Recently, I read a great blog post by Michele Linn via the Content Marketing institute that provided tips on what content marketing activities to outsource to an agency or consultancy  vs. keep in-house.  Among the top activities were content creation (i.e., “Leave it to the experts” or “Give it to people who have more time than you”) and strategy development (i.e.,  Partnering with an expert who can tell you best practices or help you figure out your internal gaps). The biggest things to keep in-house?  Your thought leadership activities and some elements of your strategy, like which products are being launched, or other company-driven activities that an outside company just won’t know about.

When you’re thinking about developing an online community for your business, you should probably ask yourself the same questions: What are we capable of doing in-house, and what should we outsource? Here are a couple of ideas.

1. Outsource the Most Labor-Intensive Aspects (or “Busy Work”)

Building an online community isn’t easy. It takes SEO, design, content marketing and branding expertise, to say the least – things you frankly might not have time to research day-in and day-out. That’s why working with an outside community-building firm might be best when building your online community because they will know the very latest search algorithm changes, design tactics and best practices from working on other successful sites and can quickly implement that into your site without taking attention away from your other responsibilities.

For example: Do you have time to rotate ads every few months? Create content every week for the site? Monitor discussions, integrate with social media AND make sure it’s SEO-friendly to get you ranked at the top of search engines? (I’m tired just thinking about it). So, by choosing which elements you realistically can manage and outsourcing the rest is a great way to ensure your community will be successful.

Because the fact is, many online communities fail. Lack of credible content, management, time, or stale design are some of the many factors that can contribute to this- so working with experts is a great way to avoid this. Someone who can create content for you, ads for you, design updates for you – giving you time to work on the other important projects on your plate.

2. Communicate Your Strategy and Make Topic Contributions

Determining what your online community strategy should be is something to be done in-house, but this doesn’t mean you can’t ask the experts for advice. For example, if you communicate your goals and objectives, an outside company can help you identify specific steps should take to reach those goals. Secondly, make contributions with your thought leadership. No one knows your products and services better than you, but what an outside company can do is take those ideas and concepts and work with you on ways to demonstrate your thought leadership through various online community elements based on their experiences. For example, they might know that for “X” audience, “Y” type of video works best, or that a White Paper promotion or discount codes should be balanced with industry related information (to avoid the site being “all about you”).

If you’re working with an outside designer or editor, for example, take the time to speak with them weekly. Show them new brand campaigns you’re working on that can be integrated with the site, or have them interview you for article ideas. If you don’ t have time to write down all the amazing ideas you have in your head, at least take a ½ hour to express them so your editor can do it for you.

3. You’re the Host – So Management is Up to You

No matter what expertise a community developer can bring you, only you know what types of discussions, topics, “Friends” and activities you want socialized on your community. That’s why it’s important for community owners to keep certain elements of community management for themselves.  For example, approving comments on a community is key, because it also gives you the opportunity to spend a few moments responding to the comment, make the community have a “personality’- which your audience will love. People are more likely to comment on an article or start a discussion if they believe they are speaking to a “real person”.  This also helps you “weed out” any inappropriate messages that just aren’t right for your company, or don’t jive with your style, with is hard for any outside firm to know.

By keeping up with social activity, you’re also getting a good handle on any leads, and the growth of your network. Each person becomes a connection, and someone you can nurture and reach out to as a member of your community. Because when it comes down to it, a community-building company can give you all the tools you need to succeed…heck they’ll even build you the house and get people to visit…but it’s your job to welcome people, keep them engaged, and bridge connections with them once they’ve arrived.

Connect with Us and Join the Conversation: What do you outsource with your online community- and what do you keep in-house?

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