An Insiders Look at the Costs of Community Management

It’s 2011 and online community management is no longer optional. Those that are playing it safe will miss out on opportunities.

Translation: it’s time to get serious!

January 24th marked the 2nd annual Community Manager Appreciation Day and one of the biggest takeaways was the realization that organizations are investing in community management and are starting to see the value. It is without question that every single Fortune 500 company has implemented some type of online communications strategy or are currently working up something behind closed doors.

Fortunately for smaller companies, bootstrapped startups, and brick and mortar operations, community management doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg or take up all of the marketing/ad budget. Allocate resources appropriately, but make sure there is a reasonable sized chunk puts towards online community efforts. The goal of this article is to shine some light on how big that chunk should be.

Some snake oil salesmen will try and sell the idea of quick $200 solutions that usually involve an increase in friends/followers and not much else. Avoid these people like the plague. The last thing anyone needs is a self claimed social media expert getting in the way of real progress. They’re out to make a quick buck at the expense of the innocent small business owner.

Depending on budget you may opt to go with the do it yourself, hiring a community manager, or the agency option. I’ve worn all three of those hats and from experience can run off a list of pros and cons with each. The DIY option can work if you’re A. really conservative with your budget B. actually know what you’re doing (a rare occurrence) C. truly have 0 dollars to work with (which most of the time means there are major deficiencies in how the business is being operated anyways). It’s a difficult undertaking. Don’t believe any of the hype that it’s easy. Only those who are prepared for the task at hand and properly educate themselves will find success.

Hiring a full time community manager could be a wise choice contingent on if the person being hired is qualified and if the business is truly committed to achieving results. Those two requirements are an absolute must for success and if both are present it could end up being a prosperous relationship.

For a perspective on how much it costs to hire a community manager check out this infographic put together by the fine people at SocialFresh.com

These figures look to be fairly accurate, however after speaking with a handful of community managers it’s my belief that generally these numbers lean towards larger organizations. It’s reasonable to find a respectable CM around the $30k – $40k salary range and not impossible to grab a true professional for less, however it’s strongly advised to avoid hiring someone at or near minimum wage or delegating responsibilities to an unsuspecting receptionist. The importance of the position is growing and it needs to be staffed for appropriately.

The third option of going with an agency may be a wise choice to consider. Depending on your needs an agency can work with PR, marketing, and or customer service objectives. With an agency you tend to get what you pay for, but there are always options available and most are willing to work within an allocated budget. Mark Collier, an incredibley smart individual in the online space, recently updated the numbers on his perspective of social media costs. Collier states that strategy implementation with content creation amongst at least two channels would cost an average of $4000 to $7000 per month. These estimates appear to be spot on, although there is a flux in examples ranging from over $15000 per month to around $1000 month. Again a lot of the time you truly get what you pay for. A reputable agency should be able to track results and execute while keeping real world objectives in mind.

Update: an additional resource: The Real Cost of Social Media via Danny Brown

Before pulling the trigger, know the options and weigh the advantages and costs. You’ll be thankful you did.

  1. Great insights on what to expect for the costs of community management. Do you think it is a bad idea to hire an intern from a local college to manage a company’s social media?

  2. No I wouldn’t assume an intern is a bad idea. Anyone can and should be hired if they’re the right fit for the position, however I would advise against hiring an intern just for the sake of cutting costs. If the intern can be coached by someone who knows the ins and outs of community management then I can foresee it being a good route to take.

  3. excellent post, Jason. I just want to ask about something, and I hope not to sound rude. Are you talking about “Community Managers” as people in charge to update Social Media assets, or are you talking about the real “Community Managers”?
    I mean, when a company actually works with real communities with its own name and own assets, and not just a twitter account or a FB fan page created by the company.

    I call those, real communities, because people love to be part of them; contraty to click on a “like” button. People just click on it, not precisely “join” a community.

    it could be a thin line between them, but IMHO, are quite different things. Although, of course, Social Media is a fantastic tool for communities and word of mouth (we use it most of the time).

    Thanks for your comments.


  4. @Rolando

    Great question. I define a community manager as someone who is responsible for monitoring online conversations and communicating on behalf of a brand across the web. From my perspective the community manager role can be someone who manages a self owned and controlled community, someone who communicates on social networking sites and blogs, or what is happening more often: a hybrid of the two.

    A prime example would be Janet Aronica, the excellent community manager of http://oneforty.com. In her role she managers the built in community at the home site of OneForty, but she also uses Twitter, Facebook, and other blogs to reach new users and moderate what others are saying about the OneForty brand.

    There are community managers at prominent online spaces (such as Yahoo, MSN, large blogs, large message boards) who are responsible to work exclusively within a hosted community and to some extent this type of community management has a different set of challenges, but the title of community manager has a wide reach and isn’t limited to just self hosted communities.

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