environment and objectives, then even asking what sites are involved can be pretty much meaningless.

2. What results are you looking for?

This question does two things: weeds out the wildly optimistic (“we want to generate at least 100 leads a day in our local town where we currently have 12 customers”) and helps us quantify the type and quantity of activity that’s needed.

Let me explain how big the range of activities is, using just one site: Twitter.

Within the spectrum of “doing” Twitter, there are many things which *could* be done. Starting with the obvious  – sending out X number of Tweets per day (about what? Is that a number that’s based on the amount of valuable content you have to share, or just based on “the more, the better”?) and moving on to proactively building an audience (clever searches to find people who might be interested in the products or services in question, engaging them in conversation, and so on) or providing customer service via Twitter (ah, so we’ll be getting access to your bookings system then? thought not). Plus, of course, responding to any inbound Tweets – which in any given day might be none or thirty.

3. How involved are you prepared to be?

That list of activities is *just* an “off the top of my head”, for *just* one of the many possible sites. And within that set of activities there are almost infinite possibilities in how that work is split between the client business and the agency.

If the business would like to tweet ten times a day, we’d recommend that those are ten decent quality tweets which stand some chance of being interesting, entertaining or otherwise valuable to their followers. Without good input from the client, achieving that is near impossible; it relies on timely updates about what’s happening in the business, suggestions on current hot topics, and sometimes actually sitting down and writing a blog article. Yes, you absolutely can just set up a Google Alert on a set of vaguely related keywords, but the results won’t be of much interest to anyone. And will sometimes catch you out by using those keywords in unexpected ways.

So just taking the activity “send out ten tweets”, this could be half an hour’s work – if the client has great content and provides it regularly – or five hours, if you have to come up with the ideas and then find content to suit.

What else affects the cost of social media management?

And there are other variables. Business sector is a huge one; it’s kinda easier to come up with interesting tweets around a Swimwear designer who’s constantly putting out new products than, say, a laboratory involved in obscure cell research. Some businesses are simply more opaque to outside personnel than others.

There’s also a minimum committment needed to any client. By which I mean, authentic and credible content requires being in the mindset of that business, just as a full time employee would be. Realistically, any one social media manager can only do that for a handful of clients at most.

If the monthly figure you’re willing to pay for social media management is less than, say, 20% of a social media manager’s wage, then either the quality is likely to suffer or the agency hasn’t thought their business model through and is going to want rid of you as a client eventually.

But I just want a number!

Sure, ok. Here’s one: £800. Or £1500. Or £5. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t help, does it.

So if you want to have a positive experience of outsourcing your social media management, be prepared to have a fairly long conversation with a potential provider first – and be optimistic if they want to have that conversation with you. Or, you can try and figure out what organisations like this are really providing, in the light of the challenges above. There’s really only one plausible answer to that, isn’t there.