This is a question that many organisations are grappling with.  And, after working with many organisations in various different ways my own answer to this question is that no, you can’t fully outsource social media.

The traditional agency/client relationship will not work when it comes to social media.  I know this because I’ve tried it and found the arrangement to be impossible.

The first casualty of such an arrangement is authenticity.  The individuals in social media communities have an expectation that they are conversing directly with an organisation, not with an agent.

The second casualty is immediacy.  Even with the best of intentions, I’ve found it to be just about impossible to get client approvals quickly enough to meet the needs of social media.

However, I don’t think this means that organisation should not get some help from social media agencies and consultants.  Most organisations don’t have the necessary knowledge base or skill sets to implement sophisticated social engagement strategies.  Nor do they have the necessary bandwidth to manage communities and create compelling content.

So for me, it’s got to be the Third Way, a whole new approach to working together for agencies and clients.  The consultant’s job  is to teach, coach, train and inspire clients to embrace social technologies to tranform their organisations and reap all the related bottomline benefits.

Consultants are experts at developing strategy, creating content and supporting the day to day management of various profiles and platforms, and we’ll continue to provide these services.  But once our ideas  and concepts are implemented and momentum is gained,  we need to hand back the reins to our clients or we risk undermining the whole mission.

This blog post was inspired by some of the discussion at the Getting to grips with social media workshop earlier this week.  But it’s also informed by an excellent discussion taking place on the Conversation Agent blog.