Monday, March 21, 2011

Outsourcing Your Social Media Marketing? Beware.

How to Avoid Out-of-Brand Experiences that Wreck Your Credibility

Social media marketing is the hot marketing trend today – so much so that many marketers can’t get enough of it fast enough. Some marketers are choosing to outsource their social media marketing programs, or portions of them. And there is no shortage of social media marketing “experts” ready to take your money and take on your brand.

And possibly trash your brand, as Chrysler recently found out. An employee of Chrysler’s social media marketing agency posted a Tweet that included profanity and criticized the marketer’s home town. In short: the employee stepped out of brand, making a personal comment that reflected negatively on the Chrysler brand. Although Chrysler responded promptly and decisively, the situation was a black eye for the brand, and the agency lost the business.

I can understand why companies – particularly larger ones – may choose to outsource their social media marketing presence. But I wonder how many realize the risks – and take steps to protect themselves?

Before you entrust your brand to someone – be it a social media marketing agency or an enthusiastic employee – make sure that he understands, respects and cares for your brand as much as you do. The most important part of social media marketing is the social part: the people who converse on your behalf. So choose carefully and plan wisely.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Who’s representing my brand? As a former corporate public relations manager, I always wanted to know exactly who from our PR firm would be representing my company to the media – preferably a seasoned, knowledgeable business person and not the newest hire. Fast-forward to 2011: why wouldn’t I want to know exactly who would be representing my company and brand to the world via social media?

Understand who is representing your brand: his qualifications, his feelings about your product or company, his demeanor. Ask to meet and interview that person. Picture yourself talking with this person at a bar or a softball game. How does it feel? If your feelings are anything but positive, ask for someone else on your account.

What are the rules? Create a written social media policy that everyone understands and agrees to. Keep it simple – a page or so. List what you will talk about, what you won’t talk about, and how to handle special situations (such as negative comments or product complaints). It’s usually prudent to review your social media policy with your legal counsel.

Have three to five brand attributes that your social media reps should adhere to and convey during social media conversations. Better still, print this information on an index card that reps can post on their computer monitors, or create a note that they can reference from their mobile devices.

If you are outsourcing your social media marketing to an outside firm, ask how the firm trains and supervises its people. Also ask about policies for handling and reporting errors.

Finally, make sure to incorporate social media into your crisis communications plan – as a potential crisis not just part of your media mix.

What’s my technology risk? HootSuite, TweetDeck and other applications can automate social media posting for both individuals and teams. Technology can be good when it makes you more efficient, smarter, and more scientific about what you’re doing. But technology can also be bad if it replaces common sense, caution or thinking.

Understand the risks in the tools that you use. For example, the HootSuite dashboard gives you a birds-eye (no pun intended) view of multiple Twitter accounts, using a single log-in. You can post a single Tweet to one or all of the accounts in a single step. It’s all too easy, if you are not careful, to post a Tweet to the wrong account.

This simple mistake may not be a tragedy if it involves your personal accounts. But what if you’re mixing multiple client accounts – or multiple brand personas – in a single dashboard?

So, use technology defensively, not just prospectively. For example: clearly separate personal social media accounts from official brand accounts.

Also, use technology as a buffer or a sanity-check. For example: HootSuite allows you to schedule Tweets – great for when you are going to be on an airplane when you want a Tweet to hit. However, I often make use of the scheduling feature to sanity-check important Tweets before publication; by scheduling a Tweet 15 minutes into the future, I can proofread the Tweet and check any links or cross-references before it is published.

The bottom line: think before you Tweet or post. Most social media are relatively forgiving – you can sometimes correct errors if you are quick about it. However, the social media audience is usually less forgiving – as Chrysler and Aflac now know all too well. A faux pas by a major brand can be around the world – and on its way to “viral” – in seconds. A moment’s thought can often prevent heartbreak.

My advice is to spend time thoughtfully designing, testing and bullet-proofing your program up-front – no matter who is going to run it for you. This investment will pay off.

Businesses that treat social media marketing as a checklist item will get what they pay for: good and hard.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice and prominent tutorial. I’ve been absorbing all that you wrote on this topic.

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