September 21, 2015
/ by Jim Dougherty
For some people, the thought that you might outsource your social media is blasphemous. After all, social media is an extension of our personal and professional selves. But social media engagement of that type isn’t especially scalable, and there are a lot of instances where automation helps to bridge the gap between the resources that you need and the resources that you have.
What I want to do in this post is to explore five ways that companies outsource or automate their social media, but are able to appropriately control their messaging as well.
I wrote a recent piece about autoresponders that explained how some businesses save resources by automating social or email responses. One company that does an exemplary job of this is Amazon. Amazon uses an autoresponder on their @amazonhelp Twitter account to refer people to an actual customer service agent for appropriate support.
By using autoresponders to send customers to where Amazon has a greater concentration of customer service reps, they “canalize” the customer service process. Canalizing social media platforms refers customer service issues to a couple of sources, which guides the customer to a channel that they’ll receive the best resolution. It saves Amazon resources by only having to actively monitor a few channels. This model is a win for the company who provides great customer service with smaller resources, and a win for the customer who gets direct resolution to their problems.
Typical social media users interact with brands for two reasons: customer service and discounts. This isn’t the case for every brand or company but it exemplifies the gaps in understanding that persist for some companies about social media. Part of your social media planning should be how your tactics address the primary behaviors of your social constituency.
Once you understand the appropriate response to customers that engage your social channels, it would be entirely appropriate to outsource a portion of your social care or content distribution. One of the biggest issues that people perceive about outsourcing social media is that it could be mishandled or perceived as disingenuous, but you should be able to develop effective boundaries that restrict the content you distribute.
Quite often people float the idea that company executives should be active on social media, and it’s not one that’s supported by a lot of good evidence. In a profile a few years ago, fifty “social” CEOs were profiled by Bloomberg, and most of them described Twitter as a distribution platform rather than as an engagement tool. Guess what? You can outsource or automate a distribution platform. In fact, for a time-dependent social platform it may be preferable.
Although the idealism of the social executive has its merit, the pragmatic PR pro or marketer will have an appropriate escalation plan for customer engagement. If you have multiple accounts, or have multiple high-profile people using social media, it may make sense to monitor those accounts and assign social care requests to a customer service rep. And you might decide (as many companies do) that branded social accounts might be the appropriate primary distribution vehicles for your content, augmented occasionally by personal accounts.
Nearly everyday there is an article about a social media “fail,” a transgression so egregious that people should be fired, and the company will immently lose all of their revenue, and others consequences of Biblical proportion follow. Except none of that happens. A person accidentally tweets from a corporate account instead of their own, and people read about the gaffe and move on. One major fast food chain GAINED followers when their Twitter account was hacked.
I think anyone could get risk-averse about social media by reading some accounts. Try to find evidence that a social transgression causes a lull in business and you’ll rarely (if ever) find one. Social followers are far more forgiving and disinterested than most people give them credit for. Unless you’re blatanly violating people’s propriety there’s little reason to expect a gaffe to have serious ramifications to your business.
Barack Obama most of the time, but when he does he signs them “-bo.” The other posts on his social media sites are typical content distribution. Iggy Azalea famously outsourced her social media to her communications team earlier this year, but often posts her own content as well.
Point being, you can always outsource or automate only a portion of your social media. You can have genuine moments of engagement and still manage your social accounts without committing a lot of resource or time to maintenance. This saves you time and resource and allows you to leverage channels for multiple purposes, all good.
The idea of this post isn’t to say that you have to automate or outsource your social media. Of course you don’t. But depending upon what you want to accomplish in your social media channels and your available resources, you may consider it. And it’s a completely appropriate tactic, used by many (very big) companies.
Outsourcing or automating your social channels can help you to maintain the integrity and intent of your communication and to spend less time doing it. It can help to speed your customer service and to maximize the social distribution of your content.
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