A Day in the Life of a Community Manager

A Day in the Life of a Community Manager

A community manager tends to have some fairly similar tasks, whether paid or volunteer. Community Management can be a piece of Social Media Marketing and Management, but it doesn’t, strictly, have to be.

The community manager : a jack of all trades
The community manager : a jack of all trades (Photo credit: La Fabrique de Blogs)

A Community Manager’s time mainly divides up into three different modes:

  1. Discussing
  2. Nurturing and
  3. Disciplining

Discussing

The discussing piece involves creating new discussions and shepherding them along. Users will not return, day after day, without new content. While the users are, ultimately, responsible for the content in a community, the Community Manager should create new content as well. This is not always topics as it can also encompass changes to the site’s blog (if any) and Facebook fan page (if it exists).

The discussing piece evolves as the community evolves. In a tiny community of less than one thousand users, the Community Manager’s content may turn out to be the only new content for weeks! As such, it can loom very, very large, but can also have a much stronger ameliorative effect if the other content being created is overly snarky. As the community grows, the Community Manager’s contributions should proportionately diminish but there should still be some involvement. Otherwise the Community Manager can be seen as hanging back a bit too much. It is a Community, and that means that the users want to know the Manager(s). An easy and relatively safe way to do this is by creating discussions.

On Topic/Off Topic

And the discussions need not always stay on topic! Lively discussions can be almost spun from whole cloth if the Manager can get the people talking. An automotive community might thrill to talking about cooking. A cooking community might engage in an animated discussion about the Olympics. And a sports community could very well bring its passion to a topic like politics.

In particular, if the community is single-subject-based (e. g. about, say, Coca-Cola), going off-topic should probably at least peripherally relate to the overall subject. Hence Coke can branch out into cooking and, from there, perhaps into family relationships. Or into health and fitness. But a push to discussing politics may not fly unless the discussion is based on a major recent news item or if there is precedent for it. Finally, if a member is ill, or has passed on, getting married or having a child, an off-topic discussion can spring naturally and effortlessly. This happens regardless of the community’s main subject matter. Corporate management may not absolutely love off-topic discussions but they keep a community together, and keep it viable.

Nurturing

The nurturing piece relates to the discussing aspect. However, it tends to encompass responding to and supporting good discussions on the site. If the Community Manager should identify certain superstar users who are good at making topics who the community likes. And then nurture them to promote those persons’ discussions over more inferior ones. Use nurturing power to encourage newbies and members who might be on the cusp of becoming superstar users if they only had a little more self-confidence, and a track record of support and positive reinforcement.

Relationships

Nurturing can also take the shape of developing relationships with members. The Community Manager doesn’t have to be friends with everyone, even if the site is very small. However, they should get to know the users. Private messages (if available), writing on a wall (if possible) or otherwise somewhat intimately communicating with the membership can accomplish this.

Furthermore, the Community Manager can use private messages, etc. as a means for heading off potential problems at the pass. Headstrong members might be perfectly wonderful if/when they write on topics not related to their overarching passion. The Community Manager can encourage those members to participate in those other discussions and also to reach out to other community members. Friendship can help to minimize flaming.

Disciplining

And that leads into the disciplining part, which is often the first thing that people think of when they think of community management. That includes things like pulling spam. It also includes giving users timeouts or even outright suspending them when their actives contravene a site’s Terms of Service. And it also includes shunning and ignoring. These can be extremely powerful. The Community Manager can help to mobilize other users.

But Do It Right

An email or private message campaign is almost always a very poor idea. Rather, the Manager must lead by example. Don’t take the bait when challenged, unless it’s absolutely necessary (rare). It’s the Community Manager’s call when to take it, particularly if personal insults fly. Often the best tactics include: (a) get offline and cool off and (b) ask another Community Manager or Moderator to determine if it warrants disciplinary action. And then enforce that if it is.

One thing a Manager should never forget: there is far more to the community than just the people posting. There is often a far larger audience of lurkers, both registered and unregistered. They are watching events unfold but rarely comment. By leading by example, the Community Manager can influence not only active posters but also the community at large.

During a typical day, new members register. And members lose their passwords, start and respond to topics. Furthermore, they answer older topics, and people engage in private communications (if permitted on the site). Members may disagree on something and they may do so vehemently. The site may get spam.

The Community Manager should mainly become involved as a content creator if content creation lags or goes too far off subject. He or she should discipline difficult members if necessary. However, generally, a Community Manager’s main task, both daily and over the life of the community, should be to carefully nurture and shape relationships.

… And Facebook for All — Offsite Sharing

… And Facebook for All — Offsite Sharing

Offsite sharing is a fascinating concept. Perhaps the most compelling feature of Facebook consists of the availability of the Like Button.

The Like Button

Because the offsite Like Button dovetails beautifully with its presence on the site itself, i. e.,

“The Like button lets a user share your content with friends on Facebook. When the user clicks the Like button on your site, a story appears in the user’s friends’ News Feed with a link back to your website.”

Drag and Drop

Adventures in Career Changing - Facebook | Offsite sharing
Facebook likes can sometimes be hard to come by.

Furthermore, the site certainly tries to make it easy for even novice programmers (and people who can really only do drag and drop) to place a Like Button on their own sites for offsite sharing. The premise is irresistible: you add the Like Button, people “Like” your own site, and that information transmits back to Facebook and to the Likers’ friend lists. In addition, their friends, who may not have know about you at all, suddenly do, and the offsite sharing spreads even more. They, hopefully, check you out, Like you, and the process repeats on and on, ad infinitum, or at least in theory. And with enough intersecting friends with enough non-intersecting additional friendships, a few Likes could translate into dozens, if not hundreds, or even thousands, of new people who know about you.

Engagement and Reach

However, engagement and reach are both going down. And Facebook actually has the gall to try to get people to pay for what it does! Quelle horreur!

But, seriously folks, how do you think Facebook pays its bills? They do it with advertising. If the users won’t be charged (and Facebook would be mighty foolish to start charging all of those free sources of detailed consumer data), then advertisers will be. And of course that already happens. What gets a lot of people’s undershorts knotted is that the freebie style of advertising is becoming harder and harder to implement. Facebook seems to push everyone with a page to start buying likes to get more offsite sharing.

Thumb on the Scale?

Whoa, Nelly! Because that would be kind of unethical, if the site was deliberately putting a thumb on an imaginary scale and making it harder for people to reach their fans without paying for reach and engagement.

So, are they doing that?

While the jury is still out, I’m inclined to say no. After all, the site grows by leaps and bounds on a minute by minute basis. And engagement and reach dilute without Facebook having to do a damned thing.

Finally, does the site benefit from making it harder for page and group administrators to connect for free? Absolutely. But do they have to work in order to create this condition?

Nope. Life does it for them.

Next: Facebook: All the Rest of It

The Conquest of LinkedIn – Meeting Offline

The Conquest of LinkedIn – Meeting Offline

Meeting Offline. Oh. My. God. You want me to do what?!??!

The Conquest of LinkedIn - Meeting Offline
linkedin logo (Photo credit: clasesdeperiodismo)

Go offline. Yes, I really and truly want you to do this. I want you to go out and meet real-live, honest to goodness human beings. You know, members of your own species.

But, but, but, I hear you saying, why am I on on online networking site in the first place? Isn’t it to build a network online?

Well, sure it is. But nowhere in there is the word only living. Online, yes. But not exclusively there.

Not by a long shot.

Traditional vs. New-Style Networking

Traditional networking involves fairly formalized, ritualized meetings between job seekers and employees of companies where the job seekers wish to work.

Here’s the drill: the job seeker gets an introduction via a friend, or a friend of a friend, and goes to the contact’s office. The job seeker brings his or her resume and the two of them chat, maybe for a half an hour or so. And the job seeker leaves the resume and, if he or she is good at followup, sends a nice thank-you note. The contact may or may not respond, promising to get in touch if something comes up, or if the contact thinks of someone else for the job seeker to talk to. And the cycle either continues, or it dies on the vine. And so it goes.

LinkedIn Changes That

With LinkedIn, the drill differs. Here is what I found to be helpful. Your mileage may vary, or you may come up with something else. So, instead,

  1. You find a person you want to meet. They may be in your industry, or an industry you want to get into. Or they are in a company where you think you’d like to work. Make sure they are close enough to you that getting together is feasible.
  2. And you ask them to link to you.
  3. You do this with about 19 other people – this is a numbers game, and not everyone will say yes. My experience has been, out of over 200 of these, only one person has flat out said no. However, over half either ignored my link request or just never got around to it (I have even met some of these people under other circumstances – it’s not hostility that keeps them from linking to me, it’s that they are busy and processing far too much information at any given one time). So, give yourself better odds. Mine have been about 45% have said yes to the link request.

More

  1. Someone says yes. Great! Send them a note, saying something like, Thank you for linking with me. Would it be possible to meet briefly for coffee? I am interested in going into ___/working at ___ company/working as a ____ and can see that you have done that, and I hope that you have a few tips you can share. Thanks!
  2. Repeat this with anyone else who’s agreed to link with you, pursuant to your initial request. My experience has been that, out of the people who linked to me, I contacted about 55% of them to ask them to coffee (for the others, I realized they were either too geographically remote or they let me know they could link but were busy, e. g. they were new parents) and then, out of that group, about 25% of those actually got as far as scheduled meetings. Hence my success rate was that I met with about 6% of the people I initially wrote to.
  3. So block off an hour or two, but tell your guest that you only want 20 minutes of their time. Hence that way, if the meeting goes over, you’re covered.

Yet More!

  1. Don’t bring your resume! Instead, bring either a laptop or your smartphone or a pen and paper. And bring a paper list of companies you’re targeting. Because if the conversation flags, you can always ask your guest what he or she thinks of those companies, or if your guest knows anyone at any of them.
  2. Furthermore, have your guest select the date, time and place. In addition, give a couple of choices of dates or places for meeting offline, if your guest is having trouble deciding and
  3. Offer to pay for coffee. Even if you’ve been out of work for a long time, most people are sensitive enough, and realize you’re probably watching your funds. However, you must ask.

Meeting Specifics

As for the meeting itself, make it whatever you want it to be. And if the conversation flags, remember it’s only 20 minutes out of your life. So you can always claim a prior appointment. However, if the conversation goes well, be sensitive to your guest’s time – just ask – do you need to go? And then just follow their lead.

So follow up with a thank-you email, and send a note every few months or so, to maintain the connection. Just send along an article or blog post that you think that your guest might enjoy. And it is also a courtesy – although not strictly necessary – to follow them on Twitter and/or read and comment on their blog, if any.

So will it work? It can. I did not meet with a lot of people in terms of percentages. However, the people I met with gave me very good information, and introduced me to others (or informed me of upcoming events) which helped me out even more. And it also was incredibly helpful to me in my work, as I had a good, strong network to draw on when we had events and needed to fill a room.

This kind of activity will certainly get you out and about, and give you exposure to people in your current or future field. Finally, meeting offline counts as making a job contact for virtually any Department of Unemployment.

There, now, meeting offline wasn’t so bad, was it?

Next: Your Profile Page.

Twitter, Social Media and Professionalism

Twitter, Social Media and Professionalism

Professionalism? This post riffs on Be careful who you hire to manage your business’ Twitter account, a post on Social Media Today.

Twitter, Social Media and Professionalism
Follow me on Twitter! @woofer_kyyiv (Photo credit: Slava Murava Kiss)

In addition, in the original article, the author talks about, essentially, how to tell whether a Twitter feed is being handled professionally, or not. Hence following are their “5 Points to consider before hiring a service to manage your Twitter account.”

Check Their Twitter Stream

1. First of all, before you even look at the different tools for measuring a Tweeter’s level of influence (which can be misleading and in some cases manipulated) you firstly need to check the individual’s own Twitter stream.

  • What type of language do they use? – agreed. Because branding involves, among other things, speaking the language of your customers. Are you a hip hop record label? A travel agency catering to retirees? A diamond jeweler? All of these businesses have different customer demographics. Hence there is no “one size fits all” here. However, this does not mean people cannot adapt to communicate properly with everyone they do business with (after all, you need not hire a child to market to children), but the Social Media Specialist needs to get the message across so that the target readership is receptive.

Lazy Tweets

  • Do they spam their own followers by sending lazy Tweets for example? #FF @Tweeter1 @Tweeter2 etc. – I’m not so sure I call this spamming. I think, at times, it’s useful to do this. But overdoing it (and you’ll know it’s overkill if tweets like this – or quickie retweets – dominate the stream) is definitely not a good way to do business.
  • How do they use their own account? Is it professional or sloppy? Do they Tweet late into the night and have no professional boundaries. Do they over mix professional with personal Tweets. – agreed. And with useful tools such as HootSuite, you can schedule tweets. There’s no excuse for late night tweeting, and no need for it. If the stream is meant to engage internationally, it might be a good idea to split it up into more than one account, so that one stream is for North America and another for Asia.

Messaging

  • Are their own Tweets all over the place so you are not able to pick up a clear message. – this is a good point, and not just when it comes to Twitter. A clear message is key – for a robotics company where I worked, the message centered around sales. Messages promoted education and/or robots. NASA, for example, was only mentioned in the context of robotics, not in the context of space launches. There’s a lot of information out there. Consider it to be a bit like a garden – usually it needs weeding and thinning, as opposed to fertilizing.
  • Furthermore, do they acknowledge where they take their material from or just duplicate what they see their competitors do? – ah, this is big. It’s why the original source for this article is listed. And it is a big part of how the ‘net works, or at least is supposed to. You post a blog entry. A competitor sees it. If they riff on it and post it and give you a linkback. that’s good for you. And you thank them and do the same in reverse and yeah, they’re still a competitor, but you’ve got common ground and in some areas you can cooperate. Or they don’t acknowledge you, and everybody digs their heels in and the world becomes a slightly more miserable place. Hey, you make the call, but I prefer cooperation pretty much every time, myself.

Too Much Self-Promotion?

  • Do their Tweets make any sense to you or are they just full of self promotion they hold no real value other than grooming their own ego. – true, but I think sometimes this can come from Social Media marketing folk not being properly trained. If the marketing manager is unsure of how much promotion should be mixed in with information, the marketer might be similarly confused.
  • How much negativity comes across in their stream – not everything is or should be positive, but I do get this. The idea is, well, are you promoting to people who want to buy your company’s organic brownie mix, or do you just sound petulant and whiny? However, you can sometimes be too perky. But I think if there are errors in this area, they should probably fall on the side of more, rather than less, perk.

Which Business Accounts Do They Manage?

2. Ask to be given the name of one of the business accounts they manage, and go through this with a fine tooth comb. Keep an active eye on the account and monitor how they manage the business’ online profile.

  • How many Tweets are there and what type do they send? – it’s a quantity and a quality game on Twitter. You need to get across some seven views before people start to consider buying. And consider Twitter’s international, 24/7 appeal – people may be checking at 4 AM. This, by the way, goes against an earlier statement about the marketer not tweeting into the wee hours. No, they shouldn’t – but unfortunately, sometimes, that’s when the readers are online. After all, if you’re tweeting for people playing World of Warcraft, they’ll be on at 4 AM. As for quality, that goes along with the above statements as well – are the tweets worthwhile, or are they dull self-promotion?

Engagement

  • How do they engage with the client’s audience? – some of this is in the form of retweeting. Retweeting and replying have a place, as it is a give and take type of engagement. Is there professionalism behind the engagement?
  • And how is the call-to-action placed and worded? – this is fairly self-explanatory. There is a difference between what looks like a hard sell, and what has more of a friendly “Hey, check this out” vibe. Does the marketer know the difference?
  • In addition, do the articles relate to the client’s industry and audience? – this harkens back to my NASA example above. Content is necessary, of course, but irrelevant content is worse than no content at all. Because it’s better that the marketer pump out less content if it’s not relevant, yes?
  • Do they add any value? – the $64,000 question! Can you tell without having access to measurement tools?

References

3. Ask for a number of references and call them.

  • How has the business level of influence grown? For sure if they cannot achieve this for themselves, then they can’t do it for the client. – try objective measurements if you can get them, like Google rankings, bounce rate, etc.
  • What have been the benefits? – only your industry will have the specifics for this. Increased sales may or may not be the actual benefit. After all, sometimes social media is used for damage control. If that can happen more efficiently and inexpensively – that might be the benefit.
  • What difference has it made to your online brand? – again, this is a specific question.
  • How good is the level of communication? – hard to say what this means without context. After all, the car dealer and the online cancer support group will have different needs in this area.
  • What results has the business seen? – again, objective measurements are best, whatever you can get.

Metrics

4. Ask what Twitter measuring tools they use to provide their clients with monthly reports.

  • While there are some good free tools around they do not come close to paid analytical tools for managing Twitter accounts. – agreed, but sometimes that’s how things go, particularly if the Tweeter has worked for startups or nonprofits.
  • Ask what recommendations they have made to the client that have enabled the business to grow based on the findings. – these should be in whatever reports the Tweeter provides.

Time

5. Finally, ask how much time they intend to spend on your account over the week.

  • How will this time be managed with all their other projects? – this is a good question for any sort of a freelance or offsite working relationship.
  • What elements of account management does this breakdown in to? – again, this is not confined to social media; it’s a good question for any potential employee who’ll be working remotely, or not exclusively with you.
  • How will they keep you informed and up to date with relevant Tweets and conversations? – reports? Emails? What is manageable and relevant?

My Own Ideas

And now a few of my own when it comes to professionalism.

  • What do the tweets look like? Are they interesting? Relevant? Grammatically correct within the character limit? Or are they just slight variations on a theme?
  • Do all provided links work, or do they go to dead ends? And do the links have any sort of measurement behind them, even simple click metrics? Do they lead to generic pages, or to any custom pages for Twitter users?
  • What’s the follow/follower ratio? Does the person follow everyone, or are they, at least seemingly, a bit choosy in this area? We all know that junk follower accounts exist – does the Tweeter even follow those or seem to use auto-follow?
  • So how often does the person tweet? Daily? Monthly? A monthly Twitter stream is barely this side of useful. Tweets need not come every five seconds, but it is a fluid, evolving medium and needs more attention than that.
  • And finally, and this is a question for the person (and you may not get an accurate answer, by the way), does the Tweeter actually like what he or she is doing? Do they have a passion for it? Or is it, like, Time to make the doughnuts? I’m not saying that we can (or should) always love what we do. But plenty of people love doing this. Why not hire someone who does?

Finally, you can get a passionate Social Media person, to handle your Twitter stream, do your blogging, manage your online community, promote your Facebook page and more. And they will do it with professionalism and aplomb.
We really exist.

… 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

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

Facebook versus Forums

Facebook versus Forums

What hath Facebook wrought?

Facebook versus Forums smackdown!

Facebook, as anyone not living on a desert island knows, is a juggernaut of massive proportions. It is the 800 pound gorilla of the Internet. And it is rapidly changing our interpersonal interactions, both on and offline. So one of those areas is in the area of Internet forums.

Facebook and a forums site like Able2know

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

Everybody get in the pool

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

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

Swimming with Facebook

Facebook fulfills the shallow end of online interactions extremely well. It is very, very easy to catch up on a superficial level with High School classmates or the like. The Star Wars groups, for example, ask basic questions like “Who was the best villain?” George Takei has mastered these kinds of interactions (although, in all fairness, he also writes occasional longer notes). Because these constitute the quick hits that people can like and share, all in the space of less than a quarter of a minute. It works very well for mass quantities of information.

Facebook versus Forums – where Facebook Wins

Topics about one’s favorite song go better on Facebook than on forums as they are a quick hit and posting Youtube is simple. It’s colorful and, just as importantly, it’s pretty easy to pick and choose when it comes to interactions there, despite changes in privacy settings. Other basic interactions (remember a/s/l?) are seamless or don’t need to happen at all. Partly this happens due to Facebook’s real names policy. Also, more people tend to use their real photograph and their real (generalized) location and age than not.

Facebook versus Forums – where Forums Win

What Facebook doesn’t do so well is the deeper end of interactions (the extensive political discussions, etc., and/or it does not do them well for a larger group of people or over a significant period of time or for a longer or wider discussion. All of the deep discussions go unsaid. Topics about elections outside the United States (particularly if Americans participate in said topics) are handled poorly, if at all. When it comes to the deeper end of the interactions pool, Facebook is just not a good place for that at all. Another consideration: a lot of people still find that Facebook moves too quickly for them.

Swimming with Forums

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

Forums offer, even for people who use their real names and are fairly transparent about their interactions, a chance to use a persona. Because Facebook far too closely parallels to our real lives. There’s just so much posturing you can do about being a famous rock star when your High School cronies are also there, and they remember holding your head when you had your first beer.

The Endless Online Christmas Brag Letter

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

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

There is room for both types of interactions. Facebook versus forums doesn’t have to pick a winner. The Internet is a mighty big tent.

Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter, a Book Review

Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter

Joshua Porter had some interesting ideas.

Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter was recommended to me by Kevin Palmer as a good read about the fundamentals of creating and perfecting online communities and social software.

Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter

Not How, But Why

The book is less of a how-to and more of a why-to, if that makes sense. If you’re looking for code examples, look elsewhere. Instead, the book covers theory and explains how and why certain tasks need to be done.

Essentially, any social site, whether in the shape of forums or something else, faces the following user hurdles:

  1. Pay attention – users need to have an idea that they want your software, product, services, etc.
  2. Decision to sign up
  3. Input personal information
  4. Pay money (if applicable)
  5. Decide for someone else (if applicable)
  6. Give up the old way of doing things

Back Up a Second

Frankly, there’s even one item before #1, call it #0 if you will: the potential user must understand that he or she has a need. And, hand in hand with that, the potential user also needs to decide to fulfill that need online. Hence if a potential user, say, decides that they want support because they’ve just gotten a cancer diagnosis, but they further decide to only get their support via an in-person group and not an online board then, so far as you’re concerned, it’s game over. After all, not everyone “gets” the social aspect of the web.

Get Over Those Hurdles

Joshua Porter covers the handling of some of these basic hurdles, such as designing to favor signing up and hanging around. One main point he makes is: don’t make signing up too arduous a task. And its corollary: don’t ask for information you don’t need. Far too often, sites ask for what ends up being ludicrous levels of granularity of detail. After all, when was the last time that anyone, really, needed your middle name for you to apply for a job? Yet sites ask for this trivial piece of data. And, even if they don’t require it, that begs the question even further. Why is the field even there in the first place if the site so openly acknowledges that it’s just plain unnecessary?

Eight Seconds to Impress

Porter makes the point all too forcefully: the decision to sign up for an online service is made in eight seconds. That’s an awfully short window of opportunity to convince a potential user that his or her time and attention should go to you and not your competition.

The book abounds with these kinds of helpful nuggets, and is also chockful of references to blogs and books to support the author’s recommendations. The generous sprinkling of citations was helpful as it was a clear signpost suggesting online readings. It can seem counterintuitive to learn about designing for the web by reading a completely offline book. Porter’s work bridges the gap back to the web and lets the reader in on where to find more information situated a lot closer to where the reader is going to be placing new social software or services.

A Quibble

Finally, Designing for the Social Web does not seem to draw an overall conclusion. Rather, the book instead seems to simply run out of gas in the end. It’s as if the author had run out of what to say. Hence a final upshot or even some words of encouragement would have, I feel, helped. But that’s a small issue with an otherwise interesting and eminently practical work.

Rating

4/5

Community Management – Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen

Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen

Are you a good netizen?

I have been managing Able2know for over fourteen years.

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

Chill Out

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

Be Clear

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

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

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

Keep Chilling Out

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

Sing Along with Elsa and Let. It. Go.

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

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

Podcasting for Fun and Possibly Some Profit

Podcasting

Podcasting can get you to a wider audience. It’s a different medium from what you might be used to. And it offers practice and the opportunity to polish some skills that you, the writer, might not have realized you needed, such as thinking on your feet and being an interview subject.

Getting Started

What do you need for podcasting? This image is a pretty good summary of what you need –

Podcasting
Podcast 1 (Image by user Tim Wilson on Wikimedia Commons). File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The good news is that you have most of this stuff already. In fact, you don’t even need everything that’s in the image.

Computers

It doesn’t seem to matter too much which type of computer you use. You really just need an Internet connection. You will need some speed, so dispense with dial up if you’re still using it (someone out there is, right?). I would, though, recommend using an actual computer as opposed to a phone for podcasting, as the resultant file is going to be huge.

Microphones

The image shows a studio-style mic, but the truth is, you don’t need to get quite so fancy. My own microphone is part of a headset from an outfit called Hama. I know I bought it a few years ago. It works just fine and most importantly, the mouthpiece is adjustable. You want adjustability because, inevitably, you’re going to sneeze or cough, or the phone will ring or whatever.

Software

To be able to talk to your fellow podcasters on your show, or to your guests, you’ll need some software. Essentially what you are looking for is chat. My team and I like to use TeamSpeak. I imagine you could do as well with Yahoo! or Facebook chat. Just make sure that whatever you are using is private. Oh, and turn any sound notifications off.

If you’re going to put your podcast on YouTube (I think this is generally a good idea), you’ll need software for that, too. I use software that comes from my school, Screencast-o-matic. The school also uses TechSmith Relay but I prefer Screencast-o-matic. Either way, you want software which allows you to record a fairly long video.

You may not think that you need any sort of visual art software, but I beg to differ. At minimum, your podcast needs a logo or at least a slide that you can slap onto the front of your YouTube video. Photoshop or Gimp is ideal, but Paint or even Microsoft PowerPoint can do in a pinch.

Image Permissions

If you are going to use an image that you didn’t make, check the license! I like to use Wikimedia Commons as a lot of their images have open licenses or they just require an attribution and nothing more. Remember – just because an image exists online and you can right-click and save it, does not mean that you have permission to use it! When in doubt, use one of your own images. I like to use scenery images if I don’t have a logo. Scenery can even be something really tiny, such as one flower bud.

For sound editing, the beauty of TeamSpeak is that it allows for sound recording. But you will still need to trim something or other. I have Audacity though I admit I don’t use it for much (I don’t do the sound editing for our podcast). But Audacity is otherwise useful.

Practice

You should practice before you try to go anywhere with podcasting. It doesn’t need to be long or involved. Get to know the software. For example, TeamSpeak allows for a push to talk feature. Use it! This will help a lot when you are recording, as you need to consciously press a button for any sound to come out. Practice using this until it’s second nature.

Use Audacity, and record yourself saying something simple and scripted. It can be a nursery rhyme or the like. You don’t want to be doing this for more than a minute or so.

The idea here is to listen to playback. Can you be understood? Are you too breathy? Does your accent push through a bit too much? Do you talk too fast? Every single one of these issues can be fixed, including the accent.

Fix Your Audio

Generally, you will need to slow down and enunciate. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, but at least in the beginning you’ll want to talk more slowly, in particular if you have a thick accent. If you’re too breathy-sounding, try bringing the mic farther away from your mouth. As for outside noises, you’ll need to close windows and doors, put pets outside, and turn off fans and space heaters. Set your phone on mute.

When you work with co-hosts, practice with them at least once. Remember to not talk over them and, if you’re laughing at their jokes, you need assure that even your laughter is being recorded.

Hosts and Guests

Consider your subject and your potential audience. On the G & T Show, we talk about Star Trek and Star Trek Online. This includes the novels and cosplay. We will also branch out to talk about other gaming and other science fiction. Having this broad a topic but with its own limitations makes it fairly easy to come up with show ideas. As for guests, our hosts network at conventions, in the STO game, and on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Cohosts

A co-host is an extremely good idea, as otherwise you’re talking to yourself a lot. While you could carry a show by yourself, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to. Three hosts tends to be a really good number, particularly if the third is not too active. You’ll quickly find your hosts unconsciously dividing into three groups:

  1. The talker – this person won’t necessarily stay on topic all the time, but they can fill dead air.
  2. The organizer – this person understands creating a theme and keeping the show on target. This person often remembers to thank the guests.
  3. The utility infielder – this person can chime in and also cover if either of the first two cannot podcast. Along with the organizer, this person often performs research and gathers potential podcast material in advance.

Guests

As for guests, consider your circle, both online and off. You can podcast without guests, and you will most likely need to get a few under your belt before anyone will want to visit.

However, when you do get guests, the usual details apply, e. g. be polite, give them ample time to plug whatever they want to plug, and prepare questions for them in advance. If your guest writes, for example, you might want to talk about the themes in their book, where they get their inspiration, how long they’ve been writing, and how they first became published. Think outside the box and consider guests a little removed from your basic subject. Hence if your subject is books and writing, why not have a cover artist on as a guest, or a professional editor? Maybe feature a literary agent or a representative from a publishing house.

Extras

At G & T we have a Streaming page and use a minicaster. This also includes a hosted chat room – the show broadcasts live and the audience can listen and follow along in the chat room. This is not necessary, but it’s fun.

Blogging

We also blog about the show, which means that we take notes (in our case, the utility infielder does this). The blog is a great place to get the URLs in that we may have talked about but our audience might not have gotten the first time we mentioned them. With the blog, we can just make clickable outbound links. We also make sure that a player is embedded into the blog, so that a reader can listen to the show if they would prefer that.

Distribution

We always upload our podcast to not only iTunes, but also MixCloud and YouTube. These spread our broadcast even further. We use a regular logo card as the image accompanying our YouTube videos. For special interviews, we make different images, usually with our guest’s provided headshot.

To introduce new segments, we use bumpers. These are just short (less than half a minute long) introductions to various segments (e. g. Star Trek News). Ours consist of our utility infielder’s niece giving the title of the segment and then some introductory music that we have permission to use (always get permission or make sure that music is public domain!). Bumpers help because they provide a smooth transition between segments and they can cover up any ragged transitions. We splice these into the completed file. Our announcer girl has also recorded our intro and our credits portion (with music we can use), so we added these as a part of post-production. Again, these provide recognizable transitions for our audience.

Promotions

We promote our show on social media, with mainly our YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. We also have Tumblr, Google+, and Pinterest accounts but use them less. Our main promotions come from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. We also promote at conventions, including a table at Star Trek Las Vegas for the past few years.

Why Not Podcast?

So what are you waiting for? Why not give podcasting a try?

Janet Gershen-Siegel is freelance social media marketer and a Master’s degree candidate (Interactive Media, ’16) at Quinnipiac University. Her novel, Untrustworthy, was published by Riverdale Avenue Books in 2015 and is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions.