6 reasons why you should never outsource social media

Photo source: http://tomfishburne.com

Editor’s note: You should know, before reading on, that we built our company’s social media presence from the ground up, all in-house, all learn-as-you-go, with a “sink or swim” mentality. So, of course, I’m biased to this approach. I’m also biased to not spending money due to a lack of team bandwidth (I’m more of a “if you can’t maintain it, don’t start it” kind of person). I’m also not a fan of outsourcing due to lack of understanding (“not understanding” is something a few articles and the internet can fix). With that in mind… cautiously read on.

1. S-U-S-T-A-I-N-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y. I believe BIG time in building in-house knowledge, those in the business world would call this “building sustainable skill sets.” In-house knowledge today is grounds for a smarter, more productive tomorrow. The problem with building your social media knowledge out-of-house is that it doesn’t equip any of your employees to do things themselves — and when you think about it, are you really going to pay an agency to update your Facebook status?

To a real social media expert and manager, there’s nothing more shaming than being asked a social media question by another team (or your VP or CEO) and being forced to answer I don’t know or I’ll have to ask our agency simply because you’ve chosen to outsource. The ability to speak to your company’s social media assets is vital to the reputation of social media you will build in your office. This requires in-house knowledge, which brings me to my next point….

2. Nobody likes a fake. In-house knowledge is the truest form of “company authenticity.” The last thing you want to do is have a fan or supporter (or donor) of your company write on the wall of your Facebook Page and be responded to by “Ashley” from the customer service team who is really “Jake” from agency-X.

Nobody knows your company and your brand better than you. Nobody can walk-out and talk-out your company’s mission and campaign vision better than you. You live and breathe your work everyday. So why have someone else, somewhere else, be the fake you? The real you is always the better you (life lesson :)).

3. Would you trust a friend to plan your marriage proposal? Okay, I may have exaggerated the metaphor with this one. But the point is, social media is about brand voice. And the person or people behind your company’s social media efforts are going to be your company’s brand voice to an ever-growing, ever-expanding audience of advocates and potential supporters. In the same way you wouldn’t let a friend plan your marriage proposal, you shouldn’t let an agency or consultant plan your social media strategy or campaigns when so much of your (company’s) future depends on it.

Social media, to me, is something you need to take personal and give it the sort of thought and value that’s worth — like a good marriage proposal. (I think I wrote this point just because I like good marriage proposal stories).

4. Never pay for what you & Google can do. (I originally had a really long explanation for this point. But then I realized that the point speaks for itself).

5. Outsourcing makes collaboration difficult. One of the ingenious concepts to social media is that it doesn’t have to be a stand alone marketing or communications tool. In fact, I really think you’re cutting it short of its potential if you don’t see its “big picture” value — the ability to amplify your other marketing and comms efforts. When strategists talk about the power of social media, I’m convinced this is exactly what they’re refering to.

Of course, this takes an extraordinary amount of internal collaboration. The kind of internal collaboration that can really only be carried out by someone who is actually internal.

6. Tools can’t do what humans do. (Note: I have to include one reason why you should never outsource to a tool, not just an agency or consultant). If you’ve been doing any sort of your own social media work on Facebook Pages, you also know how ridiculously unreliable Facebook insights are… and, in my experience, so is every other social media “tool.”

With the constantly changing landscape and technology updates for social media platforms, API’s and measurement methodologies become irrelevant by the day,it makes many of the tools out there unreliable for solid, accurate data. The moral here: A social media tool can never detect and judge the sentiment and emotional engagement of any social media effort the way a human can. (And if you want to get really fancy — hire a statistician or a data analyst for your social media team. Those guys are data greedy, and I love them for it)

What do you think? Does your company outsource its social media? What points would you add to this post? What points do you have against this post?

P.S. In the spirit of staying open-minded, I don’t think that outsourcing is inherently a bad thing. One of my favorite (ex)colleagues now works for a social media agency. But considering the what and why you’re outsourcing in the first place is key. If you can’t answer both of those questions with complete confidence, then I’d encouraged you to head back to the drawing boards. And by drawing boards I mean Twitter.

After writing this, and receiving a very kind trackback from Fandura, I decided that I like their post on this same topic better.

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  • I agree 100%! Thanks for these thoughts!

  • Aww… thanks friend.

  • Pingback: The Fandura Blog | Social Marketing | Marketing Resources | Occasional Shenanigans » The 5 Commandments of Outsourcing Social Media()

  • Thanks Lindsey! We appreciate the love! You should come and be a guest on one of our 10 Minute Talk segments when you have some time 🙂


  • I think outsourcing your social media strategy would be like outsourcing the creation of your mission statement.

    Your social media strategy should be flow from your mission and be the connection between you and your constituents.

    A vendor knows there will always be another RFP and their engagement is limited, so a vendor will give you big ideas, neat ideas, fun ideas, brilliant ideas. A vendor will give you big flashes. Done well, they will get you a lot of attention. Done poorly, you’ll get the blame on execution.

    You will not get sustainability. Day-to-day ethos that matches your brand and provides that strong authenticity (or quirky attitude or solid stoicism or whatever) that closely matches your brand and is reliable day in and day out is not a vendor’s strong suit. They’re a gun for hire.

    Outsource the commodity, not the innovation and heartbeat.

  • Sure, I’d be happy to guest on one of your segments anytime 🙂 My door is wide open!!!! (And, thanks again for the link :>)

  • Wish I could “like” your first line — “I think outsourcing your social media strategy would be like outsourcing the creation of your mission statement.” // So true.

    Of course, I agree with you on every note. The clincher is your last line ”outsource the commodity, but not the… heartbeat.” Thinking of social media as the heartbeat of the brand is the perfect analogy. As always, thanks for your thoughts, James.

  • LIndsey Thanks for this I think you make a great case for the considerations around this question many orgs face. I Have been involved in this in house from ground up and in a outsourced partner to manage it. There are 2 sides and they do relate to the resources you have. I definately think your point 3 is a key one. It is a very personal thing and this is hard and can be lost in some ways when it is outsourced. Great to see the thought process.

  • Awww… yes. And to play Devil’s advocate, I do think there are some parts of social media that could be out-sourced. I just don’t believe that the social heartbeat of any company is one of the those things. Thanks for reading, Paul. Appreciate your feedback.

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