Wednesday, January 26, 2011

6 Key Considerations When Outsourcing Your Social Media

I attended a social media panel several months ago, where one of the speakers quite adamantly stated that an organization or brand should absolutely not outsource their social media. Why? Because they should taken an active role in their marketing and identity, and it puts them in touch with their customers on a more direct and personal level. While I understand this perspective, I have met so many business owners over the years who simply don't have time to manage their communities online, and the task just becomes another chore to take care of, instead of a genuine channel to customer communication. Of course, it shouldn't be that way, but the truth is, sometimes social media can be regarded as more work, with unclear results, even when it is working the way it should. Meaning that a company can have a great dialogue going on their Facebook page, but relatively no monetization or conversion to clients, or even to visitors on their web site. Got a thousand Twitter followers? Great, but where are you taking them and, more importantly, where do they want to go in terms of your brand, identity, and products?

From the consultant's point of view, I am all for outsourcing, when it's done correctly and when the deliverables are clear.  And that's not just because I offer it as a service, but I feel it is definitely something that can be handled by "an outside person," as long as they have the right information. It is important, though, that clear approaches, goals, and established timeframes are implemented, so that the social media manager has defined parameters, and the client has a clear sense of the process and its outcomes. Here are some considerations for the client and consultant to establish together in finalizing contracts and agreements, and discussions of deliverables:

1. Which social media tool or tools are best for the brand, and what to choose first? 
Just because Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In are the 3 key tools, many businesses can fall through the social media cracks if they represent a niche area that might not have a strong presence on these platforms. Other niche sites should be researched to determine where the consultant should concentrate their efforts. It's also true that a gradual approach really does work best. A good consultant will advise you to start slow, on 1-2 platforms, and grow from there. Or, some organizations only choose one platform as their chosen communication tool.

2. What does the competition's online brand look like?
Being a community manager for a company without taking a look at their competition and how they are communicating, is like driving on a road with no lights and no highway signs. There is no context.  It's important to know who your competition is,  and how they are communicating with their audience. The next logical step, of course, is to decide how you are going to be different. Will you link to different resources? Will you have a different voice and tone? How is your audience different from theirs?

3. How often will updates be posted?
I was at a panel recently, where most of the businesses indicated that they updated their Facebook posts several times a day, and that their communities pretty much expected this kind of frequency. I've seen very effective Facebook pages where the publishers only posts once a day, or even every few days, but they pack a real punch in their posts, so that it leaves visitors wanting more.  I know that author Tim Ferris only posts on his Fan page 1-2 times a day, but it's always a helpful resource or insight. With Twitter, it's important to find the right balance, as it's easy to overtweet. Your consultant should err on the side of caution and start with a few tweets a day.

4. With Rates and Fees, a Package or Flat Rate May Be the Ticket
Social media updates can vary from simple links and posts that only take a few moments, to longer behind the scenes work in terms of finding relevant links, folks to retweet, important influencers online, etc. In other words, a good social media-ist is going to do their homework in the form of market research, and not only post, but respond to others in the community. Given the sporadic nature of the process, it's best to go with a flat rate in terms of fees. This can be weekly, or ideally, monthly. This allows both the client and the consultant to feel more free, and reduces that "on the clock" anxiety that can come with hourly billing.

5. Agree On a Basic Strategy, But Allow for Wiggle Room
Social media is still new,  with innovations in platforms, technology, and trends, happening all the time. A good social media consultant will include their basic approach in their proposal, but will update and refine their strategy along the way, and this is particularly important for long-term assignments, when the marketplace and audience are likely to change considerably over time. I agree that social media marketing should not be off on its own, but should be an extension of traditional marketing the company has already done, with a few twists and turns along the way, involving more customer involvement and interaction. Planning a contest? Use social media to find out what customers would like to win. Starting a newsletter? You can also use social media  to find out what your audience would like to read about most. Also, the voice, or brand of the company's online voice, needs to be established. If the client is open to a new approach, the consultant should find an online voice that suits the company and its image. If the client has a specific idea of what their online identity is, the consultant should strike a tone consistent with that.

6. Expect Continued Engagement on Both Sides
I've heard stories where clients hand off their social media to consultants, and then take a back seat. It's important with social media as with any outsourced project, that the client stay informed, pay attention, and keep the consultant abreast of any important developments in the company that have content implications. For example, a new promotion, publication, event, or even new staff hire or partnership, are all content rich areas worthy of posting about and linking to, or expanding on through a blog.

These are just a few of the considerations to think about -- there are certainly many others I didn't mention here. For those of you who have both been hired or who have done the hiring for outsourced social media, what tips do you have to share?

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