A recent survey conducted by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association yielded some interesting findings, including:
- Social marketing budgets are anticipated to increase significantly over the next few years, possibly reaching 18% of total marketing budgets by 2015; and
- 72% of companies had outsourced some aspect of their marketing programs, and 41% of companies expected to outsource more in 2011.
What do these data points tell us? You got it – more and more companies are outsourcing their social marketing activities. In fact, Econsultancy recently reported that over the past year there has been a 12% increase in the number of companies that do just this.
Now, you might be thinking … sourcing of PR and marketing is nothing new – companies have been using advertising agencies for years. But don’t be fooled; social media marketing is not like more traditional advertising. Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have become the real-time, no room for error, the whole-world-will-see-it, voice of many businesses.
So why are companies choosing to outsource their social media marketing?
The increase in social marketing outsourcing can be attributed to three primary factors:
- Time. Social networks run 24×7 and require that social media marketing campaigns be more “around-the-clock” than “9-to-5.” In addition, it is not enough simply to HAVE a Facebook page or Twitter account, for example. Companies must actually DO something with them, which can take a lot of time (that in-house staff may not have) – for example, to develop new and relevant content for the ever-increasing number of social networks.
- Complexity. The web of social media networks is getting more and more complex, and so are the “rules” (written or implied) about using them. It can be scary to initiate a social media campaign – Where do you start? What can you do to avoid an un-intended faux pas?
- Content Development. As previously mentioned, content development is very time consuming. It also requires a particular skillset — one that may not be readily available in-house — to draft informative, witty, engaging content for the social networks. With the explosion of Web 2.0, stale or dull content translates into irrelevance or, even worse, cluelessness, and that is not the brand image any company wants among the Web consumers.
But what should companies think about when outsourcing their social media marketing?
Like with any outsourcing (whether it be IT, payroll, procurement, you name it) allowing a third party to perform a core function of your business is not without risk. Indeed, one might say that outsourcing your social marketing may carry even greater risk because it directly impacts your company’s image (and possibly brand) in the marketplace. So what should a company think about when deciding whether to outsource its social marketing activities?
- Scope. Think about social media in two parts – social media strategy & social media execution. In many instances, it may not be appropriate to rely on the outsource provider to develop the strategy (although employing advisers to assist in this regard may well be appropriate).
- Product Knowledge/Culture. Choosing the right sourcing partner is crucial to the success of social media outsourcing. That partner should be able to speak knowledgeably about your service / product offerings, and do so in a manner that aligns with your company’s brand and your company’s (and customers’) culture.
- Liability. Errors may be made – either intentionally or not. Take the recent Chrysler Twitter debacle.Companies must have in place both contractual protections and related processes (1) to minimize the risk of errors, and (2) to quickly react, respond to and resolve errors that may occur.
- ROI. Social media marketing campaigns may not always easily translate into measureable increases in revenue. Regardless, the qualitative benefits of social marketing (such as customer engagement, market awareness) have become very important to companies. Social media marketing advisers do employ certain metrics to measure success in these areas, including increases to number of Facebook followers and the number of readers who actively engage in some kind of dialogue. Determining appropriate metrics and building them into service levels and performance indicators, where appropriate, will allow you to ensure that you are getting your money’s worth – even if knowing how this impacts your bottom line may not be crystal clear.
Although social media marketing is not what comes to most people’s minds when they think about outsourcing, it shares many of the same challenges, risks and opportunities as other more “traditional” outsourced services. Getting it right requires a well thought out strategy, a talented and trustworthy outsourcing partner and a contract that clearly specifies roles and aligns interests. With anything less, there is a high risk of disappointment, failure or, even worse, a negative impact on a company’s image and brand.