Should you outsource social media and PR for small businesses?

Should I Outsource Social Media and PR? No. Not Necessarily.

Should you outsource social media and PR? A recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine says yes. I say no, with reservations. In the article, Kallen Diggs, a successful entrepreneur and business advisor, argues for outsourcing stating (at the most basic level of argument) that social media is a time suck that should be delegated. The second point is that PR is hard. Both of these things are true — if you dont have the proper strategy for planning your social media and PR approach. I’m going to tackle each of these independently to share my differing point of view.

Regarding social media, the reason that social media is a time suck is that people are doing it incorrectly; and when you outsource social media this problem is simply being transferred to an outside source.  What is instead needed is: a social media strategy planning document to help crystallize the social media goals of the brand, batch planning and processing of those posts, an automated scheduling tool and any tool that can help streamline and connected with the community. When done correctly this should be able to limit the time spent on social media and increase the efficiency.  Later this month, as part of our e-course program, I’ll be releasing a social media planning document that I think is the cornerstone of this approach. We will also be sharing points on batch planning, scheduling tools, etc.

Yes, that’s the approach you need, but why not outsource that? The reason is that your social media channels are your front-line engagement with your customer audience. For those without a brick and mortar, it is the only way to understand your customer, engage with them and most importantly learn from them. It’s not just another advertising channels, its a two way learning street and if you outsource it you are missing valuable learning lessons.

What’s more, when you outsource social media channels, you are also walking out of your “virtual”kall shop – someone else is running your presence, engaging your audience and deciding who you are online. That’s a task that we shouldn’t allocate to junior employees and we definitely shouldn’t outsource to people who are not intimately familiar with your brand — and I am saying that as someone who used to run a social media agency!

Regarding PR, I think outsourcing is interesting here. Yes, there are people who will have MUCH better relationships with reporters than you. And, if you are serious about driving PR coverage than I don’t even recommend trying to use a source like HARO. HARO can also be a time suck (like Diggs’ point about social). In fact, the best strategy here is actually to work with a professional because they will have the relationships and the resources to really drive coverage for you. Plus, they are natural storytellers (the good ones) and can do the type of storytelling that will position you in ways that you never thought possible.

As someone who currently runs consumer PR at Microsoft, I get this. I do have a set of skills that the average entrepreneur does not possess and outsourcing PR to a professional brings in a person with those skills. However, if you are in a position to have in-house PR I think you are much better suited than trying to outsource it and again this is fundamentally because you know you. An agency will never know you the way you know you and relationships in the hands of an agency will never be your relationships. They will always be first and foremost the relationship of the agency.

As such, I would formulate a different recommendation. Rather than try something like HARO, set a strategy. Determine what the five publications are that you think would be most impactful to your audience. Read those publications (this isn’t a time suck — its getting to know your audience better and understanding what Jennifer Braunschweiger calls the emotional right now) and then determine what pages of those publications you would best fit in. Then reach out and email the writer (search their name online and likely you’ll find contact info if not, try of those pages. This will help you to build a relationship and generate impactful coverage i.e. you’ll be getting the system to work for you, rather than just be a byproduct of what the system is asking for.

So, in conclusion – sure you can outsource social media or PR and some people will do things better than you. However, do you want to give up the storefront of your brand on social? Do you want to miss out on valuable customer insights? And do you want to want to wait for the system or would you rather make the system work for you?