In an online social media discussion group I belong to, a member asked the other day whether, in order to have an effective social media strategy, a company needs to have its own social media department or in-house staff.
A discussion followed about the comparative merits and limitations of in-house staff resourcing for social media, versus outsourcing.
Some argued for outsourcing the whole process to a company specializing in social media. Others felt that it made more sense to keep, variously, some or all of the process in-house.
My own view is that it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision.
But I’ve heard the full outsourcing pitch often enough from owners of outsourcing businesses to know that they can have a firmly held belief that the only sensible thing any business can do is to outsource the whole process to them, the self-proclaimed social media expert service providers.
And of course on the business owners’ side, there is no shortage of those who would rather write a check and have someone else handle the whole thing than get directly involved themselves.
Even if they have staff who might be able to develop and implement a social media strategy, they can probably adduce some very good reasons for not wanting to either divert those people from their existing responsibilities, or hire new staff for the purpose.
I understand that approach. We’re all busy and circumstances for many businesses these days are very challenging.
But what bothers me about this “outsource it all” approach is that companies which take that course of action never really learn, from day-to-day, “hands-on” practice, what is really involved in connecting via social media with the newly connected, newly empowered customer.
It is partly an age thing. Many older business owners and executives just don’t want to learn new tricks.
But there is a lot more at stake here than new tricks. There is a whole new environment in which business has to operate.
Missing an opportunity
No matter how practical the decision may seem, it seems to me self-evident that any company which outsources completely the social media function is choosing thereby to miss out on an irreplaceable opportunity to learn from practice, including mistakes, how it all works.
Not that I expect busy professionals in fields other than social media to invest the kind of time and money I and other colleagues have done into learning about social media, or to be anything like engaged as some of us are on a daily basis.
It’s a matter of balance.
Naturally I’m all for companies engaging social media strategists!
And I believe that in that role I can usually bring something of fresh value to the table, to help the company develop a strategy that is right for it, as well as being available to provide some other support services.
The key to my preferred approach, which I spell out to clients, is that I aim to “leave the tools behind“, so that the company can become effectively self-sufficient in developing and maintaining their presence on the social web.
What that means is that I help them build their basic strategy in house so they really own it and then if they wish help them with initial implementation. I can also help with training in-house staff to take up the responsibility for implementation.
I’m also happy to do what I can to help them choose outsourced resources, if the task and their approach make that appropriate.
My objective is simply that the company’s owners and key leaders own the strategy, know how to handle the tools and keep overall responsibility for implementation, even if they outsource some or most of the day-to-day implementation tasks.
Not everyone is going to buy that approach, particularly the part about keeping at least some of the core management of the process in-house: but those that do so, and take action to implement the approach, are putting themselves on a path of a more practical learning and enriched understanding about what is happening in the new business environment and how to ride the wave, not be swamped by it.
It’s about taking a long-term view of the business and investing in the future while at the same time engaging more effectively with today’s customers.
Let’s face it: the customer is not outsourcing her or his role as a consumer and in fact is becoming more and more directly connected on a daily basis and more directly engaged via the social web. So can any company afford to be heading in a different direction?
Which is why I believe that a full-scale outsourcing of social media engagement represents not only missed opportunity for capacity building, but a serious risk of becoming less, not more connected with the customer.
What do you think? Are the companies you know more likely to buy the “full outsourcing” pitch, or keep it all in-house, or choose a blend of both?