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Outsourcing Social Media without Selling Your Soul

the devil turns her backI was the voice of dissent on a panel yesterday at SXSW titled Outsourcing Social Media without Outsourcing Your Soul with Nicole Simon, Kate Buck and Elizabeth Bellanti.  In room packed with agency people, my opinion on outsourcing social media marketing was more than just a little controversial.

We stirred up a heated back channel debate that’s still going on a day later.  So be warned that if you read this blog post, you might wind up feeling angry, upset or possibly even threatened.  If you’re an agency person, you might feel the need to speak up and defend yourself, or your clients. And you might think that I’m your enemy.

But if you take the time to read this ENTIRE post carefully, and genuinely consider the argument I am about to make, you’ll probably wind reassessing your approach to social media marketing altogether, and realize that I’m not writing this post to deprive you of agency billings.  I’m writing it to help you by telling what no one else will. I’m going to show you how and why the way you’re trying to win new business for your clients is distasteful at best, unethical at worst.  And also why, ultimately, it’s a dead end strategy.

But before I ruffle your feathers, let me first say that if you’re a client, I DO think it IS possible to outsource much of your social media marketing workload, and if you’re an agency, there ARE plenty of ways you CAN help your clients with social media marketing.  There’s no shortage of billable social media hours to be outsourced.  The mistake, as I see it, is that a lot of clients are taking an unsustainable approach which is likely to result in a rude awakening, kind of like the wake-up call Chrysler’s agency sent to the automaker’s management last week.  Had there not been such a severe case of social media illiteracy in the boardroom, Chrysler never would have outsourced their voice in the first in place.

So here it is, the bomb I’m about to drop.  Are you ready?  Clients outsourcing their voice, and agencies accepting that bsuiness, are blowing it big time, because when it comes to social media marketing, outsourcing your voice is almost like outsourcing your integrity. The smarter approach is showing employees how to use these channels appropriately, because they know more about your business already, and have a much stronger incentive to see your company win. At the end of the day, most employees care more than outsourced labor, because they get more than a paycheck for their efforts.

Outside the Austin Convention Center during SXSW were hoards and hoards of temporary hires handing out coupons, stickers and postcards. If you ask any of them a question about the brand, product or service they’re promoting, it becomes clear rather quickly that they have no specialized knowledge in what they’re promoting at all.  What’s the ROI of that strategy?  By handing out collateral and not being able of having an intelligent conversation with prospects, they’re going the megaphone route.  They’re not listening.  And they’re incapable of responding.  It’s antisocial behavior.

And that’s why for most companies, outsourcing the conversational side of social marketing is a bad idea, because unless your representatives are as knowledgeable about your products and services as your employees are, they’re not going to be able to hold up their side of the conversation.  Marketing has become analogous to a sort of cocktail party.  It’s not about monologues.  It’s about dialogue.  And the only person who can represent you at a cocktail party is you.

As a former big agency guy, I’m going to tell you something the big agencies will never admit.  Agencies, regardless of what they’ll say publicly, would be out of business if they invested that heavily in any one client relationship.  Sure, there may be a few out there that can brag about 20 and 30 year client relationships.  But they’re in the minority.  Client turnover happens so often  it’s the driving news beat in the ad trades.  So if you’re okay with flying soulless, go ahead and outsource your voice.  But if want hold onto your integrity, outsource anything BUT your voice.

In my next post, I’ll give 3 smart strategies for outsourcing social media marketing without selling your soul.

Photo by Thomas Churchwell under Creative Commons License.

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