Archive for outsource

social media ‘skunkworks’: under resourcing engagement.

Posted in outsource social media with tags , , , , on September 15, 2010 by monozygote43

In an ideal world, no company should rush to outsource control over their activity in social media.  The social media revolution is just beginning and this new communication medium is arguably the most powerful public communication medium of all time.

There are simply too many questions with strategic implications not to want to keep accountability and responsibility for social media strategy and tactics within the company community.

Having said that, many companies will struggle to fund the cost (including overheads and the costs of employment) for a permanent internal social media or community manager.  Some will have no option but to buy in strategic facilitation or insight from external consultants, agencies or contractors.

After the strategic compass is set, companies will also need to set up a presence across multiple applications and generate content for the insatiable appetite of hungry followers and fans.  Again, many companies will need to buy in the expertise of designers and programmers who can customize and integrate social media applications and web sites.

But what about engagement itself?  The whole point of entering social media is to execute strategy…monitor, analyze and respond to customer needs and execute the marketing plan.  The end goal is to engage with consistent standards and create trust and brand advocacy in the online community…right?

Even if an internal full time professional is within financial reach, there is a difference between bringing a savvy social media or community manager on board to develop strategy, coordinate internal communities and oversee the standards of engagement…and having the time left over to conduct the ongoing work of engagement at an acceptable standard.

One person may not be able to carry that load effectively.

Many companies seem to be short changing the engagement process after having spent lavishly on planning and set up.  It’s like building a mansion and then cutting corners on maintenance and gardening.  It’s a bad look from the street.

Many companies are basically creating social media departments as a ‘one person band’ with some remote part time workers conducting the work of engagement.  The inevitable cost of that decision is the absence of acceptable engagement standards…the reduction of engagement scope, or the failure to reach acceptable standards in dealing with the online community.

Under resourcing online engagement is the ‘skunkworks’ decision.  Hire someone and make them responsible, but don’t ask with too much veracity whether they can pull off the engagement objectives with the resources they have available.  Put them somewhere where their pain won’t be too audible.  It’s the social media strategy you have when you don’t have a social media strategy.

Some current company practices for monitoring and response online would fall below standard in an Indian telephone call center, let alone in the new public spaces of the social media.  Consumers in social media are rewarding companies that respond in real time.  There are plenty of Fortune 500 companies with 24 hours or even days between postings or tweets.  Many will only respond to those community members posting on their branded social media accounts or at their web sites.  That’s the ‘castle’ engagement mentality which is a hangover from the days before web 2.0 where the digital ether contained only web sites and static ‘bill boards’ or ‘grave stones’.

Don’t believe me?  Pick a fortune 500 company and search negative comments mentioning that company’s brands and products (whether directed to the company’s accounts or not) in Twitter and Facebook.  Try Hewlett Packard or Western Digital Corporation.  Go to their brand accounts in Twitter and cross check to how many of those consumers with problems or issues were ever approached by the brand.  Some large companies aren’t even responding to negative comments in the comments sections and discussion forums of their own web sites and FB walls.  The reason…many don’t have the available time to monitor and respond at an acceptable standard and they have missed the point about engagement as the real focus of social media.

Outsourced providers like ‘We Engage’ are focused solely on performing the work of engagement to a defined standard.  An engagement specialist will achieve far better utilization of human resource and better overhead absorption for the cost of management and expensive technical platforms, than a company that has low or fluctuating levels of engagement work and high fixed costs and overheads.

This is true of smaller organizations with low or intermittent engagement requirements and larger organizations with large peaks and troughs in engagement work.  Outsourced providers like Bill James at  ‘We Engage’ have all the pieces in one line up including creative, marketing, public relations, set up and strategy focused engagement.  Outsourcing can lift engagement standards and increase the scope of engagement.  That’s a tangible ROI.  The ‘We Engage’ model is to reward who have long term engagement contracts with affordable set up and easy access to creative, marketing, technical and public relations advice and support at prices that are way below traditional agency or consultant costs.  That’s another major cost saving against the internal engagement model.

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social media: what should you outsource?

Posted in outsource social media with tags , , , , on August 19, 2010 by monozygote43

To answer the question, let’s lay out an imaginary continuum from brand ‘goals’ to brand ‘tasks’.  The path from defining a goal to delivering the goal must pass through these stages :

Brand Goal

Move the restaurant brand share from 30% of overall market to 70% of market in 12 months.

Brand Strategy

While the above goal is a total business goal, the strategy for social media might be “to contribute 20% of the overall growth goal from marketing, promotional and customer service initiatives within social media”.

Brand Tactics

The Brand tactics for the social media strategy might be to lift the utilization of individual restaurants in the chain by raising the average occupancy of seating (‘covers’ for those in the trade) to 89% from its current low of 52% by offering a combination of promotions and discounts.  This could break into three elements:

  1. A campaign to target competitor customers (especially disaffected ones), in specific social applications including Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Friendfeed with promotional offers and discounts (33% conversion goal);
  2. A campaign to create brand advocates by offering a combination of exemplary customer service and promotional offers to fans and followers (33% conversion goal);
  3. A game based loyalty campaign where frequent check ins through Foursquare , Gowalla and Facebook (yes, Facebook is location capable now too) are rewarded with promotional offers and discount (33% conversion goal).

These tactics would rely on a pre-calculated pricing for lowly utilized capacity in specific restaurants which takes into account improving the overhead absorption.  In other words, the tactics would rely on a type of variable pricing model that would change the value of promotional and discount offers as capacity was filled (much like the airline model of pricing seats).  Promotions and discounts would be very attractive at the outset of the campaign and would tail off toward the end.

Brand Tasks

Clearly, the work needs to be planned and laid out in a critical path with allocated resources and clear accountability and responsibility.  Hence the need to break down the tactics into tasks.  Tasks for just one of these tactics could be numerous:

Let’s imagine just some of the tasks required to apply tactic number one (1):

  • Monitor in real time all competitor accounts in specified applications and all generally accessible customer comments where there is dissatisfaction with service or quality;
  • Develop pricing/promotional model indexed to available capacity and existing bookings system;
  • Develop Standard Response Procedures defining the manner and etiquette of approach to customers;
  • Respond to competitor customers with a promotional offer within 15 minutes of them expressing dissatisfaction on-line.

So, what should you outsource?

If you are thinking “Oh God, I haven’t defined this strategic continuum, or distilled the tasks supporting the goal” and “what exactly are my people doing out there…and how does it support the goal?”, you may need first to outsource the process of distilling tasks from goals in order to arrive at a project plan for social media.

You don’t need to give up ownership of Brand Goals and Strategy to seek assistance with the process of distilling action plans, metrics. structure and accountability for engagement.  It makes sense to drive through this with external help and a sounding board.  Additionally, provided you are enabled to manage your external providers effectively, social media engagment can be more effective and less costly than internal engagment.

Distilling the goal to task continuum will help you to see the big picture of what has to be done and over what timeframe.

If you don’t have brand goals and strategies, don’t outsource anything.  You need to have the goals and strategies worked out before you engage…whether under your own steam or by means of an outsourced provider.

You will notice that at each level of the continuum, there is a measurable goal.  This is essential for getting at the plan and actual ROI of the strategy.  The reason most campaigns fail is that goals don’t connect to tasks and the metrics required to plan and measure ROI aren’t incorporated into the various levels of the Goal to Task continuum.  If you don’t understand ROI or the application of Conversion rates in comparing action and reaction, you may also want to outsource the entire metrics and reporting aspect.

If you are satisfied pouring water into sand by having no particular measurable goals in mind, don’t outsource. It will simply result in the blind leading the blind.

If you are thinking “the reason I haven’t done this preparation is that I am too busy trying to remain in control of the actual minute to minute engagement in Social Media, you may need to outsource the implementation.  Don’t forget, you are committing to responding and approaching people in real time all day long.  Sure you can hire and train people, bring in the necessary technical platforms for monitoring and response, make space available in the office and define all those procedures protocols and pricing models and guidelines.  But how long will that take?  Do you have that time to spare?  Shouldn’t you be focused on the big picture? What utilization will all those assets achieve if applied only in your organization? How productive will internal implementation be?

Could an outsourced specialist working with higher utilization of those same assets, deliver the same outcome more effectively, and with less expense than you could internally?  Could a tight analysis of essential tasks result in identifying activities which are adding no value to the goal?

In conclusion, assessing the outsourcing option requires you to evaluate the comparative cost and effectiveness of internal versus third party provision.  That assessment often requires consideration of the timelines involved in putting rubber on the road.  It also requires you to assess some of the risks associated with outsourcing.  One thing is for certain.  You need to know the goals, strategy, tactics and tasks of social media engagement before you decide what to do and who should do it.