Daily Archives: November 6, 2013

Agency Community Managers: An Interview with Rob Engelsman

Huge LogoIf you’ve ever interacted with a community manager online, there’s a chance that person isn’t the type of community manager you would expect. Although most people assume they are talking to an in-house community manager, more companies are able to outsource community management to agencies.

I had the chance to talk with Rob Engelsman, an agency-based community manager. Formerly a content specialist at his alma mater Ithaca College, Engelsman made the jump from in-house to agency earlier this year. He currently works as a community manager at Huge, a full-service international digital agency based on Brooklyn, NY.

How do you become a community manager for a company you don’t know? The answer is tons of research, both inside and outside company.

“We start to see early on where there are faults in the system internally: where there are faults in what they think they are, and what other people outside think they are,” said Engelsman.

Those faults are the driving force for agencies, as they represent opportunities that Huge’s teams can fix. Analytics and data are the drivers of not just Huge’s strategy, but they are crucial to how the community managers approach and understand their communities from an outside perspective.

Engelsman believes that most companies are unsure of how to start an online community, most notably in hiring employees and understanding how to leverage social media in their communities. That is why they turn to agencies to fill that role.

“They assume ‘the young kid knows social’ … A lot of companies will hire kids straight out of college and – I’m not bashing that, my school hired me straight out of college so it’s not that bad – but there are certain aspects of that, coming from a strategy perspective, are more nuanced,” said Engelsman.

Where Engelsman focuses his time is the maintaining the voice of the client, quality of the content, and it’s relevancy to the audience. “At the end of the day, the goal is to add value … whether that’s a video clip about the stock market or someone is laughing because of what Cap’n Crunch said, you’re creating an environment that people want to be a part of,” said Engelsman.

As social media moves to monetize, however, quality content can only get you so far. “Facebook continues to change its algorithm to continue to entourage you to spend more money to make sure people see your posts,” said Engelsman. “We’ve got these big budgets now and we need to spend them … It all comes back to that question of whether you’re adding value or not.” Engelsman points to the recent spike in real-time marketing, where brands take advantage of a trending topic to promote their product, as one example of companies that are putting the numbers ahead of relevancy and quality.

For agency community managers, their time is divided between many clients. “We’re talking minutes of difference,” say Engelsman, referring to how quickly it’s necessary to shift between voices and tones. It’s important to have the chameleon-like quality to quickly adapt in different surroundings in an agency setting. This unique aspect of an agency community manager isn’t often needed in an in-house community manager.

Although being highly adaptable is impressive, it demonstrates how an agency community manager can’t be committed to a brand 24/7. Even so, most in-house community managers can’t listen all day, every day, either; they must run analytics, develop content, and attend meetings. At an agency, specialists take over each of those individual tasks. The real question is whether a community manager like Engelsman and his entire support system at Huge is less, more, or equally productive than an in-house community manager, and whether the money spent on that system results in a true living, breathing, self-sustaining online community.

What about what Olivier Blanchard from Social Media ROI has to say about outsourced social community managers:

“How do you build relationships through a proxy agent? Can you? Should you? … Whether you are conscious of it or not, the message you send to your customers whenever you outsource a relationship-based social media function like customer service or community management is this: We need someone to do this because someone has to, but we don’t care enough to do it ourselves. How much trust, affection, and loyalty will this kind of attitude generate?”

Is this true? According to Engelsman, in-house social teams are the people that hire agency strategy teams, including community managers. Why are those with the ability to build a community management team opting out of doing it themselves and turning to agencies? If we remember from The State of Community Management, community managers are highly experienced individuals, but despite a high level of expertise and commitment, they are stretched thin. Are the too-high expectations of in-house community management driving the demand for agency-based experts?

As some food for thought, remember Justin Isaf’s definition of a “win” for a community manager:

“[Community managers] ‘win’ if they put themselves out of a job because their users are talking to each other, evangelizing the brand and defending itself to the point that the Community Manager is no longer needed.”

Are agency community managers the future of community management? How might this sort of structure affect practices like relationship building and longevity in communities? In what scenarios could an agency community manager be a good or bad idea?

Amber Rinehard: Community Manager at Uber

For our midterm, I decided to interview a Syracuse University graduate, Amber Rinehard, a Community Manager at Uber in D.C. Because of technical issues (I fell down the stairs with my computer), I emailed Amber a list of questions in case I wasn’t able to have the chance for a video chat. Luckily, I was able to get in touch with her later in the week for a quick video follow-up! Although my video was present during the call, it did not appear in the YouTube video. She was incredibly patient with my technical problems, and it was great to meet and learn more about her!

What is Uber?

Uber is a service that exists as an app for smartphones that will connect you with a taxi, town car, or SUV on-demand with the touch of a button. Once you request a ride, a driver will pick you up within 5-10 minutes. Your credit card information is loaded into the app, so you don’t have to worry about exchanging cash with a driver.

The Uber Community

According to Amber, the community is made up of people who are very excited about the product. The service is for anyone, so the community is endless. As we have learned throughout the semester and from our guests in the panels, “just because you have 100,000 users doesn’t mean they’re all engaged.” In all of my questions about the community, there was never a concrete answer about the community itself, it sounds more like an audience of users.

Community Management at Uber

A day in the life of a CM at Uber seems to be incredibly hectic. The beginning of the day is spent handling customer support tickets and the second half is spent coming up with ideas for marketing. Additionally, the CMs take turns managing the social media accounts as the company has no Social Media Managers. The DC office at Uber has eight Community Managers, and they are looking to hire even more.

Uber uses GPS to show you the closest available driver. Taken from http://www.consumergrind.com/technology/uber-personal-driver/.

Uber uses GPS to show you the closest available driver. Taken from http://www.consumergrind.com/technology/uber-personal-driver/.

Our Midterm asks us to think about “What would I change?”

The Position

There are 8 Community Managers at Uber DC. In New York, there are 13-15. Additionally, there are no Social Media Managers. The CM team is responsible for just about everything. For a service of this size, and also for one that is growing so rapidly, I’d definitely suggest at least making the position titles and responsibilities more specific. If there are multiple managers, I doubt they all do the exact same thing.

Perhaps the job could be split into the following specific positions or teams:

  • Social Media Manager
  • Customer Support
  • Marketing
  • Creative Team
  • Community Manager
  • Event Coordinator

The Community

There is potential for a much greater community than currently exists for Uber. Whenever the community was discussed in the interview, it always seemed like users were simply treated as customers on an individual basis. I understand that the product is universal–anyone who needs a ride can find one–but the community experience should be much deeper than that. I’m not sure that the company has truly established what type of community it should have.

Two companies stand out in my mind for great community management: Grouper and Lyft.

  1. LyftLyft is service much like Uber allows people to request a ride from their smartphone. Uber seems to be more of an elite type of service while Lyft allows anyone to be a driver (it’s more of a ride-sharing program). You can spot a Lyft driver from anywhere because they have a giant pink mustache attached to the front of their car. It may seem silly, but it’s eye-catching, and it allows for great branding. People post constantly on Twitter and Instagram after simply seeing one of these vehicles. It gets people talking, and more importantly, it gets them interested in the service. There seems to be more of a need for a community surrounding this service than for there is for Uber.

    The pink mustache is an immediate sign that this car is Lyft-friendly! Taken from Google Images.

    The pink mustache is an immediate sign that this car is Lyft-friendly! Taken from Google Images.

  2. GrouperGrouper is a great example of how you can take something that may not have a strong “community” around it and turn it into a community-based service. Grouper is an social group-dating site, but it doesn’t stop there. They encourage people to post pictures from their group dates on Instagram so they may be featured on the website. Additionally, they utilize User Generated Content by allowing guest writers to blog about their experiences.

    A sample of Instagram photos featured on Grouper's website.

    A sample of Instagram photos featured on Grouper’s website.

Uber is an great service with incredible potential for a greater community. Hopefully some of this insight will allow them to find it.

How Do I Create a Brand New Community?

Many users today see a thriving constantly changing community where there is a generous amount of activity. Not many users see what a community was like when it started out. This week’s reading deals with How to Build a Community which is something extremely important to me as I am personally building a community for a program at my office.

Where do I start?

The article gives the secret of “one person at a time.” I have to agree with this because of the fact that as I am working to create and build my community it wasn’t successful overnight. I had to build my community user by user where I had to start with a lot of outreach within the specific program.

How do I develop a Social Media Strategy?

The article gives 3 tips to creating a strategy; calling your users, invite them to a private Facebook group; and help them get involved with discussion.

I like to email or instant message my users to show them that they matter. Instead of using a private Facebook group I had held many “community working groups” where I would ask some of my most influential early users what they wanted to see and how I could further build the community. I love to get my users engaged as it not only benefits them, but it also benefits me. I will post on a discussion board major topics to generate discussion and my users will respond to create conversation.

Where do I continue from here?

This is a question that a lot of Community Managers are constantly asking, even I sometimes ask myself this. Strategy is the most important thing while managing a community if your strategy is horrible your community will be horribly effected. Having a poor strategy can not only cause you to lose users, it will cost you many new ones. If your strategy isn’t up to par try to figure out why. The best thing I did is meet with a few staff members, and users that are constantly on the community. Working Groups have been the most beneficial by far as they have kept me constantly up to date on the state of my strategy. It is okay to update your strategy to keep up with changes within your industry but implement changes at a slow rate, if too many are implemented quickly it can have a negative effect where it will take users longer to adapt.