An important part of starting up a business is figuring out where it’s worth spending money to save time. Many people decide that when it comes to social media, time is money and they would rather bring in someone to do the work. This decision is not a bad one, but it can’t be emphasized enough that one must still understand the ins-and- outs of the social media being used to promote their business. From strategy to execution, just because you’ve brought in an “expert” to do the work, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be knowledgeable about every part of the process.
I have watched several people I know and worked for hire a person to do web design, manage a blog, and post on twitter without having knowledge of what a position like that actually entails. In my experience this leads to disaster. Sometimes it’s the employer asking too much, but more often than not it’s the person they hire doing too little. As a freelancer who has experience working on social media strategy for clients I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a job because the person prior to me didn’t do the work that was asked of them, leaving the business with a big mess to clean up.
For starters, I have to emphasize the importance of hiring the right person to create your website. It’s the one area where skimping on payment up front will end up costing you money in the long run. Unless you are already a skilled web designer, or have a best friend or spouse who is: DON’T TRUST FREE OR CHEAP LABOR WITH THIS TASK. A website is the new storefront and you wouldn’t open your business in a dilapidated building, so you shouldn’t be inviting people to visit a poorly designed, poorly functioning website either. If you can’t afford a website right away Tumblr has been getting a lot of press recently as a great blogging platform for small businesses because its easy to use. Facebook can also serve as an interim landing point for people looking to find your business online (check out our Facebook 101 post).
One fantastic way to get some great labor when it comes to managing your social media is through hiring interns. If you’re near places of higher education that offer a media studies program you can get an intern to come in a few days a week and tweet, Facebook and blog for you. Students are going to be on top of what’s happening on the social media scene and because they’re there to earn credits they aren’t going to slack or up and leave you (at least hopefully not). It’s a great opportunity to let a person take some initiative and improve your social media strategy as well as content. After all it’s what they’re studying in school. However, make sure you have them show you what they’ve done (maybe daily or weekly). I used to work with a woman who would get interns every semester, giving them social media responsibilities while she focused on more traditional marketing. Unfortunately, she didn’t take the time to keep up with what they were doing and where/how they were promoting her program online. When they left at the end of the end of every semester she would find herself back at square one and with a very scattered online presence. Also, make sure your interns understand your business before you let them loose with social media and give them the content you’d like them to turn into posts on your blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
If you choose to hire a freelancer, think carefully about what you want them to do, because often you are paying them by the hour. As a freelancer, I think my clients often get the most bang for their buck when they come to me knowing exactly what they want and then pay me to execute it. Unlike with a media studies intern where you can give them the freedom to take initiative with your social media strategy, allowing a freelancer to do this could become quite costly. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard clients gripe about past freelancers who didn’t do what they wanted. It seems to me that it’s because they end up getting charged for the freelancer doing a lot of thinking about social media strategy, but little on the execution side.
I think when making the decision about whether or not to pay for something, or do it yourself, it’s important to sit down and think through, “what do I have time to do?” Often the answer is that you don’t have time to update your blog, or tweet every day, or engage with Facebook fans regularly. But, you should make time to review diverse competitor’s media strategies, and develop the online presence you’d like your business to have, how you’d like to be represented, and lastly what kind of social media would work best for you. Once you know those things, you will have a higher level of success when you bring someone in who can execute it all.