Big brands insourcing social media – is that a good thing?

I recently read about Nike’s decision to bring the day to day management of their social media in-house. With zillions of fans around the world and one of the biggest followings on social media no doubt, this didn’t surprise me.

Traditionally they have been reliant on agencies to do this for them; one of them I happened to work with did it brilliantly. At the time the agency had a full time blogger (former journalist and football enthusiast) on their staff, whose sole job was to blog and respond to Nike Football’s fans posts all day long. I remember thinking what a brilliant job his was! This one guy’s sole job was to blog all day long about what he loved the most and get paid for it. The other thought that crossed my mind then was how long before they insource the job?

What I see in favour of such a move…

Saving on costs – possibly. Gaining an in-depth understanding of your fans by being at the receiving end of their comments and having to deal with it all instantly – certainly. Getting your hands on and making sense of the precious social media data and any insights you can derive from it – absolutely.

All these are valid considerations. The fact remains that, in my view, brands still need an agency’s (brilliant) creative minds to come up with social media campaign ideas that strongly resonate with their fans. Ideas that create the social media buzz and aren’t afraid of shaking up the status quo that may prevail within the client organisation. Social media banter is after all nothing but conservative. Anything goes. An in-house community manager may not just cut it.

Other hurdles I can see…

Community managers are pretty tough hires to make. The blogger I mentioned was a writer by trade and football was his passion. Axe, one of Unilever’s most successful brands, outsources its social media to 2 PR specialists, who live & breathe the brand and carefully craft all their posts to sound like what a 16 yo might write – with millions of fans ‘watching’, the tone has to be right to be credible. The creative writing + the ‘knowing your brand and audience well’ make this job a hard one to fill. Having said this there is no stopping giant brands buying an entire social media agency (Hyundai-Innocean style) or hiring their agency social media staff back.

The logistics could be another pitfall for brands with a global presence. One thing the article on Nike mentioned was their intent to manage all communities from their Portland head office. For social media to be managed effectively you have to be able to respond within minutes of your fan’s comment. How can you do this effectively, and without fail, out of one location across multiple fan pages and timezones? By having someone watching the newsfeed 24/7??

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