There is No “Right” Answer to Outsourcing Tweeting

There is a big problem with this tweet:

The problem:  There is no single, “right” answer to whether Tweeting should be outsourced.

Part of the problem is that the meaning or scope of “tweeting” is unclear, in two ways:

  1. Which business functions are you Tweeting within? Do you mean customer service response? Do you mean crisis response? Do you mean announcement of a contest? Or something else? Or everything that anyone could ever imagine tweeting about?
  2. Which activities within Tweeting should not be outsourced? There is a value chain in the activity of tweeting, which includes:  listening, identifying messages to respond, prioritizing them, creating responses, posting responses, following-up, and measurement.

But the bigger issue is a pervasive desire for simple answers that we can believe apply in all cases. And, in this case, such a simple, blanket answer does not exist. First, the bullets above show how complex and diverse Tweeting can be in 2012. Also, it is OK for a brand to produce nuanced responses and social media best practices that take more than 140 characters to unfold — perhaps requiring input from multiple teams, across multiple channels.

Some folks fear that outsourcing even a part of the engagement process (i.e., listening) would take away the authenticity which is supposed to be the pixie dust of social media. People wonder how they would build an authentic, direct relationship with customers or stakeholders if they outsource some of the process.

While relationship-building can not be outsourced, we should ask ourselves which parts of the Tweeting value chain really are building the relationship. And we also need to be honest with ourselves about which types of interactions really build relationships, versus other communications functions.

It is certainly true that people who actually “touch the data” have a very different feel for the online conversation. Keeping your finger on the pulse of daily conversations is very different than (a) receiving recommendations from another person – regardless of whether they are an employee, and regardless of how good they are, or (b) receiving reports about it (no matter how insightful). But it’s quite impossible for one person to manager the entire chain of activities required to Tweet at enterprise-scale — to constantly engage in the day-to-day conversations.

The question you need to solve is: what process do you need to set up to bridge the inevitable gap between listening folks and engagement folks?

For example, I once had a team supporting a client wherein my team monitored online conversations throughout the day, identified engagement opportunities for the client, and also identified potential crises for the client. Sometimes, my team would recommend responses to the client team. And, sometimes, the client would simply ask my team to post the response into Twitter.

Some things worked well, and there were also some challenges.

First, it worked very well, for the following reasons:

1. Client Need

  • The client is a global corporation, with massive online conversations about its brand, every day.
  • The client team was extremely busy managing communications across multiple channels, and needed help sifting through the conversation.

2. Team Integration

  • My team was deeply familiar with the client’s culture, strategies, audiences, norms and tools. In fact, we helped them determine some of those strategies, audiences and tools.
  • My team was highly skilled at parsing and prioritizing conversations: efficiently, and reliably. It’s a real skill set, and people who receive training, coaching and practice are significantly more effective — especially when you’re using multiple tools, including high-end monitoring solutions, which, by the way, usually do not meet all the monitoring and engagement needs of a global brand; large brands need a set of tools, in most cases.

And the team also encountered hurdles, such as:

Critical Success Factors

Making this arrangement work requires the client team to effectively communicate priorities and goals to the monitoring support team, especially as they may fluctuate each day (e.g., within a Corporate Communications team).

Further, there need to be regular — maybe weekly — reviews of the past week’s recommendations, identifying anything missed, and candidly identifying room for improvement. Then, of course, tracking progress.

And those two activities need to recur, regardless of whether the team all shares the same “.com” at the end of their email address.

The Big Picture

Social media started getting real traction in business around 2008, when forward-thinkers mostly used free tools in their spare time.

But social media have matured dramatically since then. “Free tools in your spare time” simply will not get you where you need to go.

In fact, social media are growing more specialized every day. For example: you might have one set of folks who are very skilled at monitoring, listening and prioritizing. And that’s all they do.

Then you might have another set of folks who engage, respond, converse; because that is what they are very good at doing.

It would be nice if they all share a common set of tools. But maybe the listening folks use some tools that the engagement folks don’t really need. That’s OK.

The days of each person on Twitter doing everything themselves… well… do you make your own clothes? Do you build your own car? Do you even change your own oil?

Thanks again to @cbasturea for feedback and perspective.

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