When it’s okay to outsource social media

October 13, 2010 · 12 comments

Anyone who knows anything about social media will tell you that companies should not pay someone to do social media for them. For the best results, they should learn to do it themselves.

The same goes for individuals who are promoting themselves or their products, whether they want to sell books, build relationships with potential clients or simply get the word out about their brand.

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s AndyRob.

Yet that’s exactly what I do as a social media consultant. Yes, occasionally I work as a strategy coach, helping businesses learn how to engage their online community through Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. But the bulk of my social media business comes from small companies who pay me to do all of that for them.

(UPDATE: Check out my guide on social-media consulting: How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business.)

Why don’t I follow conventional wisdom when it comes to outsourcing social media? Because this isn’t a perfect world. For a lot of small businesses, running their own social media campaign simply isn’t an option. They can’t afford to hire a full-time employee to dedicate to social media, like bigger companies sometimes do. Bosses may not have time to learn to use the tools — or, more importantly, social media etiquette — nor do they want to spend hours growing a quality community online.

Now that I’m growing my own small business, I totally understand this. In addition to serving my clients, I have what feels like a zillion other things on my plate: keeping track of my finances, staying on top of new social media developments and working hard to get new clients. And there are certain things I just don’t have time to learn. Like figuring out the best way to keep track of my expenses, how much my clients owe me and whether they’ve paid. Thankfully, I have someone amazing to outsource it to: my mom. She keeps the books for a company as part of her job, and being the awesome mom that she is, she’s offered to do it for me, too.

Obviously it would be better if I did this myself. I’d better understand my profits, and I’d learn something in the process. But I don’t have time to do everything. So I focus on what I do well, and ask for help with the rest.

Small businesses can do everything themselves, either. And if they can’t do social media well themselves, outsourcing is better than doing a shitty job or not doing it at all. Especially if you hire an awesome social media gal like me.

Here’s the key to outsourcing social media: the person you hire has to really understand the company, its industry, its mission and its community. She has to really get the tone and personality of the brand. And she has to communicate regularly with the boss in order to do her job well.

That’s why I love what one of my clients, Overland Experts, has done to integrate me into their small company. Rather than treating me like a consultant, they consider me part of their team. They’ve even added me to their team webpage. Because the more I’m involved with OEX, the better I understand the company and the better I can engage clients through our growing online channels. (Which, by the way, seems like a good reason for me to go on one of their 4×4 adventures to, say, Mongolia or Kenya, don’t ya think?)

So yes, try your best to do social media for your small business. But if it’s just not your thing, don’t feel bad about outsourcing. At least you’re making social media a priority. That puts you ahead of a lot of other folks out there.

Your turn: Do you think social media can or should be outsourced?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Harumi Gondo October 13, 2010 at 11:01 am

I think the long-term goal of the social media person/group is to work him/her/itself out of a job and to train company employees to understand and enjoy (especially important) social media.
But for companies with no social media experience social media sometimes should be outsourced; there’s a certain nuance in the different social media sites/worlds and it’s very obvious when someone unfamiliar with the cultures is stumbling around trying to promote themselves (as a former (maybe even still?) stumbler I know!). But the outsourcing should only happen under certain conditions:
-company is willing to have an ongoing relationship with the social media person (hiring a contractor to temporarily come in and lift up the numbers (followers, likers) is unhelpful and a waste of resources)
-management sees the value of social media and is willing to keep social media person in the loop with new developments, communications
-social media person is able to keep track/understand the nuances and culture of the industry of the company that he/she is doing social media

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Alexis Grant October 13, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Great points, Harumi! Thanks.

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Lisa E October 14, 2010 at 10:54 am

I think a person/company should handle their own social media. It’s the best way to understand your market and/or audience. Letting someone else handle it would create too much distance between you and whom you’re trying to reach. Perhaps, if a person’s business grew to the point where they’re too busy to be hands-on all the time, it might makes sense to outsource it. Still, they should get involved from time to time to remain connected…

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Megan Hill October 14, 2010 at 11:48 am

Hey Lexi,

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this subject. For the most part, I think it can be extremely difficult to successfully outsource social media management. You make a good point though: outsourcing is better than doing a shitty job or not doing it at all. Especially if you hire an awesome social media gal like me.

As a consultant balancing multiple accounts, it’s too hard for me to know the goings-on of each one to really be engaged with the fan base. And sometimes the organization won’t send me the information I need to stay in the loop! That’s why I’ve switched entirely to training the company to do their own work. And I think if you learn the tricks of automating posts and can streamline everything, you end up spending very little time on social media 🙂

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Mr Myo Zar Ni Aung January 28, 2015 at 5:58 am

I think, outsource social media is not good for long term. Now I am working for one of the Online Marketing Agency. The most problem is The Client they don’t care social media. They assume that increasing “Like” is the main important,
I always remind them to care about message from social media.
I think Social Media is Like a Baby, we are nursery & company is the parents.

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Jessie Carty October 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I think outsourcing it can work fine in the way you are describing: the social media consultant is part of the team. Many companies use consultants and/or contract work for integral parts of their business. Freelance writing is a perfect example. If you are writing for a particular publication you learn the tone of that publication and the editors help you speak in the same voice the rest of the magazine/newspaper etc uses. I think of outsourcing social media as being very similar to freelance writing and to those who work in PR.

Glad you have your Mom to help!
Jessie Carty recently posted…Thursday Poem ShareMy Profile

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The Social Media Expert October 14, 2010 at 8:10 pm

You’ve made excellent points, above all lots of small business owners do not get social media and learning it and then investing hours on a daily basis to keep all profile updated may not be the best use of time for a business owner. It is best to hire an expert who knows what he or she is doing. Social media done wrong is more harmful than not doing social media at all.

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Steve Veltkamp October 27, 2014 at 4:36 pm

There are only 2 activities in ANY business that make money:
1. Getting new customers
2. Making your customers happy
If you have an unlimited amount of time, you can try to do everything in your business. If you don’t concentrate on those two and outsource the rest. If social media is actually bringing you the most customers, then by all means do it yourself. If it is critical to making your customers happy, do it yourself. Otherwise, outsource it to someone who will be more efficient at it and makes it their business.

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