How to Find a Fantastic Agency for Your Social Media Marketing

Some of the very best brands on social media get by with a little help from their friends — agencies and consultants and strategists.

If the agency route is one you’ve thought about exploring, then we think you’ll find a lot to love in this collection of agency advice, tips, and strategy. Or if you already have an agency on board, then hopefully some of our examples will inspire your next collaboration.

Keep reading as we discuss how to know if you need an agency, which factors to consider when looking for an ideal partner, and some examples of agency partnerships done well. We hope you find just the advice you need here!

The Social Media Agency Landscape

What’s been your experience with agencies and social media?

We’ve always done our social media marketing in-house at Buffer, so it’s easy to forget just how common it is to have an agency help out with one or more parts of the social media experience. 

Did you know: 28% of businesses use social media marketing agencies for their social media efforts.

Several of the most beautiful and effective brands on social media get the job done with a one-person social media team or a small group. 

Many brands have chosen to go the ultra-lean route: Hiring a single expert and giving her the resources to make things happen. More and more, those resources take the form of a marketing agency. 

And this fits with the way that the agency landscape has evolved, too. Most recently, there’s been a shift toward project-based agency work rather than the “agency of record” model that used to be the standard. This means that agencies are being used more and more for campaigns and individual experiences, which provides a lean way to test the validity of the agency model for you and your brand. 

Still, as brands are moving some agency work in-house, they’re often still looking for social media help.

If you’ve yet to look into how agencies might work for you — or if you’re a seasoned pro who has this agency stuff figured out — we hope to provide some actionable tips for next steps as well as some inspiring examples of where to turn next for your agency-supported campaigns. A little something for everyone.

First things first, how do you know if you need an agency?

It can be hard to know when to go looking for help. There are costs involved: both monetary and time. Even moreso, you’re probably used to doing most social media work solo … it’s tricky to know when to ask for help.

If in doubt, we think these questions can be good to think on:

  • Are you struggling to get more followers?
  • Are you struggling to increase your engagement rate?
  • Do you need an outside perspective and expertise on your social media strategy and goals?
  • Are you unsure how to see or measure ROI for your social media marketing?
  • Do you feel unable to achieve your social media goals because of constraints on your time and resources?
  • Do you have extra budget for social media and aren’t sure how to get the best use out of it?

Answering yes to any of these questions would be a signal to give agencies a closer look.

It can also be useful to get a sense of what exactly a social media agency can do for you. They can do a lot! I know the list surprised me the first time I saw it. There’s a ton beyond merely content creation. 
Just check out this list:

  • Agencies can help with the basics of social media management — using tools like Buffer to plan and schedule content, plus replying and engaging with users
  • They can come up with your social media strategy
  • They can execute your strategy
  • They can do paid social
  • Content development
  • Community management
  • Analytics and ROI analysis

The most common solutions that agencies provide are with social media management and paid social. But truly, whatever you can dream up for social media, an agency can help make it happen.

We mentioned the budget question a moment ago — “Do you have extra budget for social media and aren’t sure how to use it?” so we also wanted to add some ballpark numbers on what you might expect to spend on a social media agency.

The numbers can vary widely, especially when you consider the scope of what you’re looking for help with. When it comes to social media consultants — those who might help with strategy and growth analysis — there was a recent article on HubSpot that shed some light on the pay range.

  • $15-$50 per hour for someone with zero-3 years of experience
  • $50-$100 per hour for 3 plus years experience
  • $120+ per hour for advanced consultants with impressive portfolios
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Ok, so now that you have a sense for whether or not you need an agency, let’s talk about the ways to find a fantastic one. There are two main parts to this decision: Researching a list of the best social media agencies to work with, and understanding exactly what it is you need and want.

Step one: How to research the best social media agencies to work with

When we think about finding the perfect agency to work with for your project, we tend to think of this three-point checklist. 

  •  Does their specialty match what you’re looking for
  •  Do they have experience in your industry
  •  Do they have a strong portfolio of case studies

If you can check the box on all three, then you’ll be in pretty great shape!

Let’s go a bit deeper into each.

First, you’ll want to understand the agency’s specialty. Another way to say this: How do they identify themselves? 

There’s a wide range of options here. Some agencies identify as digital marketing companies or content marketing companies or media companies. The list goes on and on.

If you’re after some serious social media results, be cautious of the broad categorizations of “digital marketing” or “content marketing.” Instead, it can be great to look for agencies that mention a particular focus on social media — whether it’s a social media marketing agency or a social content team or video and multimedia.

Additionally, you can see if they specialize within your industry. Some agencies might claim to work with brick-and-mortar stores, whereas others might work with technology companies. 

If they call out this specialty directly on their website, then great.

Otherwise, you can get a good sense of this by looking at the types of clients they’ve worked with in the past or by asking for work examples or case studies. 

You’ll want to see what types of results they’ve achieved by working with past clients, ideally on projects that are similar to the type of project you’re undertaking. 

Additionally, you can see how successfully they promote themselves on social media. This can be particularly helpful when assessing a social media consultant. Do they walk the walk? You can hop over to their Instagram profile and get a sense for their social media expertise quite quickly.

And if you’re putting together an interview template for your agency search, here are some good questions to include: , start here: 

  • What are your core competencies?
  • What are some examples of success you’ve had with clients in my industry? 
    • Bonus question: Can you make an introduction to any of your past clients?
  • How do you research and analyze my industry?
  • What are some examples of you adjusting a strategy mid-execution?
  • How do you measure reach? Growth? Engagement?
  • What is your reporting process?
  • Do you outsource your work?

H: And when in doubt, ask your network for referrals. According to research from The Manifest, the main way that businesses find social media agencies to hire is through referrals. It’s three times more popular to go this route than searching Google or reading content or any other way to find agencies.

Step two: Know your needs and your project

In some cases, this might even be useful to do before you start your agency search. At any rate, when you’re assessing your needs, these are the three areas we think it’s great to look at:

  •  What specific type of work do you need done? This includes the scope, timeline, and budget.
  •  How will you measure the success the project?
  •  How do you want communication to look?

We shared a list earlier of all the different things that social media agencies can help with. It’s a long list, which is why it’s good to know exactly what you need before going into it. 

One of the biggest points of departure is whether you want help with strategy or execution.

This can change your path dramatically, so it’s good to have clarity on this point. If you’re seeking strategy, then a consulting agency can be great. If you’re looking for someone to create content or execute a strategy, then a studio or content creation agency can be a good choice.

You’ll also want to think about scope, timeline, and budget because these factors might exclude some agency partners right off the bat if their schedules don’t line up or if they’re too far out of budget.

Related to the specifics of your project, you’ll also want to know how to measure success. As you know with social media marketing, there are so many different metrics to look at. Generally-speaking, you’ll want good results across the board with your agency work, so in addition to having a key, North Star metric to guide you, you can also look at the overall health of social. Things like:

  • Social Media Reach: 
  • Follower Growth
  • Engagement
  • Website Traffic
  • Lead Generation from Social Media
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And then you’ll want to spend a moment thinking on what ideal communication might look like with you and your agency partner.

Who is your point of contact?

How often do you two talk?

What tools and software do you use to stay organized together and communicate asynchronously?

As a remote company, we’re quite comfortable with tools like Trello, Dropbox, and Zoom. But not all agencies or brands might be. Whatever your particular style of communication is, make sure that the agency is comfortable meeting you there. 

Examples of great agency work

A lot of these examples come from Ad Age’s small agency of the year awards. If you’re looking for some really stellar agencies to add to your short list, we’d highly recommend starting with Ad Age’s list of the best agencies in the U.S. and worldwide. There’re some great ones!

One of my favorite campaigns was from the agency No Fixed Address. They worked on a campaign with J.P. Wiser, a Canadian whiskey brand. For starters, they built a website experience where people could come and write personal toasts to friends. No Fixed Address then took these personalized toasts and converted them into 200 unique ads that were displayed on billboards, subways, even the radio. Then they targeted these ads so that the ads would appear on the commutes of the people who created the toasts — like a billboard on their way to work, for instance.

So you’d be driving down the road and see your toast on a giant billboard! 
What was great about this campaign is that it included a very natural, organic social media component, too. It received a huge boost when people began sharing pictures of themselves with their ads on social media.

There’re also some great ones that have to do with the amazing copywriting that agencies put together for social media campaigns. A couple of examples stand out to me:

The DesignThinkers Conference worked with an agency to come up with slogans for their event. The idea was to play on the stereotype that designers can be nitpicky and critical of design, so the agency purposefully chose clichéd slogans like “Why does Helvetica just feel so good?” to grab attention and spark conversation. The slogans worked great as content to share on social media and spread among the design communities.

And another neat example was the agency that worked with Copper Mountain ski resort to promote the joy of outdoor lifestyle over digital distractions. One of the most fun lines I saw was“Keeping kids off social media since 9 a.m.”


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About The Science of Social Media podcast

The Science of Social Media is your weekly sandbox for social media stories, insights, experimentation, and inspiration. Every Monday (and sometimes more) we share the most cutting-edge social media marketing tactics from brands and influencers in every industry. If you’re a social media team of one, business owner, marketer, or someone simply interested in social media marketing, you’re sure to find something useful in each and every episode.  It’s our hope that you’ll join our 27,000+ weekly iTunes listeners and rock your social media channels as a result!

The Science of Social Media is proudly made by the Buffer team. Feel free to get in touch with us for any thoughts, ideas, or feedback.

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