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There's a great joke piece published recently by The New Yorker called "Outsource This!" in which the writer Gary Shteyngart decides to outsource his Twitter tweets. Hilarity ensues. His first tweet provider, who is based in India, tweets to his followers that he's just eaten "excellent aloo parathas at the test match against Pakistan," then realizes that because he ostensibly lives in New York USA he should've tweeted "bang-up FilletO'Cheese at the NJ Giants Sporting Centre."
The Twitter job is soon out-outsourced to Italy because the rupee is strong and the euro weak, and a series of subsequent events then takes the work to other outsourcing destinations. Notably, the client never tries a nearshore provider.
I recommend reading the Shteyngart bit because 1. it's got a lot of laughs, and 2. it does nail the problems inherent in all outsourcing arrangements.
Outsourcing of social media is picking up, apparently – from 14% to 25% of marketers surveyed for the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report. But as the study's sponsor, Social Media Examiner, points out, an "overwhelming majority said no" to outsourcing this part of their branding initiative.
The response of the majority doesn't surprise me. While a pretty strong case can be made for outsourcing just about any activity – even IT security, which for ages was considered untouchable, is now considered smart – entrusting something as, well, "personal" as your tweets is definitely a decision you want to think about carefully.
The experts do say it can be done, although not with enthusiasm. There are big risks, after all. One of the best pieces I've read on the subject – "When Not to Outsource Your Twitter Account" – was written by Hollis Thomases, CEO of Web Ad.vantage and author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day. She lists criteria for choosing a tweet-sourcer – first, they must demonstrate clear competency in all areas of social media – and says that if you do decide to use outside help, the best ways to use them are:
• set-up and seeding • content idea generation • monitoring/analysis • technical stuff
She does say "it's safe to experiment with outsourcing," but says remember that you own the consequences.
For anyone considering empowering someone outside the company with a Twitter account or other media for social outreach, there are some very basic questions to ask for starters. George Tillman, author of The Business-Oriented CIO, summed them up in a must-read post for Nearshore Americas, "Are We Outsourcing the Wrong Things?" He presents a philosophy, a customer-focused philosophy, that should be applied to any sourcing decision:
Any business considering outsourcing or offshoring needs to create an outsourcing vision that focuses on more than just cutting costs. How does outsourcing a particular function fit in with corporate goals? How does outsourcing affect corporate strategy? What are the risks (financial, competitive, structural, operational, etc.)?... If outsourcing is to be a sustainable and profitable business tool, then it needs to have a strategic purpose.... cost cutting is an important tactical, but not a strategic, objective. However, treating customers as the important resource they are is very much strategic.
Although that's a few more than 140 characters, Tillman's advice should help guide any decision about outsourcing one's Twitter.