like social media

In today’s digital world, it’s crucial to build a social media following to engage with your audience and build your brand. And it’s not enough to simply throw a couple of links or images on Facebook every few days and hope for the best; there’s significant strategy behind what to post, when to post it, and how to craft content so that it reaches as many people as possible.

Social media can easily become a full-time position, especially as your company grows, and small business owners typically don’t have the time to put as much focus on social media strategy as they should.

At the same time, though, improper social media management can destroy a brand. One insensitive tweet or distasteful Facebook post can ruin a brand’s reputation, so it can be tough to hand the reins over to someone outside the company and trust that they’ll take care of your baby.

So it can be challenging for business owners to decide whether to handle social media themselves or hire a professional to take care of it for them. Before making a decision, these considerations may help you determine which option is a better fit for you and your company.

Take a Good, Hard Look at the Signs

One of the first questions to ask yourself is if you even like managing your social media channels yourself. Do you dread logging into Facebook and usually end up posting any random photo just to say you’ve done your duty? Do you not fully understand Snapchat but honestly don’t have any interest to learn? Do you have no idea what you’re looking for when it comes to social media analytics?

Your audience will be able to tell when your heart’s not in it, and if so, it may be time to outsource the job. But before you do so, make sure you can afford it. It’s worth spending a few extra dollars on the right social media manager, since a poor one who can’t do the job better than you can will only cause you to waste money (and possibly hurt your brand in the process).

It’s also important to be honest with yourself in terms of results and sales. Even if you do genuinely enjoy managing your social media profiles, are you seeing positive results in the form of more sales, more followers, or greater brand awareness? If not, it may be time to hire some help — at least until you can learn more about how to create an effective social media strategy. Social media is an entirely different beast in the marketing world, and there’s no shame in admitting that you need help figuring it out.

Decide Which Platforms to Focus On

If you’re leaning toward handling your social profiles yourself, first make sure you’re not doing more work than you have to. As a small business, you probably don’t need an overwhelming presence on each and every social media platform like the giant corporations have. Instead, you can simply pick one or two channels that will get you the most bang for your buck.

How do you choose those platforms? It’s a combination of your target audience and the types of media that work the best for your company. Younger consumers tend to spend more time on newer platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, while older demographics can be found more often on Facebook and Twitter.

The type of content that meshes with your company is also important to consider. If you work for a bank, for example, platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest, which focus heavily on glamorous photos, may not be the best fit. But if video and infographics are your bread and butter, Facebook and YouTube may be great choices.

Once you’ve decided which platforms to focus on first, you can decide whether or not you’re equipped to handle creating and posting content. And if you do decide to hire someone, you’ll know to find somebody who is an expert in the platforms you’re targeting.

Leverage Your In-House Team

One of the best things about a small business is that each team member wears many different hats. Even if you don’t know much about social media strategy or content creation, there’s likely someone on your team who can help.

Maybe you have an employee who’s a budding photographer and would love to shoot professional-looking photos of your products for your company’s Instagram or Pinterest profile. Maybe there’s another employee who’s quick-witted and a great writer, and they may be perfect for Twitter. Another person may have great photo and video editing skills that can be put to good use creating helpful infographics and engaging videos for Facebook.

The majority of internet users use some form of social media, and your team may be able to help when it comes to using the correct tone or voice for each platform. The last thing you want is to come across to your audience like you have no idea what you’re doing, so enlisting the help from social media-savvy employees can help you learn enough about posting online if you don’t have the budget to hire a professional.

Get a Fresh Perspective From an Outsider

Even if you do decide to manage your social media presence in house, it can still be helpful to gain an outside perspective from a social media consultant. Consultants deal with dozens (if not hundreds) of social media profiles between many different clients, so they typically have a good eye for what works and what doesn’t.

They can tell you what you’re doing right and what can be improved, and they may even give you a few ideas that you’d never even considered before. And the best part is that you can utilize them as often or as little as you need. Unlike a social media manager who would join your team as a full-time employee, a consultant can work for you on a freelance basis to give you advice when you need it.

Consider the Consequences of Leaving It Alone

Some people, when they don’t want to manage their social profiles but also don’t want to hire anyone to do it, simply don’t do anything or do a half-hearted job at it. They may post on Facebook once every few weeks or set up a Twitter account and then never do anything, which is arguably worse than not having a social media presence at all.

Consider what your customers think when they see less-than-stellar social profiles. While some of them may realize that you’re busy with your business and don’t have time for social media, others may see it as lazy or — worse — indifferent toward your customers. Customers have come to expect businesses to have a social media presence, and the ones that don’t often get left behind for competitors that engage their audiences online.

A lackluster online presence can also be a recipe for disaster if you don’t log in regularly. If a customer leaves a negative review on your Facebook page, for example, and it takes you two weeks to respond, that person will likely have an even worse impression of your company than before.

Be honest when you ask yourself whether you have the time and energy to fully devote to social media. If you and your team are already overworked as it is, it may be best to hire someone to come in and manage your online presence for you.

Social media can be a double-edged sword for small businesses. When done correctly, it can build your fan base, get your name out there, and increase sales. But when done improperly, it can do more harm than good. Determining whether to hire someone to handle your social profiles for you is a highly personal decision, but it ultimately comes down to what’s best for your business.

William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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