… And Facebook for All — Company Pages

… And Facebook for All — Company Pages

Company pages have become spots you put together on Facebook to support a business (not the same as a fan page).

... And Facebook for All -- Company Pages
Neuron Robotics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, like everything else on Facebook, these pages and their settings do evolve, and they’ve gotten simpler these days. Currently, the following features are available:

  • Change Background Image/Avatar
  • Edit Page
  • Promote with an Ad
  • Add to my Page’s Favorites
  • Suggest to Friends
  • Information
  • Insights
  • Friends Who Like the Page
  • People Who Like the Page
  • Favorite Pages
  • Photos
  • Links
  • Events
  • Wall
  • Info
  • Photos
  • This Week
  • Notes
  • Videos
  • Post Scheduling
  • Various Apps

Change Background Image/Avatar

This one is rather self-explanatory. Furthermore, a good, bright background image is good, as it shows up when you share the page. In addition, you might want to change these on occasion as that generates an update.

Edit Page

Manage permissions, add an address or business hours, etc. here.

Promote with an Ad

This is fairly self-explanatory. Note that Buffer has said that Facebook ads are a mixed bag.

Add to my Page’s Favorites

So here’s where another company you can link your page to your event pages.

Suggest to Friends

Fairly self-explanatory.

Information

This is basic information such as the company’s location.

Insights

First of all, this provides basic click information, including the number of Likes and Views. In addition, you can also see information on age and gender demographics and, most importantly, when people are online.

Friends Who Like the Page

Fairly self-explanatory.

People Who Like the Page

Fairly self-explanatory, except this includes people you are not, personally, friends with.

Favorite Pages

This goes back to adding a page as a favorite. And it shows which company pages your company has favorited.

Photos

Fairly self-explanatory.

Links

Fairly self-explanatory.

Events

I’ve found adding events to be hit or miss. First of all, not everyone RSVPs, and not everyone shows up even if they’ve said yes. However, it provides more exposure and it will bring your page up to people as the event date rolls around. Because even people who are clicking “No” are still looking, at least a little bit. So use with discretion and don’t overdo this. Because not every activity is an event, and not everyone should be invited to everything. Since that’s just plain annoying.

Wall

Fairly self-explanatory. In addtion, you can control who can add to your wall. However, keep in mind that if you are free and easy with this, you’ll get more posts but you might also get spam. Although if you shut this down, you end up with Posts to Page. And it’s easy to miss these!

Info

Here you add more detailed information. Hence this includes the company’s address and its business hours.

Photos

Fairly self-explanatory. Posts with images nearly always do better than those without, so upload an image if the link you’re sharing doesn’t have one. Make sure you have permission to use the image!

This Week

For administrators, you can see what’s going on at a glance. However, this no longer seems to exist on Facebook.

Notes

Fairly self-explanatory. Hence add notes like you would on your own personal page. E. g. these are almost discussions. However, the responses are relegated to subordinate comments versus the kind of back and forth that comes from the wall or the discussions page. And this is, admittedly, a nitpicky distinction without much of a real difference. I would, though, suggest that you not use the Notes section for blogging. Instead, get a blog through WordPress (yay!) or the like and do it that way. Because the Notes section ends up a rather poor substitute for that.

Videos

Fairly self-explanatory. Hence if you’ve got videos uploaded, they can show up here. However, this is not the same as linking to a video hosted online elsewhere.

Post Scheduling

Fairly self-explanatory. So just post to your wall but pull down on the post button and select Schedule Post. In addition, if you’ve been looking at your Insights, you should know when people are online. And of course you want to try to post when people will see your posts.

Various Apps

Finally, go to Edit Profile and there is an option for Applications. However, these days, the only ones are Notes and Events.

Next: Offsite Sharing

Getting inspiration from aging

Getting inspiration from aging

Aging happens to all of us, even if we die young. And much like children experience various developmental stages, our aging has some stages, too. However, in order to avoid repeating myself, let’s throw out a caveat here and only look at age forty and up.

Forties

For most people in their forties, this decade is a good place to be. Any children are often out of the house or are just about to be. Perimenopause has started for most women. And while that can sometimes be challenging, it’s a signal of things to come. Work can be at or near its zenith in terms of pay and responsibilities. And the house might even be paid for by this time, or close to it.

However, for some people, this is the age bracket when early-onset Alzheimer’s begins.

Fifties

Going beyond the forties means more wear and tear on all bodies. By this time, most women are fully menopausal, although on rare occasions a woman in her fifties becomes pregnant. However, if she does decided to keep her child, she and her child have increased risks of problems.

For people who had children while in their thirties, this decade means sending them to college (and paying for it). Or it can mean getting them married (and possibly paying for that) or starting to work. Furthermore, not every child can afford to leave home and so people in their fifties may find they are still living with their kids. In addition, many people become grandparents during this decade.

This is also a decade to catch up on retirement savings and begin to assess options.

Sixties

While 65 used to be the standard retirement age, that’s no longer the case. For people in more sedentary jobs, they might continue to work throughout this decade. In the United States, Social Security rewards you the longer you stay in the work force, so some people may try to make it through the decade.

Parents can often become grandparents in this decade, if they haven’t already. And their children may start to become a lot more financially independent. That’s a good thing, as people in their sixties need to think about the future even more. And it’s the decade when people start to (more often) become the target of scam artists. In addition, widows comprise about one-third of all persons aged 65 and older.

Furthermore, one in nine people over 65 have Alzheimer’s.

Seventies

A lot of people in their seventies may fit in the group of the so-called “young-old” if they haven’t had a major health scare. However, a lot of people get cancer (half of all cancers in Britain are diagnosed during this decade and later). And this is the decade when mortality from Alzheimer’s is at its highest, with 61% of those in this age group with Alzheimer’s dying before their eightieth birthday.

Age 72 is when the Social Security advantages to delaying retirement effectively stop. Hence anyone who works past 72 either likes what they are doing or they really, really need the money.

Eighties

By this decade, if you haven’t gotten Alzheimer’s, your chances of getting it continue to climb, with the risk of it doubling every five years. By age 85 and older, one-quarter to one-half of all seniors will exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

However, if you make it past 45, life expectancy for both genders is in the eighties. Hence if you are in a couple, and you’re still together, you may even be during much of this decade. The differences in life expectancy for both sexes flatten out.

For people who have grandchildren, they are often grown or almost grown by now. And pretty much everyone in this age group should at least be thinking about help with the basics of life, everything from navigating stairs to running errands or doing chores.

Nineties and Beyond

It’s hard to say if the incidence of Alzheimer’s goes down. Some studies seem to support this although in all fairness, the sample size is understandably smaller. Hence if the doubling incidence continues, that would mean virtually everyone in this age group would be showing at least a few symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, cancer is uncommon as a cause of death. However, even more people become widowed by now. And it might even be the second time that’s happened to them.

Some people become great-grandparents during this decade (or during the previous one), although that depends a lot on a group’s age(s) at becoming parents. Very few people live alone or independently by now.

Is there an upper limit to how long we can live? That’s probably not something we can prove, at least not now. However, the oldest-ever confirmed individual was Jeanne Calment, who died when she was 122 and a half.

Takeaways

Beyond dry statistics about life expectancy, disease prevalence, and widowhood, aging can bring with it grace, or wisdom, or bitterness. All of these are choices, and many more, for your aging characters. Because not every interesting character is young, you know.

SEO and its discontents

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Discontents and SEO?

SEO and its discontents

Now, I am no expert by any means.

What really is Search Engine Optimization? discontents
What really is Search Engine Optimization? (Photo credit: Go Local Search)

But I know it’s important and so I’m going to take my shot at trying to optimize things as best as I can. The fact that the site and this blog are already on Google (and I already pretty much own jespah as a keyword – I’m #2 on Google already) is encouraging.

An Early Hint

In 2010 I met Kevin Palmer for a networking meeting, and told him I was interested in creating a new site for myself. And he told me — it’s like three legs of a stool: Content, Design and SEO.

Content I’ve got. I’ve got content coming out of my ears. I’ve got stuff to write like, like Carter’s got Liver Pills as my Dad would say.

As for design, I use WordPress. It is far, far simpler to just use their templates. They have an excellent understanding of how to put together a sweet-looking website and give it some style. And it’s mine and I made it and I am not only fully responsible for the content, I am also responsible in every way for its design and usability. With the help of WordPress, it’s prettier and more usable than ever.

SEO

But then there’s SEO. My friend, Robert Gentel, who runs Able2know, which we both manage (he’s the owner, I’m the Community Manager/Project Manager/Chief Cook, etc.), is an SEO whiz. I have talked to him about it a little bit. As I spread my own wings, I also learn from classes at Quinnipiac and from looking at Google’s own tools and, frankly, from my own experimentation.

I’ll either fly or fall onto the pavement. The first option is more attractive, so SEO it is.

Oh and the title? It’s a play on Freud’s book. I’m not a big Freudian but I do love the title.

Sometimes a title is only a title.

The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy

The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy

The Auto-Service economy is coming. And as computers have increased in sophistication, as have other aspects of automation, it appears that the fundamental underpinnings of our lives are being altered.

The Twentieth Century

Consider how life was at the start of the twentieth century in the United States. Many people did not own a refrigerator. Automobiles barely existed. A trip in an airplane (excuse me, aeroplane), was an occasion for diary entries and letter-writing and was practically a media event unto itself. A lot of people lived and died within a small area.

The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy
English: The River Transformed Exhibit at the Wannalancit Mill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The economy was mainly driven by the production of goods, and by farming. Jobs existed in service industries, of course, but a lot of folks made their livelihoods in factories, steel mills, coal mines, and the like, or they stayed down on the farm.

End of the Twentieth Century

As that century ended, however, the economy had changed to more of a service model. Factory and farming jobs went to machinery and, increasingly, to robotic workers. All of these people needed to have jobs and so they changed over to service industries. In particular, as the population aged and also became wealthier, many of those service jobs migrated to the medical and hospitality industries.

However, given the rise of the internet and customers’ familiarity with tablets (and their impatience with slow, inattentive, or error-prone servers), the service economy seems to be on the cusp of changing over to what I’ll call an auto-service economy.

Humans Replaced By Robots?

Instead of getting a human at the other end of the line when calling customer service, we’re lucky if there’s a phone number at all. As I have told numerous people complaining on Able2know – you’ll never talk to a human when seeking Facebook help. Unless, of course, someone could legitimately answer your call with, “How many I help you, Mr. McCartney?”

The Boston Globe published an article about how to handle this new paradigm shift. Because it happens as we move further and further away from human interaction. We move away from service, and help, and into the realm of mechanized assistance as the norm. In Use tech to your advantage when seeking customer support, perhaps the most helpful tip they provide: mention in a never-ending customer service phone call that you want to ‘escalate‘ the problem. Evidently that’s the magic word which gets you to a supervisor.

But if the supervisor is a robot, well, you’re on your own.

Employer Access to Employee Passwords

Employer Access to Employee Passwords

Employee Passwords have become a new battleground. Because this issue has begun to crop up, and it will only continue to do so.

So does your employer have a right to your social media passwords?

Employer Access to Employee Passwords
Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So before you reflexively say no, the truth is, unless the is expressly forbids it, companies can take advantage of a less than stellar economy and less than powerful employees and demand access into social media accounts and employee passwords. As a result, a variety of bills have been introduced around the United States in an effort to address this matter.

Massachusetts

First of all, here in the Bay State, a bill was introduced in May of 2014 which would block employer access to social media passwords. Because The Boston Globe reported on this. And according to State Senator Cynthia Creem, a Democrat from Newton, who originally filed the Password Protection Act, demanding passwords as a condition of employment, “doesn’t seem acceptable.”

Louisiana

In addition, House Bill 340

“Creates the Personal Online Account Privacy Protection Act; prohibits employers and educational institutions from requesting or requiring individuals to disclose information that allows access to or observation of personal online accounts; prohibits employers and educational institutions from taking certain actions for failure to disclose information that allows access to personal online accounts; limits liability for failure to search or monitor the activity of personal online accounts.”

And this is according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New Hampshire

Furthermore, House Bill 414, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“Relates to privacy in the workplace and legislative approval of collective bargaining agreements; prohibits an employer from requiring an employee or prospective employee to disclose his or her social media or electronic mail passwords; provides that violations by employers subjects them to a civil penalty; provides that the cost items of every collective bargaining agreement entered into by the state shall be approved by the Fiscal Committee of the General Court before each takes effect.”

Oklahoma

In addition, when it comes to employee passwords, Oklahoma’s House Bill 2372 says,

“Relates to labor; prohibits employer from requesting or requiring access to social media account of certain employees; prohibits an employer from taking retaliatory personnel action for failure to provide access to social media account; authorizes civil actions for violations; provides for recovery of attorney fees and court costs; defines terms; provides for codification; provides an effective date.”

And this is according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rhode Island

Furthermore, House Bill 5255, per the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Establishes a social media privacy policy for students and employees.”

Employer Access to Employee Passwords
English: Great seal of the state of Rhode Island Français : Sceau du Rhode Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tennessee

In addition, Tennessee’s Senate Bill 1808, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“Creates the Employee Online Privacy Act of 2014 which prevents an employer from requiring an employee to disclose the username and password for the employee’s personal internet account except under certain circumstances.”

Wisconsin

And then in Wisconsin, State Bill 223, per the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“Relates to employer access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of employees and applicants for employment; [and] relates to educational institution access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of students and prospective students;
and “relates to landlord access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of tenants and prospective tenants; provides a penalty.”.

Other States

In addition, Maryland became apparently the first state to consider the matter, per the Boston Globe, in 2012. Furthermore, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, several bills have been proposed around the country. However, aside from the ones listed above, only the following states have these laws. Except for Massachusetts, which pended at the first writing of this blog post. Otherwise, all were enacted in 2014. Furthermore, these laws prohibit employers from gaining access to employees’ social media account passwords. I list them by the year the protection was enacted:

  • 2012 – California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey
  • 2013 – Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont (provides for a study only) and Washington

Finally, the country still has a long way to go in terms of guaranteeing employees privacy in social media accounts. Hence we all need to look out more. In addition, it might end up a good idea to just out and out refuse when asked for passwords.

Facebooker, beware.

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. For more on loss of control, see the February 6, 2011 edition of Social Media Today.

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 Platforms
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.

  • Facebook – midnight to 8 AM
  • Google+ – 6 PM to 8 AM
  • Instagram – midnight to 8 AM
  • LinkedIn – 9 AM to 5 PM
  • Pinterest – 1 to 7 AM and 5 – 7 PM
  • Tumblr – 12 AM to 12 PM
  • Twitter – 8 PM – 8 AM

But pay attention to your audience. Maybe their night owls. Maybe they live on the other side of the planet.

I’m Here and I’m Listening

These are reportedly 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. Try using the #ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) tag when repeating your posts.

Caveat marketer.

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

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

Social Media Perfection? 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.

Articles

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

Ideal Lengths

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 at 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.

Twitter

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.

Quick Management

How to Manager Your Social Media in 34 Minutes (or Less) a Day –  this article does a good job in outlining the basics. And it adds 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 word wonder), you won’t write 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. Furthermore, you don’t want to even inadvertently commit plagiarism.

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

Marketing Campaigns

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. And this includes 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 social media perfection. Will they be? Maybe, but probably not forever.

Community Management Tidbits – Wandering off Topic

Community Management Tidbits – Wandering off Topic

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 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 Go 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 (often 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

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