Daily Archives: February 11, 2013

History and Evolution of Community Management

Quill Pen & Letter

Image courtesy of Simon Howden FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Were there communities before Facebook?

The primary focus of our Google+ hangout and our theme for this week was the “History & Evolution of Community Management.” One of the questions discussed was what “platforms” we personally used in our earliest community participation. AOL Chat, ICQ chats, and LISTSERVs were mentioned. My personal earliest memory is of a private bulletin board service put up by a friend in 1992 that a group of us used to discuss the software we were developing for a non-profit group. This conversation also reminded me of a story that my mom told me about her early “community group”. When she was a teenager, she would write a paragraph about what was happening in her life and send it to one of her friends. The friend would add what she was doing onto the letter and send it on to another friend, and so on, until it completed the circle and came back to my mom, who would add onto it again and repeat the cycle. Consequently, I believe community groups have been in existence for a long time even though the underlying supporting technology might seem very primitive by today’s standards.

The State of Community Management Today

The proliferation of communities over the years has created a much more diverse set of communities. Today there is a group for almost every niche topic. It is much easier for “birds of a feather to flock together”; however, it is also more difficult for a single community to meet the needs of all of its constituents as it grows larger.

Outsource or Hire

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sourcing Strategies for Community Management

Building a strong Community Management team is not as easy as it may appear. A small sole-proprietor in a start-up company may need to do everything him/herself out of necessity. A large brand may find it easier to outsource community management duties to a company specializing in these tasks, but may risk losing the authentic “voice of the brand.” Steve shared examples from his internship with a community management company where he had to spend several weeks studying up on the businesses he was to represent. Early on, all of his posts were reviewed before they could be released. While the best way to learn about a community is to actively participate, there is a great deal of upfront work that goes into getting to that point. Reviewing the Social Media Maturity Model can also help a new community manager understand where his company or brand is in the life cycle and provide guidance as to how to best engage the community.

Communities for Brand Mascots

Brands with mascots bring their own challenges. The community manager must “become” the character for which he or she is speaking. Being “in character” as Captain Crunch or the Geico Gecko every day can be difficult, but creating a mascot with a strong persona can lead to audience growth and help build an energetic community for the brand. Customers tend to become more engaged and enjoy interacting with the mascot. Keeping the brand in the forefront of customers’ minds can lead to increased sales.

Community Management

Image courtesy of Simon Howden FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who should be a Community Manager?

Are Community Managers born or made? While community manager capability can be improved by the right training and on the job experiences, there are certain characteristics that good community managers are born with. Chiefly, a desire to interact and connect with people, not just via social media, but face-to-face as well. In this respect, my natural inclinations cause me to gravitate more toward that of social media manager than community manager. Social media managers are more likely to enjoy developing marketing strategies and measuring results with analytics than spending most of their day interfacing with people.

Tips on Listening to Your Community

An online relationship is fundamentally no different than a “normal” relationship with a friend, significant other or a family member. The most successful types of relationships are built upon good communication, and the most important part of communicating is listening.

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine are the authors of The Networked Nonprofit, a book about using social media in a nonprofit organization. This is what they have to say about the importance of listening to your community:

The Networked Nonprofit quote 

Don’t you just love when people listen to what you have to say and value your opinion? Your community members are no different.

I work in higher education and run social media sites for my University’s office in New York City. Our community is made up of our alumni who now live in NYC. It is really important for me to listen to what our alumni are interested and what they are looking for from their Alma Mater after they graduate. Below are some tools that I find helpful when monitoring our community.

Tools to help you listen:

  • Google Alerts: Google alerts are extremely useful to track what other companies and blogs are saying about google alertsyour organization, product, service or company. You can set up email notifications that will be sent to you when your search term shows up on other blogs, articles, websites, etc.
  • RSS Feeds: RSS Feeds (Real Simple Syndication) allow you to get the headlines and summaries of blogs, newspapers or other publications that relate to your industry. Since I am in higher education, having RSS feeds of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Chronicle of Philanthropy help me stay updated with what universities and nonprofits are doing around the world.
  • Blogs about your industry: Following blogs about your industry is a great way to network and learn from others in your same line of work. You can see if other communities of people are interested in the same topics you are covering or if they run into the same issues within their community. Reading other blogs could also give you ideas of what to talk about with your followers. Engage Alumni and social @ edu are two blogs that help me lead my community better.
  • Comments on blogs: It is important to read comments on blogs because you are getting opinions right from your own community members. They have something to say and they are telling you what issue or accolade they have publicly.  Kanter and Fine point out that it is especially important to listen to your critics, even if it is painful to hear, “criticism is an opportunity to learn and build relationships with the critics themselves.”

    SUinNYC

    Monitor Hash Tags and Key Words

  • Key word searches: Do a quick key word search in Google every now and then to see what comes up. Since I’m interested in how higher education institutions use social media, by typing in “higher education and social media” articles, blogs, and discussions that could be useful to me pop up.
  • Hash tags: Like key word searches, searching for hash tags on Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, etc. will bring you to what your community members are talking about. It can also lead you to potential new community members.

These are just a few of the tools that I find helpful. Listening to your community is the first step when trying to build your community and it is also the key maintaining it.

What tools do you find most helpful?

Listening to the “Voice of the Customer” using Social Media

Listening Ear

Image courtesy of Ambro FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What does it take to Hear the Voice of the Customer?

When I was working on six sigma process improvement projects, one of our first steps was to gather the “voice of the customer” or VOC, as we called it, for short. This involved gathering documentation on the current process and interviewing the appropriate stakeholders (a.k.a., customers). From reams of paper and hours of testimony we would develop a short problem statement of what the “customer” wanted to improve about the process. Listening to the customer was not always easy. Some had personal axes to grind, others feared changing the process would complicate their lives, and still others found it difficult to articulate their issues with the process. Today, social media promises new ways to determine the VOC for true customers. Unfortunately, many of the same obstacles still remain and some are even amplified by the same social media that is promising to be our savior. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to overcome these obstacles and make social media work for us in our search for the authentic VOC.

Where does your customer “hangout”?

While I thought the volumes of data associated with developing the six sigma VOC were large, they are nothing compared to the universe of customer data available today via the internet and social media. Most companies have fairly well-defined target market segments. By knowing the demographics of the target market segment, we at least can develop a starting point. In “Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities”, Richard Millington states that the first step toward finding your audience is to determine what platforms they use. Based on some simple demographics, we can make some good guesses as to where our customers and potential customers will hang out. We know from the PEW Internet poll that the 65+ crowd has the smallest presence on social media, but that this is growing as the baby boomers age into this category.  From this Mashable infographic we know that students and engineers, especially males ones, are the primary users of Google+. While in the past Twitter has had a reputation of having a more early-thirties to mid-forties demographic, currently the 18 to 29 year segment has a larger representation. Simple Google searches can help you find where your target audience is most likely to reside.

What does your customer care about?

Once you know where your customer “hangs” the next step is to determine what they care about. Millington suggests asking these questions:

  • What issues does your customer care about?
  • What do they aspire to be and do?
  • What do they know and want to know?

There are many tools that can help you determine the issues that your customer cares about most. Packaged software by the likes of SAS, IBM, and Salesforce.com (current owner of Radian6), can parse your customers words and phrases to determine which topics come up the most frequently. Digging deeper into what your customers aspire to be usually requires a more human touch. While tools my give some insight into the deeper workings of your customers minds, nothing can discern the aspirations of their hearts better than actually reading their thoughts and interacting with them. By taking the time to do this, you will gain insights into their needs and be able to develop content that can help them meet these needs.

Human Touch still Needed

While social media “listening” technology is evolving quickly, actually engaging customers in a conversation and listening for their answers is still the best way to determine their needs. Social media has opened up a larger window of public access on their conversations, but the technology still can’t “feel” and decipher the customers innermost needs and desires. It still takes the human touch.

What do you think? How much of customer listening can be delegated to software? What are some examples you’ve seen where it took a human to discern what wasn’t discernible by software?