You Can’t Outsource Authenticity

It’s a conversation I’ve had far too often; small businesses get overwhelmed by the responsibility of maintaining an online presence. They start to look for ways to outsource it. 

They ask:

  • Can I hire someone to post on Facebook and Twitter for us?
  • Can I hire someone to ghostwrite my blog?
  • What if we have an intern manage all our social media?

There’s a statistic we throw out fairly often, because it’s true and compelling:

Study Shows Small Businesses That Blog Get 55% More Website Visitors

The reason this happens is NOT because a blog is merely updated regularly — that’s important to be sure — but because the REAL, personal story of the people behind the business is what people connect with; not someone who is managing the account for the summer.

I get it if you need help. I completely understand feeling overwhelmed and like you need another member of your team to manage the production and posting of content on behalf of your business. It’s FINE to appoint someone to that role . . . but make sure it’s someone who is really part of the team. Someone who can really represent you in the public and social space and who others will happily see as representative of you and your business.

If it’s you, then it’s you. Suck it up and find someone to do some other piece of your business that’s it’s not essential you touch with your own two hands. But don’t try to have a surrogate social media manager. It just doesn’t work.



  • Social media managers often get a bad rap – and, in some instances, rightly so. I think there are many of those ‘tweet-for-hires’ out there who take advantage of business owners.  I also think businesses tend to pass off social media to someone as if it’s ‘any old task.’
    It takes a strong partnership and consistent communication to make outsourcing social media work for a business. We pride ourselves on this.
    In the majority of instances, I find businesses struggle with what to write and how to write as well as delegating the time to actually write. We meet and/or call of our customers monthly to review a content  calendar, establish voice, and evaluate efforts. We also work diligently to understand what’s going on in their business and their industry.  All content is given to the business ahead of time so they can edit for personalization. We monitor all accounts, but we make sure there is a system in place for responding to all feedback as well as making sure the business is aware of what’s being said about them.
    Is it a perfect system? Probably not, but for my clients, it works well for them – and they are achieving their goals.

  • JenniferGrigg says:

    I agree with @RachelStrella . I am a social media manager and I take great pride working with my clients, finding out who they are and understanding their voice. A good SM Manager will make the effort and reach out to their customers and understand their business, who they are, their beliefs and who their target audience is. All my clients have different target audiences, different needs and are all treated differently — each with their own message that is unique to their business.
    Outsourcing your social media is a fantastic idea as the SM Managers want to do this work. They are passionate about social media marketing, connecting and engaging with others. They have the knowledge and the time to invest, which in the end, will yield results. 
    Just handing off social media to any employee does not mean they will understand the voice of the company. Chances are they don’t. Employees often don’t share the same goals, interests, and values of the company as the upper management team might. 
    My clients are very happy. Their social media is done correctly, managed properly, always monitored for them and not only is their social media marketing looked after for them, they also learn from it too. 

  • PhilAnderson says:

    As I read this blog post I started to get really angry.  After a number of deep breaths I am ready to write my retort.  First of all, let’s all agree that outsourced social media managers are not the answer for every company or business.  Coca Cola, McDonalds and Walmart certainly don’t outsource theirs as they likely have a team of qualified (yes, I said qualified) SMM’s.  As both Jennifer and Rachel pointed out, rightly so, having just “any” employee (or worse yet, a 16 year old niece of an employee!) manage a businesses social media is very dangerous.  VERY.
    My guess is that both Jennifer and Rachel would be the first to admit a company would be best served to have their owner or president or CEO do ALL of the social media management which includes, but is not limited to, keeping tabs on all brand related comments online, respond to posts, “Likes” and “Shares” made on their Facebook page or “Follows” and comment on their Twitter handle.  After that they could track how all their Foursquare campaigns are going and if their Pinterest board is getting re-pinned.  Then, they could continue to watch, listen and learn to all of the cutting edge training that is going on weekly (sometimes daily) in the world of social media so they don’t fall behind their competition.  Since this doesn’t take much time they would then have time to engage in two or three TweetChats in their respective industry to give them a stronger hold as an expert in their industry.  
    As you can probably tell, I’m being a bit sarcastic as this is a lot to expect of the head of the company, even though they are likely (especially in a small business) the most passionate about their company purpose.  If a company has the budget to take on another $50,000-$90,000 salary (depending on the market and the scope of the work) as well as the vacation and sick days and other benefits that accompany most positions (oh, and train them of the company personality and culture), then, by all means, they should do that. However, here is what I know to be true, from my experience:  Most companies do not have the budget to hire an in-house social media manager.
    Which leaves option three, the most efficient way to incorporate a social media presence, and that is, outsource a social media manager.  I can’t speak for other SMM’s but I can speak for myself.  Each and every client of mine gets much more value than what they pay me for.  I have clients that range from a garden center, to a jewelry company, to a salon as well as a company who sells their product strictly through direct in-home sales.  Each is vastly different.  I learn about my clients products/services, about the personality of them AND their business and speak on their behalf through multiple social media channels and platforms.  Coming from a business background myself, I have my clients business success in the forefront of my mind when I make these posts and responses.  All of my clients, however, understand that I canNOT be the only voice, and so they will comment, post and respond when they can.  By managing their social media strategy in this partnering fashion, it has been very successful for me as well as my clients’ businesses.  In fact, I had one who said, “Phil, you have been the most important part of my business growth this year.  Thank you!”
    Is that authentic enough for you?

  • Marijean says:

     @PhilAnderson Phil, I appreciate where you’re coming from, and supporting activities in social media are completely different than representing a client online. Your position with your clients that you’re not the only voice there is a good one, but it seems to me the audience would always prefer to interact with the real team members online, not just their social media manager. So no, that’s not authentic enough. It’s still a step away. 

  • KenMueller says:

    A little story: I interacted with a local business on Twitter, and they invited me to come in. I went in, and the owner of the shop had no clue who I was or why I was there. I told them we had chatted on Twitter. She had no clue. Interestingly enough, a year later she fired her outsourced company and hired me.
    Just last week I was called in to meet with an organization that had outsourced their social media presence. It wasn’t working. At all. They understand now that you can’t outsource authenticity, and the time and money they spent on the outsourcing has actually pushed them backwards. 
    It just doesn’t work. To me, it’s like equating social media with an answering service. They are merely there to answer the phone until a real person can get back to you. Someone who knows what they are talking about. They wouldn’t hire someone outside to answer the phone all the time. Or to respond to their emails. 
    And I’ll never buy the argument that it saves them time. It doesn’t. In the end it ends up costing them more in both time and money. I’m in full agreement here, MJ, but that’s no surprise. 

  • KenMueller says:

     @Marijean Quite honestly, I’ve never seen it work. And my clients? They all do it themselves. And they are small business owners who work 14+hours a day. they understand the importance of social media. To me, if you outsource something, it means you are cutting corners and don’t really believe in it.

  •  @KenMueller  @Marijean
     Hi Ken,
    It’s like we talked about in the fall – it’s all about the mindset. I would love for some of my clients to want to take the lead on social media marketing, but until they’ve established a mindset that it’s a priority – that’s simply not the case.
    I believe some would have a stronger presence if they did. I believe others would have authenticity, but no consistency – or even regularity without an outside party holding them accountable.
    It comes down to doing what works for each business.

  •  @KenMueller
    Ken, that story is certainly an example of how outsourcing social media does not work all of the time, but to say it doesn’t work across the board is overdramatic and simply untrue. While the ideal may be for people to do their own social media and be authentic, the reality is that many small business owners may never have a social media presence at all if they didn’t outsource. I’m sure you would agree that not having a social media presence at all would be a mistake. And believe it or not, there are good businesses out there who can execute outsourced social media effectively. I think people tend to get to “boxed in” on their positions in this debate when the reality is, different strokes for different folks.

  • PhilAnderson says:

     @KenMueller She fired the outsourced company because she failed to be in better touch with her social media audience? All too many times I’ve commented on businesses Twitter handles and/or Facebook pages and it seems to fall on deaf ears.  At least the outsourced company engaged this businesses followers. 

  • KenMueller says:

     @PhilAnderson I was the first engagement. The only one who ever @ replied them. She fired them because she was paying a lot of money for tweets and Facebook updates that were horribly done. No growth. No meaningful reporting. No cultivation. It was all in the contract, but nothing happened. 

  • PhilAnderson says:

     @KenMueller Then the firing was, obviously, justified.  I would be careful, however, putting ALL social media managers into the same vat of ineptness.  As everything, there are the good, the bad and the ugly.