I was fortunate to be in Seattle this week and to get an invite to a Social Media Club meeting from my good friend Filiberto Selvas.
Filiberto and I recently traded comments on SocialCRM blog and on Twitter about the idea of agencies running/managing online communities for brands.
As per my usual, I started with a very strong opinion that brands who want to start customer communities should not use an agency for hands on community management. My entire concept of online communities revolves around creating open and honest conversations. The thought of hiring an agency to manage it to me at first seemed ludicrous. I felt strongly that any brand that would outsource that function ought to reconsider their strategy and perhaps hold off on building customer communities until they were more ready to commit.
At the SMC meeting of course, I met someone with a different opinion (surprise, he's an agency guy!). Thing is, he mentioned Betty Crocker. According to Wikipedia, Betty Crocker was invented in 1921 and was in fact an invented persona who became a cultural icon.
Now, before you jump to conclusions, I realize Betty Crocker wasn't exactly a community manager. But even still, Betty Crocker became a brand that had very real relationships with customers. In today's world, I don't want to believe that a brand could build a community around a fake personality... but then again we've seen some interesting things lately like lonleygirl and other examples that I should be able to point to, but can't think of any right now.
Could a brand use a fictional character as a community host to help them build a community effectively? I think the answer is maybe. If I had to guess, it's happening a lot already. I believe there are brands out there who are building communities where the community manager isn't an actual person but is rather, a collection of people, a committee or some other grouping of markters or maybe even (gasp!), an agency. Maybe one day you'll be able to buy a Turing machine to do it for you.
I'm conflicted... what do you think? Am I incorrrectly drawing connections between things that aren't comparable or is there something worth thinking about here?