One of the more common sentiments shared at The Social Shake-Up in Atlanta - and a personal cause of mine - was the advice not to outsource your social media and customer relations communications to a third party.
In other words, don't ask your agency to do the talking for you. As skilled as the social organization may be, we really shouldn't be doing it for you.
Why? Because the relationships you have with your prospects are important.
In fact, those relationships are what will keep your business in business for years to come. Having a finger on the pulse of your most important buyers, and listening to what they're saying, is about the only way you'll truly know what's up. When you directly handle the actual interactions, you 'get' them. Even if you have some sharp minds helping you, there's just no way they can respond the way you would without a canned response, which is going to come across as inauthentic at best.
Having a third party intercept your new business interactions is risky. It might be convenient to send someone to chat on your social platforms, but it's costly if they can't deliver the way you can. You'll find that the more they do, and the less you do, the weaker customer loyalty will be later on.
Two Problems With Outsourcing Your Messaging
Despite the fact that we all realize outsourcing social interaction is essentially the opposite of "authentic," lots of businesses do it anyway and will likely continue to do so. After all, it's just so convenient for them to write a check and get someone else to do it. That said, I see two significant problems right away.
First, it doesn't work that well.
When an outside agency is managing all of your marketing and interacting with your customers, you essentially become a bystander in the relationship. Even worse, your social messaging has a disconnected feel because it's being put together by someone who may know 'about' your business, but really isn't a part of it.
And, there's the fact that all of that convenience tends to cost real dollars. As I've pointed out in the past, social engagement is a process that takes time. You aren't likely to get results from 'most' third party service providers in the short term (and possibly less in the long term), and you will likely spend a big chunk of your marketing budget to learn that lesson.
Second, outsourcing social interaction solves a problem that doesn't exist.
This is something similar to driving half an hour to get fast food for dinner. It feels convenient, but in reality you're just taking as much time as you would have been to cook, costing yourself more money, and getting something less healthy in return.
If you are connected to me online, you may already know that I am fairly active on social platforms. I add my own content and comments to posts and streams, and also personally follow up on messages or responses I receive. Do you know how much time that actually takes me? Not nearly as long as you'd think - about 30 minutes a day (over my morning coffee, using my iPhone), with a quick follow-up late in the day to respond to new comments or kick off a new one.
Is it really worth it to wreck your social engagement plan, and spend truckloads of money, just to save half an hour here and there (or less, if you don't post as much as I do)? I don't think so.
A Better Way to Handle Customer Interactions?
At Kayak, we simply refuse to take over social messaging for our clients. We emphasize that it's extraordinarily important, because it is, but we never want to do it for them.
What we will do, though, is provide coaching in social engagement so every member of an organization can update content, respond to customers, and help make new business connections. We give them everything they need to empower themselves and keep their social engagement campaigns going without our constant assistance and input (interference?). As a result, they achieve greater activity than they would have through us, and best of all, they open opportunities to engage potential buyers in a way that's real, personal, and authentic.
Developing the skills and habits you need to effectively communicate with your customers through social media isn't difficult. Investing just a little time and energy into doing it, or even into training, can be the key to breaking out of the outsourcing mentality and start forming relationships with buyers and influencers that will seed opportunities to grow for years to come.