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In-house vs. outhouse community managers

Posted: February 4, 2014 10:30 am EDT Updated: March 18, 2014 10:30 am EDT In-house vs. outhouse community managers

The in-house versus external community manager discussion is one worth having. It’s a horses for courses argument, and as with anything in communication, your job is to find the best people to communicate to the people you want to communicate with – and know why you’re doing it.

Advantages of an in-house community manager
People who work inside an organisation become imbued with the essence of that organisation just by showing up everyday. From gathering around the TV to watch breaking news or chatting over sausage rolls at a farewell bash. These are the people informally chatting to the boss in the hallway and watching the business evolve and grow everyday. They can see, hear and touch their environment everyday, and they’re part of its fabric and success.

An internal community manager becomes someone who develops a huge wealth of internal and external knowledge which they can transfer from the organisation to the community, and from the community back into the organisation. They are alert to issues in the business, aware of successes and know what’s coming up. They get to understand the online communities by listening to them and become acutely aware of the needs of each channel’s community, which often vary. They understand the feelings and aspirations of people in both camps and can act on that knowledge.

Its limits
Whether you’re a shop, a franchise, a mechanic, or whatever, you always have to have your ducks in a row with your organisation’s own internal communication before you front-foot it in social media. Get your team involved with knowing that you’re in social media and invite them into being part of it by contributing ideas, content, competitions and giveaways.

Example: A consumer went to an Auckland fashion store to buy a new dress, drawn in by its bold presence in Twitter. An short chat with the sales person revealed that the social media channel was kept very much behind lock and key by the CEO. In fact, the sales person hated the company’s Twitter presence! She found it to be disingenuous and a false representation of the climate of the business to customers. This revealed how the business was handling its own communication with staff communication, which was clearly an unhappy environment for this sales person. The consumer did not buy a dress.

Advantages of an agency community manager
External agencies are your wing people on the outside of your brand. They bring with them a host of information based on the other brands they represent and competitor agency activity. They have a competitive drive to be the digital experts and they bring that expertise into your business. They keep very informed, have an observer’s point-of-view of your organisation and constantly seek out what’s new and great in digital activity. They are acutely aware that it’s their job to stay ahead of the game and ahead of the pack. They are driven by creating your success because their brand is attached to that success. Where you go, they go (which also means you could fire them with barely any notice).

Its limits
The risk your organisation has in appointing an external agency as your community management team is that they are disconnected to the heart of your business. What they are saying and doing in social media will not always match up to what’s happening on the shop floor. The result could be a mismatch in customer service expectations and disillusionment.

Example: A pub in Auckland rebranded itself with a massive on and offline launch campaign. The community manager fired up the folks on Twitter and Facebook talking about the specials of the day and encouraging people to come in for lunch. Some media people chatted with the community manager and were enticed in for lunch with a promise of an all-star event. They introduced themselves at the bar saying they’d been talking with them this morning and they’d come in for this epic lunch. Instead of rolling out the welcome mat they were greeted by bar staff with: “I don’t know anything about that”. Cue flop: the people never returned to the pub and instead spread the word that it wasn’t even running its own social media channels.

We’ve barely touched the surface in the discussion but as you grow your social media presence, we at About Us recommend you make it the heart and hub for all your business whether to an external or internal audience. In social media, they all matter.

Photo courtesy of: Bee Design.