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