As a social media manager, a huge struggle is dealing with explaining your day-to-day to everyone. To your parents or grandparents. To your curious neighbor. To the roommate who works in banking. To the friend of a friend of a friend who says everyone can do social and it’s not a real job. Oh, and there’s also the never-ending question of working in-house or for an agency.
If you expect me to say that one is better than the other, well… I can easily do that. But would that really help? This decision depends entirely on what you want out of a role. I’m quite sure I don’t know you and your professional aspirations (or do I?🕵️♀️). Jokes aside, I hope I can shed some light on the matter. I’ll point out the key factors to consider before making the best decision for you. As Backstreet Boys famously pointed out:
I don’t care who you are
Where you’re from
What you did
As long as… this article helps you make an informed decision.
In-house vs. agency — what’s the difference?
When working in-house, social media managers’ activities revolve around one brand only. Some companies choose to employ a social media marketer instead of outsourcing these services. It’s usually bigger brands with the money to build their own team to produce and distribute content.
Working for an agency is quite different. They typically specialize in a few services and sell them B2B. Sectors frequently working with agencies include marketing, PR, web design and event management. Agency social media managers produce marketing collateral for multiple clients in different industries.
Let’s take a look at two regular job posts on LinkedIn. First one is from a brand looking to hire an in-house social media manager. Second one is an agency interested in social media managers to handle multiple clients.
Role: Social Media Manager
Employer: Twitch Prime (a subsidiary of Amazon)
Location: Seattle, WA, US
Managing day to day campaign flow including creative, and social listening efforts
Build and execute campaigns that drive user engagement and growth on new and existing platforms
Serve as a social expert internally and liaison externally with social platforms on their direction, best practices, and new opportunities
Monitoring the effectiveness of campaigns and implement ongoing improvements to drive business impact
Reporting on progress against goals and relevant social marketing metrics for in-depth business reviews and reports for senior leadership
Oversee all deliverables and ensure they are qualitative, on time and align with campaign strategy
Collaborate with internal stakeholders and manage external agency resources
Role: Social Media Manager
Employer: Brafton Inc.
Location: Boston, MA, US
Creating, executing and reporting on social media strategies for assigned clients. This includes but is not limited to crafting, posting and tracking posts across various social media platforms, social listening, follower pushes, engaging with influencers etc.
Preparing and executing the research, proposals and call preparation for all assigned clients, as is necessary.
Troubleshooting client strategies, as necessary, when our work isn’t meeting their expectations or hitting KPIs. This may include collaborating with account managers or other team members to pitch alternative social products, services or strategies to improve results.
Preparing and delivering effective monthly reports for the client. These reports should prove ROI and/or the efforts of an effective social media strategy.
Presenting reports to clients with conviction and being able to prove ROI on the strategy or pitch recommendations.
As you can see, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to in-house or agency. Day-to-day tasks are often similar. Managing social media for one or multiple brands still involves creating, scheduling, and posting content, analyzing the results, and adapting the strategy.
Source: Planable blog
On the other hand, each option comes with a very different environment. It usually comes down to your preferences, aspirations, and personality. Let’s take a closer look at the challenges and perks of working in-house vs. for an agency.
Pros and cons of working in-house
I’ll start with the advantages, since we all need to focus on positivity these days, right?
You can focus on one brand only
And that’s awesome. When you get to work for a brand, you become accustomed to their tone of voice, best practices, and brand guidelines more quickly. Building a relationship with your target audience also becomes simpler. You get to interact with your potential clients every day. You’ll soon know their preferences and pain points, favorite content, channels, and how they react to everything you share. This leaves you with more time to test, dig deep, and come up with great marketing ideas.
You have more autonomy
As a social media manager, you will be responsible only for your brands’ audience. In an agency you need to report to different clients from various industries. This offers you more autonomy to experiment, make changes without consulting external stakeholders, and diversify strategies. Especially if you work in a small team. It doesn’t mean that it’s a comfortable position for everyone. The freedom to test and change the social media approach can be exciting for some people. Others may prefer working with multiple clients and having clear guidelines for each one.
You can specialize in a specific industry
Many social media managers with agency experience decided to switch to the client side. To specialize in the industry they liked most. I’ve seen many examples of successful transitions. One social media manager I personally know worked for more than 5 years in the same agency. They handled a variety of clients from food retailers to interior design companies. At first, he liked the idea of diversity. After a while, he noticed he’s more comfortable doing content for a retail group. He’s now working in-house at that company and doing great. Specialization can bring a lot of satisfaction when you’re certain of what suits you best.
It’s perfectly fine if you don’t identify with this particular story. People are different and that’s a good thing. Maybe the following cons of working in-house will guide you into the right decision.
You might miss diversity
Handling one brand only might make you lose interest in time. Yes, working in-house helps you stay focused and gain a better understanding of a brand’s needs. But boredom can knock at the door from time to time to check if you’re in for a challenge. You don’t have to open that door right away. Sometimes, though, a change of scenery is what you need. When you know everything about a brand, you may find yourself running on autopilot and missing the unknown. Keep in mind that social media management means different things to different brands.You might still enjoy working in-house, but for a different brand. Carefully analyze every option before making a decision.
You can feel lonely from time to time
Marketing teams working in-house are usually smaller than agency teams. Most people in the company know little about what you do as a social media manager and may have fewer professional common interests. Tim from Finance may not laugh at your collection of funny tweets, but you know he’s a good guy. Even if you’re part of a small marketing team with only one social media manager, don’t let that be a barrier in interacting with others. Explain what you do and how that helps the overall business strategy. Or just talk about other stuff. I don’t know about many friendships that started with “So the discount posted yesterday had over 10K impressions”.
Pros and cons of working for an agency
If you binge watched Mad Men and dreamed about working in an agency, I can tell you right now madness is a part of it. In a creative sense, of course. Replace the constant phone ringing with endless email threads and you’re getting close. It’s pretty much what working for a marketing agency feels like. Let’s take a closer look at the things you might enjoy at an agency.
You will enjoy a wide variety of clients and projects
If you’re the young and the restless type, project diversity in agencies is definitely a pro. You’ll collaborate with clients from different industries. Gain a more rounded experience. Ultimately, have no place for boredom. One minute you’re writing content for the banking sector. The next one you’re building a beautiful Instagram grid for a company that sells beauty products. Some marketing agencies choose to specialize in one industry only. The majority, though, have a mixture of different clients. It’s a great opportunity to learn about a variety of sectors and discover what interests you.
You’ll be working with like-minded individuals
Meeting and working with people who share similar interests is one of the advantages of working in a marketing agency. You’ll spend more than 8 hours a day surrounded by co-workers in the same industry with an appetite for learning. If you’re ever stuck, you will most likely enjoy guidance from your peers. Even if you’re the only social media manager on the team, everyone has something to bring to the table. You have the chance to work with professionals with many years of experience and digital expertise. They have a better understanding of your role and responsibilities and can contribute to your development. Being in the same room with like-minded people also makes for a fun and collaborative atmosphere.
You may have access to better tools
Most agencies have excellent marketing tools in place. Their entire activity revolves around specific marketing processes. So they’re more willing to spend money on software. It translates into the best results for their clients. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have any marketing tools working in-house. It’s just more likely the company won’t invest in the most high-tech software for one employee, or a small team. If we look at recent data though, automation is slowly becoming a must for marketers. In fact, 68% of marketers are using marketing automation, according to the latest State of Marketing Report by Hubspot. This is a trend that most companies wanting to decrease workload and improve work efficiency follow.
Social media management is no exception, with post scheduling being at the top of the processes suitable for automation. Content planning has come a long way in recent years and many companies have experienced the benefits of this type of marketing tools. Clients want to see and approve social media content in a fast and simple manner. Sooo, ready for a quick sales pitch? Here it goes. Tools like Planable ensure everyone is in the loop with one shared space for the team and clients to collaborate while also offering essential features such as scheduling. Agencies need it. Brands need it. Both love it. How could they not? It makes social media managers’ lives easier. It keeps clients happy.
How was that? Sold?
Source: Social Media Today
Of course, working for an agency is not all sunshine and rainbows. Here are some of the negative aspects you can experience:
You risk becoming a jack of all trades, master of none
The variety of clients and projects I mentioned earlier can be seen as both an issue and a strength. Diversity could translate into never getting fully immersed in a project or industry. Because you always move from one project to the next. You might never get to know one industry in a whole lot of depth. For people who are just starting out and don’t know what sparks their interest just yet, it’s not a con. At the same time, some social media managers enjoy variety and dream about juggling with multiple brands and types of audiences. It all comes down to your personality and what suits you best.
You’ll deal with a higher pressure
If you’re used to a fast-paced and deadline driven kind of work, an agency can be a comfortable place for you. In in-house environments things tend to be more relaxed. In agencies, marketing campaigns are fully brainstormed and executed in a short amount of time. Although stressful, coming up with new campaign ideas for a variety of sectors is exciting for some. Unpredictability is often part of the landscape, with clients demanding all sorts of changes in a short amount of time. Not everyone works well under pressure so it’s best to keep this aspect in mind when applying for a social media manager job in an agency.
The role should match your personality
Now that we’ve gone through the main pros and cons, it’s time to do some personal homework. Our verdict is that neither one is better than the other. Working in an agency can be a dream come true for some. Others feel more satisfied doing social media management in-house. Be honest with yourself. Take a close look at your skills and personality traits.
Creativity and a keen eye for design are the three most important soft skills that employers expect from a social media manager. Big brands or marketing agencies. Beyond that, agencies tend to focus more on choosing a team player. Working in-house may require stronger leadership skills.
A good social media manager should be a great copywriter and know the industry very well, regardless of the workplace. Both agencies and brands expect you to stay up to date with the latest social media trends and have a good knowledge of social media management tools. Agencies may ask for a deep understanding of certain tools, SEO principles, or having amazing presentation skills. Brands may focus more on your understanding of social media metrics, business goals, and customer service. Each company has different expectations and it’s best to ask as many questions as possible about the role beforehand.
People who are really open might enjoy working for an agency more than in-house. Those are adventure seekers, curious, and always willing to take on new challenges. Are you part of this tribe? Think about your past experiences, jobs, teams you’ve been a part of. To give another example, people high in conscientiousness are organized, dependable, and have a strong sense of duty. They’re planners. They might feel more comfortable working in-house, devoted to that company and giving its clients and products the attention they demand. When analysing your personality, keep in mind that we’re complex creatures. A person might have a dash of openness, a lot of conscientiousness, an average amount of extraversion, and so on. Choosing a career in a certain environment is not a piece of cake no matter how open and adventurous you are, so don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t reached a conclusion yet.
When you’re at the start of your marketing career, it’s not a big challenge to move between the two sides. Many social media managers working in-house choose to give agency life a try and vice versa. However, once your career is more established, you’ll be a bit reluctant to switch sides. From my experience, people who worked for a brand continue their growth by moving to a bigger brand in the same sector. The employer perspective is not different. Many agencies require that marketers have at least a few years of experience working in another agency. It’s not a mandatory condition, but I’ve often seen it in practice.
As for the growth opportunities inside the company you choose to work for, make sure to ask. What routes for career growth does the company offer. How about qualifications for promotion opportunities. Example of a senior role and its responsibilities, and so on. It’s important to have clear expectations from the beginning.
So, agency or in-house? Have you made up your mind yet? I hope this article brought you at least one step closer to the choice that suits you best. If you want to take a sneak-peek at marketing managers’ conversations on collaboration, workflows, and efficiency, join People of Marketing – The Group on Facebook. See you there!
Raluca Cîrjan, Digital Marketing Specialist @Planable.io. Advertising enthusiast, fast learner & ailurophile. I believe that one joke a day keeps the doctor away. Feel free to share a funny story with me.