Why Outsourcing Social Media Is Working for Businesses
Many large companies worldwide are facing a conundrum when it comes to using social media to help generate new business.
On the one hand, firms of all stripes are pouring large sums of money into using paid media to do outreach to consumers on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter — and are allocating larger slices of their digital ad pies for that purpose.
In the United States alone, advertisers will spend $9.59 billion on social ads this year, according to the market research firm eMarketer. This represents a 31 percent surge from the 2014 outlays on social media, and more than double what was put into this segment in 2013.
By 2017, U.S. advertisers will boost their social ad outlays to $14.4 billion, eMarketer projects. By that point, social ads are expected to consume nearly $1 out of every $5 in U.S. advertisers' budgets.
This year, social will account for 15.9 percent of North American ad budgets — up from 10.5 percent just two years ago. But while eMarketer has estimated that nearly 90 percent of companies with 100-plus employees did social marketing last year, many firms are also having trouble achieving their goals in that realm.
A study that Ascend2 published in December 2014 discovered that 43 percent of respondents found a lack of in-house resources and skills as their most challenging obstacle to success from social media marketing. Another 42 percent complained about an inability to measure return on investment, and 39 percent cited a lack of effective strategy.
These results suggest that for many companies it may make sense to outsource the job of social outreach to prospective customers (something that the Ascend2 study found 53 percent of respondents were doing, in whole or in part).
However, as companies worldwide learned during the great outsourcing boom of the previous two decades, farming out important jobs carries risk.
As Hootsuite has pointed out, having someone else handle your social marketing can result in everything from an added layer of bureaucracy for customers to navigate to slower response times to consumer inquiries.
In social media outsourcing, as in every area of business, it's important to pick partners wisely — and to follow sensible practices in managing your relationships with those vendors.
5 Keys to Success
Success in outsourcing social marketing boils down to five considerations:
1. Setting realistic goals: Before talking to prospective vendors, executives need to establish what they want to achieve from a social campaign and how outreach in this realm can help achieve them it. Up-front research is key to know what's doable.
2. Doing due diligence: A relationship with a key vendor can bear certain similarities to marriage. As any divorce lawyer can attest, bad marriages can wreak havoc on the lives of everyone involved. It's thus vital to do as much up-front checking on prospective vendors as possible.
3. Being reasonable: As CIO.com has pointed out, hardball business tactics (e.g., beating vendors down on price or paying bills slowly) can lead to hard feelings — and problems down the road. Maintaining good relationships with vendors can lead to better results for both parties.
4. Using a carrot and stick: In social media, as in any area of outsourcing, it makes sense to pay for performance. This means structuring the vendor's compensation so it has an incentive both to work only in the client's best interests and to help achieve business goals.
5. Getting everything in writing — including an escape hatch: If client and vendors both leave extensive paper trails on their key interactions, it provides both parties with strong motivations to live up to their sides of the bargain, along with a quick and fair way to resolve disagreements. Every vendor agreement should provide the customer with some type of "kill switch" to get out of the deal if things aren't working out.
Ultimately, a relationship between a company and its social media vendor is just that — a relationship. And like any interaction between people, the client will only get out of the association what it puts in.
The more a vendor can learn about a client's business and its goals, the better the vendor can serve.
And isn't that what outsourcing is about in the first place?
Related story: Which Social Media Platform is Right for Your Brand?