Social Media Outsourcing Horror Stories

I think it’s safe to say that most companies have finally become aware of how vital it is to have a well-integrated social media campaign as part of their marketing and customer support. However, the question of whether to manage the process in-house or to get outside help is still a widely debated question.

While many bloggers are quite opinionated on the topic, like most things in life, it’s not a simple matter of right or wrong. There is definitely a right time, place and approach depending on your company’s specific goals, size and culture.Unfortunately there have been many high profile social media outsourcing disasters in the past such as the Chrysler incident where an employee tweeted a very insensitive and rude message about the quality of Detroit’s drivers. That ended badly with a public apology, the firing of a social media agency and the employee in question losing their job.

Another incident of poor taste involved Celeb Boutique, who tweeted about their Aurora dress with the hashtag #Aurora during the middle of the Aurora Colorado shooting incident. Once a massive backlash mounted against the company, they apologized stating that they had outsourced their tweets overseas. It seems an employee was quick to jump on the #Aurora hashtag bandwagon for some promotion, but clearly did not do enough research before hitting the send button.

While not strictly a social media example, one of Sears’ employees managed to accidently kill a customer’s dog while delivering a freezer to their home. After the customer complained and felt like they weren’t being heard by the store giant, they created a website explaining the situation and it managed to get a flood of viral traffic from all over the internet. After the backlash reached Sears HQ, they were promptly offered a refund for the freezer along with an apology. It just goes to show that just one customer can break your reputation very quickly.

Incidents like these have also served to make companies even more wary of outsourcing their social media efforts, or worse of all, ditching social altogether. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, outsourcing one’s social media is a completely safe and effective strategy. Just make smart choices and it should work very well indeed.

So here are the top 5 tips to make sure you get your social media outsourced successfully:

1. Choose The Right Agency
Get as many friends opinions as you can before choosing an agency. Also, make sure to write up a trial contract so if you find their service is less than desirable you can get out of the deal very easily. The last thing you need is to get locked into a year-long contract with a company that doesn’t meet your needs.

2. Be Prepared to Collaborate
Like it or not there will be times when they will need your help since nobody knows your business better than you. Expect that the process will not be a total hands-off exercise, at least in the beginning. After a few inevitable bumps in the road, they should slowly become more and more independent, but it can take time.

3. Best Practices Document
Have a one-page document that outlines your social media best practices. This will serve as a handy map for everyone to follow and ensures the company is well represented at all times. Make sure it’s not too long so people will read it, in plain English so people will understand it and simple enough to remember. Here’s an example of IBM’s social computing guidelines.

4. Check Up Regularly
Just because you hired some fancy new agency, it doesn’t mean the job is done. You need to check on their work at least once a week to make sure they stay on track.

5. Apologize
If there is some big social media blunder however, be human, explain, apologize and people will most likely understand and forgive you. This has been shown time and again to work really well and the situation blows over rather quickly in most cases. The real problems happen when companies are too late to the party and by that point the whole internet is talking about you (and not in a good way) or they just flat out ignore it. So catch it early and/or be proactive and you should be just fine. Let your loyal customers come back for more.

Good social media agencies usually do a great job of understanding their client’s companies on a very deep level and can represent them very accurately, even with the most sensitive issues like customer support. So do your homework, test out a few agencies, and let them help make your social media efforts more effective while saving you a ton of time.