Striking the right balance between internal and external social media teams

I recently had a conversation with the Paul Writer team where I talked at length about Intel’s integrated social media strategy and highlighted some of the cool digital ideas that were executed by Intel. Based on that conversation, one the things on which I got a fair bit of feedback and affirmations was on the question of outsourcing social media and what was the right balance between internal and external social media teams. So I thought it would be a good idea to list them down here for Corridor Conversations readers as well as elaborate my personal view on this.

My take on outsourcing social media and how do you strike the right balance between internal and external social media teams.

Personally I don’t think outsourcing the entire social media program to an agency works. If your organization is lacking in resources and for some reason your management is not convinced on the merits of being social then my humble request is not to venture in it. Making a brand Social is definitely not free and not something junior interns of a so called cost effective Social Media agency can do. It requires top management buy in and participation, senior strategic social resources and an agency with a track record of good social executions. All this requires time investment and money and no there are no alternates or short cuts to this.

I think the model that works best for most organizations that are serious contenders in the game is a hybrid model with the important and critical aspects still managed by principal brand and organization.

Things that companies should definitely own are:

1. Overall objective and strategy to the social media initiatives.
Nobody knows this better than the brand custodians themselves and it needs to be more than something like ‘Social Media is big so we need to our presence there’. It’s amazing how so many organizations stumble when asked about their objective for participation in Social Media. Standard responses are that’s it’s the latest trend and that the latest social statistics are compelling enough, well yes but that still doesn’t help define your objective to participate. This objective needs to be clearly articulated and explained to both internal and external social media teams so they know what goals they are chasing.

2. Content Strategy & Tone of engagement

Tone and engagement of the online conversations that happen with fans and followers determines how your brand is perceived and the personality it takes on. The tone can make you look cool, confident and all the necessary associations you may want for your brand, but thought has to be put into the content strategy which only the brand custodians are in a position to execute. What fans and followers like to hear from a brand may differ from industry to industry and country to country as well. Timing and frequency of the content makes a big difference and this can be only be determined over a period of time by looking at the engagement metrics.

3. Moderation policy and replies to post

Though the actual technical posting can be done by the external parties the content of the post & replies needs to come from the right people in the parent organization. The guidelines and detailed training needs to be provided and articulated by the brand to external teams. The agency also needs to set up a standard work flow where it needs to know exactly whom to contact when certain information is needed to facilitate responses.

4. Following promotional, legal and privacy guidelines

This is more often than not a neglected part of many social media executions, in the recent past many fan pages and other social media implementations have been found flaunting basic legal and platform guidelines resulting in damage of reputation for the organization. Unfortunately many social media agencies have been found lacking in their understanding of guidelines and policies which makes it imperative that the host organization takes it as their responsibility to make sure everything they do online is meeting all internal and external guidelines.

5. Crisis management

The very nature of social media makes it prone to having some form of crisis or the other where there may be a disgruntle customer or someone inadvertently offended someone or a group of people. It can happen to the best of brands with the best social media policies in place. It’s very important to pre determine what steps an organization should take and follow if a crisis does arise. Of course you can’t be prepared for every eventuality but most problems can nipped in the bud by some simple, humble and quick actions.

And the agency can own:

1. Metrics on Traffic, buzz and engagement

Most social platforms are measurable and there are various tools that are available out there both free and paid that give you good insights to how your efforts in Social media are performing. This can be a rather time intensive and manual process and it is best left to external agencies to collate and provide intelligent analysis and action items from the data collected.

2. Setting up and aesthetics of the social accounts

As long as agencies follow brand guidelines most of the aesthetics should be managed on regular basis by external teams. Keeping the look and feel fresh is extremely important to keep the asset vibrant and attractive for a returning fan or follower.

3. Technical aspects of creating tabs, page SEO, short links etc.

Most brands won’t have web specialist and it may not make sense to have these capabilities in house and outsourcing to experts may be the right strategy here. Things like vanity URL’s, search engine optimization, FBML and other related technologies to help maintain the social presence can form a part of scope of external teams.