Altaf Shaikh: Do you think that Bill Gates or Richard Branson is always on the other end of your social media conversations?

robo-writeFirst off, I just wanted to thank Dave for inviting me to join in the conversation on Ghostwriting in Social Media. Secondly, I want to make something very clear before I stand up on my soapbox: I am a marketer—and founder & CEO of the interactive e-marketing firm—and as a company, we do represent various clients and organizations in the social media space by helping them market their products and services on a daily basis.

As an organization, when invited to work with a client, although we may not initially feel one way or another towards, let’s say, the medical device industry for example—we do feel strongly about the real-life people, friends, and partners that we support with our efforts. So, when a client asks us to engage their audience because they don’t have the expertise, the resources, or “bandwidth” to execute their social media strategy, we lend a hand.

In my mind, this new “digital ghostwriting push” is actually nothing new: popular brands have been doing it for years—via customer service “response” letters, pre-recorded phone calls, emails and direct mail pieces. This is just the latest version of busy people outsourcing their surplus work to others who they have trained and who they trust.

Do you think that Teddy Roosevelt (or any President for that matter) really replied to every letter he received during his time at the White House? Do you think that the Beatles really penned back responses to all their swooning teenage followers?  Do you think that the President of Ford, Toyota, Coke, or (Fill in Big Corporation Here) always respond directly to letters, emails, or tweets that they receive? Do you “believe” that it is absolutely from them if it has their name on it?

Bottom line: the average person only has so much bandwidth with which to process and reply to the information coming at them—and if you’re @THE_REAL_SHAQ (a brand in and of himself), for example, there’s just no chance that you can reply to almost 3 millions followers’ messages and maintain any semblance of a life… yet someone is taking the time to reply to his fans every day…

Not only is it naive to assume that big names and small companies are executing 100% of their own Social Media—it’s also a bit silly to get offended if you find out otherwise.

Social media opens up avenues of conversations that customers and fans have never had before, but it also opens up the virtual floodgates to companies and people who are in the limelight, and if you don’t know how to manage this, don’t have the time, or the expertise—then you’re liable to get burned, unless you have the right (and properly trained) “support team” behind you.

I’ll even take it one step further in my argument and say that if you aren’t outsourcing this task to an internal team or someone externally that “gets it” – then you are actually doing a disservice to your audience and providing poor customer service. Most conversations with a brand don’t require a response directly from Oprah, Guy Kawasaki, or the CEO of (@DrBobParsons) for that matter. Your trusted sources can help your audience by responding to their questions, suggestions or needs.

One thing that I will admit is that you need to think through this outsourcing process or it can backfire. The key lies in the conversations you have with the team you “outsource” this process to (this could be a bunch of internal staff members or an outsourced team):

Here are some things to consider…

–          Is it a 2-way conversation between you the outsourcer and the outsourcee?

–          Do you trust these people to understand and reflect your thoughts and values?

–          Have your spent the time training these folks?

–          Are you accessible to answer questions in near real-time?

–          Do you take the time to sit down regularly and review the process and the requests coming in?

–          Are your reactive in your approach or are you being pro-active about avoiding problems and building a system that responds to the needs of your audience?

You also absolutely need to take time to integrate social media into your life—it might be sharing something you find funny or responding to and commenting on issues that you feel need your personal input or opinion. There are some things you just can’t fake.

So, with plenty of ideas to digest in the above paragraphs—I leave you with this final question: if you are looking for an answer from an organization or from a person with a super social media presence like Guy Kawasaki, Oprah, or Scott Monty the head of social media at Ford Motor Company —

–          Would you rather receive a well-crafted response that reflects the true beliefs, opinions, and thoughts of an individual or organization—that might be from a “trained responder”

–          OR would you rather not get a response at all?

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