When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms

When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms

When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms? Timing, as you might expect, is everything when it comes to posting on social media platforms. After all, if you, say, tweet when your audience is sleeping, they won’t see your tweet. It’ll be lost in the mountain of missed social media communications.

Social Media Landscape
Social Media Landscape (Photo credit: fredcavazza)

We all have such a mountain of missed communications and connections. Social media just moves way too quickly for us to see, comment on, share, and experience everything. We’re only human, and of course that’s fine. Your mission, though, is to post when your audience will be around, not when they’ll be offline, or busy with work, or settled into bed for the night.

Zzzz AKA La La La I Can’t Hear You!

According to Kate Rinsema of AllTop (Guy Kawasaki‘s great site), the following are the most godawful worst times to post.

I’m Here and I’m Listening

These are the best times to post on social media platforms:

  • Facebook – 1 to 4 PM
  • Google+ – 9 AM to 11 AM
  • Instagram – 5 PM to 6 PM
  • LinkedIn – 5 PM to 6 PM
  • Pinterest – 8 PM to 11 PM
  • Tumblr – 7 PM to 10 PM
  • Twitter – 1 PM to 3 PM

What About Different Time Zones?

Articles like this often vex me, because there usually isn’t any consideration taken when it comes to customers, readers, and audience crossing time zones.

My suggestion is to take these times as your own, for your own time zone, unless your audience is on the other side of the Earth. Try for some wiggle room, e. g. if you’re on the East Coast of the United States, like I am, you might want to time things for later during the window if you’re aiming for an audience pretty much only in America. But for a European audience, you should aim for earlier in the window but recognize that, with a minimal five-hour difference, you might not hit the window perfectly.

Or, you could set at least your tweets to run more than once. If you do this, though, I suggest spreading them apart by a day, say, posting post #1 on Monday at the start of the window, and post #2 at the end, and then switching them on Wednesday or the like.  But repeating other postings is probably going to be overkill for your audience.

Caveat marketer.

 

Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 526 – How Highly Regulated Industries Can Best Use Social Media

How Highly Regulated Industries Can Best Use Social Media

For highly regulated industries, such as pharmaceuticals, various medical professionals, insurance, and financial services, a company’s desire to participate in social media and reap its benefits must be tempered with the demands of regulations. Trade secrets, patient privacy, and even insider trading can be considerations. But social media has numerous benefits, including faster communications with clients, and client education. What’s a highly regulated industry to do?

Preliminaries

Every company (and not just those in highly regulated industries) should nail down their domain name and its variants, plus variations on the theme of ___sucks. And not just for domains; those should also be reserved as usernames in every single social media platform that springs up, even those where the typical user does not fit the company’s buyer persona. That is, even if none of these platforms or domains are used, they should still be locked up.

Let’s say the company is Consolidated Financial of Winnipeg. As of the writing of this blog post, this isn’t a real company. Consolidated will need to take ownership of, and squat on –

  • ConsolidatedFinancialofWinnipeg.com
  • ConsolidatedFinancialofWinnipeg.net
  • ConFinofWinnipeg.com
  • Facebook page Consolidated Financial of Winnipeg
  • Facebook group Consolidated Financial of Winnipeg Sucks
  • Twitter handle ConFinWinn

Plus any number of variations on these themes.

Regulators

Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 526 – How Highly Regulated Industries Can Best Use Social Media
FINRA logo (image is provided for educational purposes only)

Before this company does anything else, they need to investigate what the applicable regulators say. FINRA regulates a number of Canadian firms doing business in the United States. The SEC then oversees FINRA, so their rules are also applicable, even though Consolidated isn’t located in America. According to the Social Media for Regulated Industries Whitepaper, FINRA provides guidance in the areas of recordkeeping, suitability responsibilities (e. g. firms can’t promise anything through social media that they can’t promise via more traditional media), types of interactive electronic forums (active conversation doesn’t require principal approval, but static pages, e. g. profiles, does), supervision of social media sites, and Third-party posts (these don’t represent the firm unless the firm specifically endorses them).

Per the same source, the SEC provides guidance in the areas of usage guidelines and content standards, monitoring and frequency of monitoring, content approval, criteria for approving participation, training and certification, and personal vs. professional sites.

For both regulatory agencies, the general ideas are good social media practices that even loosely regulated companies and industries would do well to follow, e. g. to establish a clear and consistent, easy to understand policy; maintain good records; monitor, listen to, and respond to site, group, and page visitors; know when to take conversations offline; and be sure to educate employees.

Practice

Consolidated will do well to establish a clear and consistent social media policy, and make it easy for people to find. This means posting it prominently on their Facebook page, and adding the verbiage to their Twitter background, adding it as a blog page, and placing it anywhere else where the public can locate it without having to hunt. Fidelity Investments does a great job with this on their Facebook page. Their policy is denoted in a tab which is unmistakably titled and isn’t buried past a number of other tabs or apps. The language is easy to understand, too. Just like Fidelity does, Consolidated should assure that their contact information is a part of their policy, so that investors and potential investors can find where to go if they’ve got more private questions, such as about the status of an account.

As with many companies in the social media space, the policy for Consolidated should include the specifics about the types of posts that are and aren’t allowed, so that users know what to expect and understand when they’ve crossed a line. This makes for a better overall experience for everyone on the page, plus it saves Consolidated time – no one can honestly say that they didn’t know what to expect, assuming Consolidated makes their policy as transparent as Fidelity’s is.

Consolidated will need to be careful, and to watch what they post about, in order to comply with FINRA and SEC regulations. They might also be subject to the FSA and other international regulatory agencies, and should err on the side of caution in their dealings with the public via social media. This doesn’t mean that they can’t have a presence, but they will need to exercise a higher degree of care. If a company like Consolidated does so, then its foray into social media can be productive, and can provide a greater level of service to its investors and possible future investors. And it can do it all without incurring fines from the Securities and Exchange Commission, FINRA, or any other regulatory agencies.

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job Descriptions

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job Descriptions

This is a shout-out to Blaise Grimes-Viort, Community Manager extraordinaire.

In 2010 (it was his most popular blog post), Blaise outlined some differences in Social Media job descriptions.

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job Descriptions

His thinking is as follows: there are internal and externally-facing types of jobs. The internally-facing ones tend to look more like Community Management, e. g. what I do for Able2know. Those tasks include pulling spam, making peace among the users, interpreting site statistics and measurements, scrubbing graffiti tags or adding correct tags to topics, and working on that site’s Help Desk. Those jobs tend to be called Community Manager, Head of Online Community, etc. Content Strategist and Content Curator seem to fit into this bucket as well.

Externally-facing jobs are more like what I do for Neuron Robotics, e. g. attending events on behalf of the company, conducting product demonstrations, doing outreach and sales, speaking with and crafting newsletters for potential customers, etc. Those jobs tend to have words like Marketing or Marketer in their titles.

Blogging seems to hit both areas although it’s general more internal. It all begs the question, though: what happens when you’ve got skills in both areas? Must you choose one or the other? See, this is what’s been bothering me, all along, about the whole Social Media career-changing experience — there seems to be a requirement that a person drop themselves into one pigeonhole or another.

I say, why can’t I be in both?

For more information, check out Blaise’s February 8, 2010 blog entry and make please help to make it even more popular.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 06 – ICM 526 – Best Practices in Using Social Media for Customer Service

Best Practices in Using Social Media for Customer Service

When it comes to best practices for using using social media in customer service, it all seems to boil down to three things –

  1. Be fast
  2. Be empathetic
  3. Be useful

Be Fast

In our hurry-up culture, two minutes to microwave a meal sometimes seems too long. Social media is the perfect medium for customers and businesses to have a two-way conversation. This dialogue inevitably contains complaints. Plus online commerce is often global in nature, so it’s a recipe for people demanding very fast service, or at least service during what, to your company, feel like off hours.

According to BrandWatch’s Prepare to Respond, which cites Nielsen,

According to recent research findings from Nielsen, 42 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds acknowledged that they expect customer support within 12 hours of a complaint.

Adelisa Gutierrez’s Slideshare on Reinvigorate Your Customer Service with Social Care breaks it down even further (slide #17 in the deck) –

Over half of all Twitter users of social care (essentially, customer service over social media channels) expect a response within two hours. Just under one-half on Facebook also expect a response after two hours. On both channels, a same-day response is expected over 80% of the time.

BrandWatch offers as a best practice a simple idea – decide on a response time frame, and stick with it.

I would add to that, post your hours and your expected response times. If there’s only one social media employee, then that person is expected to be offline at times. They need off-hours coverage, plus vacation and sick time coverage.

Be Empathetic

Best Practices in Using Social Media for Customer Service (image is used here for educational purposes only)
English: This is a picture of the Zappos 2010 Culture Book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At eConsultancy, in the article, How Zappos Uses Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, Zappos as a company makes it a point of engaging with customers and providing superior service. That article cites an ideal customer service response. When customer @ktmink asked “@Zappos_Service I just ordered a birthday gift for my brother – 5 day shipping but wondering if you can get it there in 3? #195917709 “, @Zappos_Service responded with, “@ktmink This order is going to ship out today and your brother will have his birthday present tomorrow!”

Not only was the customer called by name, the company went beyond @ktmink’s question, which was really just whether a rush could be put on the order. The order’s shipping was upgraded to overnight, which is more than the customer asked for.

On Gutierrez’s Slideshare (slide #28 in the deck), she gives an example from Citi. @AskCiti was contacted by a customer walking to a branch who could not find it. The company representative expressed empathy and asked the customer to report back if they were still having trouble. The customer was still lost, and so @AskCiti responded with a landmark-filled explanation of precisely where the branch is, in 140 characters or less.

In both instances, Zappos and Citi exceeded customer expectations by putting themselves in the shoes of their frustrated customers.

Be Useful

Empowered employees are useful ones, and useful employees are empowered.

It does little good to respond quickly but then just fob off a frustrated customer to someone else in the corporate food chain. As Brandwatch notes, there is a difference between response time and resolution time.

It’s better to communicate that you’re working on the proper response, set a realistic expectation of time, and then deliver a real resolution. After all, customers want resolutions, not spin.

Contrast this with an example from the Gutierrez Slideshare (slide #29 in the deck), where a Bank of America customer is lost and seeking the closest branch. Instead of answering their question, the customer is instead directed to an online locator. Rather than converting a frustrating customer experience into a positive one, the customer was forced to go to another URL to get help. Even if the employee had never been to Manhattan, they could have used the locator and reported back with the information. This added step increased the wait for true resolution for this customer. Bank of America provided less service than expected. Not a good move on their part.

What’s Best Practice?

What do hurried customers, lost on the streets of New York; or at home and worried that a birthday present won’t come in on time; or confused about a service, really want?

They don’t want their time wasted. They don’t want to be treated as if their requests are too much bother for the company (for those requests won’t be a bother to your competition). And they don’t want to be given the runaround.

When companies understand these requirements, and put them into online practice, then they are truly offering the best possible customer service via social media.

Losing Control – Fear of Social Media

Losing Control – Fear of Social Media

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

Usenet is not dead
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.

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 there were discussions about other things as well. And — ha! — some people even attempted a bit of a community.

Fast forward to now.

There are online communities in all sorts of places. Facebook is one. Twitter is another. LinkedIn is another. MySpace limps along and is a bit of another. The blogosphere is yet another. Forums — my big love — is another one. And there are, I am sure, more, including, even, the comments sections in news outlets. Communities seem to spring up, no matter what a company is doing or intending.

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.

Enter companies. I think the biggest fear for them is a perceived loss of control. Well, it ain’t just perceived folks. 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.

Lack of control is, I feel, a grand means to creativity. It is a way to push new ideas up to the surface. It is — dare I say it? — a pathway to innovation.

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.

Communities — in whatever form they take in the Social Media space — are a means of letting in fresh blood and new ideas. 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, but sometimes there’s something in there, and it’s useful. After all, if you’re Corvair in the ’60s, you might think your car is dandy. Heh, it wasn’t.

You might think New Coke is a fabulous idea. It wasn’t.

You get the idea. Let in the community of ideas and innovation. They are gonna sometimes try to tear the company (or each other) a new one. 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) and keep it as on topic as possible without driving off people who are interested in not just the product or service or company, but also in each other — but who still have plenty to offer.

It’s not so scary. Really. For more on loss of control, see the February 6, 2011 edition of Social Media Today.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 05 – ICM 526 – Authentic Brand Voice in Social Media

Authentic Brand Voice in Social Media

Brand voice is the specifics of communications for a product, service, or company. It’s the “overarching standard for tone, vocabulary, and personality tied to a brand’s messaging and attitude”, as Digital Surgeons says.

In the constant clamor of commercial messages being flung at consumers, some stand out.

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.

Just do it.

I’m lovin’ it.

Each brand has a unique voice which cuts through the clutter. In a world full of over the counter remedies, sports apparel, and fast food restaurants, the message speak directly to consumers. The first one speaks across the decades (it’s a 1972 Clio Hall of Fame commercial). 43 years later, if you were around when it was aired on television, you still remember it. But it’s more than memorable writing that constitutes brand voice.

Alka-Seltzer

The ad is simple, as all of this brand’s advertising seems to be. The brand doesn’t dawdle. The consumer is told nearly immediately that relief is nigh. In their current online copy, Alka-Seltzer says,

Fast heartburn relief with no chalky aftertaste.

What are this brand’s sacred words? What’s in their vocabulary? Fast and relief are front and center. Heartburn relief and fast heartburn relief are probably also SEO keyword phrases for which the company is trying to rank. For buyer personas who may be older (particularly as the brand dates from 1931), the promise of fast relief from an all too common minor ailment is how Alka-Seltzer directly reaches its customers.

For a company that does so well with traditional advertising, Alka-Seltzer has been somewhat flat-footed on social media. They didn’t secure their Twitter handle (the similarly named @alka_seltzer666 belongs to Frances Bean Cobain), and their Facebook page only has 12,000 or so likes. But the brand could turn it around, by using the same clear and consistent voice it has used in its traditional advertising.

Nike

Nike’s slogan is so central to their brand that it’s part of the meta description of their home page. Interestingly enough, their slideshow doesn’t use that phrase. Instead, it’s phrases like –

  • Built for brilliance
  • Deceptive by nature, and
  • Your Pitch. Your Style.

To be able to authentically speak to an athletic buyer persona, Nike uses sports terminology such as pitch, and adds sports-related adjectives like deceptive and brilliant (used in the noun form, brilliance). Additional sports-related terms like nature and style are weaved into the brand’s communications. Those added terms might also be designed to slant more toward female or older buyer personas, with deceptive and brilliant slanting toward younger and possibly male buyer personas. Either way, Nike is speaking its consumers’ languages.

On Twitter, Nike continues talking directly to athletes and sports fans. To reach athletes, they tweeted, Doubt: Five Letters. One Syllable. A manmade expectation of failure. But it’s only a word. You decide what it means. To reach sports fans, they tweet from several related accounts such as NikeCourt. These related accounts often show images of famous athletes (undoubtedly Nike clients), thereby linking a customer’s athletic heroes with the brand.

McDonald’s

Quinnipiac Assignment 05 – ICM 526 – Authentic Brand Voice in Social Media
McDonalds on West 42nd Street in Times Square, New York City. Madame Tussauds wax museum is seen to the right. Number plates on cars have been blurred. Category:Images of New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (image is included for educational purposes only)

At McDonald’s, the slogan has changed over the years. I’m lovin’ it is not only an SEO keyword phrase (it is even on the background image for their Twitter page), it’s also a positive message which amps up Facebook liking to loving, with its connotations of not only more affection but even a long-term commitment. Who better to provide repeat business than consumers committed to a brand for the long haul?

The brand’s voice is amusing, with tweets such as This Sirloin Third Pound Burger doesn’t leave mushroom to the imagination and Best Fries Forever for National Best Friends Day. Images and verbiage are upbeat and positive, reflecting a family-oriented and wholesome atmosphere.

Authenticity Rules the Day

Get the brand voice right, and the buyer personas for a brand will listen. Get it wrong, and even the best campaign can fall flat. One size, most assuredly, does not fit all. In the meantime, I hope Alka-Seltzer is hiring a community manager, because I think I know what they need to bring their authentic and unique voice to social media. There is an audience, but they don’t seem to be quite reaching them yet.

Jell-O on the Wall: Social Media Perfection is Fleeting

Jell-O on the Wall: Social Media Perfection is Fleeting

Every few months or so, a new study comes out which provides what are purportedly the perfect times to post on various platforms.

Jell-O on the Wall: Social Media Perfection is Fleeting
The Damsel of the Sanct Grael, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti: medieval romance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or it might outline the perfect number of words or characters or images. All of this relentless pursuit of social media perfection is, of course, is for the Holy Grail of social media, the conversion.

I don’t argue with the idea. Certainly everyone wants to minimize time spent and maximize conversions which, presumably, lead to profit or fame or some other personal or corporate milestone or achievement.

What amuses me, though, is that sometimes the advice is a bit conflicting.

Social Media Today posts a lot of articles like this, and here’s an example.

In May of 2014, four great and interesting (certainly helpful) articles appeared on that site. Let’s look at how they stack up.

The Ideal Length of Everything Online, Backed by Research – this rather helpful article indicates, for example, that the ideal blog post is 1,600 words long. This figure puts it into more or less direct opposition to Yoast‘s Social Media Plugin for WordPress, which, if all other conditions are ideal, starts to mark blog posts are having good SEO when they are 300 or more words in length. Now, the Social Media Today article is more about engagement, so I understand that this isn’t exactly apples to apples. But regardless of how ‘ideal’ in length a post is, it’s still got to be found. Fortunately, these aren’t mutually exclusive conditions.

In addition, that article lists perfect tweet length as 71 – 100 characters.

The Perfect Tweet  – speaking of perfect tweets, this article, posted four days after the first one listed above, spells out that tweets with images are ideal. Again, it’s not a true contradiction, but it is a bit of an inconsistency, particularly as this article didn’t talk about tweet length at all.

Yet isn’t ideal length a part of tweeterrific perfection? It seems like it should be.

How to Manager Your Social Media in 34 Minutes (or Less) a Day –  this article does a good job in outlining the basics and adding a bit of a reminder to try to engage the audience, provide good content, etc. However, they don’t include time blogging. And perhaps they shouldn’t, because if you prepare a 1,600-word blog post (or even a Yoast-approved 300 worder), you aren’t going to be writing it in less than 34 minutes. At least, you won’t be doing so if you want to (a) include images, tags, and other extras and formatting touches and (b) credit your sources properly and not even inadvertently commit plagiarism.

The idea of using HootSuite, Buffer, and/or Facebook‘s own post scheduler is, of course, a smart one.

9 Fresh and Effective Ideas for Your Social Media and Content Marketing Campaigns  – this article provides some quick tips on how to change things up, including an idea about engaging in a debate with competitors, and another about collaborating on content with customers.

I wish I knew how to do that in 34 minutes or less.

Be that as it may, we are all pressed for time these days, and it’s only going to get worse. Undoubtedly, a new study will come out soon enough with new standards and ideals and concepts that are touted as perfection. Will they be? Maybe, but probably not forever.

Quinnipiac Assignment 04 – ICM 526 – The Importance of Content Marketing for Community Managers

The Importance of Content Marketing for Community Managers

Why is content marketing important for Community Managers?

It is deceptively easy for companies to ‘get on Facebook’ or ‘get a Twitter’, and start pushing content out through a firehose. Companies may even make a splash in the beginning. But it’s unsustainable. Furthermore, it’s not serving customers and potential customers terribly well.

Much like any other aspect of modern business, online content requires strategy and structure. Just having content is not enough. It has to be relevant to fans and followers, and be more than something they will just click on and read. Instead, content is for marketing; it is for getting customers and potential customers into the sales funnel and then bringing them along. This is the case whether the sale occurs online or in a brick and mortar store.

The Content Marketing Institute says –

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

The Numbers Say It All

As Steven MacDonald reminds in The 5 Pillars of Successful Content Marketing, the amount of data being created in two days is more than was created from the beginning of time until 2003. Certainly, that figure is only going to grow. The United States census, in 2012, released an infographic comparing 2012 data on computers and Internet usage with 1997 (when the census first began asking about Internet usage) and 1984 data.

Per the United States census, the percentage of households without Internet has fallen dramatically, from 45.3% in 2003, to 25.2% in 2012. This does not even take into account persons who might not have home access, but are using the Internet at work, school, a café or public library or other such location.

Relevancy

With all of these people online, and all of that content coming at them 24/7/365, the race is less to get any sort of content online, and more to get relevant and preferred content to consumers. When a potential customer is being bombarded with Instagram images of their friends’ lunches and Facebook status updates with pregnant friends’ ultrasounds, gossipy Tweets about celebrities and amusing Tumblr blog posts about upcoming movies, and Pinterest boards with recipes, somehow, some way, a company’s content has got to compete with all of that.

While companies can purchase additional reach and engagement, a more sensible ad spend is to target content more closely to customers’ and potential customers’ preferences and demographics. This is easier and more detailed and better-researched than ever before, due to all of the tracking coding which is embedded in social media. As Avinash Kaushik has said about digital marketing (a term often used interchangeably with ‘content marketing’ but a bit more general, involving the use of digital devices but not necessarily as fully integrating marketing with content types like in true content marketing) and measurement –

The root cause of failure in most digital marketing campaigns is not the lack of creativity in the banner ad or TV spot or the sexiness of the website. It is not even (often) the people involved. It is quite simply the lack of structured thinking about what the real purpose of the campaign is and a lack of an objective set of measures with which to identify success or failure.

Quinnipiac Assignment 04 – ICM 526 - The Importance of Content Marketing for Community Managers
Image of Wine Library TV’s Gary Vaynerchuk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (image is used for educational purposes only)

Structured thinking and objective measurement can help marketers to create and define success. Content marketing is similar in that it’s studied and planned. Content marketers don’t just put up any old content whenever. They study the various platforms, as Gary Vaynerchuk strongly suggests. Successful content marketers listen to their audience (there’s that idea of measuring again!) and determine what does and doesn’t work. They post their content when their customers and potential customers are online and listening.

Putting Content Marketing Together With Community Management

Community Managers are often tasked with shaping conversations online. This is everything from thanking happy users to publicly addressing complaints to being the first line of communications for public relations problems. But that’s mainly reactive communications. Proactive communications from community managers can and should dovetail with company plans to market to consumers (or to businesses in a B2B organization). Offering helpful, engaging, amusing, and informative content is the job of the community manager as much as the soothing of angry online customers is. Posting the right content, when consumers want to see it, can be the difference between a sale and no sale. Put enough of those together, and jobs and even companies can be on the line. The community manager, doing content marketing right, can bring in business and help a company retain its customers even in troubled economic times.

Community Management Tidbits – Wandering off Topic

Community Management Tidbits – Wandering off Topic

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

English: A image related to Edvard Munch repre...
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’s just not how we interact with our fellow human beings.

Most conversations meander; otherwise they become dull. 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.

The same is true with communities. You are making and promoting conversations, not writing scholarly papers. Or advertising copy.

Picture this: you’ve just started a forum, and you’ve got a modest group of users. But after only one or two topics, or five or so posts, they leave. Now, there are always going to be people who join a forum for one small, specific purpose and then depart. Plus you will always have a healthy percentage (often this can be a good 90%) of lurkers, no matter what you do. They are a part of every community.

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.

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.

But there are targeted, related topics you can try. Your users are virtually all homeowners (some may be landlords or superintendents), so what are typical topics that homeowners discuss? There’s mortgages, appliances, pest control 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.

Consider humor as well. Humor can fall flat, and it is easy to misinterpret, plus people from different countries, religions and cultures are going to find disparate things to be amusing. So be aware that 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.

Another tactic is to begin recognizing great topics, posts and answers. Provide some promotion to people who are drawing in more users — you’ll be able to spot them fairly quickly. This can take the form of badges, up votes, sticky topics and special user titles. And 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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Quinnipiac Assignment 02 – ICM 512 – Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment

For User-Centered Design Class, I compared Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment.

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment

For two sites with the same ostensible purpose – assisting users with hiring musicians – Harrison Parrott and Sam Hill could scarcely be more different.

Harrison Parrott

From the beginning, the Harrison Parrott site is all about the hiring of classical performers.

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
Harrison Parrott front page

 

The slide show changes, but the images are all clearly associated with classical performing arts, such as chamber music or opera. There is a lot of white space and the headings are simple and clear.

Scrolling down, the next part of the front page revealed the Featured News portion of the website. The slideshow at the very top is apparently the really important news, whereas the middle portion has smaller images and isn’t a moving slideshow. Featured News seems slightly older, but everything has a date range within the month of May, 2015. This gave the site an up to date look and feel.

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
Featured news portion of front page

Scrolling down, the next part of the front page revealed the About section. This part also contained social sharing buttons for LinkedIn and Twitter, and a Twitter stream. Harrison Parrott has done its homework, particularly given the demographics for LinkedIn (urban, over age 30, many with college educations, and 44% with an income of over $77,000 per annum) and for classical music aficionados (median age of concert goers is 49). As well as they can, Harrison Parrott is matching a typical classical art aficionado buyer persona with the closest social media platforms that they can find.

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
About portion of Harrison Parrott site

I clicked on the Artists tab, and was presented with large clickable images of artists with brief verbiage about what each of them does.

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
Artists page

The tiles are clickable and everybody’s got their own page.

A quick perusal on my phone (I have a Nokia so the screen is a little smaller than an iPhone) revealed that the site is pretty easy to navigate although the hamburger icon is unexpectedly in the upper left corner of the small phone screen. This detracted from usability but only momentarily.

In all, it’s a well-designed site where the user can readily locate nearly anything. As Jakob Nielsen notes in The Need for Web Design Standards,

“Standards ensure that users

  • … don’t miss important features because they overlook a non-standard design element”

While the logo isn’t in the upper left corner (it’s centered at the top), it’s still easy to spot. Doing double duty, the logo serves as a link to return to the home page. To minimize confusion, there is also a small house icon in the upper left corner, another way to return home from anywhere on the site.

Sam Hill Entertainment

Sam Hill is a site for booking bands for weddings, parties and the like. Head to the home page, and you get this:

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
Sam Hill home page

I’m not really sure what the images on each side are for, as there are no links behind them. This is it for the front page. Everything is above the fold because there is no fold.

The site isn’t optimized for mobile. The side images look even more out of place, and there is a ton of unused white space at the bottom of my screen. Print is tiny; I had to zoom in if I wanted to click anything. If the twin images had been eliminated, there might have been larger print.

Selecting the Browse By Musical Style tab, I was presented with choices which were grouped. E. g. Motown, Soul, Oldies, Beach, and Variety are all grouped together.

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
Browse by Musical Variety

I chose the musical style at the bottom of the tab: Decade, Tribute, Novelty Acts.

I selected Massachusetts from a menu of states, and was brought to this screen:

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
Massachusetts Decade, Tribute & Novelty Acts

The colors are still washed out, and the print is still too small on my phone, but at least those two images are gone. I clicked the page for The Real Geniuses and finally found a page that looked good on my phone. I scrolled down and found this:

Harrison Parrott vs. Sam Hill Entertainment
Sam Hill FAQ

The FAQ has its own page and its own link (upper right corner of every page), but it’s also on all of the band pages. The placement of the FAQ link does follow the Web Style Guide, but the placement of another copy of the FAQ on every single band page does not. Furthermore, from a developmental standpoint, placing the FAQ on every page creates a nightmare if the document is ever altered. I viewed the page source, and the FAQ isn’t linked from somewhere. Instead, the verbiage is in the page itself. This includes a statement that the offices are in Charlottesville, Virginia. If the offices are ever moved to, say, Pittsburgh, the webmaster will need to change code on over ten pages, and that’s just for bands that serve Massachusetts.

Between the two sites, Harrison Parrott is well put together and easy to follow and find what you need. Sam Hill could learn a few things from them.

My leap into a Social Media career

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