Social media can be great for brand-building, but the territory is also riddled with blunders. As the tools expand and so-called experts abound, you need to be judicious in managing your brand's presence.

In the worst cases, a bad social media strategy can hurt both passion for your brand and customer loyalty.

Protecting Your Brand

"Where in your company does social media belong?" I sat on a panel where this was a question posed to the audience, and I was surprised by the range of responses.  Answers ranged from Marketing and Communications (would have been my answer), to Legal (certainly for highly regulated companies), IT, or the C-suite.

But regardless of who manages social media, that team must also shepherd the brand. No one in the audience thought it was a good idea to have a recent college grad lead an earnings call, or let an entry-level hire give a keynote at a major event. So why do too many businesses take the outsourcing of their brand so lightly?

In its 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, Social Media Examiner found that outsourcing of social media activities increased from 12 to 24 percent over the past year. So what happens to the brand -- its voice, its persona -- that has been meticulously cultivated over the years when outsourcing occurs?

Outsourcing Done Right

When you choose to outsource, you need to select a partner that understands what your brand means to consumers. You need brand appreciation, enthusiasm and true advocacy.

You also need competency on a range of social media skills. Your partner should:

  • Demonstrate clear competency in all areas of social media
  • Monitor, test and master ever-evolving social media tools
  • Be aware of new social media innovations
  • Understand FCC disclosure laws
  • Develop and implement a social media editorial calendar and produce content in a variety formats
  • Be properly empowered by you with the authority to act, react, on your brand's behalf (but you need define the boundaries of their authority very clearly)

So who shouldn't be touching your brand?

When to Steer Clear

For starters, people that don't know how to filter themselves online make poor brand stewards--get the name of the people who'll be representing you and check out their personal social media accounts.

Are they bad-mouthing competitors? If this isn't within your brand ethics, then steer clear. Are you in a regulated industry? Knowing how to navigate that space is crucial. If they talk about hiding behind 'fake' accounts or bots (where they can be leaking confidential client information -- yikes!), your brand runs the risk of being found out and what would that do to your reputation?

And if you can't find them at all, that could be a bad sign too.

How to Use Outside Help

Here are some of the best ways to take advantage of outside help.

  • Set-up and seeding: Get your business set up with its social media accounts properly from the get-go, and solicit help with learning basic guidelines of each social platform. Then get help acquiring and replying to your initial friends/followers/connections. This step can also include bookmarking, uploading content, spam patrol, link checking, and automating campaign response.
  • Content idea generation: Social media requires an endless stream of content. Get help creating ideas and/or the content itself.
  • Monitoring and analysis: Someone needs to monitor and respond to brand mentions in the social media sphere—possibly even running triage—and make sure the information gets recorded and absorbed internally.
  • Technical stuff: From grammar to HTML to multi-media production: Let someone else finesse your content gets created and displayed.

When it comes to social media, it's safe to experiment with outsourcing. Just remember: You own the outcome.