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Social Media True Confessions: Outsourced Community Management

For several years now, we’ve followed blog posts and discussions amongst social media thought leaders on the topic of outsourced community management. Yes, they said, it’s great for us to teach our clients how to use social media, to collaborate with them on strategy and even guide them in content creation. But the party line has always seemed to be that we, as social media consultants, should never actually blog, tweet, post, what-have-you on behalf of the client. To do so would be contrary to the necessary “authenticity” and “transparency” of the effective use of social media.

Outsourced Community Management

True confession time. We – K2Media, Kiran and I – do it. We blog for some of our clients. We tweet for some of our clients. We post on Facebook for some of our clients. We produce photos and video. We monitor those properties and we respond to comments and questions. All on behalf of our clients.

It’s really not that big of a confession actually. We’ve always listed outsourced management as one of our services. But we’ve never chosen to jump into the fray to defend our position on it. Because we really don’t need to. We do a damn good job at community management and our clients agree.

But this morning, I read a terrific answer on Quora (the subject of a whole ‘nother post entirely…) that made me realize that our position on outsourced community management wasn’t so contrary to what others in our industry really think. They just don’t make the headlines.

The question: Can the role of Community Manager be outsourced or off-shored effectively? Why or why not?

David Armano from Edelman answered,

“It really comes down to the business model and what the business can support. Outsourcing may not be the best description to detail leveraging partners to help with community management. We know that many businesses work with partners to help with areas such as customer service in order to scale. Some are more successful than others. One could argue that customer service should never be outsourced, yet it remains a standard business practice.”

Rick Liebling of Coyne PR said,

“The key is setting up the relationship between the brand and the agency. Even if they are not directly involved, the brand still needs to commit resources (time, money). The community manager will need to be in ongoing, regular contact with the client, reporting on what’s happening, double-checking facts, taking sensitive issues up the chain of command, etc. . . Building (and maintaining) a community requires the brand be socially focused – nimble, responsive and open to listening. These count even if the community management role is outsourced.”

And I totally agree. The reason it works for us and our clients is that we at K2Media become integrated into the client’s team. We are mature and business-savvy professionals who can just as easily identify and adopt a client’s “voice” online as any new in-house hire (actually, I think we often do it better). We talk with clients about communication channels, crisis plans and overall corporate goals and objectives. We request introductions to key personnel across departments and talk with them about our plans – so that we’re not just seen as an arm of the marketing department. We call, email and spend time in the client’s workspace often (which is why, by the way, I think “offshoring” community management probably doesn’t work).

Two final comments and I’ll get out of your hair: First, we don’t create content/Tweet/Facebook post/whatever while pretending to be another individual. We don’t disclose our identities but we don’t pretend to be the CEO of the company or even the Customer Care manager. If one of those people needs to be involved, we respond appropriately and take the communication offline so that the right personnel can join the conversation.

Second, we recognize that outsourced management won’t work for every client. If your company is enormous or a one-man shop, outsourced probably isn’t the way to go. (See previous reference to clear communication channels and not impersonating another person online.) If your company isn’t interested in having VERY open communication lines with your partner managers (i.e., us), it won’t work. If we can’t email or call and get an answer to a question or get customer care to talk with a Facebook fan or Twitter follower offline QUICKLY, you’re wasting your money on us and you’re wasting your money on social business. We HAVE to be integrated into your team to make it work.

What we have found is that the reality of business (especially small- to medium-sized business) in 2011 is that many companies are better situated to outsource intelligently than to expend resources on starting from scratch in-house. Like David said in his Quora answer above, businesses make daily decisions about resource allocation and how to scale. We’re just glad to help.

*graphic courtesy of David Armano/flickr

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