To Out-source or not to Out-source, that is the question...
"Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer/The Slings and Arrows of internal resource constraints/Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles/And by outsourcing Social Media, end them?"
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
It seems to be that the Social Media Industry is impaled on the horns of a dilemma: is it better to out-source Social Media activity or to keep it in-house? Everyone in the industry will have a strong opinion on the subject that may or may not be conflicted by their actual role in life depending on whether they work in house or with an agency.
This article by Kelsey Meyer at Fortune Magazine, for instance, puts the case very strongly that to outsource your Social Media is unthinkable, and akin to asking an intern to speak for you at a conference!
However, this article by Jayson Demers at Search Engine Watch makes a great argument that simply because of the complex mix of talents needed to make a Social Media campaign work, you have no choice but to outsource to an agency that has a wealth of such talent-mix.
However, after 18 months of consulting via both models - short-term projects to plan, enable and help execute internal Social Media functions; as well as managing aspects of clients' Social Media on an ongoing basis - I have reached the conclusion that the problem should not be thought of in such a binary fashion. Not everything need be outsourced, and if outsourced, perhaps not for ever. Once you break Social Media down ot its various component parts you can see that some aspects of it can very appropriately be outsourced to take advantage of external resources; while some aspects of it - if outsourced - defeat the very purpose of the whole project.
Affinity content - posting helpful third party content on your channels is a critical and fairly time consuming task but can easily be outsourced to your PR agency or delegated to an intern. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand criterea of selection - sources of content, strategic topics, posting protocols. However, with this activity sustainably managed, you are off to the races!
Ghost writing and word-smithing - it is the nature of the beast that the thoughts that should power your thought leadership blogging will come from some of the busiest, least accessible people in the organisation. Only very rarely can you get these people to commit to consistent blogging and tweeting. But as long as you can get a sense of their thinking through very quick interviews, emails or even just by hearing them speak, it is is totally appropriate in my view to have their thoughts ghost written, as long as they have approval rights.
Content production - for some of the more high-end content production also, it is actually very sensible and certainly more affordable to outsource projects such as Inforgraphic design, video production or podcast recording.
Monitoring - it is very common for organisations to outsource their Social Media monitoring, often times even off-shore. This works very well as a safety net but should not be fully depended upon. Someone in-house should also monitor the corporate channels for responses and the keyword search agents for business opportunities.
Reporting - reporting is arduous and in many case fairly automatic and so compilations of large reports of data - audience increases, sentiment, trending topics and so on is most economically managed by an agency
- Analysis - while reporting can certainly be done externally, the learning from that data should be done in-house. One of the main and most compelling reasons for keeping Social Media in house is that if you don't learn from the interactions and trends, then much of the effort is wasted. The potential Social Media has for advancing your understanding of your customers and prospects is one of its most exciting yet oft-overlooked.
- Engagement - for all but the most banal "high five" type of customer engagement on Corporate Social Media Accounts, there must be a protocol for at the very least workshopping responses internally. This is the very kernel of authenticity and to outsource this is to disrespect your customers.
- Thought leadership - equally insulting to your customers is to totally outsource your content production to the extent that external writers come up with the concepts, language, topics and positions totally in a vacuum. All content must at least have as its essence an idea or thought created internally. It isn't called "owned" content for nothing.
- Strategy direction - I help a lot of clients develop their strategy but as an "in-sourcing" project. But the main direction of the strategy is still internal and the help that I provide is to draw it all together and consult on execution. It is so important that Social Media aligns with the overall business strategy. If strategy is directed externally, it is more likely to serve the interests of that external party!
- Measurement - as with analysis, judging what works and what doesn't is a task best suited to in-house custodians. Social Media suffered for a long time by its tendency to measure "vanity statistics" such as increases in Likes and Followers - but this serves the agency agenda far better than that of the client. What matters to the client is if the activity is "touching" their customers and this is best indicated by the degree to which they comment and share. The client is the best judge of success.
Ultimately the goal is to create a Social Media function that is Sustainable, Affordable and Authentic. Along the way it will be expedient to outsource certain elements of that program in order for it to gain traction, prove itself and win more resources. The longer Social Media is allowed to prove itself the better as the best results are yielded after consistency is proven, audience built and value delivered.
As a result while I feel Social Media can and should be managed in house, and I have proven services to assist the development of that, organisations also need help in certain areas to execute their Social Media and I have proven services to help in that regard also. But these thoughts have been a helpful guide in deciding which is best.
Picture Credit: http://blog.mcpc.com/