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Agency or Client Side — Where Do Community Managers Belong?
By: Jennifer Stack
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The role of a community manger has been dissected and expanded upon greatly on the Internet by many different people, primarily community managers themselves. What is most striking to me, having spent a considerable amount of time as a community manger in a variety of microcosms, is that no one ever explores the issue of where the community manager should live; i.e. agency or client side. So many factors to be considered: knowledge, accessibility, processes within the role, working internally and externally across creative stakeholders and partners in PR, Marketing, Advertising, Legal, etc.
The argument for community managers setting up shop on client side is that they would be know their customer service scripts/legal policies/brand bible in and out since presumably all the brands managed would be under the same parent company. As a manager of various CPG brands, I imagine working in a corporate client environment would be much easier as the information would not be conflicting and there would be less lag time for approval turnaround, thus allowing for faster responses and, consequentially, resolutions. Client side community managers have the luxury of corporate hours and flexibility in control of content and social channels allocated resourcing.
On the flip side of the coin, community managers living in agency land have the fun of cutting-edge technology, up-to-the-moment statistics, a team to collaborate with, and a hell of a lot of creative resources and sounding boards. Of course with all that is good, there comes the yang to the ying. Agency community managers are always on and sometimes face greater internal and external protocols resulting in a longer approval process and loss of execution speed. Additionally, most community managers on the agency side manage multiple clients across categories, which can sometimes be confusing in terms of remembering and materializing each brand's presence and processes.
After discussing the future of community management with some international agencies, Chief Strategy Planners, and various hierarchies of community mangers from Directors to interns, it is clear that the role of the community manager will eventually be permanently on the client side. For now, while corporate marketing teams figure out this thing called social media and how to plan, prepare, and prosper from it, the agency community manager will maintain the majority...but not for long. The tipping point will happen once clients become more empowered from education and experience in their brand’s social media strategy.

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About the Author
Jennifer Stack is a Social Media Strategist at a digital advertising agency. She was a 2011 Notable.ca YP Social Media Finalist. International Marketing Communication, MA. International Marketing Strategy, MSc. LinkedIn + Twitter.
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