It seems that the social media industry has done such a good job on PR for itself, everyone feels like they should be doing it, and further more they are willing to put their hard earned money where their mouths are so that they don’t get left behind.

Coup Media who were featured in a blog from last week when I talked about this rush to social and its implications for Wales, are a great example of a company that’s never been busier helping businesses get online.

red7However, another agency Red 7 Marketing in Cowbridge had a particularly interesting insight I thought. Gareth Rhys Jones, principle at Red 7 and a fantastic marketing guy, tells me that most clients that want to go ‘social’ actually want him and his company to literally ‘do it’ for them.

Geoff and Gareth from Red 7

Geoff and Gareth from Red 7

Social Media is harder than it looks

Why employ someone else to do it? That doesn’t make sense to me.

I’m not talking about high level planning here, or SEO for which its entirely sensible to employ experts to aid you, I’m talking about  blog writing or Twitter, or running your Facebook page. The argument goes that a business employs an agency because they don’t have the resource to do it themselves.

But in my experience, its more likely that they don’t have the appetite to do it themselves.

Here’s the thing. Social media done badly is like every other type of marketing done badly. A waste of time and money. I’m not saying that companies like Red 7 and Coup Media shouldn’t be employed or are no good. Quite the reverse, I know both these guys and would not hesitate to recommend either.

But blogs that are written by people outside of your business and outsourced ‘broadcasting’ on Facebook or Twitter does not an effective campaign make.

Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should just jump in. Unless you can do it right.

And by ‘right’ I mean a properly thought out, resourced, planned and executed content based marketing strategy with proper measures of success built in that is integrated into the business from the top down. By all means use an agency to help you do this – In fact, if you are a more traditional business shall we say, I might even suggest an agency as an essential support for you. But unless you are going to become truly social don’t bother.

Sharing press releases with your long suffering fans on Facebook and not answering Tweets from customers is a fast way to p*** the very people off that you are attempting to connect with.

And I guess here’s the point. If you don’t WANT to connect, then don’t do social media. There are plenty of other marketing techniques you can successfully use without running the risk of looking stupid, or worse, messing up your brand.

Social Media may not be indicated

It might be the case that social media is not in fact the best solution for the problem that you are dealing with, or the market you are trading with.c3

Take the case of the brilliant Doctor of Chiropractic Rainer Weiser. Here we have an extremely successful business that is extremely well run.  Not only is he the only guy I’ve met that can fix my creaky back (!), he is also involved in every aspect of the small business that he runs, including, luckily for me, treating patients.

As we talked about marketing recently, I discovered that Rainer has more than 5000 opted in email addresses of existing and lapsed customers.

Social media may very well have a part to play for C3 Chiropractic in the future, but given the absolutely crazy work load Rainer has, it’s simply time prohibitive for him to ‘social’ his business up. Especially when he has a perfectly brilliant opportunity staring him in the face that he can quickly and easily take advantage of.

Getting to grips with his email list, cleansing his data and sending some simple ‘invitations to return’ to his lapsed customers would be an obvious quick and profitable win. In marketing, it always pays to keep it as simple as possible.

When Social Media is too complicated

There’s a fabulous coffee shop in Blackwood called Coffee Continental. Its one of those places that oozes quality and has a very engaged and very loyal customer base. So much so that the owner Esther and her husband are thinking of expanding.coffeecontinental

Esther, a natural marketer, is interested in how she can harness the power of the social web to help drive her business forward. But does she need too? At least right now?

Coffee is a pretty low involvement purchase right? Find a good coffee shop and you’ll quickly become a regular. But just how loyal would you be in face of a concerted effort from a competitor that wooed you away from your regular haunt with offers and discounts to encourage you to sample their product?

You could argue that a proper content led social media campaign is the ideal way to encourage loyalty from a fickle audience. But who is going to do it? In a business with such tight margins, and low levels of resource, employing someone just to do social media is a real luxury, as is employing an agency.

And like Rainer at C3 Chiropractic, the owners of Coffee Continental are working every hour to run the shop. So simply put, there isn’t anyone available to do it.

If implementing the ‘social’ strategy causes stretch and a lack of focus somewhere else where it might be crucial I would advocate staying away. If social media is an effort for your business,. it maybe isn’t the right effort to make, at least right now.

There are loads of well established ideas you can use to drive ‘trial business’ and build brand, without taking time away to write blogs or tweet about barista comings and goings! Things like BOGOF promotions  loyalty cards or if you want to get ‘with it’, how about a text campaign for all your opted in customers?

Maybe one day in the future, not being social might not be an option. I think for almost all business communicating and connecting with your clients in this way will be the norm not the exception. But there are some reasons to slow down the rush to socialisation.

What do you think? Am I right? Or would you suggest another route? Let me know in the comments below, or email me directly at [email protected]

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35 replies
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    I think you’re spot on… You can’t outsource your voice, passion and expertise. There are a lot of people in traditional agencies currently offering to ‘do it for you’… It can work, but only rarely, and with a lot of expense. More often, you’re actually missing one of the big points about social media – everyone now is a media organisation.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Nicely put Tom – I think the fact we can all publish is at the heart of this revolution, so its almost counter intuitive to abdicate responsibility from that perspective
      Thanks for the comment!

      • nativehq
        nativehq says:

        Indeed. That insight shapes the way we work at NativeHQ – we never ‘do’ social media on a regular basis for our clients… We help them by developing strategy with them, providing training and handholding them as they learn. The only things we will ever do on their behalf are time limited tech projects or media production. If you’re not being helped to run your own social media, you’re not being helped.

  2. Gary Owen
    Gary Owen says:

    I think anything done wrong is bad for your business, social media is about communication like radio, tv and newspapers
    The art in all this is to convey your product and or service as efficiently as possible.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Its a fair point and really back to basics Gary.
      I think most people are of the same opinion though? And that’s maybe why they look to outsource this stuff in the first place. To make sure they don’t get it wrong?
      Unfortunately as discussed that can be a problem in itself!
      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Gareth Rees Jones
        Gareth Rees Jones says:

        Thanks for the mention Tony. As I mentioned last week, some of our clients are asking us to take on their social media activity as they don’t have the time or inclination to do it themselves. However we are of the same view that although we can help set the strategy and carry out a certain amount of activity, we can only do it to a certain point and we need at least one (but preferably) more social media ‘champions’ within each of our client’s businesses to either actively contribute or at least to be feeding us with updates on what they are doing on a daily basis. We also provide training and guidance for them. With regards to to content for blogs we look to people within each of our client’s teams to become ‘authors’ and provide us with the ‘rough bones’ (maybe bullet points or even an interview) of an article that we can then craft in to good copy.

        So in summary, while I agree that social media cannot reside with an agency alone, if you become an extension of your client’s business there are ways of making it work.

  3. nativehq
    nativehq says:

    I disagree with Gary – social media is NOT like broadcast, one way, edited, professional media technologies like radio, tv or print – and you don’t use it in the same way. That’s a very limited way to understand it. And certainly not an effective starting point to use in order to get it right. The most viewed video on YouTube was, until very recently, a simple home video of a baby biting his brother’s finger. No TV production values, just a camcorder pointed at some children. How is that like TV? How are the networked conversations, collaborations and crowd sourcing projects like anything that traditional media has created? Networked media is multi-way, multimedia interactive conversational communications, without editors, published by amateurs in generally authentic, non-sloganised voices. In many ways, media professionals are steeped in skills and understanding from a broadcast paradigm, they can often get it very badly wrong. It has similarities to traditional media, but to think they are the same is a profound misunderstanding of what’s going on.

  4. Tony Dowling
    Tony Dowling says:

    Its certainly about communication, but democratised communication as you say Tom. Speaking as a media owner, I’d agree the very definition of social distances it from the traditional media that it today compliments.
    I guess if traditional media are the pebbles in the jar, social is the sand within the gaps in this sense and as you say authenticity is often what drives the up take and proliferation.
    I do agree with Gary that there is a fundamental or basic level of expertise or more likely understanding that is required in order to ‘get it right’ or at least as close as you can to getting it right.
    In traditional organisations that haven’t grown up this way social is a very alien technology, and the broadcast analogies are almost unavoidable. But in my experience, anything that gets the ball rolling in the right direction is positive!

    • Gary Owen
      Gary Owen says:

      Define social media?
      How many large companies use an agency to produce their advert or message for any medium. SME’s may look at the costs before instructing an agency

      • nativehq
        nativehq says:

        Difficulty here is that the focus in social media is not the production of ‘the message’ as a single object/advert/creative. It is the ongoing engagement of an audience in a conversational setting. You will be asked to represent the brand across so many aspects of it’s business that an agency would find itself often hopelessly uninformed. Only the people who live and breath the life of a brand are ultimately capable of representing it. Outsource social media and you generally end up with old media communications ad messages on new media platforms. It’s like the early web, which was largely print brochures turned into websites.

  5. Tony Dowling
    Tony Dowling says:

    I think there is a difference between being social, and social media. Gary, I agree there are elements of social media that are relatively easy to get wrong, and an analogy can be drawn with getting things wrong in traditional media also.
    But I think its also easy to confuse being social and talking on a truly social level within your organisation to the people that work for you and buy from you, and ‘doing’ social media.
    As for a definition of social media, maybe that’s another post! But how about non traditional media? with social networks? Dunno, seems a tough one! 🙂

    • Gary Owen.
      Gary Owen. says:

      Social Media, media that is social! in all its forms its not just You Tube, apps, or blogging its a collective term that describes all types of communication, the same senses are used for video from you tube or TV from the BBC, the only thing different is the messenger. Do not think its new Media! its just how its delivered.

  6. nativehq
    nativehq says:

    A definition of social media? At a very simple level, I would say: “People having conversations online”. You can refine that by pointing out that those conversations are multi-way (as opposed to trad media, which is often one way, or perhaps sometime two way). And you can refine it further by noting that those conversations are conducted via multimedia (video, audio, text, presentation, interactive media).

    Personally, I don’t see many similarities with traditional media – they are far less conversational, not online, certainly not multi-directional, mono-media (EITHER audio, text or video). We could draw many other distinctives: e.g. they are also asynchronous (e.g. this blog post will still be visible in 5 years time). They are open for anyone to engage with (not controlled by editors). People can easily share them with their own following (they HAVE THEIR OWN AUDIENCES!).

    I’m playing devil’s advocate here by drawing attention to the differences… sure – they are ‘media’ – technologies that enable us to communicate and create relationships filled with meaning. But the human voice is media. As is the body. In the qualities that shape the patterns of interaction between people, social media is profoundly different from traditional media, which to me seems limited and poorly specified in functionality.

    Perhaps the main distinctives are in the scale of reach of most traditional media and most social media. But this is a dangerous thought. The Western Mail has a headline figure of 400,000 distribution. But Stephen Fry is speaking to over 5 million every time he tweets. Perhaps it is the quality of production values that distinguishes traditional media? Sure… a good argument. We are at a very early stage of learning multimedia literacy as a culture, but we already have phones that can shoot HD video and upload it to a global distribution platform in minutes. The high levels of polish in the traditional media industry may well prove to be an expensive legacy that lead to it’s inability to compete effectively with amateur production.

  7. Jan Minihane (@JanMinihane)
    Jan Minihane (@JanMinihane) says:

    So refreshing a post to read, thank you. I spend more time taking new clients off social media sites than putting them on new ones – do less (or sometimes as you rightly say, nothing at all), better – and only when all the right balls – time, resources, willingness, socialness, commitment – to name but a few, are lined up.

    Outsourcing all or part of a company’s social media efforts can be an answer, as long as the agency is fully vetted first and the client understands the input they still need to make to make it work/worthwhile.

    The business world to a large part continues to turn without everyone using social media and will do so for a long time. I agree though at some point, in some way, all businesses will need to embrace it (but just get beyond trying to see the £££ and see it as a cost centre in it’s own right).

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Great insight Jan! Thanks
      That last part seems like an argument I’ve been having about advertising and marketing in general for the last 20 years!
      The outsourcing bit seems to be the real contention though? People both sides of the argument seem as passionate as each other.
      Reminds me of a post I once wrote about the difference between sales and marketing! 😉

      • Jan Minihane (@JanMinihane)
        Jan Minihane (@JanMinihane) says:

        Very contentious – unsurprisingly those who offer it as a service are for it, those who’ve tried it and had their fingers burned, not so much!

        Initially I was entirely against it if I’m honest, it felt a massive gamble with handing a brand over to someone you barely knew and asking them to go play with it! I also didn’t get how they could be as passionate about the brand as the client could. That said, over time I’ve learnt some businesses just don’t get either how to be social on line and/or aren’t able to generate compelling, engaging content, so on occasion when they are hell bent on having a social media presence, we look at outsourcing some (the content) or all of the social media presence – I make sure the client fully understands the risks, what parameters and input they need to make and be realistic about what the outcome/’success’ will be.

        I’ve picked up a few clients who had their fingers burned by outsourcing and then realised the value of doing it in house. Equally I have a few clients where outsourcing works. Ultimately, we (pretty much) all outsource parts of our business, why should Social Media be any different? Just do your homework first.

        I’ll stop waffling on!

  8. John Heaney (@johnheaney)
    John Heaney (@johnheaney) says:

    Tony, great advice that reinforces Social Media Rule #1: Social media doesn’t mask your true identity, it reveals it. I’ve spoken with too many small business CEO’s to count who want to realize the benefits of social media engagement as long as they don’t actually have to participate or engage themselves. Now I’d love to have a beach body by February when I’m heading to Puerto Vallarta, but I’m pretty confident that if I outsource all my workouts I’ll still be doughy in 60 days. Can I hire someone to walk me through a fitness program? Sure, just as I can help them start a social media program that makes sense for their business. But in the end success will depend solely on their personal commitment and engagement. If you’re not social, you don’t care or if you behave badly, just put the Twitter down.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Its a great analogy John! And thanks for taking time to comment!
      Question for you… While I appreciate the argument that you’ll never get fit by outsourcing your workouts, won’t the efficiency and effectiveness be improved if you employ a personal trainer to show you the correct forms, and even ‘spot’ your exercises?
      Until you get used to the demands of the weights your lifting, they can give a hand to steady the bar, and ensure your in the correct posture by literally placing you there can’t they?
      Maybe Im extending the metaphor a bit far (!)
      It seems that proof of the pudding is in the eating isn’t it? Are there examples of great outsourced social media out there? Jan or Gareth maybe can help here?

  9. Tony Dowling
    Tony Dowling says:

    Thats such an interesting perspective Jan. Opinion, even just on this post is widely divided isn’t it?
    Its a brave stance to say, as Gareth does, that outsourcing is OK in certain circumstances. Tom and John (above) on the other hand represents very much a purists view of being social, more so than social media per se.
    Its seems to me that these things are really complex, and in my opinion both perspectives are right! Bit of a cop out answer maybe, but business is complicated enough and making things as simple as possible is paramount.

    • John Heaney (@johnheaney)
      John Heaney (@johnheaney) says:

      Tony, I don’t object to outsourcing all components of social media, in fact virtually every client I’ve worked with outsources a great deal of their content development, analytics and research until they develop their own capacity to perform those tasks. Not all companies have the skills or resources to write blog posts, craft videos or create SlideShare presentations, so they have to outsource those tasks. However, they must participate in the creation of the content – providing the industry knowledge, perspective and cultural imprint that makes it uniquely their own. Moreover, they must engage in the online conversations that their content generates. That’s where I draw the clear line of demarcation with clients. Once the content is posted, they must monitor and respond to the comments that the content generates. If they can’t commit to that minimal level of engagement, then they shouldn’t be swimming in the social media pool.

      • Tony Dowling
        Tony Dowling says:

        And thats very much the point I was trying to make I think! If your not ‘social’ dont do it. It doesn’t work. I like the way you’ve demarked the responsibilities too, thats a worthwhile real world example there, thanks very much.
        Both you and Jan are demonstrating how real world business pressures present in real ife social media scenarios – thanks guys!

  10. Joel_Hughes
    Joel_Hughes says:

    Tony: “But in my experience, its more likely that they don’t have the appetite to do it themselves.” <<< hear hear!

    Jan: "I spend more time taking new clients off social media sites than putting them on new ones" <<< know the feeling there

    Here's my 2p:
    Most of the managed social media I've seen is complete junk* and is simply a product offered up by a business who have spotted an angle to audience hungry to have their social needs met but cannot be bothered to do it themselves. Want us to tweet for you? Sure thing. Need a couple of blog posts? Why not. Sign on the bottom line.

    (*but I'm sure there are good guys out there)

    As Tom says, you cannot easily outsource the passion & voice of your company so that would be my main concern with any managed approach. Don't get my wrong; I'm sure a very savvy comms company could spend the time to get to know a company and distill their essence; but that would take time (not just a quick meting). And even then roles/responsibilities needs to be clearly defined. I mean, what are we achieving by outsourcing the boss' blog?

    Your example of the chiropractor and the coffee shop is great; however, there are plenty of such people out there (e.g. in the states) who do the same service, are just as busy but who find the time to do SM. It's all about where we want to put the time; if we see it of no value then we'll consider it frivolous and we won't have time to do it.

    When someone says:
    "I don't have time for social media"

    …I hear:
    "I don't know what social media is and I'm not yet in the right place to learn about it"


    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      I think that’s last part is very true. Not having time, or thinking its not going to work or what have you, is just as likely to be about the fear of the unknown.
      That what prompted the next post I did, how to do social media when you don’t know anything about it!
      Thanks again for the insight here too, those of you working on this stuff every day can offer so much to the discussion
      I like how you have framed how outsourcing might work too, thanks!

  11. Tom
    Tom says:

    I should clarify my position – it’s a mistake to clarify your voice and relationships on social media. There’s plenty you can outsource. Richard Branson does it well – he has a team working with him to produce his voice, but it’s him speaking. I feel a blog post coming on…

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