Can you make money managing social media?

In a blog post almost two years ago about the best business idea for social media marketing, I made a prediction that I think stands up.  I said that there would be increasing demand for out-sourced social media management and content farms that would pump out low-cost, low value content in a Wal-Mart kind of way.

I’m not not saying this is necessarily recommended!  I just thought it would happen … and it is.  Now, here’s the next big question … can you make money managing social media for others?

My original prediction was based on a statement I heard at many companies: “Can you please just do this social media stuff for me?”

Of the course the purists will contend that everybody should do their own social media because of the “authenticity” value.  Certainly that is an ideal, but I’m also a realist. If people want to out-source their social media and there is a buck to made, it will certainly happen somewhere.   I also think there is some value to a consultant or agency helping people along for some period of time.  When you first got your driver’s license somebody still had to sit beside you and teach you how to drive, right?

In my job as a consultant, and especially in my job as a college educator teaching grad-level students from a variety of corporations, I see many approaches to social media management. Now, this is a short blog post and there are lots of nuances and exceptions, but IN GENERAL, here are some broad trends in social media management:

Mega brands – I can’t name names, but I have had a chance to witness some AMAZING and sophisticated social media marketing programs. These companies are beginning to make correlations between “share of voice” and true marketshare, using listening platforms to track micro-trends and the “cool kids,” and taking location-based marketing to a whole new level.

These companies have the resources to hire the biggest agencies and best minds in the world to help them navigate social media labyrinths and determine a strategy, but generally, they are organizing and resourcing to respond to the new opportunities. One brand has renamed part of their marketing department “Customer Connections.”

Medium-sized companies. I have a limited view of the world (of course), but I’ll be honest. Unless you are an elite brand, I believe at least 95 percent of the companies I see are desperately confused about what to do about social media.  I think they would just like for it to go away so they can return to having a trade booth at the annual conference in Las Vegas.

They probably don’t have a corporate culture that can easily adapt to the transformation needed to “listen” instead of “broadcast” and they simply want to check a box to do SOMETHING. You, know … I actually think there is some value in that.  A company that is at least thinking through the platforms, attempting to listen on the new channels and dipping their toe into content marketing is taking a step in the right direction.  Most of these companies at least have the vision and budget to hire an agency to get them started on social media marketing.

Small businesses.  As I wrote last week, I think social media can provide an advantage to most small businesses, but that doesn’t mean it actually does unless they are working on it!   Why isn’t it happening?

  1. They’re overwhelmed by the concept and don’t know where to start.
  2. They started a Facebook page and nobody “liked” them so they quit.
  3. They understand the concept but don’t have the time or resources to do anything consistent and meaningful.
  4. Their marketing budget is tied up in local newspaper and TV ads and they don’t have anything left for something new.
  5. When you bring it up, they stare you down and tell you they “Don’t need the Facebox or The Tweeter,” usually followed by “Dammit.”

Unless your customer falls into Category 5, they may be asking you to manage their social media program for them.  I see the following business models emerging:

Local support.  The new category of social media gurus are trying to teach best practices and perhaps do some hands-on social media management.  My take is that most of these efforts eventually fail because you are communicating for somebody else, which is probably not sustainable, and the labor cost to actually do this stuff is so high –and the results so undefinable in the short-term — that customers lose interest. People with a limited budget need this to work NOW.

Cookie cutter.  I am seeing a ton of people and small agencies offering social media packages — “our gold package features two tweets per day, a Facebook update, and one blog post per week!”  I truly despise this approach because it institutionalizes lazy marketing. But it is happening, a lot. I also forecast that most of these efforts will fail because at some point, the customer is going to wonder when all the new sales are going to start coming in from these two tweets per day they are paying for … and of course there will not be any. So this is a band-aid but I don’t see it working broadly.

Overseas.  Kind of a hybrid. Let’s solve the labor cost problem by hiring low-cost virtual assistants in Vietnam or The Philippines to do the tweets and blogs for us. I have a friend offering this to customers now and the VA can set-up WordPress websites so inexpensively he gives them away.  There are a multitude of problems associated with this approach but it at least addresses the labor issue.

Coaching.  I think the only viable long-term solution for most small businesses is to get some coaching.  I have successfully taken this approach with several clients. They buy an hour or so of my time each week and we methodically work on a step-by-step plan to eventually create a culture, an organization, and an actionable strategy appropriate for the company resources and budget. This seems to be the approach that will work best. It is not fast (and a lot of people hate that! ) but it does slowly integrate these practices into the fabric of the company, get real employees involved, and become a natural extension of their sales and marketing strategy.

I know it’s a big world and there are probably lots of other advances and models around.  What are you seeing?  What’s working or not working? Have you found a way to monetize social media management?

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  • This reflects a conversation we had at work the other day. We’re getting to the point where we have to draw the line on our services. Ideally, we should be helping with development and content strategy, pointing brands in the right direction. However, a lot of times we end up helping with community management and ultimately customer service reps. As a group, we’re starting to have to draw that line between content strategists and idea-makers and a customer service depot. 

  • A great example of my point  … you can’t have those high-priced resources working on the non-strategic stuff!  Thanks Drew.

  • Love it. When I first started this, I THOUGHT I was going to do the management thing and fell into the “local support” category. I quickly learned why this wasn’t viable, for either me or the clients. I now fall firmly into the Coaching role. When someone asks me what I do, I tell them that a lot of what I do is education. If I meet with a prospective client, and they clearly want someone to tweet for them, I make an effort to explain why this won’t work. If they push back and insist that’s what they want, I walk away and wish them well. We have a few tweet-for-hire folks around here. They have a buttload of clients, sit in a coffee shop all day, and tweet away. Fact is, you can tell. And, with some, you can even tell who their clients are as they all have the same voice and the same generic types of content.

  • It’s funny to read your post because I’m trying to get away from social media management these days. I’m more interested in providing the coaching. As a one-person company, I can’t realistically offer social media management to a number of companies. I can, however, share what I know and am learning with those same companies. Like you, I think the trouble will be the time factor, but, again, that’s a component of the coaching and the teaching.

  • How come the story of starting my own business shares a strong similarity with your business?

  • Even marketing experts outsource it would seem 😉

  • Fantastic.  Mashable just did a very popular article/infographic about the “social media strategist”  in organizations.  This is the perfect compliment for those of us doing consulting or being hired as agencies.   I’m concerned that social media can be automated even more effectively than optimization for SEs.  Also, a lot of brands CAN’T have a 2-way dialog because of their industry (financial services, for example).  And, let’s face it, the sexy brands win.  I’ve worked with large performing arts orgs.  People go gaga getting a 2-way dialog going with them.  High affiliation.

  • I agree with this post Mark. But I still see a lot of over promising by Agencies when I look at big brand efforts. Listening I do think is ‘The Killer App’ more than anything else. Why have white room focus groups with people being inauthentic when you can have real people offering opinion.

    I am the ‘outsource’ for a small business and have built a nice rabid community. But my only concern or hesitation on share of voice for megabrands is social media communication is still such a small % of communication and media in our lives. Will it grow? Maybe. Not sure. Depends on the platform. Teens obviously prefer private SMS over Facebook or Twitter. If I tweet 30 times and comment on 10 blogs today and take 5 actions on Facebook I doubt that is 1% of my day of communicating one way and two way.

    I have a friend who works for a big video game company. They hired Vitrue for Facebook. So I checked their site out (and Likeable) and found nothing with proven success just hokey Marketing jargon. And I wondered how smart big brands would allow that. On the consumer side it is going to be hard for Social to drive revenues unless you are Zynga LOL

    So my curiousness has me at what is at risk here by forgetting how much private communication can damage your Brand and you might not ever know it. But the Listening OMG that is huge. It can help your quality assurance, pricing points, R&D and your customer service.

    I still feel social is much more powerful for B2B and personal brands than B2C.

  • Nice article. Whole-heartedly agree with you. I still think there will be a time issues for a lot of small business owners but part of what I try and teach them is that social media is important enough to make time for. 

  • Heh, saw that last week.. the risk of a ghost tweeting. 🙂

  • Want to get away from the daily execution and the hell away from some of those cookie cutter clients just ordering off the menu, and the local small biz who expect social media and all the work to 1) be ‘free’ damnit and 2) pay off in big results right away. What I am working towards is coaching and strategic advisor at the top levels, training and education for the staff doing the work, with auditing to track what’s working and not.

    There is money to be made of course, there are so many different people selling ‘social’ – some badly – I’m starting to see buyers get both wise and wary, yet sometimes fall for the ‘easy, free’ notions. IDK I think there is money to be made in the now via quick fixes, presentations, etc. but think it’s making it over the longterm that is the challenge. FWIW.

  • To answer the question raised in the title, yes you can make money managing social media for other companies. But to do so successfully requires you to understand their business and their customers. Without that knowledge you can write all the blog posts, tweets and Facebook updates you want but they’ll never connect with the ideal customers of the client.

    To know that takes time, research, and a monetary investment on the part of the client.

    I can’t speak for the medium and large companies as I don’t work with them, but for the small businesses I work with that have the budgets (small doesn’t mean poor) for the research, having a firm on their side helping them with social media that is entirely measurable (and it is) gives them more leverage in their business and greater reach and power than their competition.

    But don’t get me wrong, regardless of whether a business does it internally or hires a firm to do it, doing it right requires continuous testing and measuring of everything. And that means time.

    Invest that time and you’re gold.

  • Great piece! Many of my clients are just wanting me to ‘do it’ for them and fling cash at me but I always insist they attend my workshops and have individual coaching sessions. It’s the only way in the long term. 

    The only reason why they don’t ‘have time’ is because they haven’t bought in to the upsides yet. When the penny drops, you have to have been a trusted resource guiding them through it all the way.

    Fin 🙂

  • And like I said, is this ghost tweeting really going to be effective in the end any ways? Thanks for the comment.

  • Sounds like a plan!

  • Oh, I’m saving that one!

  • A good comment but I would like to address that financial services comment. I find that largely that these firms CAN and they hide behind the SEC as an excuse. I know several wealth management professionals very successfully engaging on the social web. Here’s the real deal — these companies don’t understand it and they’re looking for an excuse to not change or move the power from HQ to individual agents. If they are allowed to go to a networking meeting, why aren’t they allowed on Twitter?

  • I think we’re rapidly approaching the point, if we’re not there already, where we need to drop the “media” from “social media”.

    “Media” thinking focusses attention on technologies/platforms (Facebook et al) and on the (marketing) messages that organisations want to convey via said platforms. This kind of approach can be outsourced.

    If, however, you think from the ground up about how “social” can be hardwired into a business model, that feels more like the future and less like something that can be farmed out to a consultant or agency.

    My agency is currently managing several large communities on behalf of clients. We make money in so doing but the most valuable reward currency is hands-on learning and insight into how brands work/don’t work in these spaces. In other words it’s great work to have, but our five year plan assumes that this kind of work will diminish not grow as more and more clients rightly decide to manage social programmes in-house.

  • Good article.  As I work with mostly small and medium sized businesses and most of the social media consultants I know do as well I’m seeing many of the same trends you outlined in which many businesses simply don’t have the interest, mental bandwidth or the wherewithal to be willing to make the financial and time commitment needed for a successful social media program.  As a result, many of my colleagues focusing on social media consulting are struggling, while I continue to focus on developing an overall online marketing strategy for clients and implementing it via channels that tend to produce more quantifiable results like paid search, organic search and other forms of CPV and CPA advertising.  Most businesses want sales or sales leads and don’t care much about likes or followers and therefore any consultant better produce some tangible improvement to the bottom line with whatever program they are managing or it will be hard to convince clients they (and their services) are worth the money. 

    I hope social media consulting continues to gain acceptance and grows as an industry, and it probably will because lets face it, social media isn’t going away anytime soon – but at some point you have to show a positive return or the money will dry up.     

  • Lot of good stuff here Howie. You know on the B2C stuff and ROI, I think a lot of it goes into that intangible of brand awareness. It’s probably hard for Coke to name the specific ROI of a billboard, the sponsorship of a charity event or even a TV commercial, but you have to be out there constantly reinforcing the brand message. Using social media to do that is a natural extension. Good discussion points!

  • I try to reinforce the same thing. Of course it depends business by business, but I think a company needs to consider re-prioritizing where are they putting their efforts, especially if their customers are spending a lot of time on the social web. Great comment Russell.

  • On two occasions I was was working with customers and they had immediate, spectacular success. It does happen sometimes, but it also raised impossible expectations! Now they wanted a home run every day! It’s difficult to be managing these programs and “teaching” at the same time isn’t it Davina? A very complex challenge.

  • Alison

    Excellent post! This is something I have been learning about my company since i started out trying to manage social media for other companies and have evolved into a coach myself. The challenge remains though of how a small agency can educate businesses to understand that the coaching is as valuable as the ‘doing’. Any suggestions in that area would be greatly appreciated.

  • I, like some of the others, started my company as a SM outsource center but have now transitioned to the point where I focus more on coaching, consulting and training than being a content distributor. However… if it comes down to a client just flat out not having the time to do it, I will ghost for them because I would rather them do that than do nothing at all. Of the clients that started with me and then pulled the plug to do it themselves, almost every single one of them have dropped the ball moving forward with their own efforts. No matter how much I’ve coached them on the importance, no matter how much they proclaimed to understand quite often, most small business owners just do not have the time to add one more thing to their list of to-dos.  One of the “rules” that I have with my clients is that you must provide industry specific content..especially if it’s a field I am unfamiliar with. 
    I  don’t think there is a long life cycle for the “social media ghost writers” per se but I do think there’s longevity in helping clients understand and create content as well as training them on the ins and outs.  Knowing that business is what I do… providing  __________ service is what they do. There can be a happy median for sure.

  • Of course there are lots of exceptions, and I’m glad you’re one of them, but I wonder if a company can really optimize social media marketing by out-sourcing it? Isn’t it a decision to avoid making the cultural changes necessary to really do it right and extract the most benefit? I can definitely see doing it for the short term, but shouldn’t our goal be to work ourselves out of a job so companies can really do it right by making it part of the fabric of their traditional marketing?

  • Hurray fro you. Glad it’s working for you Fin. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • I am so glad to heart at. I think that is a very enlightened view to take and clearly you have the best interests of your customer at the top of mind by planning for your own obsolescence. Thanks for the great comment Phil.

  • An ideal situation for me would be that my clients could do it all themselves – the blogging, the growing of the social networks, the daily analysis and tweaking of the website to improve conversions. And perhaps at one point they will grow large enough to have someone doing that in-house. That would be a fantastic thing and definitely in the win column as it shows the ginormous tangible value that we added.

    On the flip side of this argument though there are a lot of PR, marketing, advertising, accounting, IT and many other types of firms helping even the largest of companies make a lot of things happen on a daily basis.

  • This is a superb comment Rob and I think represents the right approach. I am also seeing a lot of the guru posers dry up because managing social media is a pretty difficult business proposition for the all the reasons discussed. But taking a holistic approach like you articulate here takes a marketing background and experience which will further distance yourself from the posers. Good job!

  • Nice information you’ve share on money making on social media. Thanks for sharing this useful piece.

  • I think what works for me is 1) making sure a plan is tightly aligned with a strategy and measurable goals 2) Taking small, do-able steps consistent with the client’s time and resources and 3) having the track record and credibility so that people trust me that their patient efforts will be rewarded. My take any way.

  • Thanks for this great post Mark, I too started out headlining ‘Social Media Management’ but over the last year I have become bored and frustrated with managing clients accounts.  1. They don’t give me any content and 2. They just don’t seem to care.  With my oldest and most loyal client, I have become more behind the scenes – posting some links and quotes, basic thank yous for RT’s etc and following/unfollowing.  Just taking these ‘chores’ of his hands really helps.  I am trying to figure out which direction to take now, perhaps I will look into the coaching/training more. Thanks for the thoughtful post. 

  • This is an extremely interesting comment and this topic of failure is probably worthy of a stand-alone post. In @jaybaer ‘s speech at Social Slam, he said that if you don’t love social, you will suck at social. I think there is something there. The customers who succeed don’t just get it, they love it. I takes times to get to that place, if they get there at all. Very thought-provoking comment.

  • I have built a business developing, implementing and maintaining social media marketing campaigns for small to  mid-sized businesses all over the world. One of my clients is in Denmark (how cool is that?). I have a small team that is growing every other month just to keep up with the demand for my services. Mark, you are bang on about the reasons why small businesses don’t handle their own social media marketing or ANY involvement in social media. I have business owners who pay my company thousands of dollars a month who haven’t even ‘liked’ their own Facebook page (that we have designed and run quite well). The cookie-cutter “social media services” that are offered by some companies really irks me because I think it will only frustrate and confuse their clients and reinforce what the small business owner already believes: social media marketing doesn’t actually work. I’ve helped small business owners make so much money that they were able to start other businesses. That’s not going to happen with the cookie-cutter services out there.

  • I’ve had a slightly different experience.  I started with the “coaching” model. But, lately when I get hired by small to medium sized companies to help with social media, what generally happens is we end up updating and fine-tuning their entire marketing and business development plans. This is why I find myself falling back and emphasizing that I’m a “marketing” consultant who happens to know a heck of a lot about Social Media.  So I either myself or the relevant member of my team will end up providing all sorts of marketing content, and in some cases I end up hiring PR and other team members, but not necessarily limited to social media. Anyone else finding this happening? 

  • Great post, Mark.

     I think that consulting in social media marketing is no different than consulting in any other area of business: the best consultants are mind readers and gentle guides. Except for the very large successful corporations that have built strategic thinking into their fabric, most companies go to the consultant because….. well because something is not quite right. If the consultant gives them what they say they want, 99 times out of a hundred, the project and the consultant will fail. Why?  Because the company didn’t know what they needed. So it seems to me that in the case of social media marketing, the consultant still has to spend most of the time listening to the client, and then translating what the client said into what they really mean. Identification of the client’s strategic goals, analysis of the competitive landscape, and a true internal soul searching to identify their strengths and weaknesses is paramount. Takes time, and might piss some potential clients off. But otherwise the social media “strategy” will risk conflicting with their other strategic goals (they do have strategic goals, don’t they?) and nothing will be accomplished except for a transfer of funds and a lot of shared frustration. That is when they give up; because they don’t see the value of social media as aligned with their other goals. What a shame.

  • Glad this was helpful to you. Sounds like both you and your client may be starting to wonder if simply having somebody do a few RTs is going to drive business value. It’s an evolution, isn’t it?

  • It has been great getting to know you a little Annette and seeing somebody doing it right. Despite the obvious problems with the cookie cutter approach, a lot of them will make money because the world is full of small companies willing to be duped. There are many profitable businesses built on the backs of people willing to be fooled. That does not jive with my ethics, but it is happening. Thanks!

  • I’ve always been there. Although I am best known for writing about social media, a very small part of my revenue stream comes from that channel. I’m a marketing consultant. Sometimes social is part of the picture, sometimes it isn’t the top priority. You have to get your ducks in a row in a lot of areas like customer satisfaction, pricing and distribution before you can start pumping the jams on social media.

  • Mark – Great reply. I have a few financial services clients who are trying to feel their way through this. I find myself using your analogy, although I color it a bit.  i.e., “You let your sales team buy rounds of drinks and take clients to questionable places where questionable conversations can happen, and they don’t have to run that by legal. At least with social media, if you comply by the FINRA guidelines, you have a record.”

  • I know in most cases it isn’t effective. I actually like to mess with them. But don’t tell them that. I will talk to them to see if they are monitoring. Quite often they aren’t, or at least not in a timely fashion. And then there’s the time I had a conversation with one and they invited me in to their business. I knew I was talking to a hack. I went to the business and struck up a conversation with the owner as if I had been talking to them online, and they had no clue what I was talking about. I said, “Oh, but we discussed this on Twitter!”….yeah…

  • One of my favorite Peter Drucker quotes is, “a company is all about marketing and innovation … Everything else is just overhead.”

    I think it makes sense to out-source non-core functions, but in the long-term, marketing should be developed as a core functionality of a company large enough to afford it. I am delighted to see that over time, my customers grow to the point that they can hire a full-time markering person to do what I was doing for them. That is the ultimate sign that I was successful and it is something I encourage, even if it means losing a customer. It’s the right thing to do.

  • The other thing about ROI that few talk about, is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum for each media. If done right, it’s a cumulative thing where social and traditional work together and create a larger ROI than each individual piece.

    And one more thing on that, the importance of ROI is overstated only when we view social as a marketing task. Social is so much more than that. It breaks down the silos (or SHOULD) and is more about customer experience. Do we calculate the ROI of the person who answers the phone? the person who answers the email? The person who is at the checkout counter?

  • Yes, you are on the right track. All the more reason we should talk!

  • Don’t take what I said the wrong way Mark – I agree with you on that. If my customers could bring on an in-house person to do everything I mentioned that would be a great day as it shows the growth I’ve helped them achieve.

    I also agree with Peter Drucker, and Dan Kennedy who said the same thing, perhaps getting it from Drucker.

    I also consider everything finance a core function of a business. You need to know where all that money marketing brings in comes and goes.

  • B Harvey

    This is a timely discourse for me. I am about to talk to a client about his social media activity and was going to use something akin to your ‘cookie cutter’ approach. Mainly because I know they do not have the time, interest or manpower to do it themselves.

    My concern, however, is that it will be time consuming for me and I will end up drastically undercharging for that reason alone. Also, as you say, I cannot guarantee that it will have an impact if I am doing so many hours per week.

    Long term, this may not help the client either, as they will not be learning for themselves. Though perhaps, as they grow, they can recruit with social media in mind – assuming I can prove its’ value.

    On the other hand, experts have been ghost writing for centuries: brochures, advertisements, sales letters and now websites are often outsourced. Even the Bible was not written by Jesus or God, but by advocates who, seperately contributed, but collectively created a sort of manifesto.

    So, is social media so different? If marketing strategy and brand indentity is established; if client and author know the message, indeed have probably worked it out together; if the author’s work then helps to teach the client; is this going to work – even in the short term?

    I guess I am about to find out. Although, your post has made me think a lot harder about how I might go about it. Many thanks.

  • I completely agree! Coaching, setup, and review of goals it what I find works best for local clients.  Helping them track where new customers came from is also highly beneficials.  I’ve also created a resource area of “how-to” for clients, so our coaching time is personalized and goes more into strategy.  Now – if I could just help the local sushi bar/hibachi grill understand why an entire site in Flash isn’t so useful….

  • Mark Schaefer

    I’m sure that is a Drucker quote. One of his most famous, in fact. He was my teacher in grad school BTW. What an experience.

    IMHO, a company can out-source finance and not lose too much.  In fact, finance is so important, it probably pays off for a small business to hire the best resources they can afford on the outside who are keeping up with all the latest opportunities and tactics.  I’m a big advocate of keeping a small business focused.

  • Mark Schaefer

    I’ll agree with you with one nuance. Often to earn the trust of a client, you have to give them what they want … then give them what they need. : )

  • Ken we must read the same blogs 🙂 I keep bumping into your comments!  Have you read Book Yourself Solid by @michaelport:twitter ? His books are great at setting up the client coaching slots.  Overall mindset.  I think I’m due to re-listen to the audiobook.

  • Mark Schaefer

    I’m not a purist when it comes to ghost writing. I see the value. But faking it in social media is another situation.  My prediction is that either  you and your client will become dissatisfied by this arrangement, and probably both.  In either event it will be a good learning experience and we all need those!  Good luck!

  • Mark Schaefer

    Ha! Not any more it isn’t!  Thanks Courtney!

  • I bet that was an experience! Truly one of the greats.

    As for finance we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. I hire the best CPA to do my taxes (and they find all those opportunities you talk about), but I run financial reports regularly from my accounting software to be sure I know where all my money is going. Having it stare me in the face keeps my honest about my spending and whether or not my investments are worth it.

    I did the opposite in my first business and needless to say it didn’t work out too well.

  • Trey


    Great article here. Our company has carved out a niche is Social Media Management inside of the travel industry, specifically with independent hotels who need an upperhand on the branded properties. We are making money, driving traffic, engaging the customer, and causing pre stay, during stay, and post stay buying decisions for our clients. I do believe we are undercharging though. Thanks for the insights.

  • Mark Schaefer

    Glad to hear of this success story. Sounds like you have found a niche and am glad to hear you are measuring everything!

  • Mark Schaefer

    Yeah, I see what you are saying. I use an accountant, but run my business day-to-day from Quickbooks so I have a very organic feel for how the money is flowing. I think that is essential.

  • THis is worth watching … Shows two very different approaches in Financial Services.  You are right, Mark … finra was an excuse for a long time.

  • Mark Schaefer

    Yes, yes, yes.  One of the exercises I have in my class is to wlak through a case study and then have them name all the business benefits delviered by the social media example. We usually come up with 20 or so blockbuster deliverables. None of them are “direct sales” or anything that can fit on a spreadhsheet!  Most of it is qualitative. Thanks!

  • Mark Schaefer

    You crack me up.

  • And I would add to your #5, Mark, the people who say “it doesn’t work”. I now make two attempts, not to convince, but to provide examples of “it working” after which, if the person is still digging in their heels with yes-but’s and I-don’t-believe-that’s, I just smile and let them carry on with their mindset, and their business (should the latter continue to exist despite, not due to their efforts, haha!) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Mark Schaefer

    Thanks Diane. Kind of a hot spot with me obviously.  : )

  • Sometimes you get lucky, or rather you do your job well and nail the planning, targeting so that yes the strategy pays of quickly. I know from the PR side, I’ve had that issue w/ publicity seeking clients. They don’t get that they have to have even more spectacular news to get in again, that the paper or magazine isn’t gonna cover them over and over with the same old stuff, they want to put the new in news. 

    Back to the ‘teaching’ side of social, it’s been one of my hardest sells b/c I don’t sell quick, I’m not a total purist but I do want authenticity, I’m not recommending the ‘set and forget’ approach. Basically I’m selling them on doing work, which too many just don’t want to invest the time/money into doing. It’s the only way I know how to manage those expectations, let them know you have to put something in if you want to get something back. FWIW.

  • Mark – I love this post. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot because I’ve been confronted with this more and more. This is a very difficult thing, especially for small businesses. As you and I both know, they want results fast, but don’t have the time to do it themselves or the money to pay someone to do it for them.

    Outsourcing it completely will get expensive very quickly. While this might make things easier for the client, most small businesses don’t have the budget for this. That’s why coaching is the best approach. I think the key is to work with businesses that WANT to learn. If they don’t, this approach will likely fail. Those that just want someone to “do social media” for them aren’t going to like this approach either. But then again, they probably aren’t the businesses that you want to work with anyway.

    The struggle is, like @twitter-71713392:disqus mentioned, that oftentimes, the bike crashes when  you take off the training wheels. I think the key is to have an ongoing relationship that allows you to provide guidance, nudging, hand-holding and tweaks to their efforts. As time goes on, they’ll eventually get it. Until they do, they need people like you and me to help them stay on track.

  • That does sound like a plan! Oh, great, now I’m going to have quotes from the A-Team stuck in my head all afternoon.

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  • Thanks Rhonda!

  • Yeah, I’m over “convincing.” :  ) Thanks Kaarina!

  • I think so much of thie depends on personality and culture. Oftentimes when I meet somebody, I can tell in just a few minutes if they will “get it” or not. Lot os intangibles!  

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  • I’ve seen two interesting examples of “ghost tweeting” recently. One is working really well, the other, not at all. 

    Failing approach:  This firm had someone set up an auto-tweeting function that simply tweets articles from an industry specific online daily publication. It tweets 8-10 articles a day. Zero engagement. 7500 Twitter followers and over 6000 LI connections. Klout score = 20. For this guy (a futures broker), the following isn’t so bad. Some could represent his target market. But he has NO idea who is following or connecting to him. There is zero engagement. 

    Working approach:  A mid-sized firm (revenues $530MM) hired a talented writer and experienced journalist who has ghost written a couple business books. This writer has gotten to know two of the company’s subject matter experts very well. She ghost blogs for them (concepts they’ve discussed in advance), and she does such a good job that it’s very hard to tell her writing from theirs. She also ghost tweets for them, but they also have access to their social media accounts, and they participate actively in conversations. This approach is working well to garner engagement with the company’s target market. BUT – it’s expensive. 

  • Yup … but that kind company can afford it … probably : )  Great stories! Thanks.

  • It’s interesting that the expectations for some companies is that social media can help them ‘now’, which maybe why a packaged deal would initially appeal to them. I mean, I can understand the Tao of Twitter much more than then Now of Twitter; building a relationship with a customer using social media takes time.

    Long term I don’t see these simple outsourced (overseas) packaged deals working because increasingly companies are going to want to (a) integrate their social media effort with other outreach programs  (b) correlate social media metrics with other more traditional metrics. Like buying links to your site for SEO purposes, stand-alone social media efforts will eventually decline in importance and effectiveness.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Diane and Mark, I actually think that’s a much better model for your clients. Social media should be an integrated part of an overall marketing strategy with tactics that include high quality content in multiple forms, events, PR,  etc.  That’s our business model too. We are industry specialists providing strategic marketing consulting and content development for a specific vertical. And like Mark points out, a very small portion of our revenue stream is social media.

  • “I can understand the Tao of Twitter much more than then Now of Twitter”

    Oh my I like that! I think I will steal that one f or the next book! : )

  • Interesting, why don’t you target the low end franchise chains?

  • John Bottom

    I’d simply like to highlight a key issue here, ie the false distinction between employees and outsourced support. While I applaud the ideal of authenticity, I think it’s wrong to say that outsourced social media is impossible because an agency cannot be authentic. To be authentic, you have to understand the brand/company well enough to communicate on its behalf. Why should that be possible to someone paid a monthly salary and not for someone paid via an agency retainer? OK, it takes a thorough briefing and a little while getting used to it, but the dedication with which they do it, their ability and their attitude counts for much more than their employment status.

    Just a little bug bear of mine that arose again this week – your post was a timely reminder and a chance to make a point. Thanks Mark!

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  • Love the post!

  • Finding coaching works! 
    Monetizing not much…

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  • fantastic, mark.  My last day at my old job ended last week.  I’ve had a boutique interactive agency for 3 years before the Great Recession.  Now I’m back in and focusing on SMS.  Great analysis of the different approaches.  In fact, your post is making me think about moving away from managing projects– an I have a lot of contacts in the Philippines from working over there– to doing coaching.

  • regarding the “holistic,” I agree that it’s the best “foot in the door approach.  Once you’re in– if you’re good– most companies had shoddy work for them with other SM.  I’m a generalist, and can bring others on to work on these other areas of need.

  • I ran one of the first outsourcing interactive agencies in the tech center of Philippines.  I would spend half the year there and half in US.  I’m going to do it again.

    “social” is more difficult to outsource than coding and design.  The person overseeing a project needs to know about how certain projects can get around cultural problems.    I do think their is always a need for some degree of “volume”  of production for online content.  Also, if you want to create  viral content, so long as there is someone there to be the middle person with cultural issues, it works very well.  For example, I’ve hired models in Cebu , Philippines for brochures and ads used in the US, Philippines for very, very low cost of US.  Did shoots with people 1/2 American 1/2 Asian.  The end results were fantastic.  And one could also hire models from local agencies there for video.  Some people in the Philippines can speak as if they were from Chicago.

  • Brilliant article Michael. I was brought in from the outside as a social media manager for small international tech consulting company. After 18 months I am insider now and I understand how the company works. At the same time the parts of the company have resisted my attempts to spread social deeper into the company. I now offer coaching to any of the managers. Today I helped a senior VP send a tweet. Coached her over the phone. I’ve just launched my free lance business and have concluded that coaching is the most effective way to deliver results. But as you say, everyone has to be in it for the long haul.

  • Great story. Thanks for sharing

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  • Akilawickramasekara

    Check what i found go throug with thi e book

  • venajensen

    Thanks for the tip, Courtney! I’ll download it right now!

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