USA Network Show Highlights Dangers of Social Media Outsourcing



Over the years I have rid myself of many ‘guilty pleasures’ that had overstayed their welcome. As I get older what I give up certainly looks tamer as I leave the big ones behind and tackle less ominous ‘habits’.

One thing I will not give up though is the slate of original shows on the USA Network. I like them all but I can’t watch them all (I do have a semblance of a life, you know :-) ) but two in particular have me hooked. ‘Suits’ because it’s a reasonably intelligent and pretty funny send-up of a high powered Ivy League heavy law firm. The other, Necessary Roughness, is about football. I ask you, how can that be bad? (Be nice.)

Well, last night’s episode of Necessary Roughness was of special interest because of its focus on social media. USA Network does a nice job of incorporating social media hooks to expand the show experience but one of the show’s actual storylines from this episode showed the potential dangers of outsourcing your social media voice.

It was clever in that it showed an aging athlete struggling to be relevant in an increasingly social media driven sports world but not really understanding the use of Twitter to promote his career. In the meantime he is taking a social media beat down by another player. So how is the problem solved? With his ego bruised he hires a Columbia journalism grad who promises him that he will have him trending throughout the universe. The character is a true caricature of the social media guru. Every other word a buzzword. Fast talking. Overly confident. You know the type.

So as not to be too much of a spoiler, his outsourced voice gets him into trouble that ends up in the picture below.

It was actually an interesting lesson in just how social media is viewed by those who depend on it but don’t understand it. It also shows that in essence, the cat is out of the bag. The writers have seen enough to know that what they were showing was current and reasonably accurate. Thus their portrayal of the social media industry comes off as less than flattering and something that should be noted as a potential problem.

If you have some spare time and can run past the commercials it might worth a look simply from a social media practitioners point of view. It’s a bit painful in how the show’s writers lampoon not only social media but the Millenials that think they actually know how it all fits in the world. Once again, though, the truth hurts.

So on a practical level what does this fictionally cautionary tale say about the world of social media outsourcing? Here’s a few quick points. First from the client side.

1. If you are outsourcing your voice you may need to be more vigilant than if you just did it yourself – No one knows you or your brand / product / service than yourself or others who work directly with it. Outsourcing your social media voice can be risky business. If you don’t watch everything that is being said, or better yet approve it before it goes live, you are rolling the interactive dice. Coming up snake eyes in social media could mean you lose your reputation.

2. If you don’t understand social media it’s a bad idea to just hand it off to an ‘expert’ – You have to have knowledge of how social media works even if you are outsourcing it. If we haven’t learned from the SEO vultures that feed off the ignorance of clients who blindly trust what the ‘expert’ says then social media will be doomed to the same ill-fated reputation.

3. Be careful who you hire because your best interest may not be the same as theirs – This is a common sense suggestion but there is more than enough anecdotal evidence in the early years of social media to show that ‘experts’ are often out to sell more without much concern for client overlap.

4. If it smells like a used car salesman it likely is one – If you are being wooed by a social media agency or guru that buries good business discussion in a wave of buzzwords then you could very well be heading for a bad result. Smarmy is smarmy and the social media space is spawning some of the smarmiest of them all when it comes to ninjas, gurus, rock stars and the like.

5. Really, really, really think hard about outsourcing your social media voice – There are so many risks in handing off your social media work to someone other than yourself or a team member that the benefits of outsourcing (time saved, reduced staffing costs etc) don’t make sense in light of potential downside.

Now from the industry side –

1. The industry’s reputation needs some management – If the image of what a social media consultant is like and actually does is indicative of how people view the industry, there is trouble ahead. Self-policing and continuing education of end users can go a long way towards keeping this kind of image out of the public eye.

2. Should an ethical social media practitioner represent more than one client in the same vertical? – In short no. The trouble is that oftentimes a vertical specialist can bring more to the table by knowing more about the vertical. But representing competitors? That’s playing with social media fire.

3. Do we really see how silly we look with our industry jargon? – Buzzwords suck and they make people look foolish. That is unless they are used to make a business point and not just to baffle someone with BS.

4. Does being hip and cool wind up in doing good, long term business that is sustainable? – Not likely. Hip and cool are fads and trends. Fads and trends come and go thus it may be fair to surmise that so does hip and cool. How about aiming for smart, insightful and effective? Now that’s a business.

There are likely to be many, many more risks from both sides of the ledger than just these few listed. If you wouldn’t mind sharing, why don’t you let your voice be heard in the comments. Now, if you have outsourced that part of your business and your ‘ghost-tweeter’ makes you look foolish then that’s on you. If you are writing for someone else you may want to watch your step.