Outsourcing Social Media: The Flawed Logic of the Badged Employee

Outsourcing Social Media Management: The Flawed Logic of the Badged Employee

Outsourcing Social Media: The Flawed Logic of the Badged EmployeeI sometimes see posts on social media or articles talking about the evils of outsourcing social media management to an outside consultant or company. The assumption is that your company’s social media activities are an extension of your company and that it needs to be “authentic” (i.e. coming from you).

This sounds great in principle, but if we look at how companies actually work, we can see why this logic is flawed for many cases. Here are five ways this logic falls apart:

1) “Only employees can ‘get’ our message”

Any social media manager needs to internalize the company message  and find the right way to apply that to social media  The communications in social media often represent the owner, the company leadership, the company culture, or the official communications line. Consultants are often more aware of the nuances of different company messages and how to tie this to specific social media goals. A good consultant’s ability to “get” the message and translate it into social media action often matches or wins over a (non social media specialist) employee’s perspective gained from working “in the trenches” every day.

2) An untrained employee can be a serious liability

An intern, store manager, a bartender, a PR professional (learning social media) or others who understand social media from a personal perspective but who don’t have training can be a liability for your firm. Learning social media for business “on the job” is a very visible and potentially dangerous way to handle this valuable marketing opportunity.

3) Social media consultants can be 20x more effective

Even a good “generalist” employee will likely not be aware of all of the tools, nuances and resources available. You can’t package years of hard-earned experience into a few months of training or time behind the wheel of your company’s social media program.

I’ve experienced situations where the social media designee spent several hours researching a topic (and were still not taking any action) where I can come in and complete the same task (e.g. setting up a certain Facebook ad) within 15 minutes. Just to make this clear – 5 hours (and still not done) vs. 15 minutes is 20x more effective. This is just an example, but an external expert can be infinitely more valuable. For example, a successful blogger outreach program is infinitely more impactful for your brand over one never gets off the ground!

4) Joe the consultant. Bad. Joe the employee. Good.

So you meet Joe, who’s a social media consultant, and you use his services. Is that bad? If you suddenly decided to hire Joe and he takes over your program tomorrow as a badged employee, is that good? The badge doesn’t change the dynamic. If Joe’s good, you actually have more flexibility to use his services as a consultant. You have more flexibility to ratchet his services (and costs) up and down. No need to let Joe go if you’re not happy. No need for the long interview process, the employee training, the insurance and many more items that come along with employment.

5) Social media may not be a full time role for smaller companies

Many smaller companies are not in a position to hire someone to work on social media (or even marketing) full time. They feel forced to designate an employee to take it over, taking time away from their “day job”. In this situation, you may be sub-optimizing your social media marketing while also impacting the employees regular performance. In this case, I recommend using a consultant while having someone designated to work with them, to learn the ropes, and to help align the social media messages with the company line.

Don’t get me wrong. I think companies need to be investing in social media skills and in hiring employees to take on key social media marketing roles (if they can afford it). But don’t think an untrained internal resource will have the impact that your company needs to succeed in today’s online environment.

Don’t hire carelessly or set them up for failure

Make sure you choose the consultant well, involve them in your company’s day-to-day activities (so they “get” your company), and keep the lines of communication open. No consultant can “guess” what your company message is and what messaging style you prefer.

Contact us for a free consultation about your company’s social media strategy and next steps.

I’d love your thoughts

What’s your take on this? Do you have a strong opinion either way?

Have you seen problems with internal social media managers or social media consultants?

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Vince Koehler

Agree with your assessment that social media management can be outsourced successfully.

Where I’ve seen clients struggle with social media consultants is the integration of the social media tactics into every day campaign development and refinement. My clients with an in-house SM Manager are present in a way where social is integrated into everything the team performs. Outsource SM Managers tend to have more parallel efforts as the campaigns roll out. How do you see consultants integrate themselves into the team when they aren’t onsite?

Tom Treanor


It depends on the company but I often see the outside consultants helping to build up the infrastructure and processes first. Then potentially parallel efforts or taking the lead on a bigger (new) effort that the internal resource or team is not as familiar with (e.g. blogger outreach, content strategy and launch, a component of a bigger campaign). Thanks for your input!

Monica Bussolati

I agree that it can be successfully outsourced, but eliminating it entirely inhouse is dangerous. You risk losing intellectual brand capital. Further, there’s gold in them thar hills — you just gotta find it. I strongly believe that you will find no better voice than that of a real life gem of an employee. If they are, for example, a super geek in their world view, you can better capture that segment of your audience that will relate in that way. It may be a really small segment which is why outsourcing will likely miss the group altogether.

Tom Treanor

Great points. I think there has to at least be one person in-house who’s a key part of the social media activities. That way, they can carry on when a consulting project ends. Totally agree. I also like the point about the super geek on the industry you’re working on. That is huge! Thanks for adding to the conversation!

Karen Wallerich

In my past experience as a Director of Marketing & Content for a luxury goods website, our experiences with social media consultants were very postitive. My social media marketing manager and I worked very closely with our consultants to clearly define overall company objectives, identify strategic opportunities and define “tone-of-voice”. I believe it is very important to define your business parameters so that the consultant has a deeper understanding of your business and not operating in a void. Establishing the “playing field” and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with our consultants allowed us to enjoy some nice successes (e.g. increased traffic,… Read more »

Tom Treanor

That makes a lot of sense. I like the point about providing parameters and defining tone of voice. I definitely appreciate having context of the client’s business goals and priorities to make sure the focus is on the right things. Thanks for your input!

Monica Bussolati

Tom, I think there should be more than 1 person inhouse. There are things that out of house can provide due to their deep expertise, but the in-house pool should be sought out and nurtured.

Tom Treanor

I hear you and I think it depends on the size of the organization. For some SMBs, I make sure at least on person is on point to help with the strategy, the actual work, to bring in company/industry knowledge, to learn and to pull in other people as needed. In one case, I work with one person directly. In another, it’s two. In a third, I work with three and we divide and conquer.
Your point is well taken and the leadership also needs to be involved and on board with it all too!

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