Community Management Tidbits – Corralling the Cats
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hesitation Generation. So as I travel around then ‘net, I also take note of what is happening in my own backyard. What I have seen is an odd and somewhat disturbing trend.
I am the Project Manager for Able2know and in some ways it’s got its finger on the pulse. But, a caveat, the pulse is rather limited. This is a mere fraction of the web and therefore, by extension, an even tinier fraction of the world. Yet this is the world I know, and so I will report on it.
A2K is a generalized Q & A website where people can post all manner of questions. The availability and quality of the answers varies greatly. Keep in mind: no one is paid to answer questions on Able2know.
Hence inquiries about voltage are generally answered with an admonition to hire a licensed electrician. Requests for medical advice are answered vaguely, and nearly always involve telling the poster to follow up with their personal physician. Inquiries about the law receive a nearly identical treatment, save for the advice to contact an attorney.
You don’t need a degree in psychology to be able to dispense advice. Anyone who appears to be clinically depressed is told to seek treatment. Anyone who appears to be abused is advised to leave, and to contact their local authorities.
But it’s the people in the middle who I’m talking about.
What does it mean when someone stares at you? What is a good idea for a first date? How do I ask someone out? How do I get someone to ask me out? And the saddest – how do I get over a heartache?
And it’s amazing to me (and it really should not be anymore) how many people are paralyzed at the thought of actually speaking to the object of their desire. They wait and think they are seeing signals, and then they ask what those supposed signals mean. It’s like reviewing the Zapruder film, frame by agonizing frame.
My advice is usually – ask.
How do you feel about me?
Do you want to go out for coffee?
Are you seeing anyone right now?
What would you like to do together?
So many of them thank me and promise they will ask (I have heard back from some, and they tend to report either success or relief that they finally know).
But why the heck couldn’t these people have figured that out from the get-go?!?!?!
Back to Ike
It can be a little bit like the 1950s, where girls preen and sit by the telephone, waiting for Prince Charming to deign to call – and heaven forfend he should take more than 20 minutes to get on the stick and call! And guys hem and haw about the most letter-perfect thing to say, when the reality is that the perfect thing to say is something, as that beats the pants off saying and doing absolutely nothing. The same is true in non-cis relationships, of course.
I’m not so sure who that dynamic favors, except for the phone companies. Because minute numbers go sky high, and Facebook’s advertisers benefit as people check each other’s statuses and relationship statuses obsessively. And then they get to serve yet more ads.
It seems as if everyone wants to fast-forward through the movie, and cut the suspense. Instead, all they seem to want is the sunset and the fateful kiss. Dorothy clicks her heels together before she ever leaves Kansas. And nobody seems to miss the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch and the Tin Man and the rest of the middle part. All that matters is the destination, and never the journey.
Something is missing here, and what’s missing is the taking of chances. I get that these are generally rather young people. The vast, vast majority of them are between the ages of 13 and 28. That 15-year span is the worst – it’s a combination of raging hormones and self-absorption. But nowadays that’s spiked with a seemingly inbred inability to take a chance. Plus it’s all fueled by the artificial immediacy of far too much social media.
Instead of risk-taking, everyone seems to want the risks scrubbed out of their lives. They want the endgame handed to them on a silver platter yet refuse to do even a smidgen of the legwork required in order to get there.
A caveat – this is, to be sure, a small group of people. Furthermore, they are self-selecting. Very confident folk are far less likely to request advice in any endeavor. Plus there is the age issue, as I have already mentioned.
People in their forties ask relationship questions, too, but those tend to be different. They are less about an initiation of connections and more about either reentering the dating pool or the dynamic of being a parent (or dating one) while in the game.
So, where does that leave us?
An inability to take risks does not bode well. It clouds decisions on everything from trying a new brand of fabric softener to consenting to an experimental drug trial. It colors employment and investment choices, and keeps people out of new business ventures and away from new books, films and music.
The upside, naturally, is that it may be preventing sexually risky behaviors. That’s a good thing, of course.
However, risks are often good, and a life without them is rather dull indeed. It can be mindless consumerism as people give themselves the same personal rewards over and over again.
The trick, as in all things, is to find a balance.
And now, a bonus.
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?
One last thing – here, for free, is my standard heartache cure. Your mileage, of course, will vary.
Expect to feel lousy for a while, and understand that that is a natural reaction. Congratulate yourself – you were affected enough to really feel something.
Relationships often keep us from doing other things, such as seeing other friends. So spend some time with your friends.
Explore things to do on your own. Some are inward, such as making art or even baking cookies. Others are more outward, like taking a class.
More You Can Do
Fill up your time. Being busy gives you few opportunities to wallow in misery. Your boss is likely not without sympathy, but you still need to write the reports, etc. or do whatever it is that you do. Treat your leisure time a little bit more like a job, in the sense that you should make some commitments and stick by them. If your leisure time is to paddle a canoe, then paddle the damned canoe. Don’t back out of that.
Do something physical. Exercise can not only fill up your time, it can also help with depression.
Do something for someone less fortunate than you. Read to a blind person. Serve at a soup kitchen. Visit people in a nursing home. Volunteer at a group home. These actions don’t just help the community, they can also help you gain some sorely needed perspective.
Don’t jump into a new relationship right away. Being single does not have to automatically mean being lonely. This is a time to cultivate your inner resources.
If you think you need it – and in particular, if you are experiencing suicidal ideation – seek out the care of a professional. There is no shame whatsoever in getting the help that you need. If you need medical help to mend a broken heart, it should be no different from seeking medical help to mend a broken arm.
So in 2010 (it was his most popular blog post), Blaise outlined some differences in Social Media job descriptions.
His thinking is: there are internal and externally-facing types of jobs. And 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, or scrubbing graffiti tags. Furthermore, they can also include 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. However, those other jobs can be more about promoting content rather than serving those who make it.
On the other hand, externally-facing jobs are more like what I did for Neuron Robotics. Because in that role, I attended events on behalf of the company, conducted product demonstrations, did outreach and sales, communicated with potential customers, etc. Hence those jobs tend to have words like Marketing or Marketer in their titles.
Blogging seems to be either external or internal. However, 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.
And I say, why can’t I be in both?
So for more information, check out Blaise’s February 8, 2010 blog entry and make please help to make it even more popular. Kudos to him!
Listeria is the name of a bacteria found in soil and water and some animals, including poultry and cattle. It can be present in raw milk and foods made from raw milk. It can also live in food processing plants and contaminate a variety of processed meats.
Listeria is unlike many other germs because it can grow even in the cold temperature of the refrigerator. Listeria is killed by cooking and pasteurization.
Per Sabra, “The potential for contamination was discovered when a routine, random sample collected at a retail location on March 30th, 2015 by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.”
Before anyone was sickened, Sabra acted quickly and pulled potentially contaminated product from store shelves.
On their blog, Sabra announced the recall and provided a list of potential symptoms, so customers could judge for themselves whether they needed medical treatment. This included a list of UPC/SKU numbers and names of affected flavors, so customers could know if they’d bought a container. Use by dates on the list were posted in English and French, although the blog post was just in English. Neither the post nor the list received a Spanish translation.
Further, sometimes the information being given out was flat-out wrong. For example, the company’s blog listed the dual classic and garlic hummus product, whereas this typical tweet implied that only the classic flavor was affected. Mixing would imply that in the dual package, the garlic half would potentially also be contaminated. –
kateboo Hi Kate, only our Classic Hummus is affected by this recall. No other product manufactured by Sabra is included.
The community manager insisted that only classic was affected even when a customer said that she had had a reaction to the garlic flavor. Later, the community manager had a change of heart and told the customer to report her case directly to Sabra’s customer service team.
Sabra Apr 9 SuzanneWillett Hi Suzanne, only our Classic Hummus has been affected in the recall.
SabraApr 9 SuzanneWillett However, please report your case immediately to our customer service team by calling 1-888-957-2272.
How the Brand Did
Sabra acted perfectly to quickly remove product from stores. This was not a direct social media response. However, it not only potentially saved lives, it also made the community manager’s job far easier. Consumer deaths were not a part of the equation. Offline behavior directly affected online behavior.
For a company in crisis, it seems the CEO did not publicly respond. The blog post is an author-less press release. Twitter didn’t point to anything the CEO had said. Without an authority figure behind the social media response, Twitter offers the impression that the community manager was left to twist in the wind.
That’s a really weak answer Sabra. Of course a person who ate your contaminated product should follow up with their doctor, but what are YOU going to do about it? How are YOU going to support and compensate anyone who has been affected or has been frightened by eating one of your recalled products?
As for their blog, Sabra could have spread the link more widely. Part of the list had a French translation. Hence the list and the blog post should have been translated into both French and Spanish.
It’s as if Sabra did fine to start but then stumbled. They seem to have recovered, though, and are back to posting recipes now, much later.
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 –
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.
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.
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 #help“, @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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been a Community Manager for over a decade but don’t believe I have seen a better outline of our roles and sub-roles than this graphic –
I have been in all of these roles, at one time or another. Because I am a volunteer and Able2Know is a large generalized Q & A website, some of my experience has been slightly different.
A lot of community members might not realize when they do this. Sometimes it can feel as if you’re the punching bag. But you can’t punch back. Whenever I’ve been involved in an altercation online (usually by being dragged into one; I tend not to instigate), I inevitably recuse myself and ask that other Moderators and Administrators handle what is to be done.
I’ve never been more in tune with this role than after a member’s death. I’ve written maybe a dozen online obituaries. It’s an odd thing to put together something of the life of a person who used a screen name and an avatar. Those moments require taking the temperature of a community, and understanding whether the remembrance should be a rollicking, funny wake, or posted music and poetry, or something else.
I haven’t been a gardener since the site was rather young. When there are few members and topics, the Community Manager is often tasked with creating content. That has to stop at some point, as the community needs to take over and make a far larger percentage of the content. With a brand-related community, it is different. The brand will likely retain far more of the content creation role.
These days, I prune or shape a lot more than I create. That leads me to the Cheerleader role.
There’s nothing like being enthusiastic about a new feature and having the membership scream bloody murder because they don’t like the change. And then, a year later, seeing the community embrace that very same change. Cheerleaders, at times, are treated like Piñatas.
We have a Help Desk, and I regularly route more of the developmental work elsewhere. Still, this is a role that could conceivably be done by others.
While I am a Mediavore as a matter of personal characteristics and behaviors, this role hasn’t exactly been necessary at Able2Know. I have used this knowledge and familiarity, though, to bring interesting social media information to the site. Plus I answer a lot of the Facebook and Twitter questions.
This is another area less important for a volunteer position at a shoestring site. More likely, I am checking Facebook, etc. to see if users are disgruntled, or leaving entirely. For me, this role has a lot in common with the Sponge.
Oh, how I despise this role. But it’s got to be done every single day. These tasks are often delegated to newer volunteer Community Manager/Moderators, mainly because it’s a large and daunting task. It’s also to get their feet wet and give them an idea of how we do things.
I keep some rough stats, as the site is run on a shoestring. My background is in data analysis; I know the value of objective, measurable, quantitative information. In particular, objective data is usually important at budget time. Management needs to know the community is working, and is more than a few people chatting. Data and its analysis can sometimes mean the difference between a project with a budget that’s continued, and one which loses its budget and dies on the vine.
For this role (again, keep in mind, I’m a volunteer, and the site is run with a rather low budget), it’s more of the times when I’ve answered questions at in-person gatherings or helped someone get back onto the site when their only means of communicating with me is via Facebook wall posts or Twitter or the like. But this doesn’t happen too often.
The Most Important Role of a Community Manager is ….
Empathetic Sponge, with a dash of Sculptor.
The role of a Community Manager, I believe, is mainly as a listener, and all three of these sub-roles are mainly centered around listening. What are people saying? How can we understand the community? And how does what we’re hearing convert into metrics?
Allow me to add a new role, perhaps one that melds these three – the Windmill. That is, a means of harnessing the wind. The Community Manager needs to know which way the wind blows, and how to measure it, and how to use it to power the community.
Module Four was about the Ad Astra Star Trek fan fiction writing community. Module Nine was about the Facebook page that my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I created for our ‘client’, the as-yet undiscovered Rhode Island rock band, J-Krak. Module Ten was about the creation and growth of the Twitter stream that we made for J-Krak. And Module Eleven was all about our less than successful experiments in spreading the gospel of J-Krak to MySpace and Google+ (the former was a particularly abysmal showing. At least our client’s presence on Google+ assured better placement in overall search results).
The class was great fun, and I could not get enough of studying for it. I have never, ever had a course like this before, where I was so into it that I could not wait to study, and I did all of the extra credit because I wanted to, and not because I necessarily needed to. That has never, ever been my experience with a class before this one. This overwhelmingly positive experience has given me the incentive to not only finish my Social Media Certification training, but I am also rather seriously considering going on and getting my Masters’ Degree in Communications, with a concentration in Social Media.
My partner and I certainly never intended to create two separate new platform presences for our project. However, it turned out that way. We just didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter as our first choice took a spectacular nosedive.
Oh, God. MySpace. We tried. I swear, we tried. But it felt like a waste of time from the get-go.
The board flashes and zips by, but there are nearly no instructions as to how to use it. Search is little help – you can locate people by city, gender, and music genre. And that’s it.
I could not find (confirmed) professional DJs, but I could sure as hell find professional escort services.
Engagement was virtually nonexistent. And this wasn’t just true about a tiny outfit such as ours. Britney Spears, God love her, has a million and a half incoming connections but, since she doesn’t have to connect back, her outgoing connections list is considerably smaller. There are comments on her profile by fans, but she and her marketing team don’t seem to answer them.
Perhaps the most telling piece of information about the Britney Spears page on MySpace is that it seems to have last been updated last December. You know, five months ago.
Hit Me Baby, One More Time?
Don’t you have to hit MySpace once, first?
Like the shiny wasteland that it is, Britney seems to be leaving MySpace in her rear view.
And so did we.
J-Krak on Google+
On Google+, it was easy to set up a band page and make it look good.
While we still need to add music, the look and feel of the page are already there.
Even better is the fact that posts can be scheduled in HootSuite, a capability that is missing from MySpace.
It’s too early to really get meaningful metrics, but we’re trying!
This week, we did not have to record a video. Instead, my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I created a blog for our ‘client’. We will be adding content to it. I hope you will read what we have to say.
Our main concern, to start with, was to properly design the blog. To that end, we spent some time crafting a representative logo. This was an image of a vinyl record (it was simply a Creative Commons image that Kim had found online somewhere), and then adding verbiage over it, in a free use font. We did spend some time going back and forth over font selection. We wanted something that would be somewhat edgy but would also be clear to read. We did not want it to appear amateurish in any way.
Another activity was to obtain as many free use Creative Commons images as possible which could somewhat generically evoke music and musicians. This was done as, sometimes, there are no good images for a particular blog post or another. The concept was to have some of the ‘port in a storm’ images so that we could put some sort of an image into each and every blog post.
I also took some pictures with the camera in my cell phone. The quality was all right, although these images will certainly not win any prizes for their somewhat dubious artistry. These were images of things like a stack of compact discs, a bunch of vinyl long-playing records, a number of single records, and CDs in a holder.