Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bitter Taste for Social Media Insourcing

The California Tortilla I love has left me with a bitter taste and a touch of indigestion. And it has nothing to do with the food. Or my views on their marketing.

In fact, the company’s online brand promotion program is exceptional. It’s quirky and homespun and, most important, consistent with the in-store dining experience.

What I find grating is marketing director Stacey Kane’s recent contention that it is a “big mistake” to engage an outside consultancy for social media services. Her argument is predicated on two beliefs: 1) an external resource lacks passion for the brand; and 2) outsourcing social media activities damages the authenticity of a company’s voice.

Both views are complete bunk. I’ve spent 20 years as a public relations gun for hire and a constant in two decades of work is a pure and unfiltered intensity for the clients I represent. At times, I have even struggled with too much of a rose colored view of a client’s solution and prospects for success.

Regarding authenticity, reality often precludes corporate executives from developing a content strategy, crafting every blog post or peppering their day with tweets. Some are poor writers. Others lack the necessary time.

My view is that as long as an executive is engaged in the social media process and the message reflects their views, authenticity is achievable.

Now, I am certainly not arguing that a company’s best interests are served through outsourcing social media expertise and execution. Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has the good fortune of working with a set of clients who have developed a deep competency in social media and digital communications.

Professionals like Steve Lunceford at Deloitte, Kristin Bockius at Microsoft, Jennie Olson at GovDelivery, Kevin Moss at British Telecom (BT), among others. Each plays a star role driving the success of their corporate program.

Yet, there clearly is a critical place for an external consultancy in the corporate social media mix. I see the value delivered in three core areas:

1. Helping define a content strategy and creative approach that is in-step with a company’s business priorities in the areas of lead generation, sales, market positioning and valuation, and corporate culture.

2. Injecting best practices from participation in multiple social media campaigns for clients in different segments of the market.

3. Providing honest, candid and (when appropriate) critical counsel on the execution of the program, even when it is not what the client wants to hear.

There you go Stacey Kane of California Tortilla. I still love your food, but when it comes to your views on the importance of external social media consultants you miss the mark.


Maggie McGary said...

Last week I atttended the Buzz2009 Association Social Media conference and Stacey was one of the panelists. I will say that in the case of her brand--California Tortilla--I agree with her. She and Pam are apparently very close--she described them being as "one mind"--and authenticity is a huge hallmark of their brand. For California Tortilla, it's fitting that they do their own social media--that it's an actual employee's voice.

While keeping social media in-house may indeed be a worthy investment, it may not always be feasible--or it may limit results. In her case, she talked about how much work her job already encompasses and how the social media stuff is time consuming. Guy Kawasaki was moderating the panel and expressed surprise and disdain that CalTort only has 1,700 followers. He told her she should be concentrating on attracting more followers, to which I seem to remember her responding that her time is limited due to the many other job responsibilities she has.

Could CalTort sell more burritos if they took Guy Kawasaki up on his (joking, I'm sure) offer to tweet for them in exchange for free burritos? Maybe.

But to your overall post--I agree that in many cases a company may well be best served outsourcing their social media activities.

Mike Harris said...

Absolutely. Very few companies today understand the power of Twitter and other social media to drive sales leads. A key value of consultants in this space is to bring a thorough understanding of how various marketing technology platforms can help. Today it's easy to integrate social media with websites and PR to turn these tools into a hard charging lead generation machine.

Mary Fletcher Jones said...

I think you are right and she is wrong. One of the most fatal mistakes companies make is NOT bringing in outside consultants to help them, at least on occasion. If she feels that that the consultants don't share the same passion for the brand as her employees, then she is just hiring the wrong consultants.

walter.adamson said...

Marc I agree with you, and Maggie I think you missed Marc's key point about "being a place" for a consultant. I believe for certain that companies need to run their own social media show, and I also believe that Marc's outline of the value-add of a consultant in the mix is very valid.

The argument is not limited to social media, and of course selection of the consultant is critical.

We train managers to be capable of running their own initiatives, also we also train consultants to be able to help.

Walter Adamson @g2m