Monthly Archives: March 2013

Planning Content for Your Community

Construction Plan

Image courtesy of Nuttakit FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eons ago (i.e. before the internet as we know it today) I was a volunteer (read unpaid) Marketing Director for a large national computer users’ group supported by the largest computer hardware and software maker of the day. Corporations paid an annual membership fee to belong and sent attendees to three annual conferences a year to learn about the latest technologies and hopefully influence the large computer giant to develop new products or modify existing ones to better address their needs. We were a community, albeit mostly a face-to-face one, quaint as that may sound nowadays. Needless to say, a big part of my time (and all volunteers’ time) was spent doing content planning. In “Buzzing Communities”, Richard Millington relates how his virtual gamers association grew once he discovered that community content needed to be “content about the community.” As I read his thoughts, I experienced a severe case of deja vu back to my days as a users’ group volunteer. According to Millington, content has 5 goals:

  1. Create a narrative for the community to allow members to follow what’s happening
  2. Provide a reason for members to visit the community frequently
  3. Develop a sense of community among members
  4. Establish a social order among the community
  5. Subtly influence the community by emphasizing activities that you wish to encourage

Narrative for the Community
The narrative for the old face-to-face model of community was paper-based communication. Our user group was divided into groups by topics. The conference as a whole and each topic group would produce a newsletter between conferences reviewing the previous conference and highlighting key speakers and events at the next conference. Today, of course, newsletters may be published online, and are more likely to be a series of posts on a social media platform rather than a single publication.

Reason for Members to visit the Community Frequently
Under the old model, we focused on driving attendance at each of our physical conferences; consequently, much energy was spent around determining the correct theme for the next conference based on some emerging trend in the computer industry that our members would need to know about. Similarly, today, community managers must continually be thinking about new topic and discussion themes that can be raised within their communities to keep their members engaged and returning for the “next great thing”.

Develop a Sense of Community – Unique Identity
Within our user group, the different topic areas would try to “recruit” new members. Attendees at the conference would indicate their topic area of interest on their application form and when they arrived at the conference this would be denoted on their name tag by a color coded sticker. This allowed you to see at a glance whether the person standing next to you had some of the same interests and made striking up a conversation with new people easy. The night before the opening keynote, an open bar event was held in a large open conference room with large placards scattered around the room letting you know where to meet other “birds of your feather”. As people gathered around a group dinner would be arranged and you’d go out for dinner together. This was repeated every night of the conference and helped to build strong communities. I believe that this aspect is perhaps harder to build in today’s online communities because of the lack of food and drink, but creating an inviting place that helps “birds of a feather” find each other and “flock together” is still the key.

Establish a Social Order
In the old physical world, at each conference the “President’s Award” would be given to one or possibly a few people who had been long-time contributors to the community and had done something outstanding for that particular conference. The entire volunteer organization had a hierarchy and your status was identified by ribbons attached to your name badge. First time attendees received a special pin for their name badge to recognize them and encourage old-timers to help them out. In the online community our awards are handed out by the community manager through recognition of a job well done or being mentioned in the community news. The structure is less hierarchical, but anyone visiting soon gets to know “who’s who” in the community.

Influence the Right Activities
In the user group, we wanted to convert attendees into volunteers and help them work their way up in the organization. We gave a special presentation at each conference on how what they should do so that they could bring value back to their organization in order to get funding and commitment to return and become a regular attendee and “wear a ribbon”. In online communities, we “like” good posts and comment on postings that engage us and make us want to return to the community, thus encouraging the poster to continue doing what he or she is doing.

What similarities and differences do you see between the old and new community models? Is there anyway to replicate food in the online community?

Thoughts on our Google+ Classtime

Class started with casual banter per norm on Tuesday the 26th, in which we learned that Steve makes great homemade pizza and it was Rebecca’s birthday.  Then delved into content for the previous week, the topic of which had been “Building a Community from Scratch.”

Spent most of the class time considering the maturation model and identifying at which point of the model we are at in the class. Most of the discussion pointed towards the class being at the 3rd stage of the model because we have flexible policies and governments, we have a general idea of what we need to do, we drive our participation in the community on the CMGRclass g+ space, and we use collaborative leadership. It was also suggested that the class is in limbo somewhere between 2 and 3 due to the fact that the class is a consistent size and is not open to growth.

The next topic was the difference between a community and a network based on the model. A community has a manager pulling string behind the scenes, whereas a network is more individualized. Community has some form of sovereignty, even if the lines are fuzzy, network pretty intertwined into other things.

The question of whether or not you can plan to stop the process in the maturation model at the point of at forming a tight knit community and not going any further was then considered. In Jenn’s opinion, it’s huge brands and their community members that make a network (pepsi, coke, etc). You’re part of a network and an audience, not a tight knit community that comes with smaller, more conversational and personalized grouping that is kind of like a family. Many smaller networks do, indeed, stop short on the maturation model and hover in the “tight knit community” category.

This led to the next topic of discussion, which was “Is the end game of building a community always moving towards creating a network?” The answer seemed to be a solid “no, not necessarily.” The maturation model is a good guideline for companies and CMs to take bits and pieces from, but not everyone is working towards a network and not all companies/communities follow these steps.

From the maturation model the class moved on to the Commitment Curve. It was discussed that the commitment curve needs to be scalable community to community, an opinion heavily aided by Steve’s personal experience and the fact that attending an event in some communities represents and exceptional level of commitment, but in others really doesn’t take much effort or exhibit much dedication.

 

What’s the plan? Steps involved with planning a community

This week we’re concentrating on the necessary planning involved with online communities. There are several things that must be planned prior to the implementation of the community such as your goals, objectives, member conduct policies, software and supported platforms. Will your community require expensive monitoring software due to the amount of resources being invested? Are you a smaller shop and only require minimal investment to succeed? These are some of the questions that must be taken into account when planning a community.

Where to begin?5524669257_ab67585fd0_m

After reviewing several articles online and the readings for this week, the first step is to identify your target audience and establish what you are attempting to accomplish. According to Joshua Paul’s article the first step is to identify a problem that your audience is facing. Your audience can include customers, businesses, fans or other parties. You must fully understand what they are looking to achieve through their participation in your community and how it will benefit them in the immediate future.

The purpose of your online community may be defined by both internal and external parties that are willing to change their behavior to solve certain problems. A business plan for the community may also be necessary to clearly define the goals and key performance indicators (KPI) to determine success. These indicators are needed to justify the resources that the business is committing to the development and continued support of the community. KPIs can include banner clicks, RSS subscribers, increase of sales, participation in company-led events or increase in overall traffic of physical storefronts.

In order to assess the success of the online community and attempt to calculate an approximate return on investment (ROI) calculation, there are several suites available that can monitor across several social media platforms. Dustin Betonio’s article lists some popular software services that provide a detailed view of an online community that can be used to assess its success. Most packages include pre-packaged reports that can give a view across multiple platforms and the activity on each.

Establishing Policies

Aside from understanding the purpose and KPIs for an online community, a Community Manager must have a clear idea of what policies each member will follow. What will happen if your community gets infiltrated with spammers, racists, or generally negative users? Do you want to allow messages of hate on your community? Obviously, this isn’t something you want in your community as it most likely will result in a loss of active, meaningful members.

In order to prevent abuse, a Community Manager must implement guidelines for users to follow. According to ManagingCommunities.com article, you must be impartial and apply the same rules to all participants of the community. Regardless of how a Community Manager may feel about a particular member, they are the impartial entity in the oversight of the interactions that occur between members. Do you want to eliminate any kind of negativity in the dialog? Should community members be allowed to “hate” politicians or other people that are in the spotlight?

These are all questions that a Community Manager must be mindful of when creating an online community. The justifications of resources spent on the community are extremely important because a company may have limited capital and needs to see tangible results in order to continue support of the initiative. How will you approach the planning process for your online community? Are you going to have a formal approach or something informal?

The Importance of Creating a Content Calendar

I will admit, I have not been proactive in creating a content calendar. The community I have been managing has been fairly small. They were very much consumers of the information I was spewing out at them, not conversationalists. But as we have started to grow, there is more and more interaction and more of a structure to our community of people. Which means I need to be more organized.

Google Calendars

With growth, I have noticed that I need to spend my time focusing on a lot of things, not just content; Analytics, reports, meetings, etc. Having a content calendar will not only help me keep organized for myself and for my community, but it would also help my coworkers have a better understanding of what my goals are and what I post about on a day to day basis.

But starting to create this calendar hasn’t been easy! The article Content Calendar 101: Tips and Tools, by Shai Coggins of Vervely suggests finding an approach in between being too organized and planning every single Tweet and Facebook post versus flying by the seat of your pants. How can I find that balance between scheduled tweets and making sure my community knows there is someone who is actually monitoring and is there when they need them?

buzzing communitiesRichard Millington, of the book Buzzing Communities, has a helpful chapter about ‘Content’ and how to develop a content calendar. He writes:

“Many community managers fall victim to reactivity. As the community grows, urgent issues increasingly take priority over the community manager’s work. Time spent on initiating activities, building relationships, recruiting members and creating content gradually diminishes in favor of responding to the urgent issues of the day.”

And this is true– it is what I feel like I am experiencing now. I need to develop a content calendar to be of benefit to both me, my community, and my organization.

Here are some of the tips for creating a content calendar I have come across:

  • Choose the categories that you will talk aboutcontent types

By monitoring your community, you will know what kind of content they respond the most to. Is is news? Interviews? Images? User-generated content? Job Postings? You might think your community wants a certain thing, but they will show and tell you by the way they react to what you post.

  • Establish  Intervals (Millington, 103) 

Millington says that your content calendar will repeat its categories at a consistent interval. This can be daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. Intervals will be entirely based around your organization, there really aren’t any rules on what types of intervals you should establish. However, they should be consistent, otherwise it is confusing for your community. If your audience expects you to post job opportunities once a week on Fridays, keep it that way; your community will then know what to expect.

  • Get Help

It’s okay to ask for help from your coworkers. Maybe other departments in your company keep monthly calendars of events (or for other things such as meetings or interviews) that are going on. Ask if you could be on their distribution list. That way you can pull from what they are already doing so you are in the loop.

Do you keep a content calendar for your community? How did you get it started? What tools do you use? Please share your suggestions on the best ways to start a content calendar and how to keep it updated.

 

“What Is In It For Me?” – Creating An Online Community

community manager orange

We as humans have an age old question – What is in it for me? Let’s face it, we all like to feel part of something. We all like to feel that we are reaching out to others of like mind or interest. Think about the show “CHEERS, where you want to go because everybody knows your name.”  We are motivated by “self interest”, even if all we get out of it is “satisfaction” or a “sense of community”. Other ideas to contemplate while building a community are:

  • ROI – return on investment. How will you know when your time has been well spent?
  • KPI – key performance indicators. Decide what is worth measuring (just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should).
  • Creating a respectful atmosphere where everyone is treated fairly (inside and outside the community).
  • Choose topics that encourage conversations. You want to get people engaged so they want to return.
  • Take a position on the topics so your community has a base line to start discussions. Make it easy for them to comment.

These are ideas to keep in mind as you start to build an online community. The foundation of your community will be a deciding factor on your success or failure of community development.

community talk

So, let’s take a look at some basics of community building. One of the first things you need to do is to determine what your goals and objectives will be so can create a system to measure your progress. It is imperative to do this early so you can measure every step of the way. Measuring your progress is important for many reasons, but primarily helps you to identify areas of success and opportunity. These goals and objectives should be in line with existing business goals. (Olivier Blanchard gives advice in his book – SOCIAL MEDIA ROI) Check out his infographic here. KPI will help you to track what topics get the most “action”.  See what is shared internally and externally to help choose future content. Rotate these topics in a content calendar with established intervals to keep people interested and talking.

If you plan to work for a company, Blanchard suggests that you create a “Social Media Policy” and a  “Bill of Rights” for employees and external partners that will define the framework of  responsible use of social media. This is an excellent idea! Clear guidelines and transparency will help the community to begin and remain on track. It also helps to protect members of the community by setting guidelines of conduct and creating a respectful atmosphere.

respect-promo-material3

 

One last thing to think about is how you view negative events that will happen. Even the best of community managers will encounter an occasional negative comment. I found an interesting article by Debroah Ng, author of Online Community Management for Dummies, on how to handle negative comments or reviews. She shares 3 main ideas:

  1. Every complaint is an opportunity to improve
  2. Even the most disgruntled person can become an advocate
  3. You can become a case study of how to do things right

You can read the full article here. This is all good news!

 

I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite examples, CHOBANI. They have fun with their community and products, but this site shows that there is something even more important … BENEFITS! The community actually “feeds the needs” of its members! One of the things that Chobani does well is make it clear that there are a whole range of EXPERIENTIAL benefits that come along with membership of their community. How do you see your community growing?

Until next time, “Happy Trails!”

How to Approach Effective Moderation

One of this week’s readings discusses the process and occasional controversy around enforcing rules within your community, and whether or not you do (or should) enforce them fairly amongst all participants – even when your members self-police the community by turning on the rule-breakers and “trolling the trolls,” so to speak. As a graduate of j-school, a semi-experienced editor of publications and blogs, and generally someone who enjoys debating rules of propriety and how people in charge should police them, I found the post fascinating. The questions asked by the blogger automatically open up SO many more questions, and variances depending on the community type, size, and Flickr: cheerfulmonksubject matter.

First, of logistics:

How does one go about policing a community after it reaches a “critical mass” – when it will require more man hours in one day than you have to devote to it? How do you, as a moderator (and a programmer/rule-maker) cover everything, all the time? Can you set automatic filters which red flag posts containing forbidden content? And when you get those red flags, how do you decide where the content falls – on which side of the solid line you have set? For example, at what point is a photo with nudity, considered “art” vs. “adult  content”? Or when someone quotes another source, and the quote contains content outside the rule limits, will their entire point be deleted? Will there be an opportunity to edit the post after it’s sent, so the poster can change his comment later, or will he lose involvement in that particular conversation, at that particular time, instantaneously?

When the community reaches its critical mass, how should CM’s decide whom to entrust with part of the moderating responsibilities? One very prominent story I read on Gawker last year talked about “Violentacrez,” a Reddit user and well-known troll, who also voluntarily served as a moderator in many hugely popular Reddit conversation threads. Violentacrez was not a paid employee of Reddit, but he was well-known and well-liked by its paid staff for his good work, even as he stalked the internet and posted pornographic content for 18 hours a day. As the length and scathing tone to the Gawker article suggests, few liked Violentacrez, and many enjoyed watching as his identity was revealed. He was fired from his job specifically for his online behavior, and has since gained attention from law enforcement. Still, Reddit never took responsibility for him or necessarily sided with him – which, I think, creates a problematic model for any other volunteer moderators in a similar situation.

Secondly, consider some questions of message:  

Great, you’ve established strict rules, probably for the good of your community as a whole. So, are you, as the CM, prepared to call out your own (probably strongest and most dedicated) community members? How do you chastise or edit any content posted by a rule-breaker whom your own community has turned on, without making a martyr of him/her or enforcing the idea that “trolling the troll” is okay? How do you hold everyone to the rules you set, regardless of the intentions behind any offending content, without driving members away? And how do your enforcement (or lack thereof) and your enforcement methods affect the community’s evolution, mood, communications styles, and eventual profile?

I know I’ve used a lot of question marks in this post, but all the questions are valid concerns that community managers, editors at media outlets, and social media managers must address in ways specific to their individual community settings. So, here’s one more question: How would you (or do you) go about enforcing the rules of content within your community?

Nothing is Stronger then a Well Built Community

This week’s topic is on building a community from scratch. There are a number of suggested readings which provide tips on how to build the best community from scratch. Through additional research, I found one article from www.socialfresh.com, that I feel provides good insight into building a strong community. The article,  How to Build a Community From Scratch, is written by David Spinks as he weighs in on the topic.

http://www.communityspark.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/community_members_active.jpg

http://www.communityspark.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/community_members_active.jpg

Spinks begins the article by explaining why both start-up companies and large organizations have problems building a community. Furthermore, start-ups have a problem because they take on the mind-set of the company in trying to grow as quickly as possible, however this is a problem because communities most often do not work that way. Secondly, larger organizations have a problem building a community from scratch because they often think that they have the money and brand recognition which equates to an instant community. Bottom line however, a community is not built over night, but as Spinks mentions, “…Both require that you give every small aspect of the larger goal your full attention, and build up toward your vision.”

The article then continues to outline a “foolproof community building strategy.” The strategy outlined is…

  • Step 1- Pick up your phone, and call a user/customer. Ask them about themselves. Ask them about their experience with your company. Make a personal connection.
  • Step 2 – Invite them to a private facebook group, for your customers.
  • Step 3 –Introduce them to the group and help them get involved in the discussions.
  • Step 4 – Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Although this strategy seems pretty simple, a community manager must understand that this process takes time and can be tedious. Spinks goes on to explain that a community manager must continue this strategy until the discussions in the group are flowing smoothly and until the community manager feels that the group’s users are connecting with each other and a true community is forming.

Much like the recent, social media dilemma Maker’s Mark encountered after diluting their bourbon, the article mentions to stay away from ambassador programs. Rather, suggests to start focused and simple and to listen to your community because they will tell you when it is time to build more structure. As mentioned earlier, this strategy may seem tedious although simple. Companies often tend to want to say, “I dont have time to call all of users,” however Spink explains, “There’s no interaction too small to be worth your time, when you’re trying to build a true community.”

So to all community managers, remember what Spinks suggests, “It may seem tedious, but once it’s all done…NOTHING IS STRONGER THEN A WELL BUILT COMMUNITY!”

Challenges of Starting an Online Community

Many of the readings this week discussed ways on how to approach the creation of an online community and some of the questions you should ask yourself when establishing a social media presence. Along with the readings, the Google Hangout discussion with Olivier Blanchard, author of Social Media ROI, indicated that there are many questions on how a company should manage their Online Community Managers. Some companies may find themselves with the lack of experienced personnel to handle the duties of community management or establishing the vision of their social media presence.

Where to Start?

According to David Spinks’ column, the easiest way to start an online community is through the personal connections with your established customers. Invite them to a private Facebook group or Twitter following that will enable them to share their experiences with other customers in the group. According to David, through time and effort, you will have an online community of customers that has the potential to grow into an external audience that can promote your product/service. Personally, I think this is a simple, straight-forward method to start an online community, but can be limiting if you are a startup that does not have an established customer base.

One of the most significant takeaways from the Google Hangout this week was that many companies can struggle with the creation and management of an online community.  If there isn’t executive management support, then initiative must come from within and gradually change the pre-conceived notions of upper executives through the successes of social media integration. Third party agencies are another way to handle the creation of a community, but they must be managed appropriately. A company should never detach itself from an agency due to the high-level of visibility with customers.

Any company that is considering the pursuit of an online community needs to ask itself “why are we doing this” and “what do we want to get from this?” In my opinion these are two crucial questions to ask prior to assigning any resources on the creation of a social media presence. My previous employer spent millions on a social media campaign without taking the time to establish a thriving online community; relying on an agency without internal involvement with the initiative. Clearly, my employer had no idea what they wanted to get from this except for a general sales figure.

Specific, measurable, attainable goals need to be defined in order to measure the success of an online community. I’m curious to see what experiences my fellow classmates have had with determining the success of a social media campaign… If you have experiences, feel free to post comments to this post.

Reaping the Rewards: Community Campaigns

4316028378_74885d814e_nOne of our readings this week was an article on Kommein.com, in this piece, the author listed five questions a Community Manager should ask prior to the launch of a community campaign. There is a significant emphasis that must be placed on preserving the members of the community and their involvement in day-to-day activities. Making them jump through hoops to get to their desired content or products/services is a big no-no. Can you think of any other questions that should be asked while considering an online community campaign?