Outsource your business social media?

If you are a small business owner who wants a social media presence, you have two simple options: do it yourself or hire someone. While this may seem like an easy choice, the factors that should inform this decision aren’t so simple.
I believe that any business owner can actively manage their social media (especially if they read Online or Flatline). Before jumping to a conclusion, however, consider the following factors that are important to your decision:

  • Social media is a pulse for the business
  • Social media requires responsiveness
  • Do you have the willingness to learn and make mistakes?
  • Social media is an extension of you, the owner

Remember, if you outsource your social media your customers will still think you are the one managing it. The outsourcing organization’s social media performance will directly impact your reputation as a business owner.

Social media is a pulse for the business

Your business’ pulse is the heartbeat that tells you how well you are doing. Are you making your customers happy? The only way to truly understand this is through customer feedback. You can ask them for feedback or they will tell you without your asking. Your digital presence, especially social media, is a wonderful customer communications channel. Communicating with your customers using social media is mostly the same as in-person communications. The big difference is that in social media you can communicate with a broad audience, not just one-on-one.

Why is this important for making an outsourcing decision? If you insert someone (e.g., an outsourcer) between you and your customers, how will you keep your finger on that pulse? Will you become too far removed from customer feedback?

Social media requires responsiveness

One of the beauties of social media is that you can have an ongoing conversation with your customers and potential customers. If you adapt the “act like a human” persona, you’ll encourage these ongoing discussions. As in face-to-face conversations, the expectation of a in-person conversation is that the parties respond in an appropriate amount of time. Imagine meeting someone at a cocktail party and they ask you what you do for a living. It wouldn’t be appropriate for you to walk away and return an hour later with an answer. Social media conversations have similar expectations.

Let’s look at an example scenario. Someone has just written a very complimentary comment on your social media. The proper response for you, as the owner, is to thank them for the compliment and for their business. If you respond quickly, you’ll delight this customer because they see you’re paying attention. Thanking them two months later, however, will telegraph that you’re not paying attention and probably don’t care about their feedback.

Would a third party be appropriately responsive? That depends. If you do outsource, you need to set the expectation of responsiveness from the beginning of the relationship. Continue to monitor and measure their responsiveness, and hold them accountable.

Do you have the willingness to learn and make mistakes?

This section is devoted to you, the business owner. You need to be emotionally and mentally prepared if you choose to manage your social media.

In the beginning, you will not know how to manage your business’ social media. When I first started managing my business’ social media, I was clueless. I had some personal experience with Facebook and LinkedIn, but zero skills using social media for business.

While not skilled, I was convinced that social media would help my business. With this conviction in hand, I embarked on the journey of steep learning. I read a lot and attended some seminars. That was good to get started, but the real learning occurred when I rolled up my shirtsleeves and started using Facebook.

Learning through doing invariably results in making mistakes — and, because of the nature of social media, you are making those mistakes in front of people. After I started making mistakes, I quickly learned the Facebook skill of deleting and editing. Sounds simple, but realizing that almost anything you do can be redone is somewhat liberating. The other liberating realization is that no one in social media expects you to be perfect. It’s all about being social, and no one expects anyone in a social setting to be mistake-free.

So, if you decide to plow ahead with your social media (which I suggest when you first get started), decide if you can commit the time to learn and whether you are willing to make mistakes. If you’re a perfectionist at heart, that drive could most likely impede the progress of your learning.

Social media is an extension of you, the owner

Your social media is an extension of your business and you as the business owner. You need to set the tone for your social media.  Do you want to have a professional or casual tone? What kind of tone do you expect during conflict situations? How do you use humor in your business? I consider this “tone” the social media voice of the business owner.

If you expect a professional environment, your business will speak with a professional voice. If you’re crude and profane (which I would never recommend), your business will reflect that voice as well. You, as the business owner, need to establish which voice or voices you want your business to speak with.

The challenge of outsourcing is threefold. How do you describe your preferred voice? How do you write that in a contract? And, how do you train an outsourcing organization to act with that same voice? These are tough challenges but, if you outsource, you need to think them through.

In Conclusion

I admit that I’m not entirely opposed to business owners outsourcing their social media. However, I do have some strong feelings:

  1. When you first start, while it can be painful, you should own your social media. I feel strongly that, as an owner, you need to have social media skills, but you don’t have to become an expert.
  2. After you’ve developed those fundamental skills, you can consider outsourcing. You now have the skills to more accurately select which organization to work with, and you’ll be more knowledgeable to write a strong contract. You’ll also be in a much better position to not be taken advantage of.
  3. If you outsource after you’ve built a base of social media skills, you’ll be qualified to monitor the ongoing performance of your outsourced provider.

I’m convinced that social media can become an important aspect of your business. Like with anything new to your business, however, approach changes in a thoughtful manner and become an educated business owner!