Last week, I moderated a panel at the Hawaii Social Media Summit (#SMSHI) of Hawaii’s social media business users about their outsourcing – what they do and don’t outsource and what their best practices are.  It was an interesting conversation and their experiences are largely reflective of a Facebook Poll I recently initiated. The conversation is an interesting one with varying and strong opinions! While the poll I took is certainly no where near scientific, I think it raises some interesting points. As you might imagine – I have some opinions on these as they relate to small and medium businesses, so I thought I would share with you the results, a sampling of the conversation and my thoughts on each of the items.

There were a total of 52 votes, I did not limit the number of votes that each person could make. To get the party started, I voted for Strategy and Analytics. Here’s how the rest of the votes broke down and my thoughts about them.

22/52 Technical Integration: I totally agree with most of the respondents, having your social media program integrated with the rest of your digital presence is vitally important and its both smart and easy to outsource since there is usually no need for a permanent employee for this purpose. A business might choose to put a consultant on retainer, but unless you are really aggressively changing your digital presence regularly, then a consultant is the ideal choice.

13/52 Analytics: Since I already said I voted for this, you won’t be surprised to hear that I am baffled by the fact that this only received 13 votes.  Here’s why I am baffled,  over and over again, I get questions on what metrics should be used. Our panelists last week acknowledged that they too are struggling to identify which metrics work for them. The answer to what you should measure depends on what your goals are, but many social media consultants can help you identify which metrics are best for you and how to measure them. Unless you are a large business who can afford a Radian6 or similar tool, the gathering of this data can be cross channel and time consuming. I find most small business skip this crucial step and then become frustrated when they don’t know more about the success (or failure) of their social media program. A critical examination of metrics by a social media consultant can give you valuavle take-aways on changes you might make in your social media program, what’s working and what isn’t. If nothing else, you can outsource the initial set-up and development of your analytical program and take it from there. Whatever you do though, do skip the measurement of social media. But if you do skip it, please don’t say that social media doesn’t work for you…because my next question will be how do you know? I’d encourage small and medium businesses to at least consider creating a metrics dashboard with a consultant. Your internal social media person will thank you – even if they are running the reports on an ongoing basis. You don’t need to hire someone full time for this and since most companies don’t have a full-time social media person, this is an ideal outsourcing component.

11/52 Strategy: Again, one of my votes. Again, I am as confused as an epileptic dog in a maze. Maybe its because strategy isn’t fully appreciated. Maybe its because strategy seems too “fuzzy” but for me and my clients, strategy is the starting point. Without a well defined strategy, how do you know what you will implement and how you will measure? Social media is deceptively sophisticated and incredibly dynamic. Yes, you may change your strategy, but at least have one.The reason this is a great element to outsource is a social media consultant can give you examples of other strategies and work with you to develop one that suits your needs. Everyone’s strategy will be different, but its great to have some ideas to start with. You will then have a road map and metrics from which to measure the success of your social media program.

3/52 Implementation: The irony of this category is that its the single most popular thing that small businesses want to outsource – yet, its not the ideal element to outsource. Its also the most time consuming, which is why so many companies want to outsource. Listening. Engaging. Conversing. They all take time. I’ve seen estimates from 5 hour/week or more.  Having someone else speak for your brand (even if they are smart, savvy and exhibit good judgment) is challenging unless you (business) are really able to spend the time to immerse the outsourced social media person in your brand. Further, you should be willing to develop a process and a flow to assist the consultant in making comments and decisions on the spot, as that is what social media requires. Immersing a consultant in the right culture and voice of your brand is not easy. Can it be done? Yes. But my own personal experience in this area makes me give the following recommendation: if you must outsource this section, consider it a 3-6 month pilot until your internal users are up to speed on best practices and tools. What I normally do is have myself and a staffer work the social media dashboard together so we can discuss the opportunities and choices. Then I closely monitor and make recommendations. I personally love this graphic that breaks it down nicely:

1/52 SEO: I’m baffled by how few people saw SEO as a viable outsourcing choice. While I don’t personally do SEO, I work with several SEO pros in conjunction with social media programs and I have to say, I think this is one of the few areas where there isn’t much grey area. While SEO maintainance may be ongoing, an SEO expert’s job is to stay up to date on the every changing search antilogarithms, put your SEO consultant on a monthly retainer and call it a day. Few companies should have internal SEO and there are some incredibly talented SEO consultants available.

1/52 Content Development: I believe this one area that doesn’t get its social media respect. Developing content is an ongoing process and whether you choose to develop content or curate it, you’ll need to have a plan that fits in with your strategy.  Many small businesses need suggestions on what types of content (words, pictures, video etc.) and also the best way to utilize them to create discussion. Further, development of voice and tone is often something that many small and medium businesses haven’t done yet, so a social media consultant can help you develop your voice. What content to create, how to use it and best practices with content are all elements a consultant can help you with. When it comes to implementing it, I again suggest an internal advocate (or two).

1/52: Building Quality Followers: While only one person voted for this, I tend to agree, that this element can be outsourced, initially. I’ll even lump this in with working with influencers, both the identification and the outreach of them. But, ongoing development of followers will be contingent on your implementation among other factors, and unless your consultant has control over the implementation of these factors, its not a great choice.

So – what do you think? What do you think is most successfully outsourced? Leave us your thoughts..and if you haven’t already, take the Facebook Poll

PS:

Here are some sources about outsourcing I shared on my #SMSHI Twitter Stream last week:

Should #smallbiz consider outsourcing social media @AlohaSMM weighs in with some great stats: http://ow.ly/4zOzN

Another viewpoint: things you CAN outsource in social media http://ow.ly/4yWcs via @baekdal #SMSHI

Should you outsource your social media efforts? (via @mashable) #smshi http://ow.ly/4yV4Q

5 reasons not to outsource your social media http://ow.ly/4yVYf via @iMediaTweet #SMSHI

Corporate social media outsourcing has doubled according to @smexaminer ‘s mkting report – from 14% in 2010 to 20% in 2011 #SMSHI

Great advice from @TobyDiva regarding for biz & agencies re: outsourcing social media #smshi #smallbiz http://ow.ly/4yVbR

Design/Development, Content Creation & Analytics top 3 most commonly outsourced #sm elements via @smexaminer ‘s mkting report #SMSHI