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monkeysThere are few brands that fail to recognize the power of social media on their businesses. But it appears that many brand teams choose to outsource social media to minimally empowered internal or external teams instead of making a genuine commitment to listen, participate, and respond to social discussions online.

I’m not suggesting that assigning the role to experts is a bad decision. By identifying and compensating social media experts, it would appear that such brands can make the most of user and prospect discussions. Plus, brand leaders cannot spend their entire days watching twitter feeds or analytics tools. But the decision to “outsource” holds the danger that it will give brand leaders a false sense of confidence – that they have “handled” social without shifting their own thinking about the need for direct consumer involvement and interaction.

As a rule I detest military metaphors because they create both a false sense of us versus them and trivialize the heroic efforts of people being shot at with actual bullets. But consider this. The US felt it had covered off on the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Felt that with its vastly superior numbers and firepower, winning would be easily accomplished. What US policy failed to consider was what was actually happening in the war on the ground.

In social, far too many companies are throwing resources at social as a means of conquering public opinion. But the reality is that until you are a part of the activity you can’t understand what’s happening.

You can’t “cover off” on social. It requires deep, continued commitment to caring about what consumers say, feel, and suggest. Some outsourced resources are excellent at bringing the most salient information and ideas forward. Further, some companies are great at soliciting the input and recommendations delivered by such resources. And acting on them.

This little plea is about the companies that view social as a channel instead of as a marketing style. View social as another form of broadcast media.

Hey, reading occasional aggregated reports of social activity is, I suppose, better than not reading them. But failure to leverage both the richness and real time insight is tantamount to ignoring the consumer. In our new marketing environment, knowing what people are thinking and saying is being “on the ground.” We can’t put consumer interaction on autopilot. There are good reasons to hire experts to help manage the flow of information. But today, playing a role in that information exchange is essential to being a successful leader.

Jim Nichols

Jim Nichols is Senior Partner - Strategy at Catalyst S+F, a marketing services company based in San Francisco. Surrounded by so many youthful Internet marketers every day, he fancies himself at 47 the "Oldest Living Digital Marketer." He keeps a daily blog profiling start-ups for ad:tech, is a is a frequent contributor to iMediaConnection, and has also contributed to ReadWriteWeb, Venturebeat, Brand Channel, MediaBizBloggers, and Daisy Whitney’s New Media Minute. You can also find him on Twitter @CatalystaJim

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