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Community Management Social Media

The Cyber Legacy

The Cyber Legacy

What’s your cyber legacy?

Introductions

So you find a new site. You look around. And you think – this looks like a place I might like. Therefore, you take the plunge and you register.

And it doesn’t really matter if it’s Twitter, or Facebook or Able2know. If it’s big enough, it scrolls and leaps by so fast that you can barely get your arms around it. And in the beginning, that can be incredibly exciting.

However, after a while, it’s a bit too much. So if you want to hang around and have a more meaningful interactive experience than complaining about the weather, you end up finding yourself some sort of an enclave. I’ve covered this before, actually.

Life Online

You find your niche, whatever it is. And you start spending time with people. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, be it playing fantasy sports, or comparing notes as new mothers, or trading rumors about the next season of Doctor Who. What matters is, you’ve found your peeps.

And that’s when it can get kind of complicated.

Transitioning to the In-Person Experience

My husband and I once met a fellow we had know for a few years from online. He was passing through Boston on his way home from Maine. And one thing he mentioned was – my online friends and my offline friends are pretty well-integrated. I like that.

After all, consider some of my closest friends who I didn’t meet online. Most of them either attended school with me at some stage or another, or they worked with me. In some fashion or another, we hit it off. However, the same is true of the cyber world, is it not? You meet someone, and you hit it off with them, and you thereby become friends. No great mystery there. The only remarkable thing is that the lines are being forever blurred between people we met physically first, and people we physically met later, if at all. And we care less and less about how we met our friends, these days.

Cyber Mourning

With cyber friendships – as with all friendships – there can be loss. And we all know that it is going to happen sooner or later. A voice will be stilled, a timeline no longer updated. We may or may not know the correct or full name. We may never have heard that person so much as speak on a video or on the telephone. Yet we feel a sense of loss just the same.

I have found that, as this has happened on Able2know (and it has happened several times now, a function of both the size of the site and its skew in the direction of more elder demographics), people have wanted to rally around. It is not necessarily a formal obituary type of posting or topic. Instead, it can be a topic that’s more like a wake in its layout, verbiage and intent. There is no real template for this. You just go with what works. And recognize that there are people who grieve in their own ways. There may even be hostility (“You were never kind to him until it was too late!”) or one-upmanship (“I got to meet her in person!”).

Internet Afterlife and a Cyber Legacy

The If I Die app allows for a final status update once three people (you choose them) confirm to the service that you’ve shuffled the mortal coil off to Buffalo. It almost seems like a video will, where the rich uncle leaves everything to his parakeet and, while the cameras are rolling, also tells the assembled family that they’re all wastrels.

But it’s not just that. It’s also – look at the data that’s out there. What sort of a legacy are we leaving for future generations?

English: American actor George Takei at the St... cyber legacy
English: American actor George Takei at the Star Trek Convention UFP Con One in Hamm, Germany, 1996. Deutsch: Der US-amerikanische Schauspieler George Takei auf der Star Trek-Convention UFP Con One in Hamm, Deutschland, 1996. Français : L’acteur américain George Takei à la convention de Star Trek UFP Con One à Hamm, Allemagne, 1996. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A tour through Facebook reveals an awful lot of appreciation for cute cats who can’t spell, George Takei and political soundbite memes. And if future generations only look at that (which might happen, as it could very well be the only thing that survives long enough and is complete enough), they might just that cyber legacy and feel we are rather shallow people indeed.

Forums Tell a Different Story

However, if they dig into communities, I think they’ll see a rather different picture. A picture of real caring. Of reasoned and impassioned debate. Or of rabid fandom. Of people who help each other by answering questions or offering advice on things like repairing a fan belt on a ’68 Buick or ridding a computer of spyware. And of some fall on the floor humor as well.

Heiroglyphics cyber legacy
Heiroglyphics

So, what footprints and fingerprints will you leave behind for your cyber legacy? And what digital fossils will await future archaeologists’ discovery? What will the people of 3017 think of us? What’s your cyber legacy going to be?

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Community Management

Community Management Tidbits – Superstar Users

Community Management Tidbits – Superstar Users

Superstar users? Some people just seem to be born with it. If you’ve ever spent some time on forums, you immediately know who they are.

Superstar users
Screenshot of phpbb in use on a games forum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their topics rarely go without a response for long. And their contributions are routinely applauded (either using available site software or via written praise) by the other users. Their absences are lamented (and noticed!). Their returns are celebrated. In addition, people rarely forget their birthdays and membership milestones.

They are the superstar users.

They can be made by the community or they can be nudged along by you, the Community Manager. The community can sometimes choose stars that don’t promote your company’s vision very well. But you can combat this by selecting some superstars of your own.

Converting Users into Superstars

How do you make superstar users? Almost the same way that the community does. However, you may have some added tricks up your sleeve. First of all choose, choose a few likely candidates. Go into your member list and sort by number of posts, from most to least. Select your top 20 posters.

You probably know who they are already. But if you don’t, if you have a posts/day statistic, copy that down. Put all of this into a spreadsheet. Add in the dates each user joined the site and the dates of their most recent posts (which may be the day you compile this information).

If anyone has overwhelmingly negative social signals (vote downs, ignores, complaints or reports against them), if you can put your hands on that information quickly, discard that member from your list and replace him or her with the next one. Ignore sock puppets and second accounts, if you have good proof that two accounts belong to the same person. Again, just move to the person with the 21st-most posts/day, etc.

Now look at your list. Who is the member with the most recent post (gauge that by day, not by hour, so if two posters have a last post date of October first, consider them to be tied even if one posted at 1:00 AM and the other posted at 11:00 PM), with the highest number of posts/day, who has been a member the longest? Rank that person #1 and rank everyone else in order behind him or her. Ties are fine.

Research

Now you’ll need to do a little more research. If you have this data readily available, use it: the section(s) of the site where your 20 users spend the most of their time. This could divide into tags or subforums or categories. It really depends on however your site is divvied up. However, if this information is not readily available, research it by investigating everyone’s last 10 posts. Of course their most recent 10 posts could potentially not be perfectly characteristic of their behavior on the site. So you take that chance. Nothing is set in concrete; you can always revisit this later.

If your #1 user’s last 10 posts are all on message or in the section(s) of the site devoted to your company’s message, that person stays at #1. But if not, weigh them as against their 19 competitors. And if #2 is close to #1 but a lot more on message, switch their rankings. Also use this measurement of being on message (or not) to resolve any ties.

Continuing

Now look at your list again. #1 should be the user who is most on message, with a lot of posts and recent activity, who has a long history on the site and whose negative social signals (there are usually some, particularly for long-time, popular posters. That’s fine; just try to stay away from universally reviled people). This is the first person you want to approach.

And, how do you approach them? Handle this both indirectly and directly. Indirectly by promoting their posts, topics and replies, with up votes, applause, positive ensuing comments and making their topics sticky – whatever your software allows which provides them with attention and positive reinforcement. Don’t do this all at once – spread it out over time. You’re in a marathon, not a sprint here. Provide the same indirect positive reinforcement to your other candidates, but less as you go down your list.

Directness

The direct approach: engage them, both openly on the boards and in private messages (most sites have the means to do this). You should out and out flatter them. Instead, offer encouragement or point out their posts that you find interesting. Or tell them about others’ posts that you feel might interest them. Again, don’t do this all at once. Offer these little tidbits gradually.

Every few months or so, review your list and consider whether to add or drop anyone. If you’ve made friends with these users then of course don’t drop them from your personal life just because they’ve gone off message too much! But certainly curtail your official Community Manager messages to them if there are others who would be more receptive.

Why do you want to do this?

Superstar users can help to bring your site out of a funk. They can (and do) make you aware of spam. Superstar users create and promote good content. They help trolls lose their power. They can help to calm the site down and ease it into and out of transitions. You can count on them.

However, they need to feel valued. And, even more importantly, they need to feel that you don’t just call on them when you want something. Provide positive reinforcement when there is no crisis and you’ll be able to call on them when there is one. And the corollary is true as well: superstar users, if unappreciated, will leave, and other users will follow them out of your forum. Ignore them at your peril.

Next: Cat-Herding

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Community Management Social Media

Losing Control – Fear of Social Media

Losing Control – Fear of Social Media

Losing control online? Way back when, back when dinosaurs roamed the Internet, I became involved a bit with Usenet.

Usenet is not dead Losing Control
Usenet is not dead (Photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy)

It wasn’t much, and it wasn’t much to look at. I was a lot less of a geek then than I am now (yes, really), and so the bare bones look didn’t do much for me. This was, after all, around 1997 or so.

Things have changed. A lot.

In me and, of course, online.

UseNet’s Virtues

The thing that was compelling about Usenet was the sheer volume and breadth of conversation. People talked about all sorts of junk. There was a huge skewing towards Politics, but it contained discussions about other things as well. And – ha! – some people even attempted a bit of a community.

Fast forward to now.

Today

There are online communities in all sorts of places. Facebook is one. Twitter is another. LinkedIn is another. MySpace limped along and for a while there was a bit of another. The blogosphere is yet another. Forums (my big love) is another one. And many more exist, including, even, the comments sections in news outlets. Communities seem to spring up, no matter what a company does or intends.

And that’s a pretty great thing. Human beings actually want to connect to one another. Now, there are a lot of trolls out there, and people who enjoy poking each other with pointed sticks. It happens – I won’t deny it. But there’s a boatload of good out there as well.

Company-Based Communities

Enter companies. I think the biggest fear for them is a perceived loss of control. Well, it ain’t just perceived folks. Because it’s very real. You just can’t massage the entire message that’s going out about Acme Widgets. And (psst)– you don’t want to.

Because lack of control becomes, I feel, a grand means to creativity. And it is a way to push new ideas up to the surface. And it is – dare I say it? – a pathway to innovation.

Because sticking a bunch of people into a windowless room and telling them to be creative is going to be about as effective as sticking a gun to their heads and commanding that they write a guaranteed hit song.

Communal Creativity

Communities – in whatever form they take in the Social Media space – can let in fresh blood and new ideas. Yet people actually – amazingly enough – generally want to do this for free. They just like creating. Or they want to put their two cents in. Or they just want to sound off or complain. However, sometimes there’s something in there, and it’s useful. After all, if you’re working for Corvair in the ’60s, you might think your car is dandy. Heh, it wasn’t.

Furthermore, you might think New Coke is a fabulous idea. It wasn’t.

So you get the idea. Let in the community of ideas and innovation. And they will sometimes try to tear the company (or each other) a new one. In addition, keep it as civil as possible without squelching the real creativity. And without driving off shyer or quieter members who might be getting shouted down by the more vocal mob. Furthermore, keep it as on topic as possible without driving off people don’t just like the product or service or company, but also each other – but who still have plenty to offer.

Because losing control is not so scary. Really.

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Career changing Community Management Facebook

Facebook versus Forums

Let’s Look at Facebook versus Forums

What hath Facebook wrought?

It’s a Facebook versus Forums smackdown!

Facebook, as anyone not living on a desert island knows, is a juggernaut of massive proportions. According to Oberlo, Facebook has about 2.80 billion monthly users and 1.84 billion daily users.

In contrast, according to Worldometers, 1.439 billion people live in China, and 1.380 billion live in India. The US has a bit over 331 million in population.

Hence, daily Facebook usage is the entire population of China + the entire population of the United States. And another 7 million people on top of that. So, Paraguay.

It is the 800 pound gorilla of the internet. And it is rapidly changing our interpersonal interactions, both on and offline. So one of those areas is in the area of internet forums.

Facebook and a forums site like Able2know

Facebook hits all forum sites and not just A2K. For years, I have been seeing drop off on a lot of different sites. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are large, generalized places like Able2know, or small niche sites devoted to something like Star Trek. In addition, I hear about this same kind of drop off in other areas.

Facebook has its fingers in a lot of pies, and it is only trying to get into more and more of them.

Everybody get in the pool

So there are two generalized kinds of interactions (there are more, of course, but hear me out, okay?). One concerns the shallow end of things. You trade information about weather and generalized health inquiries. It’s political sound bites and the zippy pop song.

The other side of things is deeper. Because here is the in-depth political discussion where you really get to the heart of the issues. It’s the detailed information on a health condition or even how to make a soufflé or plant an herb garden. It is the symphony. And online, just like offline, it is a far rarer bird. For you need time to develop that kind of trust. Furthermore, truly, you have to devote some time in order to have such a conversation in the first place.

Swimming with Facebook

Facebook fulfills the shallow end of online interactions extremely well. It is very, very easy to catch up on a superficial level with high school classmates or the like. A Star Wars groups, for example, might ask basic questions like “Who was the best villain?”

George Takei has mastered these kinds of interactions (although, in all fairness, he also writes occasional longer notes). Because these constitute the quick hits that people can like and share, all in the space of less than a quarter of a minute. It works very well for mass quantities of information.

Facebook versus Forums – where Facebook Wins

Topics about one’s favorite song go better on Facebook than on forums as they are a quick hit and posting YouTube videos is simple. It’s colorful and, just as importantly, it’s pretty easy to pick and choose when it comes to interactions there, despite changes in privacy settings.

Other basic interactions (remember a/s/l?) are seamless or don’t need to happen at all. Partly this happens due to Facebook’s real names policy. Also, more people tend to use their real photograph and their real (generalized) location and age than not.

Facebook versus Forums – where Forums Win

What Facebook doesn’t do so well is the deeper end of interactions (the extensive political discussions, etc.), and/or it does not do them well for a larger group of people or over a significant period of time or for a longer or wider discussion.

All of the deep discussions go unsaid. Topics about elections outside the United States (particularly if Americans participate in said topics) are handled poorly, if at all. When it comes to the deeper end of the interactions pool, Facebook is just not a good place for that at all. Another consideration: even now, a lot of people still find that Facebook moves too quickly for them.

Swimming with Forums

For the deep end, it makes sense to collect into forums. You need to get to the heart of the matter. Arc of a Diver Facebook versus ForumsAnd that takes time, a luxury that Facebook often does not afford, as it scrolls by in a blur. Instead of mass quantities, forums can fulfill a very different niche by instead concentrating on quality interactions.

Forums offer, even for people who use their real names and are fairly transparent about their interactions, a chance to use a persona.

This is because Facebook far too closely parallels to our real lives. There’s just so much posturing you can do about being a famous rock star when your high school cronies are also there, and they remember holding your head when you had your first beer.

The Endless Online Christmas Brag Letter

And Facebook, while it can be a refuge for people to truly show they care for each other (in particular, in the groups, or using notes or chat), is more often a place where people instead get a chance to preen and show off. Like something? Then hit like! Don’t like it? Then either scroll past it or click to hide it, or even report it as spam or as being threatening. And apart from the latter, the person posting the image, anecdote, status, etc. is none the wiser when it comes to your reaction.

But with the forums, even if you do not use your real name, your opinions are still out there, for all to see, whether it’s about global warming or the Designated Hitter rule.

Facebook versus Forums: the Future

My crystal ball says Facebook is only going to get larger and more complicated. And advertising and other ways of keeping forums open is only going to get harder. Unless Facebook finds a way to take a deep dive into topics – and make it easier for people to find their way back after a day or two – then I fear a form of interaction may eventually be lost forever.

That is, unless Zoom calls and the like can rise to such a challenge. In and among the fluff and Zoombombing and other annoyances and weirdnesses, perhaps that’s the way to go. Because I fear that forums are going to bite the dust before 2030, if not sooner.

There is room for both types of interactions. Facebook versus forums doesn’t have to pick a winner. The internet is a mighty big tent. But economics and sheer numbers might award a prize anyway.

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Community Management

Community Management – Wandering off Topic

Let’s Look at Community Management Tidbits – Wandering off Topic

Is wandering off topic ever a good idea? Surprisingly, yes.

Even the most literal-minded among us rarely remain perfectly on message all the time. It’s hard to express yourself quite so linearly.

Wandering off Topic
English: A image related to Edvard Munch representing topics, associations and occurrences and the two layers of the Topic Maps paradigm: the information layer and the knowledge layer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It doesn’t just include how we interact with our fellow human beings.

Most conversations meander; otherwise they become dull. And there are just so many ways one can talk about the fact that there’s a 40% chance of rain over the weekend, even if you’re speaking at a Meteorologists’ Convention. Even very specific programs, such as This Week in Baseball or This Old House jump around. Our human attention spans aren’t what they used to be, but there’s more to it than just that. It’s also about creating a memorable presentation. A little memorable off-topic talking can save an otherwise limited conversation.

Communities Start Wandering Off Topic All the Time

The same is true with communities. You make and promote conversations. Because no one is writing scholarly papers. Or advertising copy. Seriously, put down the company’s vision statement and step away.

Picture this: you’ve just started a forum, with a modest group of users. But after only one or two topics, or five or so posts, they leave. Now, there will always be people who join a forum for one small, specific purpose and then depart. In addition, you will always have a healthy percentage (it can be a good 90%) of lurkers, no matter what you do. They are a part of every community, and they are a sign of health. Don’t worry about them!

But right now your issue is that there’s no traction. Users come in quickly, may or may not get satisfaction, and then disappear. And because they are not engaging with one another, there isn’t enough momentum to create cohesion among them.

Fixing the Problem

Here’s where targeted off-subject conversations can work. Let us assume that your forum is about water softening. It may seem to be an esoteric topic. You probably won’t get people too emotionally engaged. Most will come in looking for a dealer, a part, a catalog or some quick advice.

Wandering Off Topic Helps

But there are targeted, related topics you can try. Your users are virtually all homeowners (some may be landlords or superintendents), so which topics do homeowners typically discuss? There’s mortgages, appliances, pest control, landscaping, and purchases and sales, for starters. The landlords in your community will inevitably have tenancy issues. Expand what you consider to be on topic to some of these areas by adding a few feeler topics like these.

Humor

Consider humor as well. Humor can fall flat, and it is easy to misinterpret. In addition, people from different countries, religions and cultures will find disparate things amusing (or offensive). Hence there are risks involved. However, in the water softening forum example, you can offer a topic on, say, a humorous battle or competition where the course is changed (the tide is turned, perhaps) on the presence of softened versus hard water. Absurd humor does seem to work better than other types, so this kind of a topic can offer a little less risk.

Recognition

Another tactic: begin recognizing great topics, posts and answers. Promote people who draw in more users – you can spot them fairly quickly. This can take the form of badges, up votes, sticky topics and special user titles. Mail them company swag if the budget allows (tee shirts, baseball and trucker caps, note pads, branded flash drives, whatever you’ve got). Give these people a little more leeway than most when they do go off message.

Corporate may want you to stay on message, all the time, but that’s simply not realistic as it ignores normal human interactions. Furthermore, it tends to drive away users as they only hang around for the length of a few topics. But give your users more topic leeway, and they will be more inclined to stay and become customers – a trade-off that any Marketing Department should embrace with ardor.

Next: Superstar Users

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Community Management

Community Management – Corralling Cats

Community Management Tidbits – Corralling the Cats

A look at Community Management Tidbits – Corralling the Cats – Oh, they can be the bane of your existence, particularly when you’re just starting out. You want them to zig, they zag. Or you want them to go off topic, they stay on it. You want them to return to topic, and they continue digressing. They are the cats.

Community Management Tidbits - Corralling the Cats
my cats (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (not mine; I’m allergic)

And you, you lucky Community Manager, you! You have to herd them.

Don’t Feel So Bad; We All Get This

There is an ebb and flow to natural, organic conversations. The problem is, online communities and forums aren’t, truly, natural or organic conversations. There is, at bottom, some form of a purpose to them, even if that purpose is simply to get your users comfortable with one another.

Therefore, in order to strain the ebb and flow metaphor so far as to break it, the best way for you, as a Community Manager, to keep from tearing your hair out, is to go with the flow. But you must have a plan in the background.

A Fer-Instance

So let us assume that your site covers German Shepherd dogs. Your users talk about care and feeding, but they also go off on tangents where they discuss what they’re having for lunch (your users, not, presumably, their dogs). You can either get upset about the lunch topic, provide other, more appropriate topics as alternatives, direct the lunch subject back on topic (kibble for lunch, anyone?), or scrap the subject altogether. Or, you can join the subject.

Your Move

What you do is going to depend upon not only how much on-subject content you’ve got, but also on your relationship with your users. What sort of tone has been set? If your relationship is a relaxed and whimsical one, then adding to the topic or directing it back on message can both work. If your relationship is more authoritarian, you may find yourself either deleting the topic or restricting user access to it. And users may leave for good over this. Regardless of what your relationship is with your users, use this kind of nuclear option sparingly.

If your relationship is somewhere in the middle, redirection to other topics can work. Creating on-message topics (or encouraging your super users to do so) has the added benefit of adding keyword-rich topics for the purposes of promoting SEO.

It is best to use all of these options. And, get an idea of just how much overall off-message chatter you will permit. If you are going to allow 40% of your topics to be off-message, then that is four out of every ten topics. Some days it will be all ten. Others, it will be one or two, or even none.

Keeping Users Happy

Allowing for these kinds of natural variations will go a long way toward keeping users happy. And it will add to a more organic rhythm and flow on the site. If the percentage of off-message topics goes too high, you can always pull users back by making good, keyword-rich, on-message topics. Not all users will go. These are volunteers and you cannot make them stay on topic. Some people will never go on topic, let alone stay there. It is up to you to decide whether that is tolerable. You may need to cut your losses with some of them.

The more you let the cats decide where they want to go (or, at least, the more you let them think they are deciding such things), the easier they are to herd. They decide where to go; you won’t need to convince them.

As the Community Manager, some times you just have to be the shepherd.

A Last Thought on Corralling

Communities which are 100% on point aren’t communities at all. They’re advertisements. If you truly want your community to attract users and not be thought of as just being a pure marketing endeavor, then guess what? You have got to allow for off-topic discussions. While you probably shouldn’t let the cats win, at the absolute, barest minimum, you should let them have their fun.

Next: Freshening up a stale forum

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Career changing Community Management Opinion

Community Management – Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen

Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen

Are you a good netizen?

I have been managing Able2know for over fourteen years.

It is a generalized Q & A website and the members are all volunteers. I have learned a few things about handling yourself online during this time.

Chill Out

  1. There are few emergencies online. Take your time. I have found, if I am in a hot hurry to respond, itching to answer, it usually means I am getting obsessive.
  2. When it’s really nutty, step away from the keyboard. I suppose this is a corollary to the first one. Furthermore, I pull back when it gets too crazy-making, or try to figure out what else may be bothering me, e. g. I haven’t worked out yet, something at home is annoying me, etc. Being online, and being annoyed, does not equal that something online caused the annoyance.

Be Clear

  1. All we have are words (emoticons do nearly nothing).
    Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen
    what are words for? (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

    I like to make my words count, and actually mean exactly, 100%, what I write, but not everyone hits that degree of precision in their communications. I’ve learned to cut about a 10% degree of slack.

  2. Not everyone gets you. You might be hysterically funny in person, but bomb online, Netizen. Or you might feel you’re a gifted writer, but you write to the wrong audience. You may be hip for your crowd, but hopelessly out of it in another. This is not, really, a personal thing. You can either waste your time trying to get everyone to love you or you can recognize that you didn’t convert one person and move on from there. Choose the latter; it’ll save your sanity every time.

Keep Chilling Out

  1. Be Zen. E. g. I’ve found the old, “oh, you go first” kind of thing smooths the way a lot. I am not saying to not have your say and let everyone else win all the time. It’s just, ya kinda pick the hill you wanna die on, e. g. what’s really important. Stick to those guns. The others, not so much. E. g. getting into a shouting match and kicked off a site due to your hatred of the Designated Hitter Rule – even on a sports or baseball site – falls in the category of you’re probably overreacting and being really, really silly. I doubt that that is a hill most people would try want to die on. But defending your beliefs, fighting prejudice, etc.? Those are probably better hills.
  2. And the corollary to #5: controversial topics are controversial for a reason. They get under people’s skin and make them squirm. Be nice; don’t do that all the time. So try to engage people in other ways, Netizen. There are plenty of people on Able2know who argue a lot about politics. I am not a fan of arguing politics. But we also get together and play Fantasy Baseball (talk about your Designated Hitter Rule). Or we swap recipes, or pet stories, or the like. But then, when a forum member gets sick or becomes bereaved, people who just argued till they were blue in the face turn around. And they virtually hug and offer tributes, prayers (or positive, healing thoughts) and words of comfort. And this user multidimensionality warms the heart. Over the years, people have gotten better at it. If someone’s really bothering you, it’s possible that, in other contexts, you’d get along. You might want to see if you can find some common ground, and other contexts.

Sing Along with Elsa and Let. It. Go.

  1. Know when to stop, or even let others have the last word. When I am really angry, I usually just withdraw. However, this isn’t a surrender. Instead, I’m tired and life’s too short. You do not become a smaller, or less worthwhile person, and you haven’t lost (whatever that really means, particularly on the Internet, fer chrissakes) if you walk away and wash your hands of things. Netizen, you are entitled to call it quits on an argument or discussion.

Finally, I hope you learn from my insanity and my mistakes. Life’s too short to let it get to you too much!

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Community Management

Community Management – Look at Me!

Community Management Tidbits – Look at Me! Look at Me!

C’mon and look!

Look at Me!

Ah, marketing.

We’ve all seen it done well, and we’ve all seen it done not so well, and even downright poorly. Now let’s look at applying it to your extant community.

Look at Me
English: a chart to describe the search engine market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A poorly executed marketing strategy cannot only turn off your preexisting users; it can also get your site marked as a Spammer. And the scarlet S can get your site unceremoniously dumped from Google. And that means, essentially, the equivalent of the death of the site.

Long Story Short: Don’t Spam

In order to effectively market your community, you need to cover three kinds of SEO/Marketing. Those are onsite, offsite and offline. Onsite will be covered later in this series, and that information will not be repeated herein. Plus, it may seem a tad counter-intuitive, but onsite SEO is not that big of a deal. Yes, you need good keywords and you need good content. But after that, your optimization and marketing efforts need to move offsite.

Offsite Marketing

Offsite can be (mainly) divided into three areas:

  1. Directories and Search Engines
  2. Social Bookmarking and Networking Sites and
  3. Linkbacks.

Directories and Search Engines

Let’s start with directories and search engines. You must submit your site to Google. However, don’t submit to any other search engines. Why? Because others’ share of the market is virtually nonexistent. Hence this is a waste of your time, and they will likely pick up your site from Google anyway. So don’t use a blasting service. Heavens, no. You don’t need it and it is absolutely not worth it.

Directories are even easier. For general interest sites, you can start with only submitting to two.

  1. Technorati – only use this if you have a blog. Just submit your blog and copy in the code they give you, and
  2. Alexa – this is less vital than the other one and the metrics are not that great, but it is a free and easy thing to do.

Other directories you can submit to (depending upon your site’s overall purpose) include places like Universal Business Listing, Google Places, CitySearch and Yelp. It can be best to do well locally and rise to the top of the search engine rankings for specific search terms like, say, Indiana Relationship Forums, than to attempt to break into the top rankings for a more general terms, such as Relationship Forums. Consider directories in other languages, too!

Social Bookmarking and Networking

Social Bookmarking and Networking are different animals. Much like for search engines, there is a huge panoply out there, plus it’s tempting to just blast out information. Don’t. You don’t need to.

Only submit your site (and your blog, if you have one) to the following social bookmarking sites:

Forget the dozens of others unless there is a very specific and perfect match between your site and what they bookmark. Because they are mostly tiny, they can be spam factories and they are generally just not worth your time and effort.

Look at These Social Networks

Social networking implies more interactivity, and not just voting links up or down, perhaps laced with the occasional comment.

While there are international ones (and if you’ve got a perfect match between your content and their focus, then by all means establish a presence thereat), you really only care about the following:

  • Facebook – an official fan page helps for any number of reasons. First of all, it can make your site known to friends, family members, business colleagues and any other connections to your site’s currently existing users. And you can use it to post photographs and links directly back to your site. Furthermore, you can use it as a rallying point during both expected (and unexpected) site outages.
  • Twitter – even if your users are not, generally, on Twitter, it is still a useful marketing tool. Try feeding in a slice of the site via RSS. Just like with Facebook, this can expand the network of persons who know about your site.
  • LinkedIn – if your site is attached to a going concern, then at minimum make sure the company listing on LinkedIn is correct. And make sure all of the company’s employees directly linking their profiles to it. Furthermore, make sure your site’s blog and Twitter stream are configured to feed it updates.

Look at More Social Networks

  • Pinterest – demographics skew heavily female and over thirty-five. Got a restaurant? A shoe store? Wedding products or services? A women’s health collective? A feminist bookstore? Go to Pinterest – but only if you’ve got excellent images.
  • Got great images but less of a female-centric slant? Consider Instagram instead.
  • Tumblr – demographics skew heavily under thirty-five and even under twenty-five. Got a video game? An indie film? Go to Tumblr.
  • Snapchat – demographics skew toward teens and tweens? Consider this fast-moving site for everything from soft drinks to acne cream to fashion.

BackLinking

Backlinking is where you get others to add your site link to their own websites. Back-links help a great deal as Google gives them weight when determining your site’s importance. And that is directly linked to search placement. You always do better when more trusted sites link back to you. Don’t get spammers to link to you.

Blogs

For your blog, add a blogroll of other sites you admire. Just as importantly, post comments on those sites. This provides value to those other people, so they are more likely to spontaneously wish to link back to you. In addition, don’t leave it all to happenstance. Put a link on your site and approach the webmaster of that site and politely ask for a back-link. Some people are happy to oblige. Others are not, so remove their links from your site after a reasonable amount of time. Some may simply think about it, so give them a little time.

And be reasonable, but also be reasonable with yourself. If you’re not getting link-backs, try to figure out why. Are your requests too aggressive? Or do you ask people with wholly unrelated sites? Do you, perhaps, have no content (or no meaningful content) for them to associate with? Look at your site with a critical eye before throwing in the towel.

Offline Marketing and Optimization

Offline marketing and optimization means going back to techniques used before – shudder – there even was an Internet. Before computers even existed.

Depending upon your budget and your site’s overall purpose, offline marketing can range from something as simple as business cards or baseball caps or tee shirts with the site’s logo to a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. It can even be completely free. After all, any time you mention your site to someone else, didn’t you just market it?

Look, sitting back and waiting for your site to take off will almost never work. You need to market it, particularly in the beginning. Get your name out there!

Next: Snakes in the Garden

Categories
Community Management

Community Management Tidbits – The Circle Game

Community Management Tidbits – The Circle Game

Circle Game?

Forums have cycles, and so do users.

Community Phases

Writing Progress Report – Third Quarter 2018 community phases circle game

There isn’t a lot that you can do about this. You can, however, stretch out the individual phases.

Discovery

The first phase is discovery. It all starts with excitement. The user has found your forum! It seems huge! The user can’t possibly read everything. It’s all too much. It’s heady, and the user may very well tell everyone he or she knows about you. Or, the user might want you all to him or herself. Either can happen.

Nesting

The next phase is nesting. The user makes friends and starts to get into an enclave or two. Enclaves are little groups within your forum, whether formal or informal. Even if your forum does not have actual designated groups, per se, this still happens. In a single fathers’ community, for example, a user might hang around with other users who became first-time fathers after the age of forty. In a folk music forum, a user might spend time with (and follow around) other users from Ohio.

This is perfectly normal – a carving of familiarity in an alien sea. But it does set up the next phase.

Boredom

The next phase is boredom. The community has too much sameness and does not seem to be changing quickly or thoroughly enough for a user’s taste. But the user sticks around, however, grudgingly.

Departure

The final phase is departure. Whether that comes with a bang (a user suspension) or a whimper (the user simply fails to sign in any more), is immaterial. Or, there is a third type of endgame, where the user posts a topic about their departure. This topic can be fond, hostile or even a ploy to get other users to beg that person to stay.

Fighting Back

Does it always have to be this way? Well, this kind of a cycle is more or less inevitable. The trick is to stretch out the first two phases, discovery and nesting, as much as possible, or to have the user cycle back from boredom to nesting again (e. g. to find a different group to hang with). Or, a positive situation would be if the boredom phase were at least short (and put off) so that the departure phase would not be a suspension. And it would be less fraught with meaning. A user taking leave, no matter how popular that user is, will leave behind less of a hole if he or she is a part of a 100,000-person forum versus a 100-user community.

How do you do this? By phases, of course!

Discovery, ReImagined

The Discovery phase of the circle game has two essential elements: new users and new topics. Increase both with good SEO and with encouraging as much user participation as possible.

Nesting, Transformed

The Nesting phase can be encouraged and promoted by keeping your community a safe, warm and welcoming place. Having formal specific groups is not strictly necessary for this, but it can be of help if your users are struggling in this area. And, if you do go with formal groups, ask your users which groups they would like. They might surprise you. And it (almost) doesn’t matter whether a group is terribly active. It will still serve its purpose, to continue to afford your users with a friendly place within the forum, even if it is small. This is a place they can call their own.

Boredom, Shortened

The Boredom phase of the circle game can be delayed and/or truncated by keeping the twin flows of new users and new topics going. This means more and better SEO, offering new features and encouraging your users to continue adding new, interesting and diverse topics. Can’t think of new topic fodder? So try taking a stand on a controversial subject, or ask for comments on a related news article. Or look in your archives, and see if an older subject might benefit from a fresh, new take.

Departure, Delayed

Finally, the Departure phase of the circle game can, of course, be put off if the first two phases stretch out. When departure happens, don’t ask most users to stay. Unless you have a very tiny forum, this kind of behavior will be impossible to scale. And it generally doesn’t put off the inevitable for too terribly long. Instead, try to find out from the user just why they are leaving. Except for purely personal, internal circumstances (e. g. the user just started a new job and has no time for your community any more), there may be something you can learn from and improve on. And asking why will also give you an opportunity, not to entreat the user to stay, but to let the user know that he or she is welcome to return at any time.

Your users’ interest in your community will wax and wane. You cannot always do anything about it, but if an effort is made, your users are generally going to appreciate that. And your circle game will go on.

Categories
Community Management

Community Management – Snakes in the Garden

Community Management Tidbits – Snakes in the Garden

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

It’s inevitable. Virtually every community open to the public is going to get its share of trolls and spam. To keep from being overrun, you need to be vigilant.

Trolls

A troll is, essentially, a disruptive presence.

Community Management Tidbits - Snakes in the Garden
Troll in Trondheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But know your community. Chances are that a community of young mothers will have a far different tolerance level for disruptions versus a community of gun enthusiasts. And disruption also has a situational definition. Because a community of atheists very likely does not want to hear from someone extolling the virtues of prayer. Similarly, a community of fish owners may not wish to read about how to make fish ‘n chips. Or maybe they do.

Shaping the Dialogue

You, as the Community Manager, can shape the dialogue. And one thing you can do is to help dictate the community’s response to, and level of tolerance for, off-topic digressions. For example, with the possible exception of a dating site, few communities will welcome new people as their main subject of conversation. Yet every community probably should have a means for the currently existing membership to welcome newbies. This is not only common courtesy; it can help newbies to stick around. So decide just how much going off-topic you wish to allow.

Getting Help

Next, enlist your super user(s). A super user is, essentially, someone who loves the site, is around a lot and probably makes a lot of good or at least decent content. These people can often be tastemakers so you can enlist their assistance to defuse a troll’s behaviors or bring discussions back on track. Or, at least, these people can take the lead in creating and promoting other content, thereby burying and nullifying a troll’s handiwork. Furthermore, if your super users can create, promote and magnify their own content, that can assist your other users in wielding a great and powerful weapon against trolls: ignoring them.

Technological Solutions

Another solution is to use blocking software, either to suspend the troll’s posting privileges or to curtail them. Or, if available, allow your users to electronically ignore a troll (or at least demote or vote down that person’s posts), by either blocking the troll’s posts or disproportionately promoting those of their friends.

Going Nuclear

Completely suspending a troll from all usage of, and interaction on, your site is something of a nuclear option. It does not mean you should never use this tactic, although I would advise you to use it relatively sparingly. After all, a troll may simply be someone unused to forums, who charged in without looking. Tone and humor are hard to gauge, even with a liberal sprinkling of emoticons. Everyone has bad days and your “troll” could actually be a perfectly good member, or even a superstar user, in disguise, if properly nurtured. So go easy on the heavy-handed moderation if you can. Pick your moments and battles: a person urging suicidal members to go through with it should not be tolerated, but isn’t a debate among music lovers about the merits of Bach versus Mozart, well, healthy?

Spam

Onto spam. Spam is essentially a form of commercial speech. You first need is to define it in your Terms of Service. You may wish to allow your members to promote their own blogs but not their own commercial ventures. Or you may be more tolerant of commercial speech if it’s more on topic (say, a parts dealer’s site being touted on a Chevy enthusiasts’ board). However, you need to get this rule clear, and you need to be consistent in its enforcement. You will, inevitably, miss an exception or two. Accept that as just something that’s going to happen, post your rules and move on. And make certain to make it clear that the Terms of Service may be subject to one-sided changes at any time. This is not the time to ask for a vote by the site’s membership.

Zero Tolerance for Spam

Once you have spam defined, you really should go with a zero tolerance policy. First off, it’s easy to be overrun if you’re not careful. Plus, if you allow spam to remain on your site, you are allowing the spammers to piggyback on your SEO. Excise them and their messages quickly and, unlike in the case of trolls, don’t be afraid to rapidly go to the nuclear option.

You will, inevitably, get appeals on any form of communication you’ve provided to the membership, whether it’s in the form of a Help Desk ticket, a feedback form, an email address you’ve made public, a “contact us” link or something else. Monitor these channels and investigate every appeal. Some will be groundless, while others might not be. So, if it’s at all possible, make sure that you have fully reversible means for excising potentially spammy messages.

Enlist Your Membership to Help

Also, provide your general membership with the means to report spam and get those snakes out of there. The membership will not always perfectly understand your rules or apply them consistently and fairly. But that’s not their job. All you need is a report, and for them to be your eyes and ears on the ground. You, of course, should also be checking, along with your moderating team if you have one. But give your membership the means to report spam and they can help you. They want to help you.

Trolling and spamming are not the signs of a failed forum. To the contrary, they are often signs of success, that your forum is large enough that spammers wish to market to your members or trolls seek to shake them out of complacency. Spamming and trolling only indicate a failed forum if you let them take over your site, drive out all other means of interaction, and those snakes send your other members scurrying for the hills.

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