Nearshore Americas

It Pays to Listen: Using Social Media in Outsourcing

Salazar: "Many large US companies are looking to outsource their social media functions"

By Tarun George

Social media continues to show tangible business value by illustrating  that it pays to listen to what clients and prospects are saying on the Internet. But how can social media be leveraged in the Nearshore outsourcing industry? Where does it belong when country investment agencies, suppliers and service providers want to interact with influential business managers? And how are companies better connecting with their employees using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube?

We sat down with Rodolfo Salazar, Strategy and Digital Reputation Consultant at Ideaworks and a former marketing executive with Stream Global Services, to answer these and other questions. Read on for more.

Tell us about Latin American social media. What is the opportunity for Nearshore firms in this market?

Salazar – The trend we’re seeing for social media is that things that happened in the US market 10-15 months ago are only now starting to happen in the Latin American market. In short, we are lagging behind in the adoption of these technologies.

That being said, in terms of social media expertise there’s a strong LatAm offering. What we’re seeing is many large US companies looking to outsource their social media functions and digital properties. It’s because they don’t yet see the full value of having a dedicated ‘Head of Social Media’ within the company. It’s seen right now as more of a helpdesk kind of job that can be offered by any provider. That’s where the advantage is for the Nearshore. These US companies are currently outsourcing to other US providers. But you can find the same or better level of service and expertise in Latin America for a lower price.

One model I’ve seen developed very well in Latin America is firms hiring experts outside of the work environment, often even students, that take care of their social media for them. It’s a work-from-home format that’s very valuable since it brings down the labor cost substantially.

Increased adoption of social media also increases English proficiency in Latin America. Many parts of the region have a level of English that’s probably not adequate for voice based outsourcing, but for writing and reading in social media, it’s more than enough.

How is social media is being used in the Offshore and Nearshore outsourcing industry?

Salazar – One great example I’ve heard of is a social media plug-in by Avaya. If you have a customer who calls in with his ID number, this software goes out and pulls in all the information from social media for that client. So there are suddenly more places where you can monitor client activity, and interact with him or her.

The problem in Latin America is that the big contact center businesses are not seeing this as an opportunity to be leveraged, and so there are many smaller startup firms in the region taking it on. When the larger players catch on and start offering those services, prices will come down even further. One large firm that does come to mind however is Transactel, which has been effectively using social media offerings to boost its business.

(Editor’s note: The model of boutique application development firms in Latin America offering social media services was one of the trends that came out of Nearshore Americas’ 2010 Red Hot Startups contest)

How does social media help cultivate the talent pool in a country, or help managers connect with workers better?

Salazar – Credibility and trust are the two biggest drivers of any relationship. With social media, you have the chance to get both when you open up your corporate intimacy and involve people, especially employees. Social media is also a space where you can interact with future employees, or look them up to get a better idea of who they are to drive more effective hiring.

In terms of cultivating the talent pool, firms often use blogs and wikis. Earlier you used to have managers answering single email questions to an employee. Now you can post that question publicly and also the answer, in order to share knowledge and reach a much wider audience. The same goes for wikis. Earlier, information was held and controlled in one place. Now with wikis, you can keep up with information accurately and in a timely manner because everyone is contributing, and you don’t need to control it as much anymore. YouTube is a common example. You can find videos on how to do anything, and employees actually watch those videos when they’re fixing things for their clients. It’s a lot easier than reading a manual.

Increased adoption of social media also increases English proficiency in Latin America. Many parts of the region have a level of English that’s probably not adequate for voice based outsourcing, but for writing and reading in social media, it’s more than enough.

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What are the biggest restrictions on the use of social media?

Salazar – The biggest challenge is convincing your executive team of the power of social media. Its use requires giving up a certain amount of control – if you start a blog or a Facebook page, you know that people will comment and those comments may be negative. So firms hesitate to expand their social media platforms because their leaders are not ready to give up that control. But they forget that the benefits are huge in terms of personal branding, corporate branding and word of mouth marketing.

Lack of knowledge of social media technologies and applications is another obstacle. It’s a matter of time, and also of involving the right experts. Companies take time to change their practices. At first they set up a social media team, which at the beginning has zero budget – it’s just a project. But slowly that team starts pushing up information directly from the customers they’re contacting through social media. When that information gets pushed forward and the results start coming in, the management level realizes within a few months the importance of having that social media aspect. It allows companies to leverage the flow of information on their target market, and it’s a trend that will be big in coming years.

Tarun George

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  • Huge stretch to say social media will increase English proficiency in Latin America. Facebook has almost 100 options for language at last count and Latin America has a long history of North American cultural influence long before the internet was born but slang, or knowing the words to a pop culture song, will only land you a job on a Spanish account.

    Second big stretch is to say written English is sufficient enough to manage social media projects, even if the verbal English is not at par. We run social media projects for a Fortune 100 currently and the understanding of English and the US cultural affinity must be almost native to be able to capture every cliche, every idiom etc…etc. I'm deliberately using the word "stretch" in this response as many readers will think I'm getting ready for a yoga class.

    Our Latin America centers lose more job candidates for lack of written skills compared to verbal skills and we have no North American client that would expect their agent not to be stellar on both skill sets regardless of scope of project. Is there back office opportunity to audit social media….absolutely….and katy bar the door no company has forgotten social media is for branding and marketing because that is basically the primary benefit you get from it but you will have to pay through the nose to recruit the best talent to be on the team or you might as well throw in the towel while you bang your head against a brick wall figuring out how to keep you client happy. ¿Entiende usted?

  • Ken, everyone sees realty through their own perspective, before in Latin America we used to have access to English content, videos and songs only through traditional media such as radio, Cable TV, Movie theatres, VHS… and let me tell you sometimes it was difficult to get some of the latest, coolest up-to-date content because of how difficult it was to share it with others. Today Social media makes it very easy to share, and despite of the low internet penetration in our countries we now have all sorts of ways and devices for receiving this content in English… did you know that mobile penetration in Latin America is well above the world average… we are flying at more than 85% penetration more than 500 Million devices and don’t take for granted that about 30% of those are smart phones, plus all the gaming consoles and portable devises that connect to wifi networks… in my opinion English content has reached viral levels that our region has never seen before.

    On the other hand contact centers in the region struggle to get the level and accent accuracy of spoken because to have a great accent you need to have broad access to experience your world in English… so your best chances are that you did this by going to either of the English speaking countries in the world, which gave you the chance of learning speak the language (this is my case I was an exchange student in Minesota), lagging in learning how to write it correctly; then there is a second group of people that took English lessons for years and years, learned how to write it, sometimes better than an average American (we were able to see this in different countries by comparing TOEFEL scores for native speakers and second language speakers in Schools)

    Putting this in to Latin America Talent acquisition statistics that I have seen in different call centers, around 30% of all candidates have the level of English but not the accent required… we could easily assume that, these people could take care of someone though email, chat… Or Social Media.

    And by the way, attrition in queues that do not handle voice is significantly lower… you may ask any of the doing this all Nearshore locations

    My friend this is my perspective thanks for sharing yours!

  • Rodolfo all very valid points but the metrics for viral integration and impact are not on pace with the current bilingual outsourced vendor saturation in all CALA regions and waiting for this true-up to happen is a risk. Latin America's outsourcing future depends on continued English development to maintain competitive advantage over other global outsourcing regions and it starts with government involvement driving successful education incentives in a LATAM classroom, which is still not a guarantee for success if not managed properly. Ex: Guatemala pushed huge financial incentives for English Dev in 2010 and they missed their goals so badly it's as if they never even pushed the program into production. This is a wake up call to how far behind LATAM is when dealing with current saturation issues. This subject that has been well documented by Nearshore Americas fyi.

    My honest perspective right now, as an ex-pat living in South America developing outsourcing projects for US clientele for the past 7 years, is Social Media or hand-held device growth will not develop English skills at a significant level to win a North American contract because clients today are not willing to accept anything less than a fully developed blended bilingual agent to manage all their customer needs efficiently with the highest cost effective returns.

    Time will tell plus it's in my companies best interest that LATAM English continues to improve and expand in anyway possible so I'm rooting for your success Rodolfo…….but I'm nervous…….as I think many current vendor providers are.

    Best regards,


  • I think when it comes to social media outsourcing one should think of Honduras as a strong potential candidate due to the bilingual workforce's cultural affinity with US culture. Just pick out an average bilingual college student (your typical candidate for this job) and you can throw american pop culture references, idioms, slang or even chat slang and he or she will know what your talking about.

    Judging by spending a lifetime in Honduras and learning a lot from other Latin American cultures, I can say Honduras is probably one of the most US influenced cultures after obviously Puerto Rico or Panama.