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October 20, 2009

Yes, You Can Outsource Social Media Marketing

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There are times when it seems the only fact people can agree upon is that they disagree.

And so it goes that on a single panel during a major Internet marketing conference, two speakers regarded for their expertise and experience can disagree on such a fundamental level.

During the presentation Social Media: White Hat vs. Black Hat at Search Engine Strategies New York this past August, Search & Social’s Dave Snyder and MarketingProfs’s Beth Harte sat feet away from each other at a table at the front of a room. And yet a chasm filled the space between their differing opinions.

social media icons
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With more and more companies becoming aware of the concepts of social media marketing and how SMM can contribute to business goals, more and more Internet marketing firms are making SMM training, services and consulting available.

Which raised the debate that has since divided the Internet marketing community: To outsource SMM or not to outsource SMM, that is the question.

As reported earlier this month by The Wall Street Journal, the demand for social media consulting services is there. And while services come in many different shapes and sizes, there’s an across-the-board question that has to be answered before a company commits to a consultant. To what degree will SMM outsourcing work for my business?

One argument goes that since social media is where people communicate, everyone involved is best served if they are sincere and speak for themselves. Panelist Beth Harte also described this effect, which I reported in my liveblog coverage of the event:

Beth has an issue with ghost blogging and ghost tweeting. They don’t know enough about your company. Some products and services are very complex, and an agency will never know enough about the product to produce content that’s compelling to the community. And if you approach it as just putting in the buzzwords, the community will sense the BS.

But, as with anything else, this issue isn’t black and white, as explained by panelist Dave Snyder (and as summarized by me):

Unlike search where there’s a guideline set in front of you, the community guides the social ethics. It’s really important to understand how to utilize each platform. Each community has its own guidelines. There’s spam, then there’s automation, then there’s conversation. It’s different shades of gray. Look at how the community for each platform reacts to different marketing tactics.

In truth, we’re all human and we can all relate to the gripes Internet users face while on their social networks. And we can almost as easily avoid being the source of such annoyance if aware of the trap.

expert skiier
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Who better to avoid social media traps than those armed with community experience, a complete understanding of platform terms of service, and standing clout with the audience? There’s no one more equipped than a social media marketing professional in these areas.

The disagreement may stem from a misunderstanding between parties that when social media marketing is outsourced, ties between the social media presence and the organization are cut off. But since when did anyone expect that they could set and forget social media marketing?

As with all outsourced services, communication between client and agency needs to be constant and flowing. The client must always be an active participant in their organization’s social media presence, suggesting topics of interest, exciting announcements to share, and their sense of the industry’s pulse. The agency must be proactive about making sure the message and language fits the audience’s expectation, seeking out clarification when uncertain and receiving client approval when appropriate.

There are no rights and wrongs in social media marketing — it’s about what works, what resonates and what builds community. The company president doesn’t insist on tackling every task within the organization. She relies on her trusted members of her team to do the job right. Likewise, the client-agency relationship is one of members of the same team. And communication, understanding and cooperation are keys to any successful relationship — social media or otherwise.

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7 responses to “Yes, You Can Outsource Social Media Marketing”

  1. SEO Doctor writes:

    With outsourcing comes risk. Like outsourcing link building to India, you begin to expose your brand to risk. Reputation management after the damage is done will cost you more than the money you saved outsourcing.

  2. Lisa Barone writes:

    I think the problem often starts when people assume that outsourcing social media and automating it are one in the same. They’re not.

  3. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Doc, thanks for your comment. First off, I wasn’t talking about link building, which, since links are so scrutinized, is a delicate task best performed by a qualified and knowledgeable party. I was talking about social media presence, and while there is overlap, I don’t consider them one in the same. In the case of social media, any business must do their due diligence before hiring an agency to manage their social media marketing.

    Lisa, word.

  4. Business Process Outsourcing writes:

    I think doc has a point. The company risks their image when they engage in outsourcing.

  5. Beth Harte writes:

    Just one question. If social media can be outsourced and I hired you today… How would you go about being ME on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and my blog? And what would you say? [Okay two questions. ;)]

  6. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hi Beth! To answer your question I’ll assume we’re talking about a brand an not an individual. A qualified social media marketing organization would sit down with members of the organization to tailor a social media strategy that meets the goals of the client. The platforms you mention (Twitter, Facebook, blogs) each require attention fitting of the expectations of the community and targeted audience within. To make suggestions for each of these unique platforms without an understanding of the organization’s goals and conversions would results in generalized information which is readily available — the kind of stuff the online marketing community shares with each other every day. But for a specific brand, step one is creating a tailored strategy that takes goals, resources and the community into account.
    Of course, you’re a marketer, too, so is this a trick question? What are your thoughts, Beth?

  7. Beth Harte writes:

    Virginia, but I am a company… Harte Marketing & Communications (I also work for MarketingProfs FT).

    Back to my original question…how would you be ME? If I hired Bruce Clay tomorrow, could you take over and continue what I’ve built? If so, how would you do it? How would you be me?



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