We’re having a very interesting debate in our internal social media community. These community members (including me!) have strong and varied opinions about the merits of outsourcing social media. I think outsourcing some elements of your social media initiative is definitely worthwhile, while other functions should remain within your core team.
When I say “outsourcing” I’m referring to hiring marketing agencies and paid consultants to work on your social media channels. We partner with customers, partners, and influencers to advocate within our social media channels, but I don’t classify these experts as outsourced. They are an unpaid extension of the core social media team.
It might help to first explain the structure of my SAP Cloud social media team. We manage multiple communities internally, and bring in outside help for specific programs. We have two curators responsible for monitoring the channels and identifying and activating internal and external social media advocates who create and publish content.
I spend the majority of my time monitoring all my channels and helping advocates create and publish content. It’s a very time-consuming approach, but the content we curate is authentic and ensures the relevance of each channel.
That’s not to say I haven’t outsourced some activities. Last year we implemented paid ad programs in LinkedIn and Facebook. It was essential to bring in external experts who specialized in media buying and targeted marketing.
The trick is to know when to outsource without compromising the integrity and authenticity of your social media channels.
When outsourcing makes your communities stronger
My team has had really good success outsourcing several components of our social media program:
- Branding: We engaged an agency to customize our Facebook page, ensuring the layout was on brand. We built branded, focused custom apps we could leverage in our audience acquisition (paid ads) program.
- Ad Placement: Two agencies collaborated to create and implement a paid placement program for Facebook and LinkedIn. The Facebook likes increased nearly 300%.
- Messaging: My peers who create marketing campaigns are increasingly tasking their marketing agencies to develop boilerplate social media copy for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. My team takes that copy and edits as appropriate for our target audience. Having boilerplate makes our job easier, since we have the baseline messaging and we only have to modify to suit our audience.
When outsourcing hurts more than it helps
I’ve seen several examples of outsourcing that gave me pause. Perhaps the scenarios would have worked better with a blended internal and outsourced approach, but they left me feeling uninspired.
- Fake Twitter accounts: I saw what appeared to be someone’s personal Twitter account, and was initially impressed with his advocacy for SAP. After a deluge of tweets, however, I realized this Twitter account was driven by an agency, and all the tweets pointed back to the exact same landing page, even though the tweet text suggested varied content.
- Spamming: Occasionally I am approached by a vendor with a proposed list of Twitter and Facebook posts accompanied by a publishing calendar. While editorial calendars can be very helpful, the calendar was too packed with generic posts that weren’t tied to timely trends or events.
- Push-only: Editorial calendars focus on pushing content. If you don’t have a knowledgeable person managing the account, you miss opportunities to engage via retweets, likes, comments, etc. It’s reciprocity that makes social media engagement authentic.
- The numbers game: It’s tempting to hire someone to help build up channel membership. Targeted ads can bring new people to your community, and if the targeting is done well, the ads will attract the kind of people willing to engage with you. However, tricks like mass Twitter follows might achieve the goal of securing more followers, but they do little to elevate the quality of the channel.
One of the biggest challenges social media curators face is finding, training, and supporting subject matter experts who will consistently engage in social dialog. Outsourcing social media content takes the “social” out of social media. I recommend you save outsourcing for channel building and branding. Keep conversations in house and while you may attract fewer new members, your community will be rich with people engaged in the conversation and vested in the community’s success.
Have you had good or bad (or both!) experiences with outsourcing? Which social media activities do you recommend outsourcing?