I am a firm believer that as a business owner you should at least try to manage your social media in house (in many cases, business owners do get their feet wet, discover how much they like it and how much it improves their business and stick with it) but in some cases this unfortunately isn’t possible. I know many small business owners where they are the only employees and if you have a brick and mortar establishment, you sometimes can’t be at the computer as much as you would like.
I maintain a few social media avenues for hospitality and lodging facilities (primarily blogs) and I don’t advertise that fact anywhere because I think it’s bad for the business brand. I bring this up because I see companies and people advertising that they are maintaining Brand X’s social media for them and while this may work for big business, it can damage a small business’ brand and customers trust as well. If they are not your employees they should not be advertising to the public that they are your “voice“.
As a consumer, I know of several small brands/businesses that I have followed on Twitter and Facebook and then unfanned/unfollowed when I found out a company or individual was doing it for them. My personal (and not everyone might agree with this) recommendation: if you find out or see the company you are using doing this, I recommend you find someone else (or back to plan A which is still my first choice, do it yourself).
While there are some great companies and individuals out there that you can outsource your social media needs to, keep in mind that when, and if, you do outsource, that the people who will be maintaining your accounts need to know A LOT about your business and they should have a background in your industry. You wouldn’t ask a drywall installer to blog about your restaurant or a forest ranger to tweet about your inn.
When TO outsource your social media:
- When you honestly (think hard before you say no to this) don’t have the time.
- When you don’t have the time to learn how to do it yourself. (see bullet #1)
- When you don’t have the trained staff (or any staff) to maintain your social media presence for you. (also see bullet #1)
- You think your 16 old son/daughter can maintain it for you and realistically market your business.
- You think a part time college student can do it for you and realistically market your business.
When NOT TO outsource your social media:
- You have time (and it doesn’t have to be a lot) to do it yourself
- You’ve been approached by a social media “expert/guru/wizard” or company promising you the world in return for paying them boatloads of money.
There are companies out there that do it on commission, for affordable fees, or will give you trial runs or price breaks until they have proven to you that it can increase your brand awareness and benefit your business. There are also companies that will help you draw up a marketing plan, train you how to use the tools out there and let you go. These are the companies that you do want, if you have to outsource.
The PROS of outsourcing:
- You don’t have to deal with it.
- You don’t have to learn it.
The CONS of outsourcing:
- You have to worry about whether it’s being done right
- It can be expensive
- You STILL need to monitor it
- It can damage your brand
If you do decide to outsource, here’s a few suggested guidelines and recommendations for Restaurants and Lodging:
- Most importantly: Define how you want them to (and if you want them to) respond, if there are issues or problems that pop up online. If a customer has a serious complaint and posted it to twitter or as a blog comment or on your fan page how do you want them to respond? (while you can delete posts on Facebook and not publish comments on a blog, twitter is for all to see, forevermore) Deleting something from Facebook may not be the best solution, it may make the person that had the issue even more irritated, and decide to post it on Yelp. At least on Facebook you have the ability to control the conversation. I would suggest their first step is an apology to the person and then a pronto call to you (or someone who can handle the issue) before further response. You need to decide how to craft a good interim response. i.e. “we are sorry you had a bad experience, I am going to pass this along to management”, or whatever is company policy to handle an issue, and then address the issue and see whether its fixable.
- If you do decide to outsource, consider that perhaps some can be done in house and some can be outsourced and have it work together. If you do decide to split it up, I would say blogs are the “safest” in which to do so (see#1) and try to keep customer engagement in-house if possible (Facebook and especially Twitter) or have them pre-program your marketing end and intersperse it with your “live” interactions. The most successful use of social media I see in the hospitality industries are people using a combination of automated and “live”. I.e. using hootsuite, pingfm or socialoomph to pre-program posts and then jumping in “live” via tweetdeck, seesmic or the web.
- Plan a line of attack with them. Have them put it in writing and make sure they keep to it. You can’t just tell a social media company, here “advertise me” and “make me gain a following”. It still needs your input.
- What are you advertising? And have factual information for them to draw on, whether it be a combination of menus, your specials or packages, your website, personal interviews, things to focus on in your area, etc.
- Make sure to make your “to be published” list of things, is not just about you and your business, it needs to be interesting and engaging. Social is about social, its not all about me, me, me.
- What do you hope to gain/accomplish? And set benchmarks for it. i.e. 25 quality location based (for a restaurant) or (proven B&B guest people for an inn) following you on twitter per week. ~ Increase blog readership and subscriptions by 10 people per day. Be realistic, anyone can get a thousand followers on twitter by using autofollow software, but if they are all non potential customers then it’s a waste of time and does nothing for your business. Anyone can write a blog post, but can they promote it so it gets read?
- Make sure that they are not only marketing your restaurant or lodging, they are interacting and engaging with people. Anyone can set up auto updates using one of the many free services out there, but while this may help with SEO, because search engines are picking up social media more and more, it’s missing most of the point of social media, which is not just to advertise, but to help increase, and keep, your customer base.
- What can they talk about and promote? And what can’t they? Make sure you draw the lines on this. And make sure they give you a list in advance of things they will be promoting, writing or talking about. No negativity, no trashing other businesses. A single comment on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter that is any way un-positive in ANY way, you need to ditch them ASAP. You still need to monitor their work. Even though you are “outsourcing” you still need to check up. Even though your Sous Chef has been making the seafood bouillabaisse perfectly for the last 6 months, you still need to quality control, same idea, different venue.
- Make sure they give you reports on progress. Are they REALLY interacting and engaging with guests/customers and potential guests/customers? Have them show you proof of it. A printout of a full week of autoposts to Facebook does not constitute engagement.
- Be aware that building a social media presence takes time, but again be realistic. Promises to build a huge customer base in 2 months are empty promises, 6 months of someone managing your social media accounts and having nothing tangible out of it is a waste. While social media ROI can be extremely hard to track, the fact that you do have customers commenting positively on your Fan Page posts is a positive investment in branding and long-term customer retention. The fact you do have a solid readership base for your blog posts are a return long term on your brand and your business.
- Interview who is going to manage your social media and just like hiring an employee, make sure your answers are what your need to hear for YOUR business and not a snow job of “Well we will increase your customer base by using the new paradigm shifts in marketing” and “By exploiting the new trends in search engine algorithms.” BS is BS no matter how you slice it.
Some good example of interview questions to ask:
Social Media is the voice of your business, be careful who you give the power to…….to BE your voice.