Thursday, April 5, 2012
How do you outsource social media marketing?
According to a study by Social Media Examiner, social media outsourcing is set to grow by 128 percent over the next two years. This year, 32 percent of companies are likely to outsource some social media functions, up from 28 percent in 2011 and 14 percent in 2010. Given the skills resident in many agencies, this is a positive development. Especially for B2B marketing companies new to social media, using outside resources can help you accelerate your entry into this channel while simultaneously making it more effective.
But, it doesn’t make sense to outsource all social media activities: some lend themselves better to this model than others. Below, take a look at the percentage of surveyed companies that outsource each social media function, as well as the relative merits and risks of each.
1. Design and development (20 percent): this makes sense to me. Social media application design and development can require special knowledge and skills (especially when it comes to the APIs), and it can be expensive to keep or cultivate them in house. Also, app designers and developers will have insights from across multiple clients, which can be useful to the marketing departments that engage them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this number increase, especially through the use of packaged social media tools like those from Buddy Media, Wildfire and Strutta.
2. Analytics (11 percent): if you’re looking for advanced metrics – something more than click-throughs and likes – you’re probably going to turn to an external analytics platform (for this, I’m a big fan of Hubspot). This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re outsourcing the interpretation, just using third-party tools to gather them and provide a reporting and analysis framework. I’ve gone with both the in-house and third-party approaches, and I much prefer the latter, especially if you’re looking to truly measure the impact of social media marketing on your pipeline.
3. Content creation (10 percent): I have mixed feelings about outsourcing content development. For video, it’s generally a no-brainer (and to a lesser extent, this is true for audio). Yet, for thought leadership content and written material, I’m less enthusiastic about it. There are cases where outsourcing content development is prudent. Examples include: using a former employee who knows your business and the people inside it, engaging someone who is known to be knowledgeable about your industry (but not necessarily a former employee), finding a fantastic content developer who can bring additional value through a responsive personal social network or solid SEO skills and when you just don’t have the capabilities in house to do it yourself (and can’t or won’t invest in them). I know I’ve gone on a bit long here (I’m a content marketer at heart), but outsourcing content creation can be tricky. If you plan to do it, contact me, and I’ll help you out (tjohansmeyer [at] gmail.com).
4. Monitoring (7 percent): this can be easy to outsource, and it alleviates the need to commit people and invest in third-party social media tools. It’s a lot of work for what doesn’t always appear to be a direct return. The big problem is that much of the information you’ll get through social media monitoring will either be (a) a solid lead opportunity that requires either cultivation or selling or (b) “soft” information that could benefit messaging, product development or other internal operations. In both cases, it helps to be close to your organization, and there is understanding and access to people in your company that comes more easily from being in the marketing department. Knowing what matters most and who to contact with it is harder when you don’t sit inside a company’s walls.
5. Research and strategy (7 percent and 6 percent): Hubspot, in a recent blog post, warns about “gurus” and “ninjas” – and other absurd names social media consultants assign to themselves. I couldn’t agree more. Part of the reason companies aren’t outsourcing more social research and strategy, I suspect, is because there are so few providers with the guns to do a good job. Also, much of this needs to be tightly integrated to your broader marketing strategy, making it easier to keep these activities in house (for now).
6. Status updates (6 percent): this isn’t all that different from content creation, above. And why would it be? Status updates are social media content. Unless you have a great consultant who is tightly integrated into your organization, status updates can come across as flat and uninspired. Also, it’s usually easy enough to do this with in-house resources. It doesn’t take long and can be written in batches and scheduled with a tool like HootSuite. What I would suggest, whether you’re outsourcing this or not, is to have content creators develop bundles: for example, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn updates to be “packaged” with each blog post. It saves time and keeps your message consistent across all platforms.
7. Community management (4 percent): again, this is a tough one to outsource. You need to be actively involved and close to the audience. Unless you’re getting a consultant to make a significant commitment of time (and if you’re going to make one financially), it’s best to make this an internal function.
Photo: Dmitir N. via Flickr