How many community managers do you need?

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an army of community managersThere was an interesting article recently at Econsultancy on whether the role of community manager should be an in-house role or one that’s outsourced to an agency.  The line taken was that it should be one that’s outsourced.  A dedicated community manager would have more time to keep up with changes in the industry they reasoned, whilst being outside of the company also affords them a fresh perspective on things.

Now I’ve argued many times in the past that social media, and indeed community management, should not be purely about sales or (god forbid) such fuzzy things as ‘engagement’.  Communities can do so much more than that by engaging stakeholders across the business in fundamentally improving how things are done.

What is even more important though is that community management should not be the preserve of one individual.  Too often when companies hire a community manager, be they internal or external, they fall into the trap of thinking that they can then forget about community building, that they have someone who can take charge of all that.

It’s completely the wrong approach.  Community management works best when it becomes central to the culture of an organisation, when it becomes a way of operating rather than just another channel to push content out on.  In such an environment the community manager is crucial, but they’re crucial because they co-ordinate the social activities of a wide range of people both inside and outside of the organisation.

For me the best way to achieve that is to have a community manager as a key part of your staff.  I’ve always believed that things should only be outsourced that do not play a key part in differentiating you from the competition.  In our social world, the belief that engaging your community of customers, employees and other stakeholders does not set you apart from your rivals is not a smart one.

So the question shouldn’t be whether you should outsource community management, but how you can get as many of your staff engaging in community work as possible.

 

10 thoughts on “How many community managers do you need?

  1. I believe in half-half approach. There are a lot of tasks that I am personally outsourcing for my blogging activities. Things as scheduling content updates and thanking retweeters / sharers of the content. Those things are in the loop of procedure.

    I get daily reports from my VA's, and ask if required. All things are schedued in advance, so if there is a need for intervention, I intervene. For the most part, it isn't and keeps my social streams active, when I don't have time to devote to them, which is critical for one man running multiple websites.

    But on the other hand, everything else is done manually. Engaging new audiences, meeting new people, solving new problems, is done by me.

    It's an interesting case you make there, but large number of enterprenuers on the web are working alone. Their case should be covered as well.

    • Thanks for the comment and welcome to the blog Bojan. I've always liked the maxim that if something is a part of your unique selling point, then you keep it in-house. If it's not then it's a candidate for outsourcing.

      That seems to be something you're doing, as the housekeeping work is being done by a VA, and you yourself are handling the value added stuff.

  2. The real question, to me, is actually: who owns social media? More often than not, it's a marketing function, sometimes communications or sales, sometimes IT or customer service, etc. At the end of the day, how the organization structures itself to properly handle social will dictate if and how it ought to handle it all internally, outsource parts or all of it.

    For many brands, social media has a customer service component, HR (recruiting), marketing and so on, so it makes sense to have multifunctional teams in place, with proper coaching and ongoing training. But if we're dealing with a solo-preneur or small company, I'd say some parts can be done internally, while others should be outsourced. It's tough to have a blanket approach, as industries vary, B2B vs. B2C, size of companies, etc.

    But to summarize, I'd keep core activities internally and outsource only that which is considered "nice-to-have" in order to truly have a social enterprise, rather than social media within the enterprise.

    Cheers,
    Frederic

    • That's a very good point Frederic. I've written before about the need, or at least potential, for their to be a CSO, or Chief Social Officer. That would give social media both the board level approval and the cross functional representation.

      As you say, often it is stuck inside a silo at the moment, which does not help ensure that the entire organisation participates.

  3. So many of our clients just want to pass off the community management piece to us (we're a marketing agency). They know they should be engaging stakeholders with content and on social media platforms, but it's too much of a headache. Before we ever agree to those types of contracts, we usually go in and train their internal resources so that they can take charge to some degree.

  4. I agree, Adi. If you outsource, you run the risk of a lack of proper understanding of the internal workings of an org. which in my mind is integral when you are a community manager. Making every employee accountable is also a smart policy. Thought provoking issue for sure.

  5. With the political season at its peak in the US I kind of view this like running an election campaign. You definitely want your own people with a vested interest running your campaign/community. You could outsource certain things such as polling or voter registration and social sharing but when it comes to communicating with your audience you want someone with inside access that can speak authentically about your message.

  6. Hi Adi,
    You've given me a few things to think about. As the co-founder of SwitchandShift.com, my co-founder and I are looking to grow the blog in 2013. And this includes finding a community manager. Though the scale is significantly different compared to one for an organization, your question seems to map over to those of us cultivating a community solely on line.

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