Outsourcing Social Media – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Amy Stephan

A year after writing this blog, the debate on outsourcing social media still comes up in chats and conversations I have with social media managers and nonprofit executives. I want to know what your nonprofit does. How many of you outsource your social media?

Social media has become a must for non-profit organizations these days. While a year ago the question may have been whether it was necessary or not, today the question is who is going to manage these tools? Outsourcing social media management is one way non-profit organizations are handling the need to engage online without having staff resources to devote to it. The debate arises, however, is outsourcing your organization’s social media efforts a good idea?

 The Benefits of Outsourcing
Non-profits are notoriously under staffed and over worked. The idea of adding another tool to manage on a daily basis, such as social media, is enough to make many executives seek outside help. The risk of establishing a social media presence and then not having the time to maintain it is the number one reason to outsource. Having a badly executed social media plan or one that is neglected all together is worse than not doing it all.
“Organizations should do it (themselves) but if they can’t do it effectively either don’t do it or outsource it,” said Ephraim Gopin, a Twitter aficionado and guru on fundraising, PR and sales. You can follow Ephraim on Twitter @fundraisinisfun.
Another benefit to outsourcing is the ability to learn how to use social media from the experts. In a 2010 article about the pros and cons of outsourcing social media marketing, Kristi Hines describes one benefit as being able to skip the initial learning curve and leave it to the experts. Hines also suggests watching what your consultants are doing, what tools they are using and educating yourself for future use.
Accidents will happen. Even the most well intended staff member can have a bad day on Facebook and those accidents can have a negative impact on reputations. Chris Garret, author of the article “Outsourcing Social Media: Good or Bad idea?”explains that outsourcing social media management can help eliminate those blunders by leaving it to the professionals.

The Challenges of Outsourcing
While the specialists typically help lower the risk for blunders, as Garret mentions, once an organization outsources their social media management, they’ve given up a certain amount of control. Chrysler found that out the hard way when someone from their management agency tweeted the f-bomb from the Chrysler Twitter account instead of their personal account. Accidents can certainly happen when social media is handled in-house, but Tom Fishburne made an interesting observation of the Chrysler incident when he blogged about it in March.
“Accidents do happen, and can happen of course even when social media is insourced. Yet what this accidental tweet reveals is the machinations behind the curtain of social media. Brand teams, communication teams, and agency teams are all juggling for control over the social media voice of a brand. Figuring out the right role for everyone is complicated.”
Accidents aside, the most impactful reason to not outsource is that nobody knows your business like you do. The relationships that are formed and the messages disseminated through social media need to be genuine. A well communicated and researched social media plan that is outsourced can accomplish this. If you don’t take the time to do this, it won’t be successful. As Hines points out, when you outsource, someone else is creating your first impressions. As long as the agency you hire is clear about what those impressions should be, it can work.
The most common fault seen with outsourcing is relationship management. If someone else is making your first impression, how are you really connecting to your followers and potential donors? This can be tricky for organizations to balance. Creating a two-way street of open conversation with the agency you’ve hired is important. At the root of this is that non-profits should be focused on connecting people to their cause; not to a particular person manning social media accounts. People connected to a staff member or volunteer leave when that person leaves the organization. The connection needs to be deeper and more meaningful. A well thought out social media plan can accomplish this no matter who is tweeting, posting or blogging for you.
So What Does it All Mean?
The reality is that every non-profit has different needs, abilities and time available for social media. Determining what works best for your organization to create a clean, well-maintained social media presence is the catapult to success. Start with a plan, figure out who the best person is to execute that plan and then go for it. Social media is a great way to make a big impression, as long as it’s done right.
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About Amy Stephan

Amy has more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit field, where she has learned a little about a lot of things and worked hard to become really good at a handful of them. Amy works as a consultant and non-profit professional, as well as writer and blogger. She has worked as a full-time journalist and editor and is the mother of two beautiful children.

2 responses to “Outsourcing Social Media – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”

  1. Gail Gardner (@GrowMap) says :

    The best solution is to outsource setting up your social media accounts, creating Avatars, etc. – all the things you only need to do once. Have the social media person set up alerts for you, and then have them train someone in house who responds to inquiries and direct contact from others.

    That way you have an authentic voice plus the benefit of a social media expert’s experience. If you just don’t want to even do that yourself, you CAN outsource but you will want to have a long term relationship with someone who really gets to know what your goals and beliefs are.

    Never make the mistake of hiring someone with no experience, little class or limited common sense, as social media gaffes never completely go away and many people today have no idea what is or is not appropriate in what used to known as polite company.

    You should definitely claim a consistent user name across at least the major social networks and ideally use Knowem to claim all of them lest a competing agency claim the username you use elsewhere. Then use the bio on each site to direct people to whatever you decide will be your primary social network.

    Personally, I prefer Twitter because you can reach even people who have gatekeepers there and it is used by influencers to spread your caused and information, but some prefer Facebook as their primary. You definitely want to register both and either direct people in your bio to where you are willing to interact or ideally answer them in both.

    Pinterest can send a lot of traffic so if you have content with compelling images that can be an important social network. Google Plus has SEO benefits and may increase the traffic Google search will send you so consider using it. StumbleUpon and Reddit can both send large amounts of traffic periodically, but not regularly.

    All bloggers and site owners should make it really easy to find their Social Networks – especially Twitter – because when influencers share your content the wiser ones will add your Twitter username and help you grow your influence IF you make it easy to find. Near the top near your RSS feed is the usual best location.

    If you interact with businesses or have a strong educational background or experience, add LinkedIn to your top networks and provide sharing buttons and links to your profile and / or group there.

    We know Amy already knew most of these things, because after I wrote this comment I looked and those are precisely what sharing buttons she uses.

    • Amy Stephan says :

      Gail, thank you so much for the detailed reply. Your insights are spot on and you provided great information for anyone looking to utilize social media. YOU are a fantastic source for information!

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