Trend: Some Community Management Activities to be Outsourced

As we continue to conduct research in the social business arena, it’s important to point out the trends in the space. In particular, a role that is so key to success for customer engagement (marketing and service) is the challenging (and often under-appreciated) community manager role.  Lately, I’ve found a few trends that community managers (and their bosses) need to be aware of, as the space continues to grow.

Third Party Community Management Specialists On The Rise:
Here’s what we’ve been seeing based on a few briefings and interactions I’ve taken in the past few months: 

  • Recently, I spoke to a group of community managers at Weber Shandwick (invited by Stephanie Agresta) a communications agency, they work closely with their clients and are often representing the brand on behalf of the client who is unable to scale with limited resources. They also offer an interesting service called Firebell which simulates crises in a safe environment.
  • A few days ago, I was briefed by Cap Gemini who offers BPO (Business Process Outsourcing, a term I’ve found most on the marketing side don’t know), and they are partnered with Attensity (software) to provide community management services and support.
  • While many community platforms offer CM services, Liveworld (client) has focus here and, is one of the seasoned mainstays in community management and offers services (and software) to brands that seek community management services on demand.
  • I’ve been briefed by Sean O’Driscoll at Ant’s Eye View and they offer a range of services at the strategy level for their clients but also offers community management and analytics services.
  • A few weeks back, Chief Strategy Officer Peter Kim from Dachis group briefed Altimeter on their various strategy, implementation services, including community management as a managed service.

Altimeter Data Shows Staff and Agency Spend Top Spends
If you look at Altimeter spending data in Social Business, we already see a significant amount of revenues going to internal staff as well as agency folks, and it’s interesting to see how boutique social media agencies overtake traditional agencies in spending, I’m seeing an increase of community management staff be on demand from agency and third party side.

Expect Emerging Markets to Offer BPO Services, Outsourcing Some Activities
Last year, I went out to Manila to meet with the local web, agency, and business groups, and met some folks who work within the established BPO industry, most of these companies are known to manage the overseas call centers that you speak to for customer support. While I found they were not ready for ‘social support’ I’m starting to get briefings and hearing how they are gearing up to move into outsourced community management.  Based upon my experience, I see a range of Community Management services, I’m open to adding to this, based upon your feedback:


Matrix: Four Levels of Community Management Services:

Activity What it looks like Trends
4) Strategy Often behind the scenes, they lead the overall strategy of how customers fit into multiple business units. Often does reporting and responsible for return on investment. This activity is likely to stay within the corporation as they have understanding of business goals, and key relationships
3) Brand Representation Represents the story of the brand (and of course that of customers) and is often a primary face of the company in online communities on an ongoing basis. Often within the corporation, sometimes this role is being held by agency partners, such as “Jenny at Axe” who was a full time Edelman employee.
2) Member Response Responds to frequent product inquiries such as “Do you have this or that?” or “Does anyone know how to X” Often this is being served by a Product Marketing Manager, Product Manager, or Customer service representative –all who have been trained and know where knowledge is. Like other customer service channels, expect more of this role to be shifted to third-parties.
1) Moderation, Curation, Analytics Often behind the scenes, this group reviews content, and conducts triage for the content. They also may curate content and conduct basic reporting. Frequently, I’m hearing these skills are being leveraged by outsourced providers as they have minimal impact to customer relationships, I expect this to continue



Expect A Change in Community Management Sourcing:
The one constant of business is that it is always changing.  Due to weak financial markets and inability for most to measure social business, scrutiny of resources is always top of mind, as a result, expect the following trends: 

  • An increase in offerings of community management services from “emerging” markets. While in many cases, I’ve found that community managers are often in the brand or agency side that are close to the corporate HQ, expect to see an increase of service providers from Philippines, India, and perhaps in South America.  They’ve over a decade of experience managing customer service operations for brands on channels like phone –and can benefit to use channels accents won’t be a distraction to the customer experience.
  • Brands to continue to outsource some community manager activities –while strategic skills stay in house. Expect that brands will outsource activities such as moderation/curation and often reporting, and rely on knowledge workers who have specific product information or key client relationships to stay close to the brand.  In the case of a few companies who enter the “holistic” formation, they will enable thousands of employees to respond –spreading the role across the company.
  • Backlash from embedded community managers –yet savvy will “skill up” now. While we see that the number of social media accounts a brand has to manage on the rise (data), this trend won’t be met without opposition, in fact, many voiced their concern on my Google+ page how outsourcing key relationships between brands and customers is what gets companies into hot waters in the first place.  Yet, I expect many community managers to move into high echelon activities such as community programming on the content side, reporting and analytics, and learning to manage outsourced teams.

While I’m no longer in a community role (I used to be on brand side for social media), I wanted to provide my perspective from my vantage point.  Lastly, remember that Community Manager Appreciation Day is every fourth Monday in Jan, every year (this coming Monday, Jan 24th 2012), and should be used to celebrate all community managers, whether on brand side, agency, or outsourced.

Update: Taking a briefing from Crowdflower that have some of these services, but it must go through their platform and API. They do crowdsourced BPO

  • Anonymous

    Hi David, so can I ask if Scott continues to stay on as the voice and personality of Slim Jim? Otherwise, what happens when the campaign is over? How authentic and sincere can that be for their brand if one day you have a passionate cheerleader.. and then one morning, nothing? In that case.. would Scott be more of an Edelman resource that is semi-permanently based with Con-Agra? 

  • Anonymous

    Right on, Jim! Great to connect with you through Jessica and @SMC. I’ll have to look into TheCR a bit more. Do you ever come to @JPedde and @KellyLux’s #cmgrchat? I’ve seen a lot of great ideas exchanged every week. 

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, I’ve really liked your answer, Tera. And Jeremiah.. it would seem as if these outsourced agencies might be quite similar to recruiters then in simply providing a temp-to-perm resource. At least, it’s hard for me to understand how a third party can truly capture a brand’s voice if they’re not on-site and working intimately with that company. 

  • http://community-roundtable.com/ jimstorer

    I have been to #cmgrchat a bunch of times (although not as much recently). Both my biz partner Rachel Happe and I try to join in as often as possible. We’re doing our best to help keep the CM role strategic. Check us out and let me know if you want to chat. 

  • http://blaisegv.com/ Blaise Grimes-Viort

    We’re seeing a huge rise in brands giving agencies such as ours more of a community management support role. I think it’s perfectly possible to speak on behalf of the brand as long as there is a close relationship with the business, and clear guidelines from the brand on overall strategy and tone of voice, which is usually developed in-house albeit often with agency help. There are the same advantages to using an agency as there are in other fields – bringing current thinking and experience from other businesses or markets, and out of hours or round-the clock management, for example. Often we’ll work with the brands to help them develop the communities themselves, and we always work very closely with the brand’s in-house community managers and / or their agencies.

    Good community managers can be briefed to do a fantastic job whether in-house or outsourced. Either way, the person (or people) who talk on behalf of the brand need to work in close partnership across a number of functions – not just marketing or PR. Community managers span customer service, sales, marketing, product development and the crisis team. The important thing isn’t where a community manager works, but how.  

    Blaise Grimes-Viort
    Head of Community Management
    http://www.emoderation.com

  • http://blaisegv.com/ Blaise Grimes-Viort

    We’re seeing a huge rise in brands giving agencies such as ours more of a community management support role. I think it’s perfectly possible to speak on behalf of the brand as long as there is a close relationship with the business, and clear guidelines from the brand on overall strategy and tone of voice, which is usually developed in-house albeit often with agency help. There are the same advantages to using an agency as there are in other fields – bringing current thinking and experience from other businesses or markets, and out of hours or round-the clock management, for example. Often we’ll work with the brands to help them develop the communities themselves, and we always work very closely with the brand’s in-house community managers and / or their agencies.

    Good community managers can be briefed to do a fantastic job whether in-house or outsourced. Either way, the person (or people) who talk on behalf of the brand need to work in close partnership across a number of functions – not just marketing or PR. Community managers span customer service, sales, marketing, product development and the crisis team. The important thing isn’t where a community manager works, but how.  

    Blaise Grimes-Viort
    Head of Community Management
    http://www.emoderation.com

  • http://blaisegv.com/ Blaise Grimes-Viort

    We’re seeing a huge rise in brands giving agencies such as ours more of a community management support role. I think it’s perfectly possible to speak on behalf of the brand as long as there is a close relationship with the business, and clear guidelines from the brand on overall strategy and tone of voice, which is usually developed in-house albeit often with agency help. There are the same advantages to using an agency as there are in other fields – bringing current thinking and experience from other businesses or markets, and out of hours or round-the clock management, for example. Often we’ll work with the brands to help them develop the communities themselves, and we always work very closely with the brand’s in-house community managers and / or their agencies.

    Good community managers can be briefed to do a fantastic job whether in-house or outsourced. Either way, the person (or people) who talk on behalf of the brand need to work in close partnership across a number of functions – not just marketing or PR. Community managers span customer service, sales, marketing, product development and the crisis team. The important thing isn’t where a community manager works, but how.  

    Blaise Grimes-Viort
    Head of Community Management
    http://www.emoderation.com

  • Whaddow

    Great article, Jeremiah, and on a topic (Community Management) that is long overdue for discussion and analysis.  As is so often the case, the uncertainty of definition presents a hurdle to understanding and I think the matrix is a great starting point. 
    Some thoughts on enhancements to the matrix:
    1. It would help to expand the “Trends” into Trends of Ownership and Trends of Execution e.g. Brand Representation could be Owned by the company yet Executed by an agency.  The outsourcing potential is in the execution rather than ownership.
    2. Moderation, Curation and Analytics should be split into 2 i.e. Moderation + (Curation and Analytics) or even into 3 as the associated activities are very different.  I interpret moderation as ensuring that everybody “plays nicely together” and only those who should participate are allowed to do so.  Curation and Analytics are about the management and usage of the content that is created by/for the community.
    3. We should consider adding an activity of Content Creation to the matrix.  This would fit with Curation and Analytics so that we complete content lifecycle:  Creation, Curation, Analytics (and Sunset?)

    I suggest that the extent to which outsourcing of some of the Community Management activities will occur will be dependent on a varity of factors including:
    - the extent to which the community is focused on being a general meeting place for people to interact on a topic
    - a forum for customers to provide input and feedback to a company and to other customers i.e. a customer service community
    - the extent to which a company wants to present its brand and its thinking while excluding competitors i.e. a marketing community 
    - the degree to which the community is designed to be a “member response” vehicle i.e. another customer service community

    This discussion thread is just scratching the surface of Community Management but I am delightred to see that it has started, and that is generating so much discussion. 

  • http://darmano.typepad.com davidarmano

    @ilovegarick Scott’s work for the Slim Jim brand is ongoing and not campaign based.

  • http://darmano.typepad.com davidarmano

    Fabio, engagement is primarily on social platforms such as Facebook & Twitter but would extend to site/blog or Tumblr as well. Same for message boards if appropriate. 

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  • http://crowdbooster.com/ Ricky Yean

    I run my own community at Crowdbooster, and it already feels a little shallow because the kind of interactions you have with your community is very brief on social media. I strive to meet my community in-person at events, talk with them on the phone, etc. I can’t imagine outsourcing this type of work.

    I agree with Sean O’Driscoll that you can probably outsource some of the customer support, but what these new social media channels are enabling us to do is to represent ourselves authentically to our customers and build a trusting relationship with them by being present, share our expertise, and help them when we can. That I don’t think can be outsourced.I think technology can scale to make things easier for the community managers (we’re working on this at Crowdbooster). Eager to see more discussion about this. When you outsource, I don’t think you’re going to be able to respond to your customers within a reasonable time, you’re also not going to be able to create the most relevant content because the context is changing too quickly. The outsourced operation will need to get approval every step of the way about what to say, and that’s not sustainable.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Also got some references from the CEO of Conversocial Josh:

    eModeration

    and

    Tempero

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  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang
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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eat-SocialMedia/100003203978748 Eat SocialMedia

    Agreed

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  • Anonymous

    Mike, would love to read some of case studies.
    China is an emerging market for many industries. Any potentials or obstacles there for community management?

  • Anonymous

    Mike, would love to read more case studies.What’s your thought about China? It’s becoming a huge market for many global brands yet the idea of “branding” and strategies are less popular. What’s your thought on outsourcing (if doable) community management to China?

  • http://www.Nimble.com Garick Chan

    I’ll attest to Ricky Yean as a true community-builder. I appreciated the time he took to meet me in person as he was visiting the LA area. I like that he is very accessible and I think @Crowdbooster does a great job of hosting #SMOChat on Tuesdays each week.

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    Great stuff dude, i like the way you tackle this topic. It is great to be here.

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