Barbara Liss

“This is the hardest topic to talk about because it varies on so many different levels for everybody.”

You’ve got to go do your homework to find the agency that’s right for you.

Barbara Liss, Motorola Mobility’s Senior Director of Social Media, is talking about how brands decide what’s right for their social team: in-house or outsourcing. She’s been a brand manager, worked with an agency, built up an in-house social team at Quaker Foods, and now, for Motorola, she’s helping them find what’s best for the brand.

“It’s an incredibly personal decision. It’s really similar to if you have a child.”

In her presentation at our Brands-Only Summit, Barbara says like deciding between staying home with your kids, hiring a nanny, or choosing a daycare, choosing who runs your social initiatives is totally unique for each brand.

“What is right for me? What is right for my child? What is right for the other stakeholders in her life? It’s very similar,” she explains.

“First, know what you’re good at and what you’re not.”

Take inventory of the skill sets between you and your team. Barbara says that by knowing those strengths and weaknesses, you can start determining what you can handle on your own and what you could outsource.

“Is it harder to bring people on and train new people than it is to hire an agency? You really have to understand what you’re working with and what you have at your disposal,” Barbara says.

“Know your budget.”

“Sometimes your headcount budget and your agency budgets are in completely separate places. And as illogical as it seems, it can sometimes be a lot easier to get a million dollars to hire an agency than it is to bring on one person.”

She says you have to set your priorities, be adaptable, and understand the trade-offs. For example, sometimes when you hire a new teammate or agency, you could be taking money away from that new campaign you wanted to start.

Determine what you need in terms of strategy, community management, content creation, measurement, and paid social.

Each of these core pieces of your social program will help you determine what parts you need to outsource and what your team can cover. She shares these questions to ask:

  • For strategy: Do you know your business objectives and your target audience? Do you have a clear brand voice?
  • For community management: Do your customers expect you to be always on? Is your industry regulation-heavy or well monitored?
  • For content creation: Can your employees make great stuff and scale it? Can an agency get you the depth of content you’re looking for?
  • For measurement: Are you measuring the right things? Do you feel overwhelmed by all of the data out there?
  • For paid social: Do you understand how to use social data and agile targeting?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you understand what kind of agency fits your needs, whether that’s a full-service agency, one for just content, just analytics, or just listening.

Then Barbara says you’ve got to go do your homework to find the agency that’s right for you.

“I’ve literally gone to Google and typed in ‘best social media agency ‘ or ‘best content creation agency.’ Use LinkedIn or It’s an amazing resource to tap into your peers and ask about who they use and who they like.”

Regularly evaluate your agencies and yourselves.

Barbara suggests setting up monthly reviews with your agency partners or setting up bonus compensation models with your team based on achieving business goals.

“Then, allow your agencies to evaluate you. I don’t know if enough of us let our agencies give us feedback. Having that dialogue makes your decision that much better no matter what you do.”

But if making that decision still sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone.

“At the end of the day, remember this: There’s no right or wrong — there’s only what’s right for you.”

Just like kids, Barbara says, “It won’t break if you drop it, and a new phase is always around the corner.”

Say hi to Barbara on Twitter or check out her full presentation here. Barbara’s been a member of since 2014.


  1. Bill Combes |

    This is especially true for the small to mid-sized business owner. Often times their annual budget is under 50K for marketing. You have several choices, yes or no on whether you will be on social. If the answer is yes, you must remain relevant. Most small business owners “set it and forget it” when it comes to social!

  2. Tim Goudie |

    I have seen the repeated syndrome of paying a specialized social media agency money to produce really great content only to end up with zero funds to actually target that content to the right consumers using paid social. Its a bit like producing that stunning $1million dollar TVC with no funds to put it on air. BIG fail from the start.

Get our free weekly newsletter

A short email packed with updates on what big brands are doing in social media.

Never display this again