Dare you to disagree!
Headlocks, wedgies and chinese burns to all social media agencies / freelancers who manage brands and organisations social spaces and communications.
When our clients and others talk to us about outsourcing their social media activities we used to say : “it’s not wrong, just wrong for us”, now we’re saying something different…
At the centre of any decision to outsource are the two main reasons :
- don’t have the time
- don’t have the skills
Lets take them in turn :
Most organisations and brands devote time to develop their staff and new skills. To broaden the touchpoints they have with those who (potentially) buy from them. To become more efficient. To cut print and operational costs. To deepen the knowledge of their sector.
Social media does all this.
Add to that, it can save you an enormous amount of operational time (see below under ‘Internal Benefits’).
Anyone can learn how to use social media (an opinion based on five years experience, delivering across four continents, to hundreds if not thousands of people (we’ve lost count), across countless of industries and sectors).
We have yet to find one person who couldn’t click a few buttons, be inspired to use online platforms with the technologies they already own plus see the value and benefit it would bring to their role.
The golden rule of social media use : it’s just like being in a big room, full of real people.
Everyone already has the skill to be human.
There are other reasons why outsourcing is the wrong approach to take :
Social media is a set of tools to make everyones life easier. Operations smoother. Quicker. Cheaper.
It’s as much as an internal function as an external one and understanding how to use these offerings effectively would negate the need to outsource due to the savings in time and money.
Social networking is just a small piece of the social media pie (those agencies / freelancers never tell you that do they).
The consumers / clients / customers
Most people use social spaces to connect with other individuals. Their perceptions of seeing brands and organisation in social spaces creates an expectation that communications would be from people working for said brand. If it’s someone else then that’s a little bit like cheating.
If anything it’s more about adding benefit to your brand name by giving away knowledge and insights. It’s about relevant content creation. It’s about responding personally to tweets. It’s about logging into forums and offering insights. It’s about adding value to current conversations out there. It’s about giving others stuff before expecting their time and money.
This approach is cheaper than any hiring of a PR agency in the long run (who couldn’t do half this stuff anyway) as it’s more authentic, honest and empowers businesses to distribute the message they want, unfiltered.
Check out our vodcasts with social media managers and hear from the likes of Ford, Kodak, SEGA, All Blacks Rugby on how they approach it all.
For me it comes down to this : however much money you throw at people to manage your social spaces for you, I guarantee they won’t have the passion, the understanding of your industry / sector or even the amount of energy to make it a success than you do. Period.
How much does it cost to pay that marketing / pr agency who now happen to do social?
How much time does it take to put together the briefs, manage the relationships, go through the reports, feedback on new messages / tactics etc.?
Going social is an continual investment and not a one-off purchase. The fuel you have to keep putting into the car after you bought it. Outsourcing means paying for a driver as well as the fuel (only a few can afford it, it’s simpler to do yourself and even if you don’t, most people think “why can’t you just drive yourself, lazy show-off?”).
Another thing most social media agencies fail to tell you is social media is really bad for selling stuff. Social spaces are being populated by those pumping their marketing messages through it with no understanding or regard to the essence of the medium.
So many businesses ‘sprinkle’ social media into their marketing, expect immediate results and then dismiss it, thinking that it doesn’t work for their sector. This is absolute nonsense and highlights a failure to understand how the digital world has changed, and how they need to change to keep up.
Social media is not going away and failing to invest properly in it this time will mean a reinvestment further down the line.
A few social media agencies started following me on Twitter recently and I asked them directly for their thoughts on this—none of them got back to me… what does that tell you?!?!?
A message for those thinking about outsourcing :
If you care about your business / organisation and believe in what you are doing, tell your own story, explore how social media can be used internally to save you time & money and please don’t outsource it.
A message for social media agencies :
You’re hurting the industry. You’re polluting and corrupting the spaces. You’re doing it wrong.
The only caveat to the above is for those individuals and agencies helping others start their social media journey, assisting in the start of the process and ‘holding the hands’ of those involved to transition to the client doing it for themselves—this is cool.
Think I’m wrong? OK, leave a comment. I’m open for discussion. Maybe there is room for both offerings in terms of freelancers and agencies managing social spaces and their messages plus other people like us helping people to do it for themselves—if someone can convince me to change my mind then I will happily write a rebuke.
MediaSnackers—not doing anyones social media communications and spaces since 2006—thank you.
26 thoughts on “Why Social Media Shouldn’t Be Outsourced”
Fantastic to see someone blogging about this as I think it is a frustration for so many. I know a number of people who are great characters and would contribute hugely to social media but instead they outsource the work. They lose the human edge. Thanks for this Mediasnackers.
I totally disagree!
Lets take your points above.
Time – might be possible for larger companies to employ marketing people who can be skilled in using social media but MOST SME’s just don’t have that budget. Outsourcing elements of their marketing makes total sense after all, what is the alternative? Busy business owners don’t have time to do it so who will?
Skills – not everyone can learn the skills. We deal with business people who can barely switch on a pc never mind learn something more complex like Facebook. Also, yes Twitter is dead easy but but knowing how to tweet and knowing what, when and who to tweet to is another thing completely. I see SO many businesses doing it wrong its scary. Just look at any list from Twello and see the type of people that make up the top 10 pages – its nearly all Social Media advisors. Doesn’t that tell you that Business People and people with genuinely interesting things to talk about are not doing it correctly otherwise they would also have 000’s of followers.
Social Media is not about making life easier. It certainly doesn’t make my life easier by have a Facebook page, blog and twitter feed to update all day. But it is a communication tool and allows me to converse with my clients, contacts and prospects. It allows me to help others and add value to what we do but at the same time the ultimate goal is to make money. If I didn’t think I could sell off the back of the efforts I put into using social media I wouldn’t bother. The goal of every business is ultimately to make money after all.
BUT, and here’s the crux – its not social medias fault if you don’t sell via it- just as its not the papers fault if your advert doesn’t sell or the radio stations fault if your promotion doesn’t sell. Its your message, the audience you target, the way you use it and the follow up that sells. Social Media is just the vehicle for the communication that you use – its what you communicate that is important.
Business owners don’t always get this which is why they sometimes need help and this is where a social media manager can be useful
Russell – appreciate the push back here and challenges to make me delve a little deeper into the position I took.
You’re right it does take time which is why I mentioned it how it can save time as well. We work with clients to save them this valuable resource to then ‘spend’ it on online social activities.
Totally disagree that not everyone can learn these skills. You make the point you see loads of people doing it wrong and I in turn see equally as many social media advisors doing exactly the same. I would rather enable people to do it right for themselves as they are the experts on them (it’s not that hard – see links to ‘golden rule‘ and ‘being human‘.
Social media makes my life a great deal easier – from talking to my employees / associates, to collaborating with them and partners, to learning from global sources, to cutting my bills, to managing my accounts etc.
Also, most of your response relates to social networking and marketing through social media. Maybe I didn’t make it clear but there’s so much more to this stuff than just that.
Can agree with you though on it’s not social media’s fault if the product / service doesn’t sell – like I always say, you can’t polish a turd (of course you can roll it in glitter but it’s still just a sparkly turd and I don’t want it).
And finally the ultimate goal is an outcome to business not the goal you’re trying to achieve (well it shouldn’t be) – see Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Thanks again for the challenge…
(Disclaimer here for anyone who doesn’t know – I’m proud to work with Mediasnackers occasionally and am a big fan of their work).
I’d cautiously agree with most of this but, in the spirit of the post, I’m playing devil’s advocate and looking for things to disagree with. Here’s what I’ve got:
Time. There’s an extent to which the principle of comparative advantage applies here. Sure, someone could spend the time doing it themselves, but perhaps their time is more effectively spent doing something else. Agencies gain economies of scale on the training/knowledge side of things too.
Skills. I agree with what you say, but I don’t see it as a reason not to outsource – the same could apply to a whole host of other things. For example, most people can wield a mop but nobody complains when a company outsources their cleaning.
Internal benefits. This sounds more like a reason not to outsource to a bad agency. Which is fair enough but that’s a different blog post.
Consumers / clients / customers. This would depend on your approach. There’s an assumption here that ‘being human’ is the only way to go with social media – it’s a good way to go, but any meerkat could tell you it’s not the only way. Also, although I might agree on the ‘passion’ element, there are specialist agencies in many sectors and they’re hugely knowledgable as a result. Mediasnackers gets what the not-for-profit/education sector is about, right?
Ongoing cost. Economies of scale – discounts on premium services, high-levels of training, 24-hour presence – could outweigh those extra transactional costs. The comparative advantage point applies here too. Beyond that (and this applies to any third-party that a company or organisation gives money to, whether that’s a lawyer, cleaner or builder) an agency should either be making/saving you money, providing a quality you can’t effectively provide yourself, opening up new opportunities or helping you deliver your mission. It’s perfectly possible for a good agency to do any/all of those things.
Epilogue. Does it tell you they’re too busy working for their clients or that they know better than to rise to linkbait? ;)
DK, if you think anyone can learn the skills then I need to introduce you to some of my clients. You’ll soon change your mind ;-)
Chris – always good to have your brain on stuff…
Time – you’re right on the comparative advantage stuff, still think the time social media will save individuals / organisations offsets the time to do it yourself.
Skills – loved the mop analogy, although, cleaners don’t speak on behalf of the company.
Internal benefits – maybe I wasn’t as clear in the internal benefits section as I should’ve been – was trying to communicate how it’s not just about marketing / pr…
Consumers / clients / customers – I still stand by my statement that the people in the orgs / businesses should know and be more passionate than external contractors. As for the meerkat model – maybe an exception to prove the rule ;-)
Ongoing cost – you’re totally right that a good agency should do all those things. Just think (in regards to social spaces) it’s not transparent plus won’t in the long term be a sustainable approach.
Epilogue – think it says something else ;-)
Russell – please feel free to connect us…
Hey Russell, Chris and DK,
Thanks for challenging and continuting this conversation. I thought I should respond particularly to your comments Russell.
Skills : Social media has blown open the world of communication and it can seem like quite a complex world to those not involved yet. I would argue that this isn’t an excuse for people not to engage but instead an opportunity for them to learn new skills and invest in the future of communication – social media isn’t going anywhere soon so it is better to understand than remain ignorent. Also, I am interested in knowing what you think doing social media ‘correctly’ would look like. I think there is a perception that followers means success. I would argue that there is an opportunity to miss out on the benefit of depth of relationship. So, I tend to be more interested in advocating quality over quantity.
Selling from Social Media: This is an interesting point and brings to the fore people’s motivations for using Twitter, Facebook etc. I probably come at it from a different perspective and find great enjoyment in the engagement side of Social Media. I doubt we as a business will sell directly through these communication tools but we can develop great relationships, find out more about what is going on out there, expand our horizons and deepen our relationships internally and externally. I think it is a complete ‘put-off’ when people use social media to sell in an exagerated way. Using it to enrich the community, develop understanding about an industry and helping others solve problems should be at the heart of any strategy.
And finally to address the point about time: I agree that outsourcing parts of marketing makes sense for a small business owner. It is just that when it comes to social media I disagree. For me, social media is all about being social (something we all have the ability to do), it is a culture, it is a lifestyle and sometimes to be part of this culture a bit of time (and maybe money) investment is needed. Just to unpackage that, imagine I employ a human representative to speak on my behalf all day long. When I go to the pub this representative would talk on my behalf, when my wife calls they take the call, when a contact I want to get to know better calls up, they might ignore it not understanding the importance of that contact. I may increase my productivity but am I really increasing my perceived value and deepening relationships. Definitely not – it’s a false economy. In fact, I am simply putting people off, losing those I hold dear and also missing out on enriching opportunities for myself.
I think it is the same with social media. Employing someone to manage your Twitter account and tweet on your behalf is cold approach that exemplefies the ‘representative’ approach I highlighted above (just in a digital world). This is damaging social media as there is nothing social about it. I agree that it isn’t social media’s fault, just the fault of those not investing their time in it, not making it part of their culture and not willing to develop relationship for the joy of it.
Remember, we all have the ability to be social, the ability to interact and the ability to learn. This makes social media the perfect opportunity and channel to engage in a simple and meaningful way.
Would love to keep this conversation going.
Great post guys… I am also hugely against outsourcing of Twitter accounts… firstly there are way too many agencies that look after celebs… how can an agency be ‘a person’ sorry but you just cant. To me it is deceiving the people that are following and thinking that they are engaging with the’actual person’….
Then there are the companies that outsource their Twitter activites.. I am against this as well.. Why? because no one knows your business as well as you do, also the twitter stream will lack 2 vital ingrediants… passion and excitement for working for that company and being in a position to engage with your clients / customers…
Also, outsourcing is not a long term strategy.. Much better to train the staff, give them guidance,guidelines and empower them to be your companies greatest advocates…
Russell, I can thoroughly recommend Mediasnackers having attended their beginners training event.
Wholeheartedly agree, we follow exactly the same thinking on training people to do it themselves… if you have a client you think can’t do it, you’re training them wrong in some way. (Wrong method, tools or approach) Not meant as a personal dig at whoever said that.
I’d take that “impossible” client challenge any day of the week too.
John – thanks for the second comment and for communicating better the points that I was attempting…
Mark – again, great roundup of the point of view here.
Luke – got to love the challenge of the ‘impossible client’ :-)
I agree whole heartedly with notion that social media should be managed by the subject. It goes against many of the central tenets of social media, which is about people connecting with people. The human element is its greatest strength. That’s why my company’s twitter feed is branded as my own – its about the personal touch.
However, I do appreciate that often people need a helping hand. I have clients (particularly smaller ones) who don’t know where to start so we happily kick it off for them and manage it too initially, whilst at the same time training them and encouraging them to do it for themselves over time. That way, they can get started and be “lowered” into the water as opposed to thrown in at the deep end.
WE know its easy to learn, but to the average technophobe business owner with no time, inclination, or interest to get to grips with it – it ain’t that simple. Not initially anyway.
(Apologies for time-travelling in comment threads, but this is a reply to comment 6)
Time – I agree that if time is spent internally it can save time elsewhere (I’m sure we all benefit from that constantly). However those hours still have to be spent in the first place and, even taking account of extra efficiencies gained, it might work out better to spend that time on something else. Granted, that’s a tricky calculation to make.
Skills – no, but I wasn’t drawing parallels between the nature of the jobs. My point was that just because anyone could do it, that’s not a reason against outsourcing.
Internal benefits – ah yes, just re-read that and see what you mean. I get that the agencies keen on ‘doing social media’ for clients might not give the whole picture. Could the same be said for agencies that concentrate on providing training for internal teams?
Consumers / clients / customers – nah, there are hundreds of excellent (yet faceless) uses of social media I could point to – clever social games, company resource wikis, open data, job websites using Twitter to DM jobs to people (not spamming), good use of Facebook ads, communicating via characters/personas or just acting out a role. All of those can come under the umbrella of social media despite not necessarily having a recognisable face attached to them. Being human in this space is fantastic and comes with some wonderful benefits, but choosing to go a different way doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.
Ongoing cost – it’s a slight divergence, but I think there are sustainable ways for agencies to operate transparently in social spaces.
I think where we all seem to agree is that outsourcing a personal presence on social media is hugely problematic and, just to be clear, I think it’s hugely important for relevant skills to be embedded within an organisation.
I totally agree with you, however I do need to support one of the comments too which claims that not everyone really can learn how to use social media. Some people already have a blinkered vision about it all, or the expect “doing social media” to simply be a case of opening up a Facebook page or a twitter account. It’s like everything else in life, you reap what you sow. Everyone can pick up a pair of drumsticks too, but not everyone can keep good rhythm ;)
Chris – great comebacks and brain fodder. Won’t respond fully to each point but just to say you have stretched my opinions in these cases (not changed it though).
Fiona – thanks for popping by and raising the important point about the learning curve involved in doing this.
Recent twitter discussion between @drkellypage and @lobsterweb in response to this blog.
lobsterweb: @jachurst @mediasnackers Sorry John, going to have to disagree with you here! I think there is a place for social media managers
about 3 hours ago via web in reply to jachurst
drkellypage: Disagree @lobsterweb To converse within a community need to part of it? Org need to develop digital social skills @jachurst @mediasnackers
about 3 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to lobsterweb
lobsterweb: @drkellypage @jachurst @mediasnackers but you agree that anyone in an org can do this on behalf of a comp? so why cant it be outsourced?
about 3 hours ago via Gravity in reply to drkellypage
drkellypage: @lobsterweb as I said … need to be in a community to converse within it! By community I mean mindset NOT tech. @jachurst @mediasnackers
about 3 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to lobsterweb
drkellypage: @lobsterweb A partner is their own brand mindspace when converse NOT the clients. @jachurst @mediasnackers
about 3 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to lobsterweb
drkellypage: @lobsterweb Org. won’t connect with community if they r not conversing & develop their own digital social skills @jachurst @mediasnackers
about 3 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to lobsterweb
lobsterweb: @drkellypage @jachurst @mediasnackers Not disagreeing with you about being in community. Just think SMM’s have a place and can add value
about 3 hours ago via web in reply to drkellypage
drkellypage: @lobsterweb value in skill share and being part of org. learn BUT not doing for them. Social needs to be real! @jachurst @mediasnackers
about 3 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to lobsterweb
lobsterweb: @drkellypage 1 thing for sure – hard to debate interesting issues in 140 chars or less!
about 3 hours ago via web in reply to drkellypage
drkellypage: @lobsterweb If you can’t say it in 140 characters or less maybe it is not worth saying :-) Doing + Converse = Learning :-)
The problem with many organisations today is that they are distant from the communities within which they coexist, they don’t know how to converse within them in the real world let alone digitally mediated. Communications are increasingly mediated by automated voice response systems, email and web forms for community enquiries.
Real, authentic! By outsourcing social media activities to an agency an/or external partner not only is this partner’s ethos different, their mindset ingrained in a different brand experience (i.e, their own), but also they will be managing many clients, so conversations will become automated, templates and not real! Being social is not like Ad management or automated SEM … it is about being real … so let’s keep it real!
Learning & societal digital literacy development: By outsourcing the activity you outsource the skill and the learning … organisations need to learn more about managing their own digital social web activities. Not only does this help the organisation grown, learn, innovate (and change culture and mindset) it aids the wider community in growing digital literacy throughout society … we learn more by doing and conversing than we do by outsourcing/delegating and watching.
Why is it that PR/Comms and Digital Media agencies should hold the learnings by which they charge access to (and the passcodes) for a fee … goes against the core ethos of the social web and what Tim Berners Lee vision was for the World Wide Web.
participate + converse = learning.
There is my 10 pence worth … and guess what YOU GET IT FOR FREE!
p.s. in response to Matt James about ‘easing them into the water by managing it for them initially’ … by managing it at all you are not giving you clients a chance to learn by doing, even small steps. If you design it, launch it, manage it (even just initially) … your are increasing the psychological barrier of your clients ever taking it over as firstly, they will see how you do it, be daunted by it as your skill proficiency and experience will be different to theirs (not better – different). Why not start small and help them develop habits in how it does become part of their everyday role and activities so they see the value in it and learn … and if they say they don’t have the time to do it themselves, perhaps it is best they don’t do it at all, building relationships takes time, but more important commitment.
Completely agree! The entire point about social media is to inject some personality into our companies, to be ‘real’ and connect humans with other humans! If you outsource that, you are asking outsiders to represent you, and only your staff know the company culture and structure. The whole idea is that our people represent our companies, we succeed or fail because of them, and if we are to create substance and give life to our organisations, then our people must run our social network presence… and what’s more, the younger people in our teams love this stuff and know technology better than we do, and they are excellent at putting social networks to positive use, be creative and be genuine, if you invite them to have a go and give them a chance you will be pleasantly surprised!
In response to Kelly, I just want to pick up on a point you made about encouraging the development of habits so it becomes part of everyday role and activities. I think this is a really important point and perhaps one which should be picked up by organisations managing social media for firms and individuals. Perhaps their focus should be on enabling their client through encouraging effective habits rather than disabling through doing. That way they develop a stronger relationship with their client and the client gains knowledge and understanding.
Couldn’t agree more, I seem to constantly be advising companies against hiring PR agencies to handle their social media. My usual argument is who knows your company, audience and the messages that you want to communicate better than you?! Why ask an outsider to do it?
By all means work with someone (such as MediaSnackers!) to put together a strategy and look at the most suitable channels to use and how to use them… but I think that the actual messages and discussions need to come from within the company so that some personality and honesty comes across. If I want to see a PR spin on what someone is doing – I’ll read their press releases.
Kelly – many thanks for your contributions and aggregation of conversation on Twitter… fascinating stuff.
Matthew – appreciate as ever your thoughts.
John – again, thank you.
Claire – perfect summarisation of the whole blog post better than I could ever put it, cheers.
Couldn’t agree with DK and Kelly more. You need to inhabit an organisation or community to be able to communicate authoritatively and effectively on behalf of it and cultivate/curate conversations both within that community and between it’s member’s/staff and stakeholders and those outside it.
This suggests a strategic mentoring and training role for social media agencies, which is what Carl Morris and I have tried to do with our clients, alongside providing help getting to grips with how internal organisational and cultural changes are resulting from new communications forms. Primarily, we are working to empower clients to take on social media activities, use tools that may be new to them and understand how those tools and actions change what they do. I’m fairly sure that mediasnackers roots most of it’s work in this philosophy too.
There are agencies out there who will ‘do social media’ for you, but this feels to me like PR approach to what is, essentially a different medium. Taking inspiration from things like Cluetrain, we see our work more as handholding organisations as they move through this transition, reviewing the role of communications teams, looking at how they can use social media to ‘do’ what they do, rather than just thinking in terms of telling people about what they do.
The only serious shift from that approach in my experience has been with National Theatre Wales, where we have, at times, led projects which lie well beyond the staff’s abilities and push them into realising new possibilities. It has only felt comfortable understanding ourselves as a part of their community, which has an open and inclusive philosophy, as artist and technicians are constantly moving into and out of core production roles as part of the work the company does.
But the heart of their social media activities rests with their core team, who we have trained and encouraged to speak with their own individual voices, as part of the NTW team. This approach itself has evolved over time, but has been helped by their formation at a time when social media was already seen as relevant, and it’s meaning for internal and external communications and collaboration understood. I think for most clients, there has been a twin process of empowerment and action, coupled with reflection and culture change.
So DK, when you say to ‘social media agencies’, “You’re hurting the industry. You’re polluting and corrupting the spaces. You’re doing it wrong.”, I’m guessing that you’re speaking to those who are looking for outsourcing social media management contracts in a PR industry style, rather than agencies that look to create long term relationships with their clients, who can outsource strategic conversations, training and mentoring to.
The only other cases where I think an outsourced social media management contract might be a good idea is in events, where the brand is not a sustained organisation/project, but a team brought together to create and represent an event, media project (like a film, tv series, show etc), where those at the heart of the project simply don’t have the time to put into managing online comms as well. Then it is one of the jobs of the agency to enable the voice of those driving the vision through proactively creating platforms.
Tom – welcome to the conversation. Our philosophy is a little further removed from the hand holding but more focussed on the head / heart inspiring (kind of akin to lighting the paper and standing well back…) :-)
re: specific question relating to social media agencies – see italicised paragraph under that statement.
Thanks again for your contribution.
I deliver very affordable training in social media, normally only charging £35 per head, the training gives usersconfidence to incorporate social media into their lives. Often businesses come back to me when they are short on time, as the training I deliver has them make a social media plan I can “twitter sit” their accounts for short periods of time following their plan. I agree there is nothing that beats a personal account but there are many people that need to outsource to maintain their presence.For co-management of accounts I charge less than 100pcm. Many companies have assistants who deal with their emails and letters,I see my services as assistance not taking advantage. That said other companies locally charge hundreds for less service, I think we need some guidelines and accreditation to put off the cowboys.
Louise – thanks for your contribution. Great to hear you’re enabling people to get hands on with this stuff. Gutted to hear you’re then doing it for them. It’s the wrong way round. How can someone write a plan on something they know nothing about (see the “Design from the actual rather than the perceived” chapter from our book)…
You’re right most companies do have outsourcing functions for emails / letters, which again is wrong, but social media is more about listening and offering value. Therefore again taking away a crucial element of the process. Will cite one of our chapters again here regarding “You are the experts on you”—I know I wouldn’t want others who don’t know my industry or have the passion for it to communicate on my behalf.
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