September 2, 2014

Can You Hire People To Be Social For You?

Customers like social media. They like having a way to engage socially with the brands they love. They like getting immediate answers to their questions. They like seeing the human element behind the brand. All the daily encounters. Social media is made for the consumer. But what if you’re a small business owner who either doesn’t have time to engage in social media or who, frankly, just doesn’t want to? Is it possible to farm out the task to someone else?

You can. But you maybe shouldn’t.

Here’s the thing, the best social media experiences happen when someone is able to relate to your brand in a real way. It’s when you can reach out to them, help them solve a problem, and learn a little bit about them in the process. It’s about creating relationships that you’ll be able to call on and leverage in the future. And you’re going to have an easier time doing that as you, then getting someone else to do it in your name. You’re also likely to learn a lot more.

The basis of social media is transparency. It’s about exposing a bit of yourself to your customers so that they feel like they “know you”, that they can “trust you” and that you’re someone they want to do business with. The purists of social media (myself included) will always tell you that this is best done as “you”, not by farming it out.

However, sometimes to stay efficient and profitable, it may make more sense for you to hire someone from outside your organization to blog, tweet and to act as you in social media. Sometimes asking someone else to do it in your name is better than not doing it at all.

If you’re going to go down this path, make sure the person you hire is there to represent the company, not a specific person who’s actually on staff. They should be engaging customers as “Joe’s Flowers” not “Joe Smith from Joe’s Flowers”. Creating a fake avatar or allowing someone to blog under the name of your CEO probably won’t win you friends when it’s discovered and your name is dragged through the blogosphere. However, if you’re that florist, it may be possible to contract someone who is interested in the industry and then hire them to tweet on your behalf. They already share the same passions as you, they’re competent in the subject matter and they’ll probably enjoy engaging with people who are “like” them.

And that really is the best case scenario. That’s how you get someone who will be engaging, infectious and draw people to them. Basically, they’ll enjoy the time spent instead of resenting it.

If you do contract out your social responsibilities, make sure the person you hire understands the company culture, what they are and are not allowed to say, and the appropriate way to handle customers and complaints. You wouldn’t want to invest the money into paying someone to tweet as you and then have them go off the handle and insult all your customers. Whoever you hire will be representing you and your company on a large scale. Make sure they’re doing it accurately.

The issue of ghost bloggers and ghost tweeters is a contentious one at the moment. If you’re interested in the topic, the folks at Social Media Explorer had a great post about the ethics of ghost blogging that’s definitely worth a read, as well.

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Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

32 Reactions

  1. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have someone basically pretend to be you. Customers will have a hard time trusting you and your business if they found out they have not been networking with you but some stranger. If you’re going to have someone represent your business, they should do it openly and honestly as themselves. Just my two cents. :)

  2. I believe it’s possible to outsource your social media effort, but caution and common sense need to be applied. Your point about having them tweet as the company (not an individual) is smart so that if you do pull the effort in-house later, the transition will be much smoother. Common sense dictates that whoever you select should be well versed on your company, products & services while using the appropriate voice. If you can ensure these criteria are met you’ll likely have a very good experience even with your social media being handled by an outside party.

  3. Excellent advice. I do think it’s possible to represent someone else’s company, ethically and authentically. Another thing you shouldn’t do? Create a fictional character and blog/tweet behind that facade on behalf of the business. A local here did this and was blasted for being unauthentic and – well – fictitious. :)

  4. You make a lot of very good points, but there are some major issues I would like to add.

    You are right that you must be honest in order to gain trust. however, there is no reason at all that you cannot hire someone to represent you with your social media efforts. Actually, often an outside consultant is preferable. BUT, theres are some strings attached….

    1) The person should be a pro. A professional inbound marketing consultant knows the ropes, will get a complete background before beginning, understands your market as well as the medium and can represent a firm in the best and most authentic possible way.

    2) A reputable social media consultant will be honest in terms of their name and will present themselves as a representative of the firm (like any other employee), not some alias.

    3) They should be completely familiar with your firm, their customers, products and any issues before going online.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am a certified inbound marketing consultant http://www.elektrik.com/inbound_online_marketing_consultant.html) so I admit that I do have some bias on the subject, but I also have the experience.

    The biggest mistake that any small business can make is to hand over their social marketing responsibilities to an employee with little available time and no experience or knowledge in the medium. Worse yet, is to give the responsibility to some intern or low level assistant with too much time, insufficient knowledge of the audience, business or medium, and little long term vested interest in the outcome.

    At very least, I suggest to clients that they bring in a consultant to get them started, show the the ropes and work with a designated employee to train them in the appropriate and most effective SMM techniques.

  5. I think it’s a challenge for a small business to engage in social media. But with the proper strategy and coaching can find a way to engage – even if it’s just a listening and commenting strategy to begin with. Most small business owners can and do find a way to be social themselves without hiring outside help. I see it happening every day. Start small and let it snowball!

  6. The person who is blogging could always state they are a representative of the company if they are not the owner or managment. The business owner/manager should always monitor what is going on with their marketing tactics instead of just handing things over free-rein. The company should come to an understanding with the representative on what style to use and approach to take. They should discuss any basic ground rules (what not to write about, language to use) before proceeding. The more involved the individual is with the company’s activities, the more genuine the blog will be unless the person has done their research and is really good.

  7. I love the comments on transparency. I totally agree that social media needs to approached from within the company. If you hire someone from the outside, then guess what it becomes—Marketing

  8. If having a social media presence is important to your organization, invest in hiring a social evangelist—don’t outsource them. Make them a part of your team. Put them on your payroll. Immerse them in your brand and mission statement. Make them the face of your company. Feed them your core values, strategy, and purpose. Ignite their passion and they will return the favor by establishing a genuine social presence, based on full transparency, personality of brand. Outsourcing a social guru goes against the core of what social media is about. Let’s keep it authentic.

  9. I know SafeCo technically doesn’t qualify as a small business, but I love what they have done with Justin Case.

    It’s so clever and witty, it’s scary. He (Justin) is their social media presence, he even has a Facebook page with loads of fans asking for him by name.

    I love it and it’s probably one of the most successful social media campaigns I’ve ever seen.

  10. I would have a hard time having someone else do my social media. I think the trust factor is important. Also the whole point is to be in the loop with what is going on. IF that person does your social media, they will also have to report the trends and questions so that your material fits what people are talking about.

    I think there is a way to do it, however, I am not satisfied with offers from ghost bloggers who want to be paid for basically adding your name to a blog post that says good job!

    Dr. Letitia Wright
    The Wright Place TV Show
    http://wrightplacetv.com
    http://www.twitter.com/drwright1

  11. Rena Bernstein,

    I am interested to learn more about your work as an inbound marketing professional.

    I will be helping a new business company called SmartWell with their social media activities and business intelligence work. I am in a discussion with one of the owners, Paula Widén, about the strategies. (You could read about P.W.’s company if you click on “Martin Lindeskog” Says:.)

    I have covered point #3 pretty well. I am familiar with the firm as an old customer and consumer of their products. I am learning more about their customers on an ongoing basis and issues at hand. As an example, yesterday I attend Gothenburg’s Inventors Association together with Paula Widén and Kalle Edin, presenting seabuckthorn, aronia, and fine artesian bottled water.

  12. I think that Greg Elwell has it mostly right. It’s tough for a small business to truly engage in social media, but with the proper strategy and coaching as well as learning how & where to listen it works wonders.

    The issue is that it takes time to learn and find all the resources necessary to to be successful…without making too many mistakes and damaging your reputation first.

    The two main ingredients are 1) knowledge of Social & Marketing tactics and 2) knowledge of the business

    #1 is acheived by working with someone that has the knowledge, dedicated time & experience and

    #2 is achieved as Erin said, if you “Immerse them in your brand and mission statement.” and if (as with other forms of marketing) the person learns your market, core values, strategy, and purpose. You just don’t need the expense of hiring them full time or permanently.

    The difference between a social guru and a pro is that a guru knows the tricks and a professional uses their knowledge to put the clients needs first.

    Jonathan Saar: no matter how you look at it, as soon as a company invests time or effort into social media… it IS marketing. It just becomes INBOUND Marketing, a friendlier, warmer and more authentic type. A form of marketing that respects the customers privacy and wishes and communicates their ideas through shared interests and helping people solve their problems….even if it has nothing to do with your product or generates a single dime for your business. Its called good will.

    If companies didn’t need outside help from specialists, everyone would be doing their own computer networking, telephone installations, and copier repairs. Working with a professional simply improves the effectiveness, quality and speed.

  13. Subject near to my heart as I’m a Professional Networker. Have done it a good bit prior to the social media craze, but now, I’m hired to actually utilize Twitter, FB, Linkedin and such to identify types of people and create a connection between them and my clients. In so doing, and as an add-on service, I do create and manage social media accounts on behalf of clients, however, I agree with what is written here – when you hire an outside person to “be social” regularly on your behalf – it’s best that they remain an independent entity without client impersonation. This type of social networking is personal and success relies heavy on creating a sense of identification and trust. Can’t do that very well “as the client” when you aren’t the client. All kinds of negative stuff can happen here. And, I find it is actually very effective to be and show yourself as who you are while “beginning the relationship process” with potential customers on a client’s behalf.

  14. I agree that if you are going to go down the path of having someone else handle your social media efforts it needs to be from a generic account such as your business name, and not pretending it is coming from you. A lot of RP consultants are doing this for their clients, representing the company and not a specific person with much success. On the flip side, isn’t social networking about building relationships, interacting with people online, and becoming part of a community? Having someone else pose as YOU seems very inauthentic and fake. How can you build relationships when it isn’t even really you communicating?

  15. Really great article and perspective on this hot topic. My 2 cents: I would never hire someone to attend a networking event to pretend they were me. I won’t do it online, either. However, I do work w/ someone to upload some of my tweets into tweetlater (SocialOomph) and upload videos and so forth.

  16. Instead of outsourcing your social media, hire someone to provide the best methods that maximize your exposure to your posts, tweets and forum answers. I would not recommend outsourcing the writing, but you can outsource researching of popular trends and keywords as well as social media mentoring and consulting. Also, consider a guest blogger from time to time to “spice up” the momentum of your blog.

  17. In reference to the post about only outsourcing for someone to consult, mentor, advise on best methods, etc. I would agree that the ideal scenario is for one to handle it on their own, or at least, do the writing and such themselves. Trouble is – not everyone is a writer, and most small business owners I know give you the “you’re speaking Chinese” look when you mention blogs or Twitter. They have a sense that they need online visibility, but the learning curve seems overwhelming to them. I’ve written blog postings and articles for clients (with their editorial assistance). I do the most conscientious job I can to reflect their business or their personality, handing it over to them for finetuning. My take is that if a small business owner or exec would go to the expense of hiring someone to dig up ideas and topics–they’d be more inclined to have that person write it, too. Just my thought.

  18. Everyone is unique which makes them their own brand, making the best out of yourself is the most effective way to represent another Brand rather than trying to make the best out of someone else which makes you sound like a dupe.

  19. Yeah I agree with this, good post.

    If you are going to utilise social media, do it correctly. It’s no use hiring somebody to be your social face on a bunch of networking websites if they have no idea what your business or niche is truly about. I guess it comes down to a trust issue too, as Amanda pointed out.

  20. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have someone basically pretend to be you. Customers will have a hard time trusting you and your business if they found out they have not been networking with you but some stranger. If you’re going to have someone represent your business, they should do it openly and honestly as themselves

  21. Great insight into the issue of outsourced social media. For many business owners, outsourcing social media is the only answer, as they do not have the time or resources to dedicate to establishing an online brand across social media platforms. These businesses should take care to choose a provider with a proven track record of success and a comprehensive social media optimization strategy.

  22. Jonathan nailed it. If you hire someone to connect your business with others through communications (no matter the media), that is marketing. How can you make meaningful connections through a proxy? Facebook puts a face on the business, not an attractive made-up mask. People don’t expect to meet someone as glossy as their ads, but they do expect to come to meet an owner (or staff) who is as clever, down-to-earth, outspoken or whatever the overall vibe is of the status updates and Tweets.
    Small biz owners have the advantage of their size to know which team members capture the voice of the business (and resonate with customers) the best.
    If you can’t speak for yourself via social media, don’t go all Cyrano de Bergerac on us. Because sooner or later, we’re going to meet the real deal.

  23. I agree, it is not a good idea. . however, I do think small business people should seek help in learning the ways of social networking and why it is worth the time. ..a consultant or something. . .but ultimately, it must be them who engages their client base.. .otherwise. .what’s the point? Marketing via social networking entails a mindset change from promoting my stuff to sharing myself and my services with others.

  24. Excellent advice. I do think it’s possible to represent someone else’s company, ethically and authentically. Another thing you shouldn’t do? Create a fictional character and blog/tweet behind that facade on behalf of the business. A local here did this and was blasted for being unauthentic and – well – fictitious. :)

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