Five advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing social media

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By Alexandra Reid

Outsourcing social media has received mixed reviews and it seems that this debate is growing fiercer as businesses become increasingly more aware of the enormous impact social media can have on their reputation. This heightened awareness likely stems from a combination of horror stories of outsourcing gone wrong, such as the well-studied case of Chrysler’s social media disaster, and what seems to be a recent increase in research in this area conducted by social media consultancies, internal marketing departments, PR and marketing agencies and third party publications.

In our view, outsourcing social media is both safe and effective if you are judicious in selecting an external partner that is worth its salt. It is no secret that damaging and irreversible mistakes can occur in social media, so it is vital that you chose a well-established agency with a history of above-standard communications that knows your business through-and-through and that there be an iron clad, error-proof system of review between agency and business. This study conducted by SocialMediaToday on in-house and outsourced social media advises businesses to establish visibility into what the agency handling their social media activities does and make sure they are tracking, measuring and course-correcting constantly. We couldn’t agree more, having established these connections for open communication with our clients where each and every message sent out is reviewed, scrutinized and improved and where questions can be asked and responded to with immediacy.

If you are starting up a new venture and can’t support social media internally, outsourcing these tasks can be advantageous. Not only can this shift the time- and cost-consuming burden of monitoring, managing and measuring social media onto someone else’s shoulders, it can also improve your messaging and impact because you are handing this responsibility over to specialists. This is something we suggest you look into, however, as many agencies have been known to assign social media tasks to inexperienced juniors while charging you the full rate of an experienced professional.

It is also important to understand that social media requires an internal commitment from your business. You should have someone available to check the Tweets, blog comments, LinkedIn answers and discussions, Quora answers and so on developed by your agency before they are sent out. It is also good to have some commitment of senior employees who can dedicate some time to providing high-quality responses to relevant questions and discussions put forth on social media about their specific fields.  Your goal is to be as authentic as possible. An agency worth its salt should help you write a strategy, follow it through and provide support, but its efforts must be constantly checked and weighed.

How outsourcing can be advantageous

  1. Strategy: A good agency should develop an effective and coherent strategy tailored specifically for your business to help you reach long-term goals.
  2. Speed: A good agency will help you keep on top of your day-to-day tasks to progress through your strategies quickly.
  3. Support: A good agency should provide you with answers to your social media questions and teach your employees how to take on social media tasks. It will also provide you with the information to help you avoid costly mistakes.
  4. Network: A good agency will have an existing database of tier-one influencers who would be best for you to network with, saving you the time required to find them.
  5. Integration: The best agencies will be able to integrate your social media efforts with your overall marketing strategy for the best results.

 

 

 

How outsourcing can be perceived as disadvantageous

 

  1. Authenticity: Many businesses are concerned that outsourcing social media will depreciate its authenticity. I disagree entirely. A good agency should care and know about the businesses it represents as much as its employees. Also, the agency has just as much at stake to lose if the social media plan fails. Its reputation would be tarnished and it would lose its job handling the accounts of the business.
  2. Connections: It is also thought by businesses that they will lose valuable connections forged through social media if they outsource their efforts. This is also untrue. Relationships are established through the business’s own channels. An agency worth its salt should distinguish brand advocates, influencers and prospects in their communities and make them well-known to the business that could then further relations if desired.
  3. Authority: In a crisis situation, most agencies want to establish a clear communications plan to address problems quickly. This plan usually includes a statement to be sent out by the agency to the disconcerted individuals to buy them some time to inform the business and devise a solution. There is nothing wrong with this process; it can actually be more beneficial than attempting to solve the problem immediately as the business has time to work with the experience of the agency to develop the best possible response.
  4. You can be locked in or even held hostage: This point was taken from a Social Media Examiner article. As mentioned previously, a good agency should provide all the information its client needs to take on social media itself. There needs to be constant communication between agency and client where questions are asked and answered promptly. It should be no mystery how the agency is conducting its client’s social media tasks.
  5. Mistakes: This problem also exists if social media is done internally. As mentioned previously, a good agency should know your business through-and-through. If each message is checked by an internal representative to ensure its accuracy, there should be no errors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? Do you disagree with me entirely? Did I miss any key points? Feel free to share your thoughts here. This is a widely debated subject and I’d love to hear your point of view.

 

 

 

/// COMMENTS

8 Comments »
  • Danny Starr

    May 31, 2011 3:09 pm

    Hi Allie,

    I think that it is OK to outsource the strategy and some elements of the social media execution but I don’t really think that you should outsource any the interaction between your company and the customers on social media.

    As we all know, business communication has changed. The way in which we communicate has become more open and direct. The big trend people are seeing (David Meerman Scott has great book on this topic) is that communicating is becoming real-time and I find that outsourcing social media interaction makes all of these things fairly difficult.

    I have managed social media both in-house and through an agency. When the agency was doing it, it was hard to respond to things quickly. I also found I kept having to confirm things and check things over all the time so it was doubtful how much time I was saving. The other issue is that social media is, for most companies, an “always on” type thing and so there has to be a conversation about how many hours, when, etc…

    I also think that if you outsource social media interaction, your company is missing out the ability to listen and learn about your customer in ways that are often difficult to get from listening “tools” or reports. There is something to be said for talking directly to and listening to your customers. You begin to learn how they talk and what they talk about. Sure you can get this info from an agency but it will never really be the same.

    There are no shortage of agencies willing to take on social work… the prices being charged for social work are incredible and so it’s obviously the easier way to make money right now. I think we’re at a place now where companies are asking for it, willing to pay (through the nose) for it.

    I would think there is better money and longer term money in helping companies and brands develop their own social resources, processes and more importantly, integrating social into everything the companies does.

  • Francis Moran

    May 31, 2011 5:42 pm

    I was once entirely where you are now, Danny.

    We can help you develop the strategy, I told clients asking for our help in social media, and we can even give you a paint-by-numbers canvas for the implementation of that strategy. But, for most of the reasons you cite, I told them we didn’t really want to do the implementation.

    For most of these clients, the outcome of that conversation was no social media program at all.

    We have found that there are huge areas of social media — discussions on LinkedIn being a big one for us in our B2B world — where the real-time urgency is far less acute and the opportunity exists for longer-form discussion. In many ways, engaging on a channel like that is not at all different from our writing an article that is published online under the client’s byline and then assisting in the ongoing responding to comments that might be posted about that article. And I’ve been doing that since Biz and Ev were in short pants.

    I will agree that some channels, such as Twitter, are more challenging but even there, we have been able to manage a client’s Twitter account with sufficient aplomb that we recently moved an inquiry uncovered through our monitoring all the way through the sales funnel to revenue.

    So I don’t disagree that the best-world scenario is much as you describe. But if the client doesn’t have the resources internally, outsourcing becomes a heck of a compelling alternative to doing nothing much at all. And if the client uses the opportunity to go to school on us and then replaces us with internal folk, well, that wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened either in social media or in our plain old PR practice.

  • danny starr

    May 31, 2011 6:23 pm

    All good points Francis. I guess that my thinking tends to be influenced by the fact that I believe social media is something you have to really commit to or you are doomed to failure.

    And I find that more and more, I am seeing social media getting trampled on by those people who aren’t really committing to it and using bots, automation and other inauthentic means of communicating. The result is more noise and that makes it harder for everyone else to get on with their business

    I think many social tactics are best left to “professionals”. Blogging is one…. because telling stories and writing properly is not an easy thing to do.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    June 02, 2011 9:44 am

    Social media outsourcing can work when done correctly. The key is that the agency must have a full understanding of the company/brand. This means that they need to communicate regularly. You can’t hire someone to do your social media and then disappear once you sign the contract. They may be carrying it out for you but they will need information from you on a regular basis.

  • Alexandra Reid

    June 02, 2011 12:42 pm

    Hi Danny and Nick. Thanks so much for weighing in.

    Danny: It it absolutely imperative that both business and agency are committed to the social media program. It must be a long term strategy or else nothing will come of it. I would argue that it would actually work against a business to start a social media initiative and then fade away after a short while because it demonstrates to users that they don’t have their acts together and, if they don’t mention that they have left and leave their accounts dormant, users could assume the business is ignoring them. Authenticity is also a huge issue. I get spammed all the time and regard the spamming companies negatively as a result. This is not an effective strategy and it makes the businesses who do social media properly really shine.

    Nick: Do you have experience with outsourcing social media? I agree entirely, and state in this post, that agencies must know their clients through and through. But this goes far beyond social media. Every agency must know their clients well enough that they could start as an employee at their businesses on the spot, in my opinion. I am in communication with my clients on a daily basis to ensure social media is a seamless process of content creation, review, review again and post. They also know they can contact me at any point and I will respond swiftly. This process of immediacy is imperative for outsourcing social media to be successful.

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