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Social Media is a powerful tool for businesses to directly interact with fans, build relationships with customers and keep people in the know about their business developments.

Businesses are commonly outsourcing social media due to an internal knowledge/skills gap, or a lack in personnel capacity. Some businesses might not even have an existing marketing department or position.

In these cases, deciding to go with outsourcing social media has typically been a result of businesses already realising the potential value that it can add to their organisation, along with the inability to execute campaigns in-house.

The stage between finding and hiring is the phase that all 5 of the most common outsourcing mistakes take place. I wrote an article which may be helpful to you if your planning to hire a social media manager. You can read it here.

The common mistakes listed below can be the result of either the business owner, the outsourcing partner, or a combination of both, not communicating effectively from the onset.

Outsourcing Social Media Mistakes

1. The Business Results Are Not Understood

Being clear on what the business is trying to achieve is key. Strategies and tactics formulated around anything but the actual business results will inevitably cause a lack in optimal performance.

If your business drop-ships products from China for example, then its likely your business result from social marketing is to increase profit. Spending £5,000 on marketing to produce £1,800 in added sales within an agreed period is an expense that doesn’t provide a return on investment. Even if your outsourcing partner informs you of wider benefits you may have gained, it is likely that their focus has not been entirely on your business result.

Some business owners may not know the extent to which they expect to achieve the business result. For instance, setting a business result of improved customer service through social media, yet assigning only a few hours a week to try and cater for a vast customer base, is unlikely to result in fulfilment.

Sometimes, the business result has not been communicated at all and the outsourcing partner is left to deliver whatever they see fit. You would be surprised to hear how often business owners just take recommendations as hard evidence, due to the fact that they do not want to get involved with something they know little about.

Take this Facebook post for example…


How does this Facebook post achieve Travelbag’s business results? Your guess is as good as mine… Trying to get people to share this content would have never resulted in more traffic, sales or brand awareness (for the right reasons). In fact, it served to hurt their brand by many people posting responses such as:

“You make me say YES, and then you make fun of me?”


“You’re begging me to increase your marketing metrics?”

and even

“It’s YOU’RE!”.

Universal understanding of the business result will ensure the outsourcing partner gets paid to deliver what the business wants to achieve.

2. Policies Are Not Established

Throughout the planning and strategy stage, social media policies should be established and communicated to everyone involved. If a social campaign is launched without having clear policies in place, then it can be very difficult for the outsourcing partner to understand how to act, or react, in certain situations.

For larger organisations, knowing who is contributing to which campaigns and controlling how they represent the company is essential. Governance should be established, along with a set of best practices and content guidelines.

Failing to establish social media policies can resolve any responsibility in situations where best practice are avoided. What do you think of the following tweet?


The person behind this tweet worked for Chrysler’s agency, New Media Strategies and was promptly fired for this driving rant, complete with an F-bomb to its followers. This could have resulting from a lack of moderation from the social media team – something that should be set in policy for big brands who hire multiple admins and contributors.

3. The Business Voice Is Not Communicated

Any business who acts differently online to real life is being misrepresented. Customers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking your business believes in something, when the reality is entirely different.

There are many companies who have found themselves in this position. So the obvious question is; Why?

Why would a company post something that they wouldn’t say directly to a customer? Is it the veil of their computer that causes them to feel free to type out anything that enters their head? It’s doubtful. More likely the reason for so many indiscretions by brands online is a lack of professional staff.

It’s unbelievable how many business owners hire young, inexperienced people, or better yet, unpaid teens to tweet for them. There is a mentality among the more experienced business owners that while it is understood that social media is necessary, all “young people” are experts and they can easily take on the roll of a social media guru.

This couldn’t be more wrong…

There are many crucial skills required to formulate a successful social media strategy. Brands need to engage with their audiences, build and strengthen relationships, offer round-the-clock responsive customer service, and expose their brand to the masses in a positive light.

Your voice is key to positioning your business in the social landscape. Social media users want to talk to engage with someone real, who isn’t an auto-tweet robot, but also someone who acts on behalf of the business. Not someone who says something because they think it will look good to the business owner at the next meeting.

Outsourcing partners can adhere to best practices in community management and customer service without knowing exactly what the business voice is, but ultimately you will want your online persona to maintain your core beliefs, visions and personality.

Take this for example:


The social media team at Habitat tried to boost followings by hijacking trending hashtags. Unfortunately for them, the timing of the #MOUSAVI hashtag used in there promo tweet couldn’t have been worse – taking advantage of what was going on in Iran at the time quickly blew up and they had a major PR disaster on their hands.

The unethical and badly timed social campaign was aimed at improving marketing performance. The team obviously did not have any awareness of the business voice.

4. Strategies Are Disjointed From Current Efforts

If a business already invests in traditional or other online marketing efforts, then the transition into social marketing should be complementary. Social campaigns should build upon what is already being done and worked towards, with clarity and consistency throughout.

Implementing a social marketing campaign to target different objectives to what the business currently works towards is unlikely to be productive. But I’ve seen it being done.

Take for example a cleaning business. A series of ads and banners are used to promote the time tactics attributed to their business model: “24/7 call out and 30minute response times”. Social marketing campaigns should highlight these key benefits and company practices. Social media managers should reinforce these throughout management and execution. If not, then audiences could assume that they cant be that important, not adhered to, or that the business representative simply isn’t aware of them.

Even if different campaigns in different mediums are launched and they prove a success, the campaign results won’t complement each other. There will be few opportunities to build any virality or to cause a snowball effect between both campaigns.

A common misplaced tactic in social media that is typically disjointed from overall marketing efforts is “name dropping”. Mentioning a celebrity for the sake of increasing exposure and publicity. Brands do it. Some with no intention of ever using a celebrity to enhance their marketing campaign appeal.

Take this example…


#9 is actually Steve McNair, who has been dead since 2009. You can’t get more disjointed than this random campaign that tried to increase exposure, but ended up backfiring miserably.

5. Contingencies Are Not Formulated

If seemingly unforeseeable events occur that have an impact on the social campaign, or the brand itself, then there should be contingencies in place to handle them appropriately.

It could be that the CEO releases a statement. It could be that a PR campaign is quickly executed. It may even be as “minor” as the business result not being achieved in a period due to key metrics and performance targets being missed and a change in tactics or approach is required.

No matter how big or small it may seem, there should be some sort of backup plan to cater for worst case scenarios. Take this as an example…


Someone at the American Red Cross accidentally tweeted a personal message on the companies official Twitter account. It was indeed harmless, yet pretty unprofessional.

Their contingency worked out well and avoided any potential PR issues – the social team used self-deprecating humour. The American Red Cross tweeted a follow-up saying:

“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

Dogfish Head, the brand of beer mentioned in the tweet, got involved too. They used the #gettngslizzerd hashtag to encourage donations to the Red Cross. A simple transparent contingency, along with some quick-thinking by the social marketers, actually meant the potential crisis turned on its head and into a successful campaign by itself.

Remember the cliché; failing to plan is planning to fail. Taking time to map out possible contingencies or creating guidelines for disaster resolution could be the difference between a full-blown PR battle and an expertly crafted follow up response.


Social media is a place where it’s incredibly easy to fail. Outsourcing social media activities can quickly blow up if these mistakes are not closely scrutinised before they happen.

Outsourcing-social-media-winHashtags can be hijacked, attempts at humour can backfire and misuse of the medium can invoke outrage. Every single message that a brand sends out can make a big impact because of the intrinsically viral nature of social media. If there’s something scandalous, there’s nowhere to hide. It’s easy for people to voice their opinions and share misrepresented messages.

So with the 5 most common mistakes when outsourcing social media explained, I’ll leave you with an example of when outsourcing social media is done beautifully.

Context: When the stadium lights went out unexpectedly at the Super Bowl, the social team at Oreo didn’t blink. They responded almost immediately with this campaign. It was re-tweeted almost 16,000 times – easily the most memorable tweet of the evening.

Talk about turning a potential disaster upside down. The social media team successfully overcame each of the common mistakes outlined above to launch a counter-campaign that must have put a smile on their brands face.

As it did to many of their customers.