Archive for skunkworks

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.