Should You Outsource Social Media Or Do It Yourself? (from Forbes Magazine)

By Tim Devaney and Tom Stein Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, Path, Tumblr. The list goes on. And on.

And if you run a small business, you do not have time to manage all those social networks yourself. In fact, you probably don’t have time to manage even one. Studies show it takes a midsize company about 32 hours a month to capably handle a single social media platform.

So should you even try? Or should you hire someone else to run your social media? The answer is: both.

“The companies that have the most effective social media communications are those that have a combination of internal and external people doing social media,” says Eve Mayer, CEO of consulting company Social Media Delivered and author of The Social Media Business Equation.

Mayer’s firm manages social accounts for clients large and small, including Sheraton Hotels, Chevrolet, and CiCi’s Pizza Buffet of Dallas. When Mayer signs on a new client, she advises the business to take these five steps toward a successful social campaign.

1. Decide What You Want to Achieve

You should not open any new social account simply because you hear it’s now a must-have for a small business. “Having social media just for the sake of social media is ridiculous,” Mayer says. “There have to be actual gains you want to achieve.”

The majority of small businesses don’t know what those are. They have a vague idea at best.

“Most companies will say, ‘We want to drive sales and create brand awareness,’” Mayer says. “But there are a ton of other things they can be doing, like business intelligence and research and understanding new markets.”

Before you establish any new social media presence for your business, you should make a list of specific goals you want that presence to accomplish.

2. Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin

As mentioned above, to manage one social media platform right takes 32 hours a month. That’s almost an entire workweek – and unless you’re running a travel agency or a video rental shop, you can’t spare a workweek out of each month to spend on a social profile.

“A small company should choose just one and probably not more than three platforms to focus on,” Mayer says. “It’s very rare you’ll need more than that. Don’t jump on every shiny new thing because that will just distract you and make you lose focus.”

3. Keep Some Social Media In-House

Once you’ve decided which social networks best suit your goals, you can decide whether to handle them yourself. Look around your office. Do you have some employee who likes to spend half his day at Facebook? (Most offices do.) You can turn that to your advantage.

“People expect me to say outsource, outsource, outsource, because that’s one of the things we do,” Mayer says. “But we also help companies find people internally to do social media. Let’s say someone in your company is a great photographer and they like to use Instagram. Utilize that person appropriately, lay out for them the business goals you want to achieve.”

Running social media in-house will personalize your message. Companies that outsource all their accounts often end up with a bland voice and distant customer relationships.

4. Send Some Social Media to a Consultant

If you have a presence at many social sites, you likely do not have the time in-house to give them the attention they need. Can you manage them all yourself? No. Can you afford to devote a couple employees to the task? Probably not.

“Another issue you run into when you keep it all internal is that the content becomes stale, because only one person or two people are contributing to it,” Mayer says. “Or an entrepreneur will do it halfway. They’ll be on Twitter and post once a week and that kind of frequency is not enough.”

Social media accounts demand constant monitoring. If some disgruntled customer posts a negative comment on your Facebook page, you must respond quickly. You can’t afford to have some radioactive review of your business sitting at your profile unanswered for two weeks. It will erode your reputation.

“Social media is a grind,” Mayer says. “It’s all about day-to-day communication and talking with people live and that never ends.”

5. Follow These Rules When Finding Help

Once you’ve decided to outsource some of your social media responsibilities, Mayer says there are certain dos and don’ts to follow.

— “Don’t choose someone who says they know everything about social media, because that person is lying. Social media is very fluid and it’s impossible to stay on top of it all.”

— “Don’t go with a one-person outfit, because that person might not be around long-term.”

— “Don’t be swayed by consultants who say they’re ‘industry specific.’ You need a partner who understands social media, period. If you understand social media you can apply that knowledge across many different industries. It’s more important to have a good methodology for how social media can convey messages and build relationships to achieve business goals.”

— “Do investigate how a firm does its own social media, because if they’re not doing it well for themselves it’s unlikely they’ll do it well for you.”

— “Do look at the clients they’ve worked with and talk to them about their experience.”

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