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I Can Haz Skillz. Will Work.

November 11, 2009

I don’t like asking for help. I think there is way too much self-promotion going on on Twitter anyway, and I hate adding to the noise. I did it once when I was asking for your help and votes for my “Very Goode Job” social media campaign, where in the end votes, connections and good will of the community didn’t seem to matter (hmm, this was a social media job, right?). So after that experience, and seeing how many people “go to the well” too many times, I knew that it would be a while before I asked my network, my community for help. Well, that moment seems to have come sooner than expected. I’m back on the job market, and unfortunately it’s right before the holidays in a shaky economy – I am famous for my impeccable timing.

So what does looking for a job mean? Typically, and to most people, it means hunting the usual suspects: Classifieds, Indeed.com, SimplyHired.com, Careerbuilder.com, Monster.com, etc. I believe that the truly amazing jobs aren’t the ones that you find in ads. They are the jobs that you get referred to by your network, by people who know your skills, work ethic, passions, outlook on life and a chosen profession / industry. Besides, by the time that a job makes it to the job boards, it’s oftentimes “yesterday’s news”. Sometimes, even before posting a job online, the hiring manager already pretty much knows whom he / she will hire. Some other times, the hiring manager is only posting online to cross the legal t’s and dot the i’s. In short, basing a search on job boards is inefficient, lopsided, low ROI, energy sucking, bad use of your time. I am not saying that I won’t visit job boards. If I come across something amazing, I will certainly reach out to people I know for an introduction to the hiring manager. But I am starting with you, my network, my friends and colleagues, and asking you to introduce me to potential opportunities.

I work in, and want to keep working in, the online marketing and social media space – strategy, as well as execution. Since it’s social media, I am going to rely on my social networks and in-person networking to zero in on that amazing opportunity. Those of you who know me, know that I’ve been focusing on community management. Why community management? It’s an amazing field, albeit fairly nascent, for which I have a lot of passion, and which I think is well positioned for an exploding growth trajectory. Daniel Pink in his book “A Whole New Mind” corroborates Thomas Friedman’s notion of job fungibility – anything that’s not high-touch, experiential, or based on humanness and empathy (taking huge liberties in paraphrasing here), is going to be either automated or shipped off to China / India. I think community management is the future breed of of this high-touch human empathy, adapted to the age of social web. Community management, and social media in general, takes us back to the human tenets that are as old as humanity: community, relationships, trust, reputation. Social media, in some ways, strips you down to the core of who you are, back to your humanness. A little while ago, we hid behind email, chatrooms, anonymous avatars, and each man was an island. Now we are an archipelago. Now we come to each other as we are, asking for and giving acceptance, our lives and humanness exposed, celebrating community, openness, communication and ideas.

Why do I want to do all this? Because I love people, I love connecting with and helping people, have always been an “open book” (which is why the new social and very public means of communication don’t daunt me), and the times in my career when I was the happiest was when I could help a client, resolve conflict, and put my heart and soul into that communication. I also spend my day buried in my laptop, reading blogs, blogging, discovering new tools, chatting, exchanging ideas. I love the space, and I want to keep learning and apply what I’m learning to my clients’ and employer’s goals of engaging, growing and nurturing communities. Although forums have been around longer than I’ve been alive, and online community moderation is nothing new, the community manager of today is so much more: in addition to internal community management on your site, you are using social tools, going to events, monitoring online chatter, participating in discussions on external communities, reaching out to other communities, bloggers and partners to build programs together, and the list goes on. As Rachel Happe puts it so eloquently, “The Iceberg Effect of Community Management”, only a small percentage of what a CM does is actually seen externally. Sometimes it’s a thankless job, but for the people who love engagement, social media, being the voice of the brand, and really making a difference in an authentic way, this is the right job, and I think I’m the right person for this job. I want to do all of the above: external relationship building, internal community nurturing, branding and outreach in online and social channels, content and programming, monitoring and participating, etc.

I’m going to be very public with my job search, and hope to be able to update all of you on any great new developments, challenges, roadblocks, trials and tribulations. I am excited about the future, and I will not settle for anything short of spectacular, and I hope that all of you will keep me in check and won’t let me succumb to the pressures of just taking a job for the sake of taking a job (yes, the need for food and shelter has the ability to derail even the most brilliant of plans). I have settled in the past, and this time I’m going to make sure it’s different. If you like what I’ve done in the past, know me online or offline, like my thoughts, or just think I’m a good fit, I ask that you please send me introductions to opportunities. Community management and social media jobs aren’t always called that, which is why I’ve gone into detail above as far as what it means to me, and what I want to do. Sometimes, we are brand ambassadors, sometimes we are evangelists, sometimes we are listeners, sometimes we are social media marketers. I am not getting into specifics of my past experiences here; there are better places for it: LinkedIn, VisualCV and my “catch-all” site of social media goodies.

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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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In Twitter We Trust

March 24, 2009

I had been thinking about trust over the past couple of weeks, for a variety of reasons. Naturally, my mind started to wander towards social media and online interactions, and how they relate to issues of trust.  Perhaps this is a topic that can not, and should not, be tackled in one brief blogpost. But I would like to start with an observation of the underlying culture of Twitter and Twitterers. Across the board, the Twitterers who have amassed a significant number of followers and social capital, share a similar attitude towards “sharing and caring”.  They have been generous with their insight and advice to other Twitterers, and in turn have let us all into their worlds. They don’t tweet simply about their business, but also about their personal lives, dreams and worldviews – from the mundane to the phillosophical. (Unfortunately there is such a thing as oversharing at the far end of the spectrum, and yours truly is definitely guilty of that :).  At the end of the day, their “humanness” jumps off the screen, as they are trusting the larger Twitter community with their insights, thoughts, dreams, problems, trials and tribulations – in professional and personal lives. They are putting it (almost) all out there, to start conversations, be part of the conversation, and form meaningful connections.

This is a very cultural thing. The Twitter / web entrepreur / social media community is very much like that, and it seems to be the norm rather than an exception. As a very tightly knit community, we normalize this behavior and sometimes forget that not the entire world is like that, and other communities are drastically different. This culture of “sharing and caring” is a total antithesis to the real estate community, for example. Before I started to revolve in social media / tiwtterati circles, I spent time in the real estate investor community. My personal path evolved in quite a curious way: from a real estate investor to a real estate entrepreneur (I saw just way too many problems that weren’t being solved), to a web entrepreneur and admirer of all things social, web and Twitter.  The real estate investor community is as opposite from the social web community as can be. Not only aren’t people forthcoming with information and tips on how to be successful, you can’t even beat it out of them, if you wanted to (of course, I don’t condone any beatings of any sort). Every time that I asked fellow seasoned investors for their advice on how they became successful, and what steps I should take, their response was, without fail: “take this class, I took it and paid for it, and so should you.” It is a cutthroat, scammy community, who is anything but collegiate, with most people out to make a quick buck, and then move on to a new scam, ahem, class. It’s no wonder that no one trusts anyone, everyone guards his / her secrets and constantly looks over his / her shoulder. It is my hunch, based on years of observation and practice, that they would be so much more successful collaborating with each other than spending energy on shutting each other out.

The real estate investor culture is a significant reason of why I have started to disassociate myself from the investor circle and have started to embrace this web technology circle more closely. This happened because the “Twitter” type of attitude and spirit is much closer to my own personality and worldview, and I am just much happier here. I am very open, trusting, and don’t mind sharing my life and living it in the open (within reason of course – still plenty of personal stuff that I won’t share on Twitter or any other platform). I hold the belief that if we all work together, we can achieve a whole lot more than if we all dispersed to our corners and tapped away on our laptops alone.

Thinking about my journey brought me to this next realization: your social media personality is really just an overemphasized extension of your IRL (in real life) personality. If you are an authentic person who enjoys sharing helping, believes in Twitter Karma, believes in “paying it forward”, then Twitter and other such tools are for you. But if you like to keep all your cards close to your chest, and people at an arm’s length, then your success on Twitter will be limited. You will certainly be able to use it as a platform to communicate very sterile pieces of information (devoid of any “humannes”) in a broadcast fashion. But will anyone really care? Probably not. Unless you take the time to get to know others, interact with them, help others and share yourself. And all of this can only happen when you trust. When you trust your followers to not judge you, to not slander you, to not ridicule your “humanness”. And you have to trust that they trust you back, trust you enough to share themselves and help you. After all, you have to trust to be trusted. So take a plunge. This is a new era of openness, transparency and humanness (even our government is working on being more transparent – now that is something that I never thought I would live to see).

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