No Social Media 'Snake Oil,' Please


Is outsourcing social media a smart strategy?


Back in December, I spotlighted a couple of E-Commerce Times articles that attempted to walk companies through the particulars of doing so. Like several of the experts quoted in the articles I agreed that outsourcing does make sense for many companies since social media isn't likely to be a core competency. After all, even companies with internal marketing staffs regularly bring in specialists to work on traditional marketing campaigns. And social media is hardly traditional. It's a nascent area, and one that's still confusing on a lot of levels.


A recent Mashable item by Tom Smith, founder of Trendstream, a consultancy specializing in social media, presents six reasons why even big companies with formidable marketing divisions struggle with their social media campaigns. Among them: No one is sure exactly who should be responsible for social media, as it includes elements of marketing, PR, communications, content production and Web development. Unlike traditional marketing channels, social media rarely involves short-term objectives. The metrics used to measure success aren't as straightforward as those for more conventional media campaigns. The list reinforces the idea of bringing in some external expertise.


In the course of debunking six "myths" about social media on her whatsnextblog.com, B.L. Ochman also came out in favor of outsourcing at least some aspects of social media.(His myth No. 4:You can do it all in-house.) Still, a few of her other myths get to the heart of some well-founded concerns about outsourcing social media.


Myth No. 2 , for example, is: Anyone can do it. She notes that among those following Robert Scoble on Twitter are 1,652 social media marketers, 513 social media consultants, 272 social media strategists, 180 social media experts and 98 social media gurus. (Raise your hand if you're among those who are sick of hearing the word "guru" used for anything other than a spiritual guide. Mine is up.) Ochman writes: "How many of them have actually created a successful campaign for clients using social media tools? I bet you'd be hard-pressed to find half a dozen with real track records." Exactly.


Forrester Research's Jeremiah Owyang addressed the same topic in a recent post on his Web Strategy blog. After noting that "self-proclaimed gurus have appeared from everywhere," Owyang writes that the recession will cause companies to more carefully consider whom they entrust with their social media strategies, whether those folks are in-house or outside specialists. Real practitioners will "focus on moving the needle to create actionable programs that generate leads, increase sales, decrease support costs, or make innovation more efficient."


Let's hope so. As I wrote in August, concern about quantifiable results remains one of the biggest sticking points for companies considering adopting Web 2.0 tools and technologies (including those used for social media). There are many opinions on how the recession will affect Web 2.0. Like Owyang, I tend to think the recession will force companies to more carefully consider their Web 2.0 strategies. (Nothing kills the inclination to try something just because it's trendy quite like an awful economy.) And that includes getting someone who can back up the "guru" title on his or her LinkedIn profile with actual qualifications and a track record of success.