A couple of years ago I predicted that internal employees at companies would have fully taken over social media’s front lines by now, and agencies would be in a purely strategic and advisory role. As web strategist Jeremiah Owyang observes in his post Trend: Some Community Management Activities to be Outsourced, I was wrong — in large part, I believe, because of the current economic situation. Internal resources are evaporating, and companies need outside help more than ever.
(There’s a lively discussion of the topic in the comments on Jeremiah’s Google+.)
This new landscape, where agency staff are increasingly called on to be the public face and voice of brands online, is going to change our relationships with our clients and their audiences. If this is going to work we’re going to need to behave as full partners rather than service providers. And a lot of folks who never imagined that their job descriptions would include community management are going to have to become experts, fast.
As someone who helped manage an unruly online community of passionate creative weirdos in the early aughts, I offer a piece of advice to start out with: Even though a brand’s logo may sit on top of a community, it does not own that community — its members do. And at some point, they’re going to take a turn that you didn’t expect. Invest time and effort now into building up mutual trust and respect, because you’ll need it on that day.