Should You Outsource Social Media?

MarcMeyer
Marc Meyer Digital and Social Strategist, DRMG

Posted on August 24th 2010

This might be the dirty little secret that no one wants to admit. That if they had their druthers, they would outsource their social media activities. Why? Because what they won’t admit is that social media is a big time suck and furthermore, they might not even admit that they are tired of “engaging” every day. Why? because they didn’t know it was going to be like this.

It’s hard to be “On” every day isn’t it?

There is the pretty side of social media, the stuff that you read about every day about how cool it is and glamorous and sexy and blah,blah,blah, but the dark side is that social media is hard ass work.  In fact Amber Naslund just the other day, wrote a”be careful what you wish for” post about the down n dirty aspect of social media.

Those of us who have been around know this. I can’t tell you how many times I have bouts of writers block; and then other times, its a magical stream of consciousness that propagates itself in 3 posts in one day. But you see, there’s more than just the blog, that’s the easy part; there are status updates, there are content updates, consuming content, creating content, sharing info, driving traffic, analyzing data, connecting with your peers, finding your customers, making sure your clients are happy, and looking for prospects. All via social or electronic means. Every day and night. Which leads to this- and I know you’re thinking it or thought about it…

“If I could, I would love to outsource some of this stuff in a New York minute.

But is that really wise? To outsource your social media activities. Except for those times when I’m feeling a bit toasty around the edges, I like doing it. I like connecting and consuming and creating.

Have you ever wondered though if there are others doing it? Well I got news for ya. Hell yea and you betcha. Most wont admit it unless your name is Guy Kawasaki. Todd Defren points out in his wonderful social media ethics series that they have been faced with that exact dilemma, and still others are doing it and you don’t even know about it.

The sexy term might be aggregating activities

The fact is, there are a lot of people who are automating a lot of their social media activities and still another group that are completely ceding control of their social media day to day operations to someone else.

Either in an automated fashion, or by merely having agencies do the work for them in the form of ghost writing or status updates or flat out being someone they are not- people and companies are choosing to wash their hands of real life engagement. Some admit it like Guy Kawasaki and still others… You’d never know the difference.

Do you care about who you “think” you are talking to? Brand or otherwise,  I do. I don’t like talking to logos and when you say you are Mary, I trust that it is Mary that I’m talking to.  Some don’t care and some do- some seem to only care when they find out they are being duped. Some companies seem to think it’s OK to create fictional characters inhabited by multiple people within an organization, I’m not one of them, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

Here’s the point.If you’re going to outsource your social media activities, I don’t care, and I won’t care until I find out that who you are is not who you’re supposed to be. I’m taking the don’t ask don’t tell stance. Why? Because I trust you. Funny thing that trust eh?

But I’m also not dumb.

I think that more and more people or companies are doing it (outsourcing their social activities) than you think. Or they are seriously looking at solutions that can streamline, enhance and speed up the reward of their social activities Why? Because I encounter companies and agencies every day that say they dont have time to do it nor do they care to, they just want to reap the benefits. I know it’s selfish and disingenuous but…

I’m ok with that. Why? because isn’t social media from that standpoint, just an extension of what a PR or ad agency already does? In their eyes it is. It’s marketing and PR. They will say, “What’s the difference”? Just do it for me and we’ll pay you. I’ll do it and get you started, but I’ll train you to do it for your selves and your company. You need to take ownership.

As social continues to grow and grow, some people just don’t want to do “it”, the social stuff, they would prefer that someone else do it for them- and you know what? There are plenty of people that will do it and… Do it well and.. You’ll never know the difference.


 

MarcMeyer

Marc Meyer

Digital and Social Strategist, DRMG

Currently Marc is working with Accenture to raise awareness and drive engagement of the Accenture Interactive practice. Prior to that Marc was the social media practice lead at Ernst and Young, one of the world’s leading professional services organizations. Before joining E &Y, Marc was the Digital and Social Media lead for 2 years at Digital Response Marketing Group, a social media and search marketing agency in Naples, Florida. Previously, Marc had been consulting for the Direct Response Marketing company, Emerson Direct, for almost 7 years. At various times he had served as their Director of Internet Marketing and their Director of Social Media. In both roles, Marc was able to leverage his experience in marketing, sales and technology to a degree in which companies actually did not “glaze over” and just nod their heads when he suggested a new approach to creating digital content, a different social media strategy or a simple SEO tactic

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Comments

As a call centre veteran, I can foresee what will happen if socmed outsourcing goes viral: customers will lose this refreshing and innovative way to obtain prompt and authentic product & service support.

On the flip side, if North American call centres were smart, they'd start courting socmed business from the big firms to make up for the flood of business going to Asia.  But I'd bet the Asian call centres will beat them to it.

Hi Marc.

I believe it's possible to find a happy medium between hiring someone to do all of your social media activities and/or automating it. For anyone trying to just their head above water doing their regular job (PR, marketing, product management, customer service, etc), adding social media can drown them.

As a communication channel, social media is very busy and the real-time stream of information from Twitter can make it unbearable. If you're blogging, you can write once a day or once a week and your content is still considered fresh. If you're participating in LinkedIn groups, the conversations are ongoing and there seems to be no "freshness date." Twitter is a world of it's own and requires timely updates and responses.

At Engine140, we're working on an application that helps streamline a company's use of Twitter. It doesn't automate tweeting, but it analyzes the tweet stream to eliminate the noise and suggest actions that can be taken on those tweets that are worth your time. I think that's a happy medium.

 

 

It's an interesting dilemma.  I've seen a few posts recently which suggest that even as a brand, you want to be showing who the individual is that is communicating on your behalf - as well as being transparent about any links you have.

It reminds me of working within a call centre environment where it used to be ok to have a "name" created for privacy/ handling of difficult cases - it is more likely now that your actual name is put out there, unless you have a very rare name that could put you at risk.

I definitely agree that one of the main things to think about is ownership - even if as a brand you choose to outsource elements, it is working out which elements you are happy to outsource, and how you keep the interactivity element "real"

Like someone once said, put enough apes in front of enough typewriters (didn't say they said it yesterday) and you'll eventually come up with Shakespeare...or the Bible...or "War and Peace".  Yeah, you can outsource a lot of your social media experience but are you going to trust your vendor(s) not to embarrass you? Or, are you going to hire editors and proofreaders in addition to copywriters, etc.? Do you think you could blog about astrophysics after you've done a few hours of research like you could if you had a Ph.D. in the subject?

In sum, you could outsource your social media execution. But, you do so at your peril.

Interesting article. As the founder and president of one the firms that does provide outsourced social media services I clearly have a vested interest in the continued use of outsourcing... ;-)

From our perspective, it is no different than outsourcing online community moderation which is a very common practice among both B2B and B2C brands. Success comes down to a good relationship that is collaborative in nature to deliver the best approach that meets your audience's needs. And our experience of over 10 years can help with that. We believe that social media is too important of a channel to turn over to a college intern (seen it) or part-time responsibility of multiple people (10% of 10 people's time never really equals 100% effort or results).

That said, here are a couple of points that we always share with prospective clients:

First, there is no such thing as fully outsourced social media. Clients must provide content that is relevant to their audiences which drives the follower/reader to their site to learn more. We can automate the Tweets, updates, etc. but we'll never know as much about your business as you do (hopefully). Our value is in helping companies to use the content and promote it appropriately for their goals.

Second, what we provide is really efficiency because we spend the time freeing you up to concentrate on the results and next steps of your program. Not only would we post the content for you, but we also do all the measurement and reporting as well.

Third, we recommend that if you outsource you use the brand as your username (ImpactInteract vs. Mike Rowland for example). That way if you decide to take the effort back in house, you haven't lost anything. You'll have all the reports and measurements plus the audience that was built for you.

Lastly, because we do this for multiple clients and brands we are able to share best practices of what works with our clients saving them from making so many of the common mistakes that companies make using social media. And there is value in that alone...

It's a fine line. Each approach has its own value and supporters within companies... and we're fine with that.

Whether or not outsourcing Social Media is a good idea or not can depend upon what aspect of Social you are looking to outsource. Today many companies outsource their phone, email, and live chat customer service interaction to contact centers. They invest a great deal of money to maintain a well trained staff that is customer focused and has a solid understanding of the brands and services that are provided. Social Media engagement is a great example where a large portion of that work could be outsourced to customer service professionals. There should be a coordinated effort between a company and their outsource provider where clear rules of engagement are drawn and where PR related issues get escalated to the PR professionals and customer related questions, praise posts and common complaints are handle by the Customer Service group

If it is not your core competency and you believe in the principles Jim Collins presents in Good To Great, than my answer is, yes.

There is no distinction in outsourcing social media than any other marketing or business related activity. You must find the right partner that you TRUST, to be your advocate and representation of your brand and company. If you don't it will never work. It begins by making the right selection and developing a mutual understanding of the plan, approach, and proper escalation paths. 

We are not talking about setting up twitter accounts, we are really talking about true business integration between the customer and outsourcing provider. 

It can be done successfully, it will be done successfully, and well frankly, like you say Mark, it is being done successfully. 

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A brief comment related resource --> www.makegoodmedia.com 

 

 

I think this is a good argument for understanding your brand. If you have gone through an internal adoption process so that everyone in your organization can speak for your brand with one voice, you will have a much easier time with handling social media internally. Otherwise, hire someone on the outside. Just make sure they understand your brand too. http://www.otable.com

What a great post identfing a challenging issue for most organizations, small and large. But what I see happening is this movement toward in-house positions focused around social media efforts for the very reasons you mentioned.

Outsourceing is certainly a viable option but it also comes with it's own set of challenges in the this world social media "authinticity" and how much an outsourced person can gleam to be truly effective at representing the brand online.

It is possible as we know but I think the next question is how effective it is for a brand to outsource its daily social activites. I think we are going to be looking at not just outsourceing but what elements to outsource and which ones stay internal.

 

Thanks for this post

Monique Terrell

 

Wow! Wow!................…..finally, someone is addressing the real issue around social media. It is a big time suck and like any other activity, particularly a business activity, you have to structure time for it and it certainly will not be every day. I have read numerous articles about the glamour side of social media, but very few articles addressing the downside of this activity.  Let’s face it, this is the new marketing activity, but when you are a small business it does get a bit overwhelming.

Marc, I am glad you are bringing the truth out of how some businesses are outsourcing their social activities.  I just got through reading Eric Fulwiter blog on “Social Media is a Jungle: Are you a Predator or Prey?”  And in his article the social media predator is someone who got their social media act together. Ah ha, now I see, those social media predators maybe outsourcing this activity.  I don’t feel so bad now.

You are bringing up some very interesting perspectives and valid points about the direction of where the management of social media is going. As business owners, we have to ask our self some tough questions. Do we care about real life engagement or portraying as a fictional character? This will depend on one's business ethics and principles, transparecy, balance and the business bottom line.

Kudos to you Marc, this is an excellent post.