Should you out-source your tweets?

outsource twitterShould you out-source your tweets?  No.

But having said that, I recognize there is enormous pressure to do just that. It’s a reality of busy life isn’t it? We just want somebody to “do it for us.”

Let’s look at the risk of this strategy that I recounted in The Tao of Twitter:  I have a friend who had been building a Twitter relationship with a business executive she admired. They had tweeted back and forth a few times and he had provided some helpful career advice to her. When they had a chance to finally meet at a networking event, she introduced herself and was met with a puzzled stare. He had never heard of her before, and sheepishly explained that his PR agency was tweeting for him. Obviously his reputation was ruined for this young woman … and also to all those she talked to about the incident!

In a well-publicized snafu, a PR agency rep tweeting on behalf of Chrysler Corporation sent out this tweet:  “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity when no one here knows how to f**cking drive.”

He thought he was tweeting from his personal account but in fact, it came from Chrysler’s Twitter account by mistake. He lost his job and the agency lost the account.

Faking it on Twitter is dangerous business.

But you may be in a situation where you have no other practical choice than to “team-tweet” behind a brand name, then you could outsource or share the tweeting between a few trusted individuals. If you do outsource:

  • Be clear and realistic on your objectives.
  • Have clear lines of who owns what.
  • Have a clear plan for content, tone and frequency.
  • Be prepared to take advice and listen to it. Most experts know what they are doing and it’s in their best interests to make it work for you.

Make sure that you have a disaster recovery plan in case of a PR upset. If you’re using an agency, ask them to show you how they are managing your account distinctly from personal/other client accounts, so that tweets aren’t mistakenly sent via the wrong account – easy to do when you’re using a sharing platform. Ask to meet everyone that will be tweeting via your account and create some rules or guidelines for tweeting. Outsourcing doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility – make sure you are involved and holding everyone to account.

Before you outsource, carefully weigh the risks and benefits. One of the biggest opportunities of social media is “humanizing” the brand and even the biggest brands are finding ways to do that successfully.  In the long-term, businesses should aim at involving their own employees to be “brand beacons” on Twitter instead of relying on an outside agency.

Agree?

Illustration: I doctored up an original illustration from BigStock.com

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  • I wrote about this a couple of months ago and I think you’re right. There are certainly times when this can work – especially if you’re sharing on behalf of a brand. But, I would never recommend outsourcing an individual’s tweets. As your story outlined, it’s just too dangerous.

    I think companies – especially smaller ones – are really struggling with this. They feel the pressure to be active with social media, but think they don’t have the bandwidth to get it done. I disagree, but that’s why so many are searching for someone to “do” their social for them.

    I think the far better approach is to hire smart people to give you a roadmap and help you get up and running, teach you best practices and then offer ongoing guidance support. Or, at least, that’s what I recommend. 🙂

  • Great post Mark. I totally agree. My biggest fear is that I will post to the wrong account (a brand I manage vs. my personal) but I never tweet anything that is in questionable taste, as a rule of thumb.

    What is your take on having the person’s name who is Tweeting in the brand’s Twitter bio? Do you advocate for it?

  • Keith

    100% agree, Krysia. If you have to “act” differently on a business account vs. personal, you aren’t being genuine on one of them. 🙂

  • Absolutely agree. In fact, I think companies are better off taking Twitter OUT of their strategy rather than letting somebody else take over their voice. The hardest part I find in teaching dental practices how to use Twitter is getting them to see the vision that Twitter is not a mass marketing tool. There’s no need to outsource tweets because it’s about slowly building one-to-one relationships. It’s a powerful tool for striking up conversations with potential new patients in their communities—not a place to sell dentistry. The clients who “see” that, suddenly take on a whole new approach to Twitter. Twitter isn’t something you “have”… It’s something you “do”.

  • Agree. It’s really not as difficult as it seems and a small business can probably handle this at a minimum level with 25-20 minutes a day. Culture and fear. The two big obstacles!

  • Agree Keith.

  • I write about this extensively in the new edition of The Tao of Twitter I examine different corporate tweeting strategies. I think the aspiration is to have many employees become beacons for your brand. Great to hear from you Krysia. Thanks for commenting!

  • Bold comment Jack. Very well said. I like your comment better than my post! Thanks!

  • If you want to use Twitter in your strategy… no, don’t outsource.

    It’s 140 characters a tweet for crying out loud… type them personally, even if you’re a CEO… or don’t use Twitter.

  • As Laura says. An individuals’ tweets – no. But for a corporation, why not? I think tweeting is similar to inbound or even outbound telemarketing and that is normally outsourced. I have checked out some big corps here in Mexico, like SAMS, Costco, Walmart – and they do brilliant, informative customer service pr. Twitter. So my answer is: private persons no. Corps YEs.

  • Lee Drozak

    Great post. “Faking it on Twitter is dangerous business.” This statement says it all.

  • I’d have to question the credibility of an individual who outsources their tweets. On the other hand, a corporation – absolutely. Apples and oranges as they say…

  • To “fake” something is a danger in real life. And Social Media is real life.
    I completly agree with you Mark
    Cheers from Germany
    Hansjörg

  • I agree completely. Being authentic and having personality is what develops the relationships and builds a certain level of trust. In small businesses or community based organizations, relationship building is what it’s all about. One person at a time…..

  • Just a couple of cents.

    1. What’s the difference between a PR agency (or whatever) tweeting on a company’s behalf and an employee tweeting on a company’s behalf? Make a mistake about accounts and the same disaster ensues.

    2. With social networks becoming less and less social vs. a shouting game, who really cares about the person behind the tweets? If you’re broadcasting, it surely doesn’t matter whether you press Enter yourself or it’s done by an agency. Parallel: how many CEOs write their own speeches, or how many companies do their PR without someone from the outside?

    Murphy’s law rules, which is why any company should have extremely good checks in place to prevent this type of mishaps. If such checks exist, then it doesn’t matter whether the company spokespeople are from within the company or from an external agency.

  • 1. I think employees tweeting on a company’s behalf is different. While it is true that either one making a mistake is possible, an employee has a much higher stake in this. The employee is more vested in the company, understand the tone, personality, and customers a lot better. This allows them to be more authentic, genuine, and thus more interesting for a person to follow.

    2. This ties into the above. With social networks becoming less social, it’s even more important to actually be authentic. It helps the business stand out.

  • I have never seen the term team tweeting before, but it really describes what we do with clients. We won’t manage their entire account, but can lay down a basic foundation for them to build on. with informative updates in their voice.

    The clear guidelines up front make all the difference in the success of the program

  • I read an interesting article recently. I can’t remember where; I read so many.

    The advice the writer gave was to hire an older (or at least mature) person if you are going to outsource your tweets.

    The mature person realizes he/she is tweeting on the company’s behalf, and does not confuse the company’s Twitter page with his/her own social one.

    And even blocks his/her friends if he/she has to for the company’s sake, and for the sake of preserving one’s job.

    I’ll stop now, because otherwise this will blow out into an article itself.

    It’s a great topic for discussion.

    I am for outsourcing Tweets.

  • Rachel Strella

    As an outsourced social media manager, this headline piqued my interest.

    Twitter is one piece of the mass social media puzzle. In fact, for the clients I manage, none of them request management solely for Twitter. I think it’s more accurate to speak in terms of outsourcing social media overall.

    The agencies or tweet-for-hires can often give social media management a bad rap and rightly so in some cases. There are a number of services out there who charge a lot of money and simply sit in a coffee shop and tweet for 20 or 30 clients. These services have no strategy. Moreover, they have no communication with the person/people for whom they are tweeting.

    I will be the first to say social media management is not for every business. In fact, I would highly recommend that social media remain in-house.However, time and perceived value are two factors that folks have yet to shake.

    Effective outsourcing social media efforts still takes two committed parties – the client and the provider. The incident that occurred with your friend happens when there is a lack of communication. There has to be a proper procedure and communication system in place for managing social media on behalf of another person or company. If the person who outsourced the tweets is not aware of the correspondence with other parties, we have a real problem. I think the guidelines you established make a lot of sense for both outsourced managers and larger companies with multiple people managing the social media efforts.

  • The whole idea behind social media is to develop engagement and personal relationships and you simply can’t to that with others doing your tweets.

    That being said of course you can have others helping manage and oversee things. For example having someone to let you know right away when you get something you should respond to or know about can be a good idea.

    And even seeing that posts you’ve gotten ready get posted and out on time can help an account do better and that’s something that’s easy to have others do.

    Much beyond those kinds of things just don’t work. Even if it’s a corporate account you have to be sure you disclose who’s saying what and that people realize that it’s not one person doing the tweeting.

  • I tweet for a couple of my clients, in one case tweeting for the brand and in the other for the individual director and the brand. The reason they use me is that they simply don’t have the time to tweet consistently and – bluntly – they haven’t got the imagination to find something interesting to say every day. The relationship works really well, so it can be done, and it can work effectively. BUT, I know the clients really well, and I absolutely “get” what they do – I’m probably as big a fan of their businesses as they are themselves. If I didn’t have that relationship with them, I couldn’t do the work – either from a practical or an ethical standpoint. So, in my experience it can work, but it has to be based on a very close client/writer relationship.

  • You rock.

  • There are of course many examples where even big companies (like McDonalds and ATT) have real employees doing the tweeting but you certainly have a valid perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks Lee.

  • Depends on the strategy. I do think it is easier to interact and build an emotional connection with a person compared to a logo! : ) Good to hear from you!

  • Well said. And by the way, I’m happy to see you back in the comment section. I was just thinking about you and have missed your wise commentary!

  • Sounds like you have taken one of my classes! : )

  • Nice points Pavel. Once again, you are wise beyond your years!

  • This is a very thought-provoking comment Kimmo. I guess it is a glass half-full or glass-half empty argument. If you believe that social media is nothing but a wall of noise, you’re right. But if you believe that this channel is still an extraordinary way to connect in small ways that lead to business benefits (as I do) then you would have to just work harder to cut through that noise and show what you;re really made of … which hopefully is a caring grop of people, not tweets for hire : ) Great discussion.

  • Thanks for the dissenting point of view.

  • I would encourage you to blow this up into an article. Quite an interesting take on things! Had not really thought about this.

  • Adam

    I think it also depends on what the channel is being used for (at least for large brands). @Zappos_Service has an interesting approach. They have pictures on their Twitter page of the team members who work the channel, and they generally introduce themselves when they take a shift. I thought that was a pretty cool way to find some balance in that situation.

  • A new way of thinking, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your wisdom Frank!

  • I know this kind of work is being done extensively, and I’m glad you found a way to make it work, but there still seems to be a significant “icky factor” that there are secrets and pretending going on. At some point that is going to blow up. Thanks very much for sharing with the community. This is a very important perspective and I appreciate that you had the guts to stand up and describe this side of the business. Many thanks Mark!

  • Agree. They’re still keeping it human and accountable. Thanks Adam!

  • As an outsourced social media manager, this headline piqued my interest. Twitter is one piece of the mass social media puzzle. In fact, for the clients I manage, none of them request management solely for Twitter. I think it’s more accurate to speak in terms of outsourcing social media overall.
    The agencies or tweet-for-hires can often give social media management a bad rap and rightly so in some cases. There are a number of services out there who charge a lot of money and simply sit in a coffee shop and tweet for 20 or 30 clients. These services have no strategy. Moreover, they have no communication with the person/people for whom they are tweeting.
    I will be the first to say social media management is not for every business. In fact, I would highly recommend that social media remain in-house. However, time and perceived value are two factors that folks have yet to shake.
    Effective outsourcing social media efforts still takes two committed parties – the client and the provider. The incident that occurred with your friend happens when there is a lack of communication. There has to be a proper procedure and communication system in place for managing social media on behalf of another person or company. If the person who outsourced the tweets is not aware of the correspondence with other parties, we have a real problem. I think the guidelines you established make a lot of sense for both outsourced managers and larger companies with multiple people managing the social media efforts.

  • Eden Williams

    I think it’s strange that the author has responded to everyone else’s comments — but yours. And yet you speak the truth. (Go figure.)

    Outsourcing social media is not a dirty word, but, like you say, strategy and communication must be in play for it to work.

  • Eden Williams

    Not sure I’d say the employee is more vested in the company. Most of the time, the employee doing the tweeting is the brand new junior-level marketing manager…who will most likely ditch the company for a competitor in a year. How is that any more engaged than a social media agency?

  • Hey. “The author” here. I was out to dinner with my wife during our last night in London which gets in the way of replying to comments : )

    Rachel is a regular contributor to {grow} and she always has a very thought-provoking opinion, which I respect. So … good for you Rachel and thanks.

    Now, I will disagree and say that out-sourcing is a dirty word most of the time because it is almost always a SUBSTITUTE for strategy. Show me a company who is out-sourcing social media and 90% of the time it is a company that is just checking a box and doesn’t have a clue.

    I trust a pro like Rachel is guiding her client and serving them in a way that is aligned with their strategy and that she also has her eye on long-term goals, teaching all along the way. Of course there are exceptions and sometimes it makes very good sense to outsource this activity, but most of the time “faking it” on behalf of another person is a time bomb or window dressing or both.

  • Totally agree @twitter-16369845:disqus – a few of our clients are dentists and it’s hard to get them to understand that building relationship is a process that they have to be part of. Another problem that can arise is dissonance; if the dentist isn’t very nice but the guy Tweeting is very friendly. What happens when a new customer comes in? Unnecessary disappointment maybe.

  • Interesting point, but I was talking about employees working throughout the company. One of the biggest things I see is that people see social media as belonging strictly to the “marketing” department. A business stands to benefit if they encourage their employees throughout the company to embrace social. Yes that makes it harder to manage, but it goes far to truly capture the personality of the company. That’s why it’s necessary to build out a clear strategy of how it will be done to manage all the potential mishaps and confusion.

  • Well said, Mark and thank you for the kind words. The “tweet for hires” are one of many reasons outsourcing is a dirty word.
    We prefer to consider ourselves partners with a business. It might sound vague, but we don’t work with just anybody.
    We take the time to learn about our customers and their industry (in fact, we offer industry exclusivity) so we can engage the customers the right way. We need to know the clients’ goals, expectations, and challenges so we can create a plan that fits the unique needs of the business.

    This process requires some time from our clients up front as well as an understanding of the responsibility required of all parties.

  • Absolutely agree. Zappos does an incredible job and is one of those companies doing it right, adding to the bottom-line with social all the while having fun doing it.

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  • “Should You Outsource Your Tweets” Two words outsource/ someone else and Your/ you the person tell the tell. If you someone else them, they are no longer yours. Either you show up and post your presence,or you do not. As we say in Ireland: long runs the fox, ’til it’s caught!

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