Outsourcing Social Media – Is It Worth It?

Guest Post On Outsourcing Social Media From Matt PowersToday’s guest post comes from Matt Powers, who is an Internet Marketer at Blue Soda Promo, an online promotional products company.

I appreciate Matt taking the time to share an interesting experience he had with outsourcing social media management!

If you’re thinking about turning over the keys to your social channels to a 3rd party agency, read Matt’s post and think carefully about who you choose.

In today’s economy, every company is always looking for new and more cost effective means of doing business. Outsourcing responsibilities that may be performed “better” by an outside agency or cheaper by contractors overseas is appealing to any business, but is it worth it? Whether you are looking to outsource your blog writing and social media to an outside agency either because they claim they are experts with a proven track record or because it simply costs less than hiring another employee, you should carefully consider the three main points below.

Control

Having social media in-house means you have complete control over what you do and when you do it. Running a special sale/campaign and want your followers to know about it? Want to make a comment about a hot topic that is trending right now? If you were to outsource your social media, you would have to email or call your agency every time you wanted do something specific.

Outsourced help may be ‘experts’ in their field whether it’s writing, design, social media, SEO, etc. but they aren’t necessarily ‘experts’ when it comes to your business. The effort it may take for someone in your company to relay the appropriate message with specific details time and time again may be more unbearable than doing it yourself or training a new employee.

No one knows their own products and audience better than you, yourself. People can be turned off if something has too much jargon, or the complete opposite, if the content is too simplistic. This information is only gained by the experience businesses get by developing relationships with the customers and clients they work with every day.

Brand Management

Does the agency you work with fully understand your brand name, voice, history, product and demographic? They’ll definitely act like they do, but like I said before, nobody understands it better than you. Keep in mind that these agencies typically have hundreds of different clients, with each account manager possibly working on dozens of accounts. It’s nearly impossible for that person to really “know” your brand, so they might not be reaching the demographic that you want.

Putting your social media account in the hands of others outside the company can be a big leap of faith. They really become the voice of your company. No matter how much input you give, agencies or outsourced help always have final say because they are the ones pressing send. And remember…bad customer service via your social channels can have significant impact on your business.

<table style="width: 100%;"> <tbody> <tr> <td>Thanks again, Laura, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with how/when to engage with customers. Some companies are hesitant to dip their toe into the social space, for fear of what their customers will say, how they will engage, and how much time/energy it will take to listen, analyze, and maintain. The reality is, however, that engaging in social media is becoming a cost of doing business, like having a customer support telephone number or having a Website. Those companies that choose to ignore the social space will lag behind their competitors, risking potential perception issues in the eyes of their customers.Have thoughts, feedback or experiences with companies that choose not to engage or those that are doing it well? Leave a comment!Cheers!--Sean</td> </tr> </tbody> </table>

While outsourcing may free up some time for others to focus their efforts elsewhere, people lose track of these people. One wrong statement on Twitter or Facebook can quickly ruin a company’s reputation with certain customers, clients or vendors based on a stupid statement you hired to speak on your behalf.

With over 170 million tweets sent per day, a tweet here or there may slip through the cracks, but in the same respect there are SOOOO many people on twitter that nothing goes unread.

Are they really working?

While it may be nice to pawn off our social media duties on others, it also makes it hard to measure what they are really doing. Which then brings up the question, is what we are doing worth it? Of course agencies tell you that’s numbers are up, they’re seeing great results and you’re just as beautiful when you wake up than before a night out on the town, but that’s only so you continue paying them.

That’s because when companies hire outside help the ability to monitor their daily tasks becomes incredibly difficult. Websites such as oDesk, Elance, Guru and PeopleperHour do a good job at being a meeting place for freelancers and contractors, but keeping a close eye on their task at hand can be time consuming as well.

Take for example the situation we had recently with someone we asked to run one of our social media campaigns.

We hired someone through oDesk. They seemed like a trustworthy person and the price was right. In only a few weeks’ time, we began to see some pretty good results which we were happy about.

At this point we could have logged into our account on oDesk and paid them for a job well done. But because we never had a chance to actually see what he was doing we checked on his activity (when a freelancer clocks in on oDesk, oDesk will randomly take a screenshot of their computer screen every so often and measure they clickability during that time period).

What we discovered was disturbing. During his time ‘working’ on our social media campaign, they had decided to take a break to relieve some stress and hit up some of their favorite adult entertainment sites.

Yes unfortunately for this person, oDesk caught a glimpse of one of these websites and their clickability had come to a screeching halt (I wonder why). Luckily for us we caught them in the act, reported the incident to oDesk and revoked our payment.

Outsourcing can have their benefits. It allows other in the office to focus on more pressing matters and continue to have an online presence in social media, however it isn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow everyone is looking for. Businesses must have trust, confidence and a little bit of faith in anyone they decide to hire outside the company.

Thanks again to Matt for sharing his experience with outsourcing social media. I completely agree with Matt that you really need to make sure that any organization or agency that your partner with truly understand your goals and the needs of the community that you are engaging with. There are too many companies out there that think social media engagement is just about monitoring, tweeting and posting and they forget that social media is about connecting…and connecting takes a lot of time, understanding and commitment.

Have similar experiences with outsourcing your social media management? Leave a comment and let us know how it went.

Cheers!

–Sean

Comments And Reactions

  1. Outsourcing Social Media – Is It Worth It? http://t.co/Fg8E7jr9 #SocialMedia

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  7. HI Sean,
    The hardest part about outsourcing social media is being able to act on what is current. I have thought about hiring a part time worker and keep it in-house. That would give me the option of delegating day to day social tasks and leave me free to make connections on a wider scale.

    • I agree, Gary! The key is to find an agency or partner that is involved in your target community and already engages there. It’s a tough problem to solve, but hiring someone who doesn’t care about your customers and doesn’t understand them can lead to bad things for your brand or organization.

      Thanks for the great comment!

      Cheers!

      –Sean

  8. I couldn’t agree more. Outsourcing takes the “social” out of social networking. Social networking requires a personal connection with those you are trying to network with. This can come down to very subtle things but important thihgs, such as knowledge of the other person’s own personality, ways of expressing themselves, and in particular their own missions in life and business. You can only do this yourself. Do otherwise and expect the same result as you would get from hiring someone else to telephone your clients and interact with them in just the same way as if they were you.

    • It can be done, Mark…it’s just a tough problem to solve. As social engagement grows, the person managing the accounts often runs out of time and resources, which leads to the decision to either keep it “in-house” or bring in a third party agency or organization.

      IMHO, the only way the agency/3P solution works is if everyone involved is dedicated to your account and they are constantly engage with both you and your community. Without both elements, there are too many potential issues that could arise.

      Thanks for the great comment!

      –Sean

  9. Outsourcing #SocialMedia – Is It Worth It? |#SmartSourcing #Management| http://t.co/JRCK867V via @socmedsean

  10. Sean and Matt,

    Your post does an excellent job of objectively explaining the considerations. The essence of networking is to connect, engage, and interact. It makes sense that these actions are best done by you. Do you want your prospects to connect and engage with your outsourcer?

    The first word in social media is social. It is not the same thing as traditional advertising. As Stephen Covey says, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

  11. Generally I think social is personal.

    On the other hand, Sean, there may be value in leveraging the services of a well qualified social media manager for basic exposure. Exposure scaled through leverage can be followed up with personal interaction.

    My blog post on the pros and cons of Asynchronous Communication points out some advantages of NOT interacting in real time.

  12. Donna Jeane says:

    Unfortunately, this isn’t only a problem with contract employees. It is good to be aware that non-productive use of work time happens. You were fortunate that oDesk saved a screen shot that was informative!

  13. Hi Sean, this is a really interesting topic, and one people really need to be thinking about. As one who manages social media accounts, I am a firm believer in outsourcing. :-) But there is a part of me that feels you ought to be doing your own social media. At the very least, you should be working with someone you can easily verify and monitor closely until you are comfortable with letting them loose on their own, especially if they will be creating content that will be “your” voice.

    I had some articles written very inexpensively once by a company that was highly recommended by an organization I respected – you would probably recognize both their names. But found that even with relatively generic topics there are just some nuances that a non native English speaker just isn’t going to get right. And these people were fluent and well spoken – in fact, I would have said to you that their English is better than many Americans. But it didn’t translate well to articles, somehow. They were willing to do a rewrite, but the second batch was as bad as the first and I couldn’t use any of them without reworking them myself.

    Caveat emptor!

  14. Outsourcing Social Media – Is It Worth It? http://t.co/kTfYUPum via @socmedsean

  15. Soutsourcing Social Media – Why. Or Why Not… http://t.co/JhReMSW2

  16. Skot Pare says:

    Have not tried but know I both spend too much time and miss too much good stuff. I am definitely considering this option.

  17. Outsourcing Social Media – Is It Worth It? http://t.co/4cchsOqt via @socmedsean

  18. OK, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here.

    In an ideal world, you do your social media yourself, develop a terrific online brand personality, and reap the benefits. And, in that same ideal world, you get paid without having to go to meetings, travel, manage staff, or do all that pesky work that you specialize in.

    In the real world, there are many business owners and managers who are amazing leaders but who have no writing skills. Or no ability to translate brand into words. Or simply don’t have the time to devote to understanding and interacting effectively.

    We routinely see organizations where social media is handled by junior staff as a small percentage of their job. Not surprisingly, the resulting posts look like recycled press releases. And, even that is better than the groups where you see customers or members posting cries for help that are simply ignored!

    You wouldn’t tell a leader to represent themselves in court or to do surgery on themselves. Marketing is just as specialized as law or medicine. There’s no shame in bringing in specialists onboard.

    That said, you raise good points about the dangers of working with hack groups, random freelancers, or bad agencies. To me, the lesson is that you need to identify and hire the RIGHT agency.

    The right agency will take the time needed to understand your brand. They can help you figure out how to bring your brand to life in the different social channels.

    The right agency will work to engage you and your staff. In the best partnership, your agency will help you identify what you have the in-house time and talent to manage and they’ll incorporate your expertise into the mix.

    That could mean that the agency helps develop the social strategy and works with you or your staff to bring it to life. Your team might handle the daily posts completely. Or, the agency might draft some posts, nudge you when you need to respond to a customer with a unique problem, or alert you to a trending topic you need to weigh in on.

    Obviously, I’ve defended the agency position here. I believe that outsourcing to the right group will often a better answer than assigning it to a staff member who doesn’t have the time or talent. (And, remember: in-house staffers have been known to visit porn sites, too!)

  19. I am the in house social media manager for a medium sized primary health care organization, and I can, sort of, argue both sides of the question. There are times when we use contract writers. This is typically for longer material that isn’t intended to be primary as part of social media. However, often the content is good, and I repurpose some of it for the blog or for Facebook. We regularly use a contract photographers and contract videographers. Much of their content goes to Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms.

    There are also times where you may want to use an external specialist for monitoring references to your brand in social media or for specialized situations like events or crisis communications.

    All of that said, the core of social media really, imho, needs to be done in house, or at least by someone who you feel very comfortable speaking on behalf of your organization. I think a good analogy comes from my personal life. We just bought a new home. I gave my wife power of attorney to speak on my behalf on any of the issues coming up around the closing. The sellers gave their lawyers power of attorney for many of the issues surrounding the closing.

    Yet even with that, we had very clear understandings and boundaries of who could say what and when they could say it. The same should probably apply to using external consultants for social media.

    As always, my two cents.

    Aldon

  20. If your going to outsource, the key is to partner up with an agency or service that knows your industry/niche and has a relationship of frequent but brief collaborations so there is an understanding regarding specific needs or strategies.

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  23. We/my employer and I, agree that the client/business should manage their day to day social media efforts.

    But there are instances where the client doesn’t have the time/resources to manage their social media presence. So we also help them get started so they can show mgmt results that get them the resources/hires they need to expand their team and do it themselves. Until that time, we’ve handled the execution of their efforts for them.

    But even if the agency never handles the day to day management, there’s still quite a bit they can do to help brands/businesses with social media.

    Social media is the first engagement platform. Most marketers don’t instinctively change their approach or their content. But there’s a need to broaden the conversation in a way that the consumer is interested in talking, but it’s not all about the brand. Sometimes it’s tough for a brand to go from being anonymous and singularly consistent to being personified through social media. So there’s a few processes that brands need to walk through to figure this out. Before, during and after these processes there’s social media policies, internal training, content development, measurement and more with which agencies can help.

    So I guess I’m saying, yes, AND….to help clarify that agencies do have a role and can bring value to a brand’s social media efforts.

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  30. A Question of Trust and Faith!!
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  31. Outsourcing Social Media – Is It Worth It? http://t.co/9Bs2whf2 via @socmedsean

  32. I outsource the druged stuff but do the IMPORTANT and FUN stuff myself… EMireAvenue and commenting on blogs

  33. Outsourcing Social Media – Is It Worth It? http://t.co/0JUij5f5 via @socmedsean

  34. Outsourcing Social Media – Is It Worth It? http://t.co/QFB9xmXl via @socmedsean

  35. The most important part of outsourcing is checking the output. We have seen it run the gamut from poor English to incorrect facts. You also have to be sure that the outsourcing does not give you such poor links that Google dings your website.

  36. Outsourcing Social Media – Is It Worth It? http://t.co/2ikSRNqs via @socmedsean

  37. Should you outsource #Socialmedia? Control, Brand and a bad experience: http://t.co/501TO5rA via @socmedsean

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  46. There is Outsourcing and then there is also Offshoring and they are not always the same. I would not want someone in Hyderabad writing my social media content poorly (and I would not claim expertise writing in a foreign language either). Outsourcing to a competent marketing firm is another story; unless you have the skills AND the time to DIY, why not turn it over to experts?

  47. I think the concept has some merit, but it would have to be someone that is fairly intimate with my company before I let go of the reins.

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  54. Harold Gardner says:

    I am not sure. It depends on if you are honest enough to know that you stink. Some companies just lack the skill needed; so engaging a consultant makes sense. If you are smart, you will use the consultant to train you.

    Many of the points are valid, but the answer may be to find the right outsourced resource. I think you are arguing against resources that are crummy. You must still be responsible for what you put out there. The customer does not care if you did it, or if someone did it for you.

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