Most brands have a meaningful presence on social media, yet challenges remain. New and evolving social media platforms continually challenge marketers to stay relevant. Beyond the “Big 6” social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn), other platforms have gained relevance in recent years, including TikTok, Snapchat, Medium and WhatsApp. To further complicate matters, additional platforms are expected to gain notoriety in 2021: Twitch, Steemit, Reddit, Goodreads and Vero. Brands can feel overwhelmed by the dynamic social media landscape and look to outsource management responsibilities to agencies, which can create significant issues.
The recent Walmart tweet kerfuffle with Senator Hawley is a keen reminder of the impact a single Tweet can have on a brand. While the “mistake” was likely the result of an internal team member’s oversight, it could have just as easily been a third-party social media agency’s error. As valiant an effort as Walmart’s social team made, it did not dethrone the most famous example of outsourced social media ineptitude performed by NMS, Chrysler’s former social media marketing agency. On March 9th, 2011, an employee of NMS, Chrysler’s outsourced social media marketing agency, sent a highly offensive tweet that insulted Detroit drivers. For details, see the AdAge article, “What Lurks Behind Chrysler’s F-bomb? Social-Media Turf War.” Although it was deleted nearly instantly, the effects were lasting: the NMS employee was immediately fired, and shortly thereafter, Chrysler fired the agency. Both organizations received black eyes, which leaves many brands and agencies wondering if they are next. Not me.
As a career digital marketing veteran of 9 agencies, I’ve instilled in our collective corporate cultures the concept of transparency, honesty and integrity. At Anvil Media, client education and training is core to our values and purpose. As such, we’ve built our social media marketing practice around the concept of developing and implementing an overall social media strategy that empowers employees within the brand to manage its presence in social media. This approach addresses and alleviates many of the issues exemplified by the Chrysler and Walmart Twitter incidents.
While a vast majority of brands have developed a meaningful presence across social media platforms, many still struggle to consistently create compelling content and engage followers. In short, the challenge of determining the “who” and the “how” of a truly engaging social presence. While our approach of training and empowering in-house employees to manage social media is transparent, it does require an accepting corporate culture, discipline and a long-term commitment to be successful. For corporate marketers still considering outsourcing social media management, however, I’ve outlined 5 reasons not to outsource social media management.
I don’t think anyone can rightfully disagree that employees are in a much better position to truly represent a brand than an outside party (agency, consultant, etc.). The premise is simple but powerful: it is easier (and more transparent) to train existing employees how to represent a brand than train an agency on the nuances of a brand’s unique offerings, differentiators and culture. Due to relative transparency in social media, outsourced social marketers are often easy to spot, which can risk blow-back from brand enthusiasts.
Nobody has a greater vested interest in the success of social media programs than employees of the brand itself. Essentially, an employee has one job and is committed to their success within the company. An outside agency, while motivated to please the client, employs account teams that typically have multiple clients. The difference may seem subtle, but if an agency loses a client, the account team may keep their jobs. As such, failure may be an option for some agency employees.
If Chrysler had followed the best practices of other automakers (internal teams reviewing all outgoing messages), the offending tweet would have never gone out. While you could argue it was a process oversight, there is simply no replacement for the control when a brand manages a team in-house. Refer to Authenticity and Vested Interest for additional justification.
Keeping employees engaged and motivated can be challenging, particularly during tough economic conditions. Empowering employees to support social media initiatives can be a powerful alternative to financial challenging increases in benefits and compensation. Rewarding and recognizing socially-savvy employees who create success can also convince other naysayers to become believers.
Whether an employee is responsible for R&D, sales, customer service or marketing, training them to become socially savvy can reap dividends. As the employees build their expertise with social media, the likelihood they can identify opportunities and challenges increases dramatically. Since social media is the world’s largest focus group, where do you think the next big idea is most likely to originate, in house or online?
Regardless of who develops the initial social media strategy, it must incorporate essential elements to maximize success: detailed industry research, strategic planning, process, tools training and measurement. To minimize risk, programs should start small and iterate rapidly based on feedback and success metrics. Based on experience, brands often see tremendous benefit from looking for social media expertise outside the walls (yes, agencies and consultants) to both expedite the learning curve and implementation timeline. I’m biased, of course, in saying that Anvil is an excellent resources for social media training, but please make sure to incorporate internal talent into your long-term social media strategy in 2021 and beyond.
Lewis is currently Chief Marketing Officer for Deksia, where he is responsible for the overall strategic direction of marketing. After 22 years running Anvil Media, he sold to the Midwest systematic marketing agency. He is a co-founder of SEMpdx and its first President. He speaks internationally, writes for industry publications like SmartBrief and Portland Business Journal and has been an adjunct professor at Portland State University since 2000. He’s founded or co-founded four agencies and two organizations since 1999, including pdxMindShare. Lewis volunteers his time with SCORE, teaching a social media workshop and has been a board member, marketing committee chair and is a volunteer reader for SMART Reading. He’s been named a Top 40 Under 40, Marketer of the Year by AMA Oregon and a Top 100 Digital Marketing Influencer by BuzzSumo.