Before most companies make the commitment to social media, they want to be certain they understand what they're actually committing to. After all, it makes no sense to just jump on the bandwagon, until you know where it's going to take you and how much the ride's going to cost.
Some of the questions that need to be asked include: Can we do this ourselves? How much time and energy is this going to take? Would it be more cost effective to outsource it entirely? Are there any other options?
Well, in terms of outsourcing it entirely, there are companies that do that. And while there are a lot of good people out there with a lot of advice on social media, if you're considering hiring a company to completely take on your social media tasks – provide them for you outsourced, do everything for you, so that you can get the benefits of social media without expending internal effort, without making the social media expert a part of your company team – there are so many ramifications that I'd say: "Don't do it!" After all, the very idea of social media is against outsourcing. Social media is about RELATIONSHIP building. Can a third party provider build the relationship between you and your customers? That’d be like having someone else date your prospective wife to build up the relationship, and then expecting the marriage to work. It’s just not going to happen.
But where does that leave you? Can a savvy business that understands the limitations of your staff’s available time, yet still wants to run a campaign, do so affordably and with a lessened risk of being "outted" for using outside help?
I see five Social Media options available:
Option #1: The Learning Path
This is where you run a SM campaign, but understand that you’re dabbling. You’re not intending to really get a lift, you’re just putting your name out there so that you can say you’re doing something. Your goal is not to go all out, but to slowly work your way in – kind of like the swimmer who starts by just letting his feet get hit by the waves. Then slowly works up to the ankles, and so on. The goal is that as you learn the venues available, you can start to see what’s working well for you and then begin to expend more time and energy there.
Upside: you won’t have to expend a lot of energy right away.
Downsides: you may get distracted and forget all about maintenance. Plus, it will take a long time to get any results at all.
Option #2: The Intern
In this option, you hire an intern to run your social marketing for you. The intern won’t expect a lot of pay and will enjoy being able to play online as their job. You’ll need to be careful in the hiring to ensure you get someone who is already savvy about the benefits of SM. That way they’ll know where to start you off. An intern who is studying marketing or PR is a good choice. And you’ll need to make sure to train the intern on everything your business does and your corporate culture so that s/he can represent you appropriately.
Upside: Cost is fairly reasonable and you get a full-blown campaign.
Downsides: You’re putting your reputation into the hands of an intern. This could work well if you hire the right one, or horribly if you don’t.
Option #3: Part-time Staffer
Similar to The Intern, in this case, you just hire someone part time.
Upside: Cost is reasonable, full-blown campaign.
Downside: Part-timer are less likely to feel loyalty, so the vibe from your campaign might not be as strong as it could be.
Option #4: Outsourced, but YOUR staff
In this option, you’re hiring a professional social media company to run your campaign – BUT the person who runs it is actually your staff. Okay, that sounds a little confusing, but it’s not. What happens is that the social media company, understanding the need for transparency and relationship building, hires staff that are accountable to YOUR company. They go through your company training. They’re expected to attend your company meetings. They understand your culture and products. They're an extension of your company - an offshoot. But they work at the social media company’s office. Chances are the person who becomes your social media liaison is liaison to one or two other companies as well. It’s like they’re a shared part-timer. The other companies should not, in any way, be competitive to your industry. Because this person is a full-time employee, they won’t be distracted by the need to find a full-time position, so they can show the dedication you’ll need. And you won’t have the burden of paying them for a full-time position. Also, because they’re in a company dedicated to social media, they’ll be on top of the latest trends and can provide you with better service.
The caveats are that you’ll need to make sure you’re transparent about the arrangement, so that no one can call you on it later. You’ll also need to be sure that your in-house staff is willing to provide excellent communication, never forgetting that your SM specialist is a part of the team. If you leave them out of important discussions or forget to connect the full marketing plan, that’s when everything can fall apart.
Upsides: Reasonable costs, full campaign, staying on top of trends.
Downsides: Need for transparency & superior communication.
Option #5: Dedicating the Time with Internal Staff
And the final option is to just bite the bullet and determine that you’re going to get your staff the training to run a SM campaign, and allow them the time to do it.
Upsides: Full integration of marketing efforts, no new staff
Downsides: Time to run the campaign may eat into other efforts.
Those are the 5 options as I see 'em. Anyone have ideas for other options?