On March 9th, 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 marketer running two agencies, I’ve instilled in our collective corporate cultures the concept of transparency, honesty and integrity. At Anvil Media and Formic 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 Twitter incident.
Most marketers agree engaging in social media is not an “if” but a “when.” The challenge, however, is defining the “who” and the “how.” 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 a 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 still keep their jobs. As such, failure may be an option for some agency employees.
If Chrysler had followed best practices of other automakers (internal teams reviewing on 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 initiative 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 and Formic Media are excellent resources for social media training, but please don’t ask us to manage social media as your outsourced agency.