Social Media

5 Reasons for Brands not to Outsource Social Media Marketing

Posted by Kent Lewis on March 14th, 2011 at 5:52 am

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.

Vested Interest

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.

Professional Development

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?

Getting Started

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.

4 Responses to “5 Reasons for Brands not to Outsource Social Media Marketing”

  1. Jeff Cannon says:

    Interesting article. But I would have named it, reasons why you should hire a great social media firm, rather than a hack. I agree that most companies have great insights into their own business. I would also say that most companies don't have the experience and core competencies required to turn those insights into meaningful and effect content. Content that can turn general consumers into customers and customers into brand loyalists.

    So next time, if you think your admin assistant is the right person to reflect your brand to millions of potential customers online, think again. Hire someone who knows the social media market, but who will also take the time and care to understand your brand and your business.

    Think next time.

    Think Cannon

    Jeff Cannon

  2. Kent - What is interesting to me about Chrysler is the internal disparity when it comes to its social media direction. Marketing, out sourced the voice of the brand to an agency, while Corporate holds it internal.

    By the way, in an interview w/ Ed Garsten, head of electronic media for Chrysler, the agency was not dismissed because of "... one inappropriate Tweet, but for a collection of missteps that I’m not at liberty to discuss."

    @Jeff - Imho it's easier to teach how to execute "social media tactics" than it is to "teach" the heart and soul of brand values .. so yes, an admin assistant just might the right person for the social media gig! I'd rather have more soul in a tweet or post than a carefully crafted message.

  3. Aim Social says:

    Hi there, you make a few interesting points about validity and authenticity, but in reality, is the person paid 15k a year really that bothered about the company she/he works for more than the social media company who are passionate about delivering excellent services in social media and online marketing who have years of experience. In my humble opinion, almost all businesses are best advised to work with a company who take pride in their work, stay on top of the market and deliver excellent value and measurable services, in this you get a higher skill-set (usually) and more of an extension to your firm that you can hire and fie at will!.....much easier than employing and training!

  4. Kent Lewis says:

    Aim Social,

    I agree that experienced social media practitioners/experts add value to corporations learning the ropes, hence the research, planning, training and transitioning to internal resources. The reality is that no outsourced individual or firm should be able to represent a brand better than the brand itself. If that's true, then the company in question has bigger issues about corporate culture, HR, training and related issues.

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