Lost in Translation: Social Media and Outsourcing

by Ken Mueller on January 11, 2012 · 94 comments

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 Lost in Translation: Social Media and Outsourcing

This guest post is from Erin Feldman. Erin is the CEO and founder of Write Right. She provides writing coaching and consulting services. Her goal is to help individuals, businesses, and organizations to use the written word more effectively and creatively. Erin’s background is in writing and marketing. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and graphic design. Write right; don’t make her use her red pen.

I don’t recommend outsourcing one’s social media.

Such a statement makes sense since I work as a writing coach and consultant. My business is helping people to author and manage their own messages. If those people outsource their writing efforts, which include social media ones, I lose business. Fair enough, but before I’m accused of being a self-centered, egotistical maniac, let me explain. I used to be a person to whom social media was outsourced. I know firsthand about the pitfalls of it.

I think that the cons of outsourcing far outweigh any pros. Even if everyone is on board with the social media strategy, outsourcing leaves something to be desired. If a business doesn’t own its own social media, it can’t control what happens – even with policies and procedures in place. That business is placing all its trust in a single person or entity. What happens if that person decides not to manage the business’ social media? It’s not as though the person has a vested interest in the business except in terms of monetary compensation. Will the business take responsibility for those social properties if its outsourced social media manager disappears? Will it be prepared to do so?

I also think outsourcing leads to problems in translation. I can follow the instructions I’ve been given to the letter, but even that is a translation. Is it correct? Is it what the client wants? It might be in some cases, but a translation never is as good as the original. It simply isn’t. I learned that lesson while taking a literary theory class about the problems encountered with translations. As good as a translation may be, it varies from translator to translator, and it never says exactly what the original text does. Do I appreciate those translations? Of course I do, but I still wish I knew French, Spanish, German, Greek, and other languages so that I could read the original texts.

I know that some people might argue that an outsourced social media presence is better than no presence at all. They might even suggest that a translation is worthwhile. I don’t know that I can refute those points. I simply think that a better way exists, and it exists in each business taking ownership of its online presence. That might mean a business works with an agency, which can be different from outsourcing; then again, it could mean that that business works with a consultant and becomes an active participant in its own marketing.

How are you handling your social media presence? Do you outsource or handle everything in house? Or is it a combination of the two?

 Lost in Translation: Social Media and Outsourcing
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90 comments
thomasdon063
thomasdon063

Thanks. It's always a dilema trying to decide how much of the online work to do yourself as we all only have 24 hours in a day, so it's not always productive to try and do everything yourself.

akronsound
akronsound

@KoreSocialMedia in general I discourage people to outsorce socialmedia for similar reason. But that doesn't mean it can't be successful

akronsound
akronsound

@KoreSocialMedia see virgin media.they outsorce their Customer service. one can make the argument that the same can happen online

akronsound
akronsound

@KoreSocialMedia revolution noone should have outsourced marketing activities or advertising to anyone outside the business

akronsound
akronsound

@KoreSocialMedia for example if social media is to content marketing what traditional media are to marketing then before the Internet ..cont

JuliaVinci
JuliaVinci

I believe outsourcing of social media is perfectly fine as there is an acid test for its output ... it has to be liked by the owner of the company, the one who requested the review in the first place, the one who is its 1st reader, the one who should sense the message passed between the lines of writing.

If the piece of writing is done with all of the heart so it will surely resonate. The owner will like it so do the audience.

Vinci Solutions

NatashaPongonis
NatashaPongonis

Like any communication’s business, at its core, managing the client/agency (outsource) relationship is key. Trust and professionalism allow us to provide top-notch output and expertise for our clients.

As a Hispanic and social media company, we thrive on this idea.

But, let’s be honest, if what you’re sharing in this article was absolutely accurate: advertising, public relations and any other communication companies would not exist. Crafting messages; creating stories; sharing ideas; and influencing, inspiring and conversing with audiences has not changed.

Why would a medium drastically change the way we manage communications?

If anything, it makes us better communicators because we now manage conversations instead of messages alone. And as far as translations, yes there are minor margins of errors because of groups within minority groups, but again this is where education, training, experience and expertise come into play.

Are you suggesting that social media and minority communications is tougher or scarier to handle? Or do you believe is completely wrong having it outsourced?

N. Pongonis

Social Media Spanish, Partner

Like any communication’s business, at its core, managing the client/agency (outsource) relationship is key. Trust and professionalism allow us to provide top-notch output and expertise for our clients.

As a Hispanic and social media company, we thrive on this idea.

But, let’s be honest, if what you’re sharing in this article was absolutely accurate: advertising, public relations and any other communication companies would not exist. Crafting messages; creating stories; sharing ideas; and influencing, inspiring and conversing with audiences has not changed.

Why would a medium drastically change the way we manage communications?

If anything, it makes us better communicators because we now manage conversations instead of messages alone. And as far as translations, yes there are minor margins of errors because of groups within minority groups, but again this is where education, training, experience and expertise come into play.

Are you suggesting that social media and minority communications is tougher or scarier to handle? Or do you believe is completely wrong having it outsourced?

N. Pongonis

Social Media Spanish, Partner

@natashapongonis

RachelStrella
RachelStrella

Erin and Ken,

I own a social media management business and I’ve also created a training program for those interested in becoming ‘outsourced’ social media managers. As you can image, the headline to this blog caught my attention.

This piece offered a lot of insight. I think Erin did a good job of differentiating consultant vs. a third-party manager. I also agree that writing is fundamental to a successful social media presence and that it’s not something that can be translated with ease.

Rather than refute particular points in this ongoing battle of in-house vs. outsource, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong answer. I do not think it would be fair to make a blanketed statement to span this multi-faceted and complex world of social media. There are pros and cons to both in-house and outsourcing of social media efforts and each business must decide which approach works best for their needs.

Rachel Strella

Strella Social Media

ericamallison
ericamallison

@erinmfeldman You bet. I liked that one a lot! I find things get lost in translation whether we're doing #social or client work! ;)

Content1st
Content1st

@kmueller62 Very interesting discussion. Thanx for posting. Gives me ideas for modifying my sales pitch for social media services.

KirkHazlett
KirkHazlett

@kmueller62 On the whole, don't recommend social media outsourcing. Big concern about authenticity for me.

AmandaJHarrison
AmandaJHarrison

While I agree that a companies social media should not just be handed off to just anyone. I do believe that social media can be outsourced. Outsourcing social media should be a partnership between the company and the social media manager. This way the social media manger learns about the company and basically becomes part of that company. I take a personal interest in all my client by learning about them as an individual and all about their company. This way I can manage their social media properly and to their greatest benefit.
While some companies hire an in-house person for their social media, which is fine, some companies are unable to afford this extra employee. Therefore, outsourcing is the less expensive way to go.
The main ingredient with outsourcing social media is communication. When their is good communication between both parties, it's like having an in-house person because the outsourced social media person knows what's going on just like they would if they worked for that company.

NotEasyToForget
NotEasyToForget

I am a digital marketing consultant to businesses that vary in size. When it comes to small businesses…as in the brick-and-mortars all along Main St. and the mom-and-pops where an actual mom and pop run the place…I will no longer consult with or train these. Over the last few years the trend among those who have been “trained” is that within 6 months to a year of taking over their own presence…they crash and burn. I find this echoed among my peers who are willing to be candid. There are of course many different reasons for this. I thought it VERY worthwhile to look into the situation and the reasons why this was happening.

LCoulter
LCoulter

While I see position in which this was written from, as a consultant who also offers social media management for my clients, I have to respectably disagree. When you are in a consulting position, I believe it is part of your responsibility to the client to really "get" their business and be engaged and invested in their success. For many small businesses, outsourcing is a matter of necessity. Given the impact of our current economic conditions on small businesses, many employees wear multiple hats in the day to day operations, leaving little time to fully engage the business in social media and make it a worthwhile effort. With such varied responsibilities being balanced on a daily basis, limited room for payroll expansion to cover all areas, and the need to maximize the output of each staff member, outsourcing social media can be a significant cost savings for a business with a larger ROI.

With all of this being said, it does come down to who you hire. I would tell any business owner, whether they were going to consider to hire me or not, that it is imparative to get to know the SMM, and make sure the SMM gets to know them. Each party should be fully engaged in the conversation and content development, and then the actual implementation of the social media strategy can fall into the hands of the outsourced vendor to monitor, engage and report back.

I fully believe that if a business has the resources, both financially and through staffing, to manage their own social media strategy they absolutely should, but only when that individual fully understands the medium and how to make the most of it. You wouldn't ask your employee to freshen the look and branding of your office with a new coat of paint if they did not have the time or capacity to effectively execute the job - why would your social media management be any different? Ken commented below that they key is for people to stop seeing SM as marketing. I completely agree with this, and it's the foundation of why a business should consider outsourcing their social media management to people who do it on a regular basis, and not leave it in the hands of their marketing staff to figure out.

As a final thought, I really believe it comes down to education and weeding out those who want to be paid to tweet and post on Facebook but don't feel the need to have a strategy behind it from those who have developed a business to enable their clients to capitalize on the opportunity social media brings to their business table, complete with strategy and commitment to the success of the client. It's just not black and white enough to make a statement saying that it should not be outsourced.

Opinions aside - very engaging blog topic & discussion. I enjoyed reading the varying points of view!

MaryPratt
MaryPratt

I am an outsourced social media manager. The system that I have in place allows me to know my clients, in some cases better then their own employees. They trust in me to do the right thing by their companies, this is the relationship I have built. Is there always the possibility of something going wrong? Of course, however the same thing could go wrong with an inside employee or someone who has a vested interest in the company. We have all read about those social media horror stories. My bread and butter is social media management, why would I not want to see my clients be successful in their social media presence? It is my reputation at stake as much as the businesses. That trust is what makes me successful. Not all companies have the ability (time) to handle their own social media presence, especially small businesses. Outsourcing is a great way to get the social media presence they need without taking time or money (sales) away from their company to manage that presence themselves.

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @thomasdon063 No, it's not, which is why I carefully consider where and how I'll be present online. If a channel doesn't make sense for me, I don't join it. Each channel has to contribute to the whole.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@JuliaVinci Julia, I wish it were so simple, but the owner doesn't always understand the role of social media. Yes, the owner should approve of the messages, but that's only the first part. Beyond that, it has to provide for engagement. I've seen plenty of owner approved messages that just go out there and languish and don't have the desired results.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@NatashaPongonis@natashapongonis Natasha, thanks for stopping by. To your first point about Social Media being like any other form of communication, I would say they are very different. Advertising and PR are traditionally not social. They should be more social, but in many ways I feel that those agencies are often the least prepared to handle social. Social is incredibly personal. I view it as the equivalent of answering the phone or meeting with a customer in the brick and mortar. It isn't merely sending out messages.

As for the second point about minority communications, I think you miss the point. This has nothing to do with any minority or that sort of translation. What Erin was talking about here was translation within even the same language. I could tell Erin all about my company, but if she were then to tell others, it might not be entirely accurate.

At this point, I do believe that outsourcing your social presence is wrong. I think any business that does is shortchanging itself and doesn't really get the benefits of what social is all about.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@AmandaJHarrison I'm not saying it's impossible. But I do worry about it, and believe me, I know. I used to do it. Not anymore. And as I've said in other comments, if a business owner truly understands Social Media, they won't see it as an issue of not being able to afford it in either money or time.

NotEasyToForget
NotEasyToForget

Technology is moving WAY too fast for most to keep up with. Facebook and Google alone are enough to keep all who have commented here on their toes, daily…all day. It takes a human being to close this loop. Most small business owners really are too consumed with other things to stay plugged in enough to keep up and to stay competitive. What I taught them 6 months…6 weeks…6 days ago? It has changed, drastically.

As an equalizer, the Internet must be leveraged with great skill. This is especially true for small businesses that need and desire to derive some search engine optimization and dominance in search results at the hyper-local level. Can any here disagree that social media plays an ever-increasing role in this? If you accept what I say…then please explain how Joe the Deli owner is supposed to master all of the skills necessary to accomplish true leverage and security from search?

Many of our clients have been held hostage (for lack of a better phrase) by their own internal marketing folk. Imagine the chaos and fallout from this. Many business owners find great value in that an outsourced company is not only responsible for things staying progressive, innovative, and on top of it all on their behalf…but if their “Suzie” quits (or whatever), the onus is on us to replace her and get the new guy up to speed. We’re hearing more and more express concerns similar to this.

Erin F.
Erin F.

@LCoulter To me, social media can't be compared to a fresh coat of paint. Social media should be an extension of the business; therefore, it's an outgrowth of something internal. A fresh coat of paint is a fresh coat of paint. It might make the business' premises look better, but it's only an external reflection of the business' personality, not the personality itself.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@LCoulter Thanks for stopping by. and I'll includ @MaryPratt in this response. I happen to agree with Erin's viewpoint here, which is not why I invited her to write here. But I really struggle with the concept of not having the time. To me, Social Media is so much more than marketing. It's an extension of everything you do in the brick and mortar of your business, and therefore comes down to customer service and experience. To me it's akin to saying to a customer, I don't have time for you, i'll let someone else take care of it. And we all know how we feel about outsourced customer service on the phone.

The large majority of my clients are small businesses. Many of them initially call me because they want to outsource. They think that's what they need. When I sit down with them and show them that it isn't a time suck and isn't a money suck, they realize that they can do it on their own, keep costs down, do it well, and have a greater ROI.

In fact, my most recent set of clients came to me after trying to outsource and it didn't work for them. They realized that it was a problem to not be their voice that was out there, and now I'm working with them to teach them how to develop a proper online presence, not just a social presence, that is fully integrated into their business. These clients ended up firing their outsourced help because it just didn't represent who they are.

And I say this coming from the position of someone whose original business model was that of outsourcing. But I quickly realized it wasn't sustainable for either me or the client. And it wasn't genuine. No matter how much research I do, I can't represent your business as you. I'm not you. And I can't respond to questions as you. And in order to do that properly, I need a lot of your time, in which case, remembering that time is money, it's more genuine and worthwhile, and if you're gonna spend the time coaching the outsourced person, why not do it yourself?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@MaryPratt I guess my one issue I would take here is that if you know their business better than their own employees, that's a problem they have internally. That should never be the case. And yes, the same thing can go wrong with an inside employee, or even the owner, but then at least you own it. It's not a matter of not wanting to see your clients be successful. I would never say that you don't want that. I just believe that in house is always the better option.

NatashaPongonis
NatashaPongonis

@KenMueller@NatashaPongonis@natashapongonis

With all due respect, I disagree, your analysis of social media outsourcing seems to only apply to a small shop owner targeting a small audience. I work with large national brands and government agencies where their focus is to share what they know best (content) by allowing social media management, like any other traditional PR campaign, to the experts. These companies then lead conversations, engage with audiences and strategically guide these conversations to support and strengthen their brands.

A key component to a successful social media campaign is online listening, also known as sentiment analysis, which could required sophisticated tools so I don’t see any "shortchanging" on this process. On the contrary, this provides a true response to what a targeted audience is seeking.

And to comment on the ad agency, PR company comment – the vast majority of ALL social media management and communications comes from ad agencies and PR agencies. Examples are HP Play, Mayhem, Skittles and many other incredibly successful social media sites.

From personal experience, the great majority of these communication companies are in fact the ones driving this field.

N. Pongonis

Social Media Spanish

A DK Web Consulting Company

Erin F.
Erin F.

@KenMueller@NatashaPongonis I would argue that PR and advertising companies are very different from social media ones. To me, social media is an outgrowth of the company. It is a part of the everyday conversation. PR, advertising, and the like are grafts.They don't have to be available every day, unless, of course, the company is dealing with some sort of public relations crisis. Even then, the PR agency should have instilled some sort of policy with the company in case of such a crisis.

I wasn't referring to translations in language. Perhaps it appeared that way with my reference to literature. Translations in language are something else altogether. Being able to write a translation isn't merely about knowing the language but also about knowing the culture. I live in a border town and know this to be the case. My Spanish does me no good here. It's the sort of Spanish that might benefit me in Mexico City or Spain but not a border town. If I were to try to converse with a local resident, I would be ridiculed. The city's inhabitants aren't all from Mexico, either. Many are from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. To be able to speak with them requires an entirely different understanding of the Spanish language. In terms of my post, it was as Ken said: "I could tell Erin all about my company, but if she were then to tell others, it might not be entirely accurate."

Erin F.
Erin F.

@KenMueller@AmandaJHarrison Like Ken, I don't think outsourcing is impossible. It's just a tricky business. I worry about the "less expensive" option, too. There will always be someone who can do what you or I do (or supposedly do) for cheaper. How do we convince someone we're the better option then?

NotEasyToForget
NotEasyToForget

There are TONS of companies and consultants who feed on the fear and ignorance of the small business community; it is in fact their business model. Shame on these and thank God that they are not among those that will survive and end up bringing value to this space.

There are excellent companies and individuals who will be a Godsend to those in need. It looks like a few of these are among those represented in the comments thus far. The tune that I’m hearing from you is fairly harmonious today. There is a HUGE need for what you are doing. Keep digging for clarity and strive to add value. There is and will be a place for what you do.

NotEasyToForget
NotEasyToForget

The list of very good reasons that motivate small businesses to seek a person or company to “do it for them” goes on and on. I’ve laid down my purists weapons. I’m no longer trying to shove what I think the world should be like down the throats of those who will never understand. I’m done selling something to the people that truly need what I could do for them a temporary pacifier.

I’ve started an entire company staffed with extremely altruistic, empathetic, and skilled individuals who manage the entire web presence for small businesses. Many above have already stated that the “who” in the outsource equation is the magic ingredient…and I agree 100%. Our Web Operatives take on a very low number of clients and we get results. I’m quite sure that none who have experienced an outsourced relationship where results and trust come together will ever go back to trying to handle it on their own.

CharterHomes
CharterHomes

@KenMueller@LCoulter@MaryPratt Just a few thoughts to add here. As someone who runs social media "in house" for a company, social media isn't just a set of activities. It's a direction your company needs to learn to face - outward. Social media is the trigger point for understanding that you need to speak to your customers at an individual level, and when that happens, it hopefully can permeate every level of the company. I count myself really successful when I get social media ideas and content from sales, from builders, from our design area - not just from marketing. Being present in the office has a lot to do with that, for me. The ability to overhear conversations, monitor problems as they arise within and outside of social media, and find the "friction points", questions and unmet needs waiting to be addressed has been a huge piece of my company's learning and evolution. In addition, I find being present here allows me to advocate for the benefits of social media to each area of the company - because if 95% of people don't buy in or know how we conduct our business in that sphere, our interest in social media doesn't reach far beyond me and my time. I believe that there are excellent social media consultants out there, but if a company doesn't have the time/desire/capacity to generate content and interact with customers in the online sphere, they aren't fully maximizing the ability of social media to transform how they think about customer service.

MaryPratt
MaryPratt

@KenMueller@LCoulter@MaryPratt Ken, I will agree with that, to a point. I also sit with clients and teach them how to manage their social media tools on their own. I enjoy that part of my job as much as I do the complete management. For some companies outsourcing isn't going to work, however for others its a blessing. Most companies that have outsourced their social media to someone who is handling it correctly would never be giving their clients the impression that they didn't have time for them, in fact it would be the exact opposite. Of the clients I manage, it is rare that you can tell that their social media presence is not being handled from within.

MaryPratt
MaryPratt

Agreed, it is definitely a problem they have. However, alot of small businesses have employees who don't have a vested interest in the future of their company. So here is a better question for you. Do you believe that if a company does not have the resources to manage it in house they just should avoid social media all together?

Erin F.
Erin F.

@KenMueller@jasonkonopinski@AmandaJHarrison i wouldn't say "never," either. I mainly was arguing that I don't think outsourcing is the best option. It's an option, but like you said, Jason, it has to be considered with care, et cetera. I also wonder about the outsourced person (I think there's a difference between a single person and an agency.). If he or she is doing such a great job, why not hire that person? It seems like time and resources would be saved by bringing the person in-house rather than wrastling with emails and phone calls.

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@Erin F.@KenMueller@AmandaJHarrison In a perfect business environment, all social would be handled in-house from day one but managed services can be implemented seamlessly if communication between the agency and the client is well-developed. I've seen it work incredibly well and I've seen it fail spectacularly. The same can be said of any client relationship.

It needs to be considered with care, expectations and responsibilities clearly set and strategy well-executed. As I've commented here before when you last brought up this topic, when the client and the agency are on the same page and equally committed to the success of social, it can absolutely work. A really forward thinking advertising/marketing agency with a strong understanding of digital and social with the right client's frame of mind will execute brilliant social strategy.

Erin F.
Erin F.

@KenMueller@NotEasyToForget Instead of bemoaning the people who do quit six months after "trying" social media, perhaps we should celebrate those who stick with it? I'm not in the social media consulting or coaching business, but as a writing coach, my job is to help people to become writers. That could mean one coaching session or multiple ones. It depends on the person and the type of assistance he or she needs. I can't see that the situation would be much different with a small business owner who wants to use social media as a facet of the company's online presence.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@NotEasyToForget I actually love working with those small mom and pops. M job is to train them to the point where they don't abandon, and those who stick with it do very well. They get it. Rather than turning it over to people who are working for multiple companies. I think that things like Twitter and Facebook are incredibly personal and can't easily be handed off, nor should they.

And in some cases, it's not a matter of whether or not it CAN be done. But whether it is the right thing to do. If I'm a customer and I engage with someone on Twitter, I expect it to be the business itself, not someone outside of the company.

MaryPratt
MaryPratt

Agreed, that would be awful for the company who was outsourcing. I believe that, however, is an issue with their social media manager and communication.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@MaryPratt@LCoulter Two points there. In most cases I think it's evident, especially if you try to engage with them. But beyond that, as a customer I WANT to engage with them, not someone else. And if you pretend to be them, is that right? I don't know, but it feels weird to me. In another post I relate a story where I engaged with a business on Twitter, talked to them about coming in to their store, and everything. I went into the store, and they had no clue who I was, or what my specific needs were, even though I had discussed it with "them" on Twitter. That's egg on their face, and they look bad. They were very embarrassed.

Funny thing is, they are one of the businesses that later fired their SM person, and decided to do it in house. And they came to me independently to get me to help them, not knowing my story, or that I was the same guy.

MaryPratt
MaryPratt

@Erin F.@KenMueller Erin, I agree. I have thrown myself into the SMM world enough to know that you can't do it "just because". Part of my job as a good, well versed SMM is to educate my clients on why they should be there, what they can get out of it and that it isn't just a marketing platform. Again, though beating the dead horse. My vision of SMM has already changed over the last year and will continue to grow and change.

Erin F.
Erin F.

@KenMueller@MaryPratt@Marijean I'm jumping into the tail-end of this conversation it seems. I feel as though I'm probably beating a dead horse (Poor horse.), but, too often, the businesses who desire outsourcing are the businesses that want to join social media because it's the thing to do. It's an empty motivation without any return on investment. How can you measure anything if you don't know why you're doing something in the first place?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@MaryPratt I guess my point is that most outsourced SM takes the shape of marketing, and as @Erin F. pointed out, that merely raises silos where they should be torn down. And this has been a major evolution in my own thinking and business model.

MaryPratt
MaryPratt

Perfect. I think that social media management is growing also, the way we look at it, the way it's handled. So, I look forward to reading your book.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@MaryPratt I think we agree a lot. And i started where you are. I think in some ways we have a different view of what SM is and how it works. And that's something I spend time educating my clients on and why I'm writing the book that I am with @Marijean

MaryPratt
MaryPratt

@KenMueller That I will agree with completely. I formed a low benchmark for management clients in the beginning for that exact reason. In order to be effective for my clients I need to have the time to spend. Looks like we finally agree on something. :)

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@MaryPratt yes, I would agree that they can. But in order for it to work, the person on the other end can't be handling too many accounts, and at what point is it cost prohibitive vs. sustainable?

MaryPratt
MaryPratt

@KenMueller Do you believe that a company can have a well versed and managed, outsourced presence?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@MaryPratt I could go both ways on that. My gut reaction is that every business SHOULD have the resources to manage it in house. It's a perception issue for them. But, also, I would definitely much rather a company have no presence than a poor one.

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