If you’re struggling with your social presence these days, you aren’t alone.

After all, businesses have their hands full when it comes to social media and customer expectations.

But perhaps what’s most striking is just how many goals brands are tackling at the same time. Here’s a quick glimpse from Sprout’s 2019 Social Index.

With so much on our plates, it’s no wonder why brands are looking for helping hands who’ve walked the walk on social media.

That’s where a social media marketing agency can be a lifesaver.

In this guide, we’ll help you understand what to look for in a social media agency and how to make sure your agency experience is a positive one.

Why hire a social media marketing agency, anyway?

OK, fair question.

The amount of information and resources available to modern marketers is staggering.

Heck, just look at what we offer at Sprout. Between our suite of social media management tools and strategy guides, we’ve managed to help countless businesses grow their social presences from scratch.

That said, a DIY approach to social media isn’t always ideal or plausible. Not every business can take care of social media in-house and hey, that’s totally OK.

How can a social media marketing agency help you fill in gaps or level up your strategy when it comes to social media and your business goals, though?

Agencies have an unparalleled level of expertise

Simply put, agencies are capable of running campaigns and providing a level of knowledge that simply isn’t possible in-house.

For example, an agency with a proven track record of running social ads has a definite edge on someone learning the ropes of Facebook’s in-depth ad-targeting.

And rightfully so. That sort of expertise is what you’re paying for.

Social media is so much more than clever captions and chasing the white rabbit of “going viral” (ugh). The fine details of social algorithms, audience segmentation and analytics alone require some serious knowledge to navigate. Again, that’s the benefit of hiring someone who’s been there and done that.

Whether it’s because of their years of real-life experience, their breadth of client work that has exposed them to a variety of social and marketing tactics, or just the fact that agency professionals live and breathe social and digital marketing strategies day-in and day-out, agencies are an untapped resource for so many brands … an expertise that folks can’t always replicate in-house.

The same rings true when it comes to growing communities or engaging customers. Sure, you could do it yourself. But would it make sense in terms of your team’s time and energy? A campaign that might take months for you to put together in-house can be done by an agency in no time

Agencies have access to top-tier tools

On a related note, any agency worth their salt has access to tons of tools and analytics platforms to help manage those campaigns and produce results faster. For example, we love to shine a light on success stories such as B Squared Media who used Sprout’s agency tools to increase their client’s campaign CTR by nearly 60% (and engagements by over 650%).

Agencies can juggle multiple campaigns at once

It might be cliche to say, but time is money.

Agencies have the bandwidth to run multiple campaigns at once that could otherwise bog down your team internally. By working with a social media marketing agency, you can make better use of your team’s time and get more done with the people you already have.

Agencies can elevate your team’s own social skills

Contrary to popular belief, working with a social media marketing agency isn’t simply a matter of outsourcing.

In fact, working directly with an agency is arguably one of the best ways to invest in your own team’s social skills.

Think about it. Campaigns run by agencies can clue you in on what strategies, tactics and channels make the most sense for your brand. Each data point or success story on behalf of your business is a lesson in what works (and doesn’t) on social media. This mentality is especially important if you only plan on working with an agency for the short-term.

The common thread of these benefits? A social media marketing agency can be the key to uncovering a positive ROI for your social efforts.

Sprout’s 2019 Social Index notes that 63% of companies are concerned with explaining and improving their social ROI, with that number likely to tick upward in the future. The insights from a social agency can do the trick for brands still trying to wrap their heads around social.

How do I know if I need a social media agency?

You might be wondering whether you’re “big enough” to work with a social media marketing agency.

And on the flip side, you might assume that doing so is simply out of your budget.

The reality, though? Just as no two business’ needs are the same, there is no “one-size-fits-all” in terms of what an agency does or looks like.

Companies both big and small work with agencies big and small. Whereas an enterprise-level business might need help with community management or social content creation, small and solo businesses might invest in a one-off social audit.

Here are some questions to ask that can help you understand whether working with a social media marketing agency makes sense.

  • Do you need a fresh perspective and expertise to help define your social media goals and social media campaign strategy?
  • Are you struggling to grow your social following or engagement rate?
  • Are you failing to see a clear, definable ROI for your social media presence?
  • Do you suspect that you’re spending too much time or money in-house on social media?
  • Are you capable of sourcing leads from social media but aren’t sure how to close them?
  • Do you have a sizable budget for social media internally but aren’t sure how to maximize it?

If “yes” to any of the above, it might be time to explore what agencies have to offer.

What social media agency services are right for my business?

At this point, you may be wondering what the heck a social media agency actually does for clients on a day-to-day basis.

The short answer? It depends.

Based on our 2019 Agency Report, here are the most common social media agency services offered today.

  • Social media management. Allowing an agency to take the reins of your social presence can save you a ton of time and stress.
  • Paid social media. More and more brands are investing in social ads as the landscape becomes increasingly “pay to play.” An agency can help you craft paid campaigns that actually result in returns.
  • Content development. Creating social content can be complex and time-consuming depending on your industry. If you’re stuck in terms of strategy, an agency can certainly help.
  • Analytics. Breaking down your social metrics goes hand in hand with that ever-so-important ROI. Agencies can make sense of your numbers and take action accordingly.
  • Strategy.  What should you post? What should your priorities be in terms of channels and engagement? Whether as a one-off audit or through ongoing consultations, an agency can let you know.
  • Engagement. Social algorithms are fickle and platforms are constantly changing. Rather than second-guess the best practices of scoring social engagement, agencies live and die based on their ability to move the needle.
  • Community management. Creating engaged, active social communities is one of the most rewarding yet time-consuming aspects of social media. For some brands, an agency is the only way to really make those communities possible.

Chances are you might need help with more than one aspect of your social presence. Thankfully, most agencies offer multiple services and packages to help clients reach their goals.

How to choose a social media agency

Now, onto the good stuff!

Let’s say you’re at the point where you’re trying to choose between social media agencies and wondering what to look for. Here are the major points to consider before you come to a decision.

Start with their track record

If you want to know what an agency can do for you, look at what they’ve done for other clients.

An extensive, detailed portfolio with proven client results is what separates the best social media marketing agencies.

Do the clients they’ve worked with mirror your own business or industry? What numbers are they boasting and how are they backing them up?

Ideally, you can find someone who has published case studies which detail their track record and process. For example, Walker Sands has some incredible case studies that dive into specific metrics and results from their clients’ campaigns.

So does Thin Pig Media, a full service marketing agency that seeks to be a true extension of their clients’ teams.

Figure out if they fit within your budget

Before you get enamored with an agency, you need to make sure that you can realistically afford them.

The good news? Investing in an agency doesn’t mean breaking the bank. There’s a rather wide array of pricing based on specific needs and services. You can learn more from our 2019 Agency Report noted earlier.

Again, some agencies package their services while others offer pricing based on your audience size.

See what they specialize in

Just like businesses occupy niche industry spaces, agencies can do the same.

Some agencies might specialize in working with brick-and-mortar retailers. Others might work primarily with larger SaaS clients.

Additionally, some agencies might have secondary services such as content marketing or SEO that go beyond the scope of solely social media. In addition to the services themselves, also consider how hands-on (or hands-off) an agency expects to be.

For example, Chatterkick has an amazing services page which details not only what they do as an agency but also the level of involvements clients should expect.

And hey, that actually leads us to our final point.

The importance of expectations when working with a social media marketing agency

To wrap things up, one of the most important aspects of working with an agency is mutual alignment and communication about expectations.

Listen: agencies aren’t miracle workers. Businesses should be both patient and realistic in terms of what they expect an agency to do.

Is it in an agency’s best interest to turn you into one of their success stories? Absolutely. Yet just because your business doesn’t blow up overnight doesn’t mean that an agency has failed. Not by a long shot.

Investing in understanding the why and the how of the work that your agency does helps you develop a level of trust and proactive communication to build on day-to-day tactics, not feel in the dark and wondering how your money is being spent.

Businesses and agencies must clearly communicate what they expect from each other. Although this isn’t a one-way street, many agencies note that the worst agency<>client relationships are due to vague or unclear expectations about what working together means. The need for business and agencies to develop an open, cooperative relationship can’t be stated enough.

It all circles back to businesses looking for a positive ROI and agencies being able to deliver. This is exactly why businesses and agencies alike work so closely with tools like Sprout to make sure everything’s on the up-and-up.

Ready to find the right agency for your brand?

With the tips above, you have just about everything you need to start hunting for a social media marketing agency.

But we also have something else to speed up the process.

We recommend starting your search with Sprout’s agency partners. Our directory can help you hone in your search and find certified agency partners that have Sprout’s suite of tools baked into their services. You can also search by specific parameters such as top-rated and tiers.

Pssst – if you happen to be part of an agency, make sure to sign up to join our agency partner program yourself.

To wrap things up, we still want to hear from you. If you’re on the fence about hiring a social media agency, why? What has your experience been like working with agencies in the past? Let us know in the comments below!