My January Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column: outsourcing your social media efforts

My January Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column discusses the advantages of outsourcing your business’s social media efforts when you can’t adequately handle it in house. What are your thoughts on this sometimes controversial practice?

Sometimes it’s better to hand the reins to someone else

In an earlier column, I wrote about the key traits to look for when developing your social media team. As I stated, organizations often focus on qualities of lesser importance — technical skill and youth, for example — instead of concentrating on things that are significantly more critical like good judgment and communication skill. The bottom line is that it’s crucial to choose the right people because nothing will be more central to your organization’s success in deploying social media.

There’s another option to consider, however, that might make your efforts even more worthwhile: outsourcing social media to a trusted vendor. It may seem unnecessary given how easy most social media sites are to use, and it may even seem unwise given how much value is placed on authenticity and transparency in the social sphere. Nevertheless, an increasing number of organizations are learning that leveraging the power of social media often requires supplemental help.

In this sense, social media is a lot like other aspects of your business. Many companies find that it’s better to hire, train and compensate professionals to handle a wide range of responsibilities, including IT, HR, accounting, etc. Others, however, believe they are better served by partnering with vendors who specialize in those and other areas. This not only reduces the over head that comes with employing a dedicated staff member, but it often gives these companies access to a much higher quality of expertise than they could afford if they brought someone in-house.

The key is remembering that just because you can do something yourself doesn’t always mean you should. Most us could, for example, cut our own hair, but most of us don’t.

It’s important to remember, too, that even if you don’t farm out all your social media efforts you still may benefit from having certain services performed by a vendor. Generally, there are three services most reputable vendors can provide:

  • Strategy development: in which a vendor works with you to understand everything from your goals in using social media to the resources you have to put toward the effort. The vendor then develops a written strategy to guide your efforts moving forward.
  • Training: in which a vendor educates your staff about both the theoretical aspects of using social media — how to deal with upset customers, for example — as well as the nuts and bolts, adding photos, formatting posts, using a specific interface and the like.
  • Implementation: in which the vendor acts as your organization’s social media voice, developing content and posting and responding to the audience on your behalf.

The third of these, implementation, is a topic of some controversy. Some believe it’s heresy to have a vendor implement a social media strategy for a brand. The truth is, however, many organizations would never get a social media strategy off the ground without help from someone dedicated to making it a priority. Most organizations tremendously underestimate the amount of time it takes to maintain a social media presence. Combine this with the fact that social media tends to fall into the “when we get around to it” category, and you can see why so many organizations never even begin to realize a return on their investment of resources. Contracting with a vendor ensures that social media will remain a priority and get the attention it needs in order to deliver the results you want.

Having a vendor act as your social media voice may sound like a novel idea, but it’s very similar to something most of us now accept without question: the call center. While they’re not right for every business, call centers can provide a strategic advantage to organizations looking to emphasize customer service while allowing their internal staff to focus on competencies other than answering the phone.

As social media becomes recognized as an excellent customer retention and service channel, a vendor can serve the same role in the social space, allowing the organization to ensure that customers are addressed more promptly than they would be if the internal staff were fielding ques tions. The key is selecting that vendor carefully, communicating with it thoroughly and positioning it as a true partner by keeping it apprised of any changes in your strategy or objectives.

When it comes to social media, there’s a lot to consider in deciding what’s right for your business. It’s important to remember, however, that you don’t have to do it all on your own. If you’d prefer to handle it in-house, be sure to give your staff the resources they need to succeed and the time they’ll need to make it a priority. But don’t let a lack of internal staff stand in your way. Decide where a vendor can help you, and then choose the partner that’s the right fit for your organization. You just might find that the best way to get it done right is by having someone else do it for you.

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