Social media management & the perennial issue of outsourcing

Mar 3, 2010 | Best practice, Communications & media, Corporate culture, Social Media

You are undoubtedly the best person to engage with customers on behalf of your brand.

But that’s not really the question. I recently read a post by Matt Rhodes of Fresh Networks. Like Affiniti Digital and others, Fresh Networks are in the business of helping clients take their brands responsibly into the social environment.

In a social world polarized between the zealots who maintain that if you don’t get it you’ve already lost, and those who maintain that social media is simply a passing phase, it is refreshing to hear something balanced and frank.

In part, Matt acknowledged that the person best qualified to engage with customers on behalf of your brand is most probably you, the client. I couldn’t agree more. But for every client whose brand and corporate culture blend adeptly to the requirements of social activity, there are many whose cultures are considerably less agile.

Does this mean that brands should stay out of the pool until they can swim themselves? Or is it OK to appoint a surrogate to ensure that the brand relationship gets off on the right foot – and within a relatively short time span? The short answer to both questions is yes – and this is where agencies and outsourcing can actually add real value.

Socialising the brand

There are two camps when it comes to socializing a brand. The first, a favourite amongst traditional agencies with a campaign approach to social media, follows the FLIT (facebook, linkedIn and Twitter) formula. This approach involves establishing a presence for the brand within the most topical social environments and works on the assumption that one socializes a brand simply by dropping it into a social context.

One drawback with this approach is that it drops the client in the deep end without providing time for the client’s internal culture to adjust or the guidance required to do so. It gives little consideration to the client’s cultural disposition or capacity to maintain and nurture the social relationships which result from social media activity. I would suggest that many of the recent examples of social issue mismanagement are in part the result in part of this “drop in the deep end” method of socialization.

Nestle’s behavior under fire from Greenpeace is a clear example of an internal culture which despite a good deal of wishful thinking is at odds with the rules, etiquette and expectation of the social environment.

It is a mistake to underestimate the impact of internal culture and sustainability upon a brand’s ability to socialize.

The second camp provides a more strategic approach to socialization. This involves working with clients to move progressively through the steps of the engagement cycle and allows the client to learn the skills (and accrue the resources) required to maintain an organic community. This method demonstrates genuine, responsible progress to internal pressure groups and builds a gradual level of comfort and confidence amongst inhouse legal and PR.

From my perspective, a staged, strategic approach makes for sustainable relationships, broader corporate buy-in and can go a long way toward sparing brands the recent humiliations that have recently attracted the interest of mainstream media.

As Matt’s post points out, it also allows brands to receive the short-term benefit of outsourced assistance. It gives clients a framework to learn within whilst acquiring the skills necessary to bring the brand back to its true custodians down the track.