Before I begin to answer that question, I will share a snippet from a post over on the Harvard Business Review:

Firms that lack leaders with social media skills are often tempted to outsource community management to outsiders, such as web development firms or advertising agencies. Unfortunately, this increases the risk of failure. The problem is that when community development is outsourced, the organization doesn’t learn and people inside communicate like they always did, even though the use of social media might have speeded up internal communication and flattened the hierarchies. As a result, the company is often very different from the face it portrays online, which almost always gets discovered.

I’m not completely sure what my opinion is on this even as I type, because whatever it is, I know it’s not firm.  I do agree, however, that when community management is outsourced, organizations do not learn. But I also know based on the work I do that there are many out there who don’t want to learn, so they probably don’t see that as an issue.Is there anything wrong with not wanting to learn anything about managing a community? Maybe. Maybe not.

Someone posed the question on twitter early last week about outsourcing moderation and I tweeted my disagreement, but then thought about it a little further as the conversation ensued. Actually, it really depends on what type of content is being moderated. If it’s a forum that has clear guidelines and very little controversy, it’s probably not that big of a deal.  My moderation experience is rooted in news, so that is why I was so quick to disagree.

When I hired and managed a team of moderators for WRAL.com, it was very important to me that they understood the news, the content associated with the comments they were moderating and general familiarity with the regular posters, as well as the related stories. Now, that may not be required for other websites.

I did some contract  work moderating a forum associated with a popular children’s book series over the summer and knowledge of that series was not required because the guidelines were clear. So for them, it works.It’s also important to note that their outsourcing is with a very reputable company that has experience in the space and contracts with the right people to do the job. So, they did their due diligence in selecting this company for outsourcing.

But I think there is a distinction to be made for overall community management, and it makes sense for someone internally to own it . I don’t think that  failure is imminent if this isn’t the case, but an internal advocate is important.

I do think that agencies can handle community management if they have someone on staff with that kind of experience. But given the fact that it is a full-time job in most cases, this could be a costly endeavor for the companies doing the outsourcing.

The issue that must be revisited, is whether or not the company really wants a community. Many say they do, but their idea of community can range from a group of brand advocates who spread good cheer about them all over the web to a forum where visitors can ask questions and wait for them to respond. We can debate all day on whether either qualifies as a community.

At any rate, the post that sparked the idea for this one  is a good one. I only shared one part of it. So go on over to the Harvard Business Review and read it.

…and I’d love to hear your thoughts on outsourcing.

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