Social Media Outsourcing: Good Business or Fake Dialogue?

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“Brands are the stories that unite us all in a common purpose within an enterprise, and connect us with the people we serve on the outside. These brand stories give meaning to who we are and what we do.” – Mark Thomson

Social media outsourcing has been dubbed the next big thing — which could mean placing your brand in the trusted hands of outside agencies. Social media is about building relationships between your brand and your community — about listening to the conversation and engaging in it. As agencies are claiming to be social media experts, more companies are taking what I believe to be an easy route by outsourcing this function. But how well can they truly represent your brand? And more importantly, can they do it better than you can?

I challenged my esteemed colleague @AmandaVega (her blog Http://www.amandavegablog.com) and newcomer @mkarre to a throwdown on the topic of whether companies are better off outsourcing social media. Not surprisingly, @AmandaVega and @mkarre argued that outsourcing is the way to go. Why? Budgetary constraints, lack of resources and lack of social media knowledge. @AmandaVega states: “While most companies are really good at PUSHING messages, they aren’t very good at receiving them, or interacting in conversations that fall outside of the ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality. That’s another reason to assign this part of your marketing to the outside.” 

My take is this: Social media is about a conversation that can deepen engagement. By outsourcing social media, companies are diluting the message, the authenticity and the value they can deliver through direct engagement. There are a lot of agencies that do social media, and those that do it well can add value in helping you define a strategy on best practices. The role of an agency should be to provide guidance — not to directly engage for you. You know your brand, customers and community better than anyone else. As some politicians and celebs have learned the hard way, having someone else tweeting for you — even a trusted staffer — can lead to embarrassing gaffes.

Launching a social media effort requires laying a foundation and understanding which technologies are right for your businesses. Before agreeing to outsource social media, companies need to first understand what it is, why they want to do it, what their core strategic goal is and the strategy around it. When Lumension was looking to expand its presence online through social media, my team and I studied every aspect of social media to better understand what tools would be right for us — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, vimeo, YouTube, etc. We took it upon ourselves to master this arena. After we comprehensively understood WHY we wanted to do social media, we brought in our existing PR firm, Lois Paul and Partners, to get SVP of Social Media Ted Weismann involved so he could provide the skinny on how it works, existing frameworks, best practices, etc. to establish a clear social media strategy. (Note: When searching for a PR firm, we made it a priority to select a firm that understood this changing landscape so we could not only establish a strong social media presence but also incorporate it into every aspect of our marketing and PR). For us — and I’m sure a lot of companies can relate — social media is about humanizing your brand and engaging with analysts, media, business community, users/customers and prospects.

My recommendation is to appoint a staff member in-house to oversee the social media function in terms of defining and owning social media strategy, policies, brand management, engagement, education, messaging and monitoring. This person (should they work with an outside agency or counsel) should play a leading role in integrating these agencies into the fold to help lay the groundwork, identify trends and ensure your strategy and execution are on brand/message.

If you are going to outsource, consider these tips before selecting an agency:

  • Find out what the agency’s basic social media strategy is.
  • Learn the why they use social media
  • Look at their success stories — how do they use social media to deepen brand engagement
  • Talk to their customers.
  • Research the agency on social media channels to see how they are using it.
  • Talk to social media experts and what the agency’s reputation is.
  • Read their blog if they have one (and they should) to see if they are driving the conversation

Twitter responses:

From @ScribeDevil @CindyKimPR In-house if possible. No one knows your voice better than you, and authenticity is more important than that pro-style shine.

From @Esnelz @CindyKimPR in your case, you probably don’t need much help, most need to outsource

From @mikesunx @CindyKimPR i think social media is not different than real life, some cos care about customers some dont all, same for PR and social media

From @srsaul04 @CindyKimPR great to see agencies like @LPP_PR give guidance on social media, but important for companies to engage/influence directly.

Let me know what you think. Is outsourcing the next big thing? And does outsourcing dilute the brand experience and authenticity of the corporate voice? Join Social Media Debate Community.

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