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Consultants Collective Corner: Online community management is surrogacy

Hiring someone to both speak and respond as you on social media is not cheating. Think of it as delegation: you can’t be everywhere, all the time. There’s just one you and there are upwards of 1.4 billion people who, at any moment, could engage you, your brand, company, product, or service — brands, companies, products, and services. Your slice of that always-open pie is surely fewer than the global membership of Facebook; however, even if your portion is modest, are you committed to not only producing content for online consumption (broadcasting) but listening, responding, and engaging, too?

We’re coming up on the ten-year anniversary of Facebook this February 4th and we’re still arguing about online authenticity. There’s still a core group of social media consultants who consider outsourcing your most personal social media properties as being somehow inauthentic. Sort of like cheating.

According to, Back in 2012 President Obama had “181 actors, musicians, authors, athletes, mayors, Congress members, and more that fit any and all demographic groups in the president’s target zone,” all stumping on his behalf, all over TV, radio, events, gatherings, fundraisers, and even small special gatherings in target cities.

Surrogacy has been part of public affairs and publicity since the beginning of civilization. Delegations represent the will of their home town, city, state, or country; Embassies and ambassadors reside in-country as a literal remote sovereign nations abroad, representing their home offices. Ministers are sent as officiants of their government with true power to make decisions and policy as well as to enforce decisions.

The idea of deputizing someone else to act on your behalf in an official capacity is a time-honored tradition. Why then, is it so controversial in Social Media. Maybe it’s as simple as stating, in the Twitter bio, “from the office of…” instead of suggesting that all the words hereby tweeted are his or her own.

Even so, whether they’re your words or they’re an interpretation of who you are, what you believe, what your do, and how you think by someone who knows and works with you, they are still representative of your brand. Be it ghost-written autobiographies, the answering of fan mail, the mass-production of autographed photos or signed letters, the taking of dictation, support staff has always made things happen as authentically as possible without burdening the boss.

Unless you’re absolutely passionate about being engaged in social media, have everything else in your life delegated, have plenty of time, consider social media engagement to be essential and real, and are committed to keeping up the same level of engagement and commitment from now and forever, you really need to retain (and delegate to) an experienced community manager.

And, depending on how much time, interest, experience, patience, and passion you have, you’ll either use your social media community manager as someone who can simply add volume, coverage, and responsiveness to your already-engaged but spotty online engagement or they can take over your social media completely, managing your brand, your products, your online reputation, and even your own personal profile.

And both are permissible in a modern world. Honestly, all of the best community managers love what they do. In fact, most of them are blissed out that they get to make a pretty good living “ghost-writing” an ever-revealing narrative — of the business, of the brand, of the daily lives of the personae — into the online world, be it 140 characters at a time on Twitter, through photos and story of Facebook or Google+, in video on YouTube, or audibly on SoundCloud.

The thing that allows all of this to work is integration. In all the above cases, the ghost writer, the letter-writer, the secretary, and the publicist all have had ready access to the boss, to the talent, to the brand.

How long does your community manager need to know you or your company before he or she is able to speak in your voice? Let me ask you another question, how long do you require your PR agency, your publicist, or any of your other staff work for you before you allow them to do work that benefits you and offers you value-for-value? How much time before you release your new staff members from double-secret work quarantine? Probably almost immediately, right? Because you only hire professionals who have years of experience and who know how to do the work. The same thing goes for hiring social media community managers.

And the end goal is not deceit. The end goal is not a forgery. There is no need to misrepresent oneself at all. A successful social media community management campaign nails the spirit of the brand, of the person. Figuratively-speaking, a community manager gets in front of their movie star or the author, puts a Sharpie in their hand, and stands over them until they sign everything they need to. A community manager makes certain that personal appearances are posted, RSVPs are collection, sound bites are collected, photos are taken and posted, audio is processed and uploaded, video is edited and set to YouTube, and that all Frequently-Asked Questions are answered accurately, quickly, and with patience while still having the right to stovepipe any and all personal, important, and timely messages directly to the desk of.

And that’s what it comes down to: from the desk of, from the office of. For President Obama, coming from the Office of the President is as good coming from the president. In many ways, the Presidency is the original Twitter Account: the Chief of Staff always tweets in the name of the president. In many cases, Denis McDonough is the president for all intents and purposes. And so is press secretary Jay Carney. And, if you were at all associated with the Obama campaign in 2012, you would have been flooded by surrogates.

When you hire a social media community manager, you shouldn’t so much be attempting to dupe your friends, followers, colleagues, and associates. Rather, your social media managers should have your back in the same way your receptionist or secretary may have had thirty-years-ago. Your social media manager should act as your gate-keeper. In much the same way that any old person in the world could call your office and your receptionist would screen, triage, and prioritize your calls, your online community managers — your social media surrogate — should have the authority to effectively triage your social media calls as well as letting your friends, followers, and prospects when and where you’ll be, what your capable of, wether you’re available, and even what’s going on with you, but with all due discretion.

If you trust your social media managers, if you’ve built up a history and have a rapport, the level of messaging, listening, responding, and engaging that you’ll be able to consistently support through outsourcing your social media to one or more someone else should be proportionate to how much time and energy you’re willing to engage and message yourself. After that, you need to consider what your real audience is. For the president, his audience was both online and offline. His campaign needed to engage both a massive online universe as well as a mainstream mediaverse and an extensive kissing-babies meatspace.

How modest or extensive do you and your brand need to be? How many time zones do you need to cover? How many language, cultures, demographics? Is everyone online? Is there a way you can best work the online and offline engagement dynamically back and forth?

Even if your needs are modest doesn’t mean you can get away with cutting corners.

Even if you’re “just” a pizza joint covering a community of ten- or twenty-thousand potential customers, you’re still best served to hire an expert — in much the same way that you might well have hired pizza delivery boys instead of trying to manage, make, cook, sell, market, and deliver each and every pizza yourself.

Would that be more authentic? You that make the pizza more real?

Feel free to email me at or call me at +1 202-351-1235

Learn more about Chris Abraham at Gerris digital.

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Chris Abraham

Chris Abraham, digital strategist and technologist, is a leading expert in digital: search engine optimization (SEO), online relationship management (ORM), Internet privacy, Wikipedia curationsocial media strategy, and online public relations with a focus on blogger outreachinfluencer engagement, and Internet crisis response, with the digital PR and social media marketing agency Gerris digital. [Feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call with me] A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and adviser to the industries' leading firms. Chris Abraham specializes in web technologies, including content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.  Chris Abraham was named a Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer by Forbes, #1 PR2.0 Influencer by Traackr, and top-10 social media influencers by Marketwire; and, for what it’s worth, Chris has a Klout of 79 the last time he looked. Chris Abraham started doing web development back in 1994, SEO in 1998, blogging in 1999, influencer engagement in 2003, social media strategy in 2005, blogger outreach in 2006, and Wikipedia curation in 2007. Feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call. If you want to know the services that Chris offers check out Services If you want to work with Chris use the Contact Form You're welcome to follow me via Social Media You can learn more about Chris over in About Chris writes a lot so check out the Blog Chris offers webinars so check Events

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