Archive for July, 2009

So what’s community management anyway?

July 28, 2009

photo-online_communityAs I am learning the art of community management (it’s not the kind of thing you can learn in the classroom, so it’s a bit of a baptism by fire), I am trying to crystallize what community management means to me. Working with different clients from different industries and at different stages in development, I hope to bring you a more complete view.

On the one hand, community management is easy to define, because the end result is always to build a strong(er) community via a) community growth, b) increase in engagement and c) the betterment of the user / community member  experience. The end result of all of this should be a business goal, such as increasing revenue / pageviews  /  profit / etc.  However, I am starting to discover by working with my clients, that community management varies hugely in methodology and goals, depending on the type of community you are building.

1. Type of company:

Is it a product-driven company or is it a destination site? The product that your community is centered around matters a lot in your approach and the tools that you will end up using. Regardless of the product, you will be spending time on external sites, getting the word out about your community, and building mini-communities on social sites like Twitter and Facebook. One caveat here: remember to be where your customers are: if they aren’t on Twitter, you probably shouldn’t tweet, regardless of whether or not Oprah endorsed it as the “next big thing.” If you are a destination site, you will need to focus on creating an experience around kick-ass content, for which your readers will feel compelled to travel to your site – not a small task, given the fragmentation of the World Wide Web. These days, people won’t go to your site just because you asked them to; you need to give them a compelling reason to go. You will need to figure out what works for your community: contests, events, original content. Of course, if you expect users to participate, you will need to incentivize them to do so – whether it’s via points, giveaways, bragging rights – it will depend on what works for your community.

If you are creating a community around a product, especially a tech product, part of your job, in addition to the above, will have to entail taking feedback from your customers and relaying it to the product team. A good community manager will know well what the community thinks of the product, will be good at curating this information, and will be influential in ultimately affecting product decisions. A community manager should also be the first point of contact when a customer service issue arises, relay the issues / bugs to the product and development team, make sure that the issue gets solved and relay the solution back to the customer. Tools like GetSatisfaction are great for this purpose, as they allow users to start a conversation thread  / bug report, track the status and interact with other users who have the same issue.

2. Age of company / product:

If this is a nascent company (with presumably still nascent traffic), a majority of your actions will be centered around raising awareness of the brand / product / company. Your efforts will be mostly spent on external sites, guest blogging, commenting, building a community on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other sites. You will want to bring some of these users over to your internal community, while realizing that you also need to be comfortable interacting with your members wherever they are. People will come to your site when they feel compelled by the content, but it may take a couple of interactions on “outside” sites for some users to come “inside”. You should be patient and not expect them to click through the first time they see your name. You should be focused on building relationships vs. being transactional.

If the company or product is a bit more established (or has at least launched), you will also be monitoring mentions of the product name in the blogosphere / twittersphere / across pretty much the whole WWW. You will probably want to set up Google alerts and Twitter updates (via Twitter search or whatever client you use) at the very least. If you can spend some money, there are great premium tracking and anaytics tools like Radian6 and ScoutLabs. With an existing product, you have an easier job gaining legitimacy with your community, but you will have more work tracking, listening and acting upon your discoveries. Your task will be to neutralize and diffuse potential and existing customer services issues, making non-believers  into believers and believers into brand enthusiasts and evangelists (I wrote more about this in my previous post on Listening). As described in part 1, you can probably benefit greatly from a feedback and customer service platform like GetSatisfaction.

3. Age of community:

Are you building a new community from scratch or are you “inheriting” an existing community? If you are building a new community for an existing product or site, you will be doing a lot of the same stuff as #2. If it’s a product that just launched, you will be relaying a lot of feedback and bugs from early users back to the product team. You will be setting up the social tools for the first time on many external sties, identifying outreach strategies, creating buy-in among first community users to participate, as well as providing customer service. It’s up to you to set the tone of interaction with your community: are you lighthearted and casual or more formal? The brand and type of product will dictate a lot of your approach. If you are inheriting the community, you will still be responsible for all of the above, while also learning existing dynamics of the community and keeping the tone and frequency of interaction consistent with the expectations.

Obviously, there are more than just these three dimensions, and they will certainly be future topics, once I crystallize them better in my mind. Here are some basic tenets to remember, regardless of where your community falls on any of the above dimensions:

  • Be engaged, be human. It’s OK to make mistakes, as long as you admit them.
  • Emphasize and care. Acknowledge the problem first, never point fingers. Then go solve the problem, but keep the customer appraised of the progress.
  • Be consistent in tone and frequency of communication.
  • Be a great communicator. Communicate change diligently and gradually.
  • From time to time, you will have to moderate inside of your own community, and some communities are more passionate than others. Make sure to keep your cool and never lose sight of the big picture, which is to provide a stellar community experience. Never pick sides when moderating a conversation between two or more community members.

The filed of online community management is still developing, although the individual elements of it have existed for a long time. My understanding of it will be shaped by my future experiences, which I will capture them on this blog. What have your experiences been as a community manager? Any key lessons / DOs and DON’TS you would like to share?

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Life and Tetris

July 28, 2009

tetris - unsafeI like finding metaphors for life in what seems like absurd places. I was laying in bed playing Tetris as I floated off to sleep last night, and the following analogy struck me.

Life is like a game of Tetris. The objecct in both is to use the space and the resources most effectively and efficiently to achieve results. Like in Tetris, in life (at least this is my life goal), the goals  is to get the most meaning out of it, fitting as many tetris pieces (goals / accomplishments) into a finite space.

Huge gaping holes left when pieces don’t line up correctly remind me of wasted opportunities, things left undone and unsaid, caused by mistakes that we make. We all make mistakes, and they are absolutely human and a huge part of learning, but you must realize that you can still attempt to fill gaping holes afterwards.  I do not believe in do-overs, and neither does life allow it. But you can fill these holes with knowledge gained from the experience and the mistakes that you made. You can go back and say the things that were left unsaid, and attempt to  do the things that were left undone, but only if it makes sense at a later point. Some black holes will forever remain black holes.

Like a game of Tetris, the pace starts out slow in the begining and speeds up to an almost-frenetic pace, depending on what level you get to. Like in life, it speeds up at a precise time when one would give anything to have time go slower.

In life, and in Tetris, it’s all about those perfect moments when everything fits harmoniously with minimum black space. Those are the moments of bliss, when your work is aligned with your passion, and the people in your life are an organic fit to your grand vision of life. Then the mistakes made and the gaping holes of the past don’t matter anymore.

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How memorable are you?

July 17, 2009

A local gym in my neighborhood produces some of the most memorable and wittiest offline messaging I have ever seen. We get so carried away with the latest and greatest online tools like Twitter, that we forget about holistic marketing and forget to use offline channels in addition to the new media channels. If you are a brick-and-mortar business, you especially need to blend the two.

compensateOne of the guys who works in this neighborhood gym puts out a funny new slogan on a chalkboard right outside, every single day. Each and every day, it’s different and funny and almost always a bit edgy. Please see the picture to the left for this morning’s slogan. The guy who writes the messages saw me taking this picture and ran outside to introduce himself. We chatted briefly, and he asked me if I have a blog, and I told him that I was going to tweet and write about his messaging, because I thought it was very catchy. This type of messaging would translate very well into a medium like Twitter, because it’s short, pithy, funny and a conversation starter. I certainly hope that I can help him at least set up his social media presence.

The moral of the story is: be memorable and be everywhere. It sounds really simple, but most fail in executing on at least one of these points. Being memorable should be defined by your target demographic and the touchpoints at which they interact with your message. In this example, busy customers rushing to the train will likely not remember anything longer than the message from this picture. This chalkboard message successfully cut through the clutter, which is not an easy feat: these days we have as much clutter online as we do offline. Moreover, the catchy, witty messaging is just right for the young male demographic that they are targeting. As far as being everywhere: remember to be online and off. The temptation is to go chasing the latest tools, but communication with your customers is not about the tools, it’s about the message. Engage them where they are, in a way that they will remember.

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The Root of All Evil?

July 15, 2009

moneyI have been thinking about this post for quite some time. I recently re-read “Francisco’s Money Speech” from “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. I have no idea why I had this neatly stapled printout laying around in my apartment, but I did. I read it, and it got me thinking. The money speech, if you aren’t familiar with it, it deals with our tension with money as a medium of exchange, the value of it, and the effect is has on people and events.

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them.” It amazes me how often we forget this simple truth. The natural human response to a lack of money is to be jealous of and blame people with money. Too often we jump to this response that’s driven by a “zero-sum” thinking about money and we focus on splitting up the pie into smaller pieces and taking each other’s pieces vs. increasing the pie. From a business perspective, it pays to grow a category and thus growing the brands within the category, more so than splitting up the category of the same size into more pieces or stealing share away from others, because brand-switchers will do just that: switch from brand A to brand B and back to brand A.

There’s nothing wrong with taking share away from competitors; all I am saying is that enduring long-term growth comes from continuously developing the category, as well as your brand. Whichever way you choose to grow sales, the only way to do so is by providing value continuously to your customers and consumers. Providing value sometimes takes upfront investment and delayed profits. And herein lies the problem: in our society that’s overly focused on short-term (especially as perpetuated by Wall Street), investing in the long-term is often unpopular. Focus on short-term, sometimes at the expense of creating real value, is what brought this economy (and subsequently the world economy) to its knees. Toxic mortgages were repackaged in a way that allowed to benefit in the short term and delay the discovery of the toxicity into the future. Short term and greed won out. Creating value and long term became unpopular. And now we are reaping the fruits of this behavior. I especially love this humorous primer on toxic assets.

When people and corporations act this way, profiting without creating value, they are building a house of cards. When they let greed rule them, with no regard for long-term benefit for customers, stakeholders and employees, money becomes “the root of all evil” and stops being a medium of exchange. When you start to exchange money for assets and products without value, the whole system will eventually crumble, and this is a guarantee. Turns out, it’s not money that’s the root of all evil – not the honest money anyway. It’s greed that’s the root of all evil.

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