Very few large companies have the internal resources or expertise to develop, deploy, and manage social media programs at a large scale, whether that means handling user content volume, creating content strategy and creative (especially across channels), managing workflow, analyzing the data, or integrating with other marketing efforts. Working with expert agencies and vendors leverages their specialized skills and experience across many brands.
I can speak to that relationship with experience, because LiveWorld is that vendor partner for many brands. Contrary to some thinking, good vendor partners can learn your voice and help bring it forward with customer engagement. But to get the best results, every brand entering the social space should have dedicated, in-house people.
Unlike other marketing disciplines, social goes so deep, becoming the context and platform for all marketing, that having internal team members who understand the mind-set and the medium is extremely important. Your own team knows your company and customers better than any outsider does and is best situated to help with integration across the organization.
Imagine that your social channel is your company’s party for customers. You, as the host, can’t just hire people to have the party for you. It's your party! You need to be in attendance. One of our Fortune 50 clients told us, “I get it, but I don’t have people. I have money. I need you to be our internal people as well.” In his case, we agreed to do it, but insisted on having at least a half headcount on it and that our person have a desk at the company so she could be truly embedded. And it worked.
Choose Wisely. If half of success with a vendor is aligning internal resources so that the brand is part of the effort, the other half is choosing the right vendor. When evaluating potential candidates, look for a firm with deep experience in the medium. You’d think that would go without saying, but somehow in this business “new and hot” compete all too well against firms with a real track record.
Ask specific questions to evaluate a firm’s experience: “With whom have you worked, and for how long?” “What social programs have you developed, with what results?” Remember, generalized marketing experience isn’t what you’re concerned with here—you’re looking for a team with a specific track record of launching and managing social media programs, sleeves rolled up, handling the constantly changing dynamics in real time, ideally with documented ROI.
Finally, ask the firm to speak to a track record of collaborative relationships with other marketing partners. Again, your relationship with this vendor will be a partnership. You’re not “farming it out.” No firm can provide “silver bullet” solutions that solve problems while you sleep.
Because good strategy will require your participation, look for a partner that’s willing to teach your people to fish. The vendor should recognize and respect that your people “know stuff,” even if they’re not yet experts on social. They know your company and your customers. They know marketing. Some of them even may be social media–savvy.
In the end, social media is about creating value through dialogue and relationships. A good vendor will be able to do that as well with your team as with your customers.