MBPT Spotlight: Should Brands Handle Their Own Social Media Effort Or Outsource It?

Social intelligence company NetBase has issued a white paper aimed at giving brands a better idea of whether they should keep their social media efforts in-house or farm them out to an agency or other outside source.

NetBase does not advocate who should handle brands’ social media efforts, but does offer reasons for and against brands being their own social managers.

The reasons why brands should keep their social media programs in-house are:

• They can own and analyze all the data collected about their brand on an ongoing basis.
• They can build and operate an internal global command center to oversee brand image protection.
• They can control the tone, content and timing of engagement.
• They can serve as their own community managers.
• They can take advantage of opportunities to meet customers and prospects on a personal level.

The reasons why brands should outsource their social media programs:

• Social is not among a brand’s core competency, while it can be at agencies that specialize in it.
• The cost of buying licenses for software tools can be mitigated if they are “rented” from an agency that can split the cost of software among several clients.
• The cost of staffing an internal social operation with experienced personnel is not cheap.
• It’s going to take lots of time to engage in and analyze all the social conversations and then take action.

“If you outsource and you decide to change agencies, wouldn’t it be advantageous to own the social data about your brand, products and campaigns?” NetBase asks in its case for brands keeping their social efforts in-house. “Even putting that scenario aside, owning the data so you can analyze it anytime you want, any way you want, is clearly valuable to a brand for product innovation, customer care, campaign management and other use cases. If you outsource, you can encounter issues with sharing in-house content and integrating your other marketing efforts with your social media efforts. For example, if you outsource content creation, the agency will need easy access to everything from blog posts and white papers to product and people photography.” A brand, NetBase says, may not be comfortable with that.

When it comes to engaging in online conversations with key influencers and potential customers, the white paper says, “even an agency who’s a long-term partner can’t have the same in-depth understanding of corporate culture, core business values and communication style that brand staff members have.”

The white paper adds, if a conversation surrounding a brand turns negative, “it’s not the time to have someone engaging with your audience who doesn’t have the same values or understanding of your business, its operations and its goals.”

In making a case for outsourcing social, the white paper says, “Monitoring, understanding and engaging take time and expertise, and it isn’t the principal business” of most companies. “Also, when you keep social all internal, there’s a risk the content will become stale if only one or two people are contributing to it. For agencies specializing in social, this is their core competency.”

The white paper asks brands if they can afford the staffing required to internally handle a social media program properly. “These are not inexpensive, entry-level people.” If social is to be done to achieve maximum results, it may require social listening on a 24-hour, seven-da-per-week basis, “which is what companies who operate globally need to do.”

The white paper continues: “If an unhappy customer tweets about a bad experience or posts a negative comment on your Facebook page, you must respond quickly. The longer you wait, the more damage that negative review will do.”

And it adds, “If you’re not going to make this the day job of at least one and probably two staff members, you’re probably better off outsourcing it to an agency who will.”

The white paper cites research by The Content Factory as saying the creation of a comprehensive strategy for social media marketing and outsourcing all work for all channels can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000 per month.

It also cites a survey by Social Media Examiner that found 36% of marketers are devoting one to five hours a week to their social efforts, while another 26% are spending six to 10 hours a week.

And looking at it from the other side, the white paper cites data from digital media outsourcing company SocialContraptions that found in 2012, 32% of marketers outsourced their social media marketing, compared to 28% in 2011 and 14% in 2010.

Among marketers who outsourced some, but not all of their social media efforts, 20% outsourced development and design, 11% outsourced analytics, 10% outsourced content creation, 7% social monitoring, 7% research, 6% strategy, 6% status updates and 4% community management.

The white paper concludes by stating, “As the social universe evolves and brands and agencies get better at using it to achieve business objectives, the answers to who should own social media management will also evolve. For now, the best approach is to be clear on what your objectives, resources and use cases are, map them to the strengths and characteristics of your organization and your agency, then assign tasks accordingly. As factors change, you can adjust roles as necessary to help your brand use the social channel as intelligently and effectively as possible.”