My friend Vickie emailed an interesting article from CRMBuyer that discussed the future of social media for business. It sees great growth in social media spending by businesses, citing a Forrester Research claim that social media spending by businesses will top $4.6 billion by 2013.
The article also claims that many businesses simply don't have the available resources to launch social media initiatives, and will probably have to outsource this function. I won't disagree with this, and also won't disagree with the article's claim that for the average company, using social media in the near future "seems a nearly unavoidable business necessity".
However, while outsourcing might be necessary for the near-term, I would encourage companies to make every effort NOW to get up to speed on using social media sites and tools themselves. If knowing how to communicate with your customers via social media will become a necessary business function moving forward, then it's only logical that such businesses should make moves NOW to put themselves in a position where they can handle these functions themselves.
Here's three ways I think companies can do this:
1 - Instead of outsourcing social media projects to a consultant or social media firm, hire them to train your company on using these tools. Bring them in for a day to expose you to these tools, and give you the background on how to get started using them. Then later you can bring them in for a more advanced session, if necessary. The idea is to get your familiar with, and using these tools as soon as possible. That's the best way to learn, and many consultants, including myself, provide social media training services.
2 - If you DO outsource a social media project, make sure that part of the services that the consultant or firm provides is training on using the tools. This is a must, don't even consider a firm/consultant that won't add training as part of the social media project you are hiring them to perform. For example, if you hire a consultant to launch a company blog for you, if they don't train you on how to properly use the tool, what happens when the project ends? They leave, and suddenly you are left with a blog that you have little to no idea how to properly use. So then you either have to stumble along figuring it out yourself, or you have to hire another consultant/firm to teach you how to properly blog. Make sure that any social media work you outsource includes a teaching element. This way, when the project ends, it's ending because the work has been done, AND because you now know how to use the tools/sites appropriately.
3 - When hiring employees to work in your marketing, PR and customer service departments especially, put a premium on familiarity with social media sites and tools. These social site and tools aren't going away, and increasingly your customers, especially your younger customers, are going to be quite fluent with them. So if you can, hire new employees that are comfortable using these tools, as they can help teach their fellow employees on how to properly use them.
The end result from adopting these strategies is that your company will become self-sufficient when it comes to launching most/all social media strategies. Why continue to outsource what will likely be a business necessity moving forward?
Pic via Flickr user kid.mercury
I agree with your post but I would also add that when a business hires a consultant for any marketing or communications, that consultant should always have as a goal that they leave the business smarter about marketing and communications than they were before the consultant arrived. One of our jobs, in addition to getting a business noticed and growing revenues and profits, is to help our clients understand what we are doing and why.
Agree completely Lewis, this is why I mentioned that companies that DO outsource, should demand that training be included that shows them how to use the tools that are being implemented. I just don't want companies to be married to using outsourcing social media work as a long-term strategy. They need to become self-sufficient ASAP, and consultants/firms need to be driving them toward that goal.
The job of the strategies, beyond coming up with the big idea or insight or research angle is to EDUCATE. Educate the agency team on what the client needs beyond their stated goals. Educate the client on the why and the context of the strategy, not just the "this will result in a lift of XXX leads!".
Thanks for writing this Mack. Its a great post on something I am passionate about. We can't claim to be about "the conversation" if we keep putting up structures to control how the client's communicate. We need to be teaching men to fish instead of being fishmongers.
I definitely think you should outsourcer social media initiatives. Social media takes a lot of time that most people and companies don't have.
Good tips. I don't believe in outsourcing your social media. I mean, who knows your products better then you. You can't expect others to REALLY care for your products. A social media expert might build you a great social network.
You are right : hire a social media expert to teach your employees how to build your social network.
Great points Mack.
I'll add to the argument, which relates to your point of SM training, is that a co. is better off learning themselves because no one knows your company better than yourself (I hope). A consultant has all the tools and strategies ready to go but I feel only you can truly give it that authentic touch.
This is an important post, Mack, for social media consultants and the business people who hire them. If people could just get past the platform they'd realize that community building online is the same as it is in person.
It seems ridiculous to outsource a cocktail party or customer appreciation event, but that's exactly what you're doing when you don't show up online.
I think outsourcing social media is one of the worst things a company could possibly do. I think hiring an outside expert to help set up the best strategy for a company and teach them the right way to use the tools is a great way to get started, but ultimately it's your brand and your personality that are going to make the difference. From my experience, unless you have an outside consultant that knows your brand inside out AND backwards, you won't see the same kind of success with any kind of campaign than if you take up the torch yourself.
The value of a consultant is the broad range of experience (from within and across other industry sectors) they bring to bear when devising strategy and mapping tactics to achieve strategic goals.
Unless US corporate communications departments are significantly different from Canadian ones, they're working in isolation from their own industry, still don't have a seat at the C-level, and need consultants to help them implement best practices.
So I'm disagreeing with you, somewhat. Yes, give them the tools and training after strategy's been determined. But at least quarterly and preferably monthly check ups/tune ups/tweaks need to be performed and that should include a check-in with your consultant.
Mack, great post and were doing/working with a good set of clients doing some sort of outsource that clearly want to be more educated but lack the staff to take it on. What we see inside to corp is still thinking that social media is like an ad buy marketing not strategic. This view is starting to turn. The lack of staff to do the day to day task is making the need for smarter tools that can help them be smarter about what is going on with their networks.
Hi Mack, hope you are enjoying the weekend.
This is a great post and its significance only grows as executives flounder to try the next best thing, this Social Media euphoria. There are certainly some folks out there that companies could outsource too, but what we have seen in the apartment industry from a few of the big REITs that are dipping their toe in is the approach is significantly flawed. Opinions are being formed based on tainted information from folks that do not appear to understand the basics of Social Media. This is all a work in process for all of us, but some folks are so hungry for that next marketing fix, that they seem intoxicated on Social Media grandeur.
I know this stuff works, but until the executive, the business owner, the guy or gal at the top of the pyramid is ready and willing to hand the conversation over to the customer, and listen first, talk later and participate in the conversation as opposed to controlling the message, there will be a lot of continued misconceptions.
I believe you should try everything for yourself at least once to gain experience, but definitely outsource to clear up your time later on.
It will do you no good to do things on your own that someone else is much better at and more efficient at doing.
Remember to concentrate on your strengths. Outsource the rest!
Your time is valuable.
While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!
"help our clients understand what we are doing and why"
good point lewis!
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