Author Archive for Alaetra Combs

I am a senior communication and rhetorical studies major in the College of Visual & Performing Arts at Syracuse University. I serve as the web content editor and writing intern for the butterfieldstar.com. Currently, I work remotely from my campus apartment to generate content on politics and pop culture to attract young adult audiences. Last semester, I interned for WSYR-TV, NewsChannel 9, a local ABC affiliate. I was responsible for managing web content and assisting producers on the morning show "Bridge Street." During my time at WSYR-TV, I recorded an editorial package and produced a five-minute, live segment with a distinguished SU professor about his recent book and research using ENPS. I was selected to intern for the longest-running, English publication in Florence, Italy during my semester abroad. I've also contributed articles to SJ Magazine, a regional, lifestyle magazine, based in Southern New Jersey. After graduating, I plan to create a publication embracing and celebrating all women of color. During my leisure time, I enjoy reading Cosmopolitan, EBONY, Vogue, and GQ, discovering new make-up techniques, watching CNN Newsroom to get the latest on national and international headlines, and attending the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention each summer.

Meshing with Mashable

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Mashable is the go-to brand for all things social-media related and has established itself as a well-respected news blog. For the #cmgrclass final paper, I had the opportunity to interview Meghan Peters, Community Manager for Mashable. Meghan oversees social media strategy and reader engagement projects for Mashable, which has distinguished itself as the largest independent website dedicated to providing the latest news on social media for the “connected generation.”

Mashable’s Approach to Community

One thing that resonated with me was Meghan’s approach to managing and responding to her audience’s feedback both negative and positive. One thing she made sure to stress was killing them with kindness. Community managers always have to be mindful of their outward expressions. Anything they say or do has the potential to negatively impact the community. Even if you do not agree with what one of your users has suggested or said about your brand, this is not fair ground to retaliate. Without active members and users, there is no community. Meghan recognizes this. She always understands, which we’ve discussed in class, the importance of acknowledging relevant content posted by members of the community. Not every post warrants a response, some members are intentionally provoking brand officials. This type of commentary should be ignored, which Meghan mentioned as one of her tactics. I find this to be important as I take interest in how companies and brands alike go about caring for their communities and if they’re actually delivering what they promise.

Ambassadors?

I asked Meghan if Mashable had a formal brand ambassador program. Unfortunately, they do not. I do feel that if I were granted the opportunity to be an asset for a well-known brand such as Mashable, I’d vouch for a brand ambassador program. During my moderation week for the #cmgrclass, I did a lot of research on brand ambassador programs and how they are deemed beneficial for companies. Since Mashable has such a strong connection with its users, I certainly see value in launching a brand ambassador program to enhance the brand’s image and evoke brand loyalty and awareness amongst future and current members of the community. Mashable already knows who their most loyal users are, according to Meghan, the brand should utilize the outside help of people who are eager to spread the word and spark word-of-mouth marketing. Additionally, Meghan mentioned events, in which Mashable personally interacts with its members. As Jenn Pedde said during one of our Google+ hangout sessions, “have something for your brand ambassadors to do.” Since Mashable solely exists online, I think humanizing the brand would be a great strategy to attract more attention and drive traffic to the site’s homepage. The ambassadors could host social media learning labs and skills building workshops on behalf of the brand. Since the site seems to be a popular choice among professors within the iSchool and communications-related fields, articles published to the site can be reference during the sessions conducted by the ambassadors.

To learn more about my interview with Meghan Peters, send your thoughts to the #cmgrclass!

Tips for Scaling Online Communities

This week’s #cmgrclass topic was scaling a community. In last week’s discussion, Richard Millington, founder of Fever Bee, suggested that community managers should be proactive and not reactive. I’d like to use this advice to further draw on the point of scaling a community.

Community managers are responsible for managing several things, according to a post we read on Fever Bee, 11 Processes For Scaling Online Communities, some of those duties include, “respond[ing] to every e-mail, check[ing] every forum post, repurpose[ing] news from web sources, maintain[ing] the platform, initiat[ing] discussions and resolv[ing] disputes.” However, as your community expands and you’ve reached your critical mass, it’s important to shift from having sole responsibility to entrusting others to help out. One of the first tips offered in the blog post was, “Recruit, train, manage and motivate volunteers. Volunteers who enjoying supporting [your] community are the best way to scale a community.”

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/94960564@N02/8650510291/

Once you have gained an understanding of your audience you can begin to recruit members to take on leadership roles that will enhance their involvement in the community as well as lend a much needed helping hand to you. Community managers shouldn’t spend their days just writing content and responding to posts within the community, they must develop strategies and goals to promote the continued growth and development of their community.

Another suggestion was to, “Setup a community e-mail address which several volunteers can access and reply to. Let it be clear who replied to which e-mail and how it was resolved. A simple folder system can resolve this.” Employ this system of tackling that hefty inbox. This way, your time can be better spent on advancing the community with the intent to shift from the micro to the macro level.

Millington also hints at building an internal community when he suggests you, “Teach volunteers to recruit and train other volunteers. The hardest part, also the most scalable. Have a training program that will teach volunteers to recruit others (then find a volunteer to teach the program).” By building an internal community, not only are you trusting people to run your brand, but these are also highly-skilled, passionate individuals who believe in the same goals you are setting. As long as they are on board, they will contribute in any way necessary. If these individuals are trained properly by community managers, they will have the capability of training new individuals who share an interest in being an asset to your community.

Share processes you use for scaling your online community with the #cmgrclass. Which processes work best for you or which haven’t done so well?

How to Measure Success Within Your Community

This week’s #cmgrclass topic is measuring social media metrics effectively and efficiently. We were assigned to watch two videos in addition to class readings. Those include, How to Use Data for Better Online Community Management with Rich Millington and a webinar (#bizmetrics) that featured four community managers sharing their insight on social media metrics.

According to Rich Millington social media metrics should follow three key steps growth, level of activity, and sense of community. He suggests using a data-driven approach to clearly see and analyze what really matters when it comes to the growth and development of your community. It is important is see what is contributing to the success or failure of your community, therefore, allowing ample opportunity for improvement.

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Millington says that tracking data teaches the theory of where to go next. It provides the community manager with a guideline as to what to do next. He suggests finding out the ROI of your community. Being able to answers questions like “how does the online community enhance the company?” is useful in developing ways to better utilize the platforms on which you have an existence. Millington says if your answer to the stated question is solely engagement, you may need to reevaluate. Engagement does not lead to sales. Your online community should be connected to the areas where you are actively seeking results. Know exactly what it is that you’re measuring.

Gain better insight into what your community members are looking for out of an online experience. Don’t be afraid to ask what their hopes and aspirations are regarding the topic you’re tackling. Find out what challenges and successes they’ve encountered within the topic you’re covering. This will help you better generate content. Millington distinguishes between product strategy and social media strategy. Naturally, if you’re selling products, you need to ask specific questions to make sure you product is providing the needs and desires of your client base. Social media strategy is centered around engagement, but with a specific focus that will generate revenue or improve the company in ways that enhance the overall reputation.

Community managers should be proactive as opposed to being reactive. Millington says 90% of community managers’ time is dedicated to being reactive. This includes monitoring what’s happening in the community, responding to emails and comments, resolving conflict that arises among community members, etc. These things are essential but do not contribute to proactively developing the community. You’re simply working to maintain the current community, not advance it. There’s much value in being proactive. Develop of plan of action for achieving goals within your community. Once your community reaches a critical mass, your goals should be shifting from the micro to the macro level. If you’re still waiting for your critical mass, don’t patiently wait for people to visit your platform. Go market to the right people. Create a set of goals for yourself based on the results you discover from analyzing your data. Measurement isn’t the goal, but getting information that helps influence your business decisions and learning how to invest your time is crucial.

Share with the #cmgrclass which tools you use to measure success within your community.

Who’s Really the Face of Your Brand?

This week’s #cmgrclass readings highlighted the importance of establishing a brand ambassador program. What are brand ambassadors do you ask? They are an extension of your brand, advocating on your behalf to promote products and services. They are the force behind generating word-of-mouth marketing and are skilled at creating buzz around your brand. Brand ambassadors are important because without dedicated members of your audience, your brand’s message would not be heard.

Finding Brand Ambassadors

Start with researching who embodies the qualities that your brand exemplifies. Your ambassadors should identify with the demeanor, ethics, and values as outlined in your company’s constitution. As Mark Collier mentions in is post, 10 Things to Remember When Creating a Brand Ambassador Program, you’re essentially transferring ownership of the program from the brand, to its ambassadors. The goal is to have your most passionate members take over the program while executing the vision and strategy set forth by the originator.

Building Fierce Loyalty
Another class reading by Britt Michaelian called How to Build Fierce Loyalty for Your Brand Community states that loyal brand enthusiast comes from a genuine connection. As community managers, we recognize the importance of not just connecting but building communities. A tight knit group of individuals with common goals and interests. Community managers should provide opportunities for its audience to connect digitally and personally. The Internet should not be the sole form of communication. Events hosted in public spaces are strongly encouraged. This allows community managers to bond with members and members to bond with other members. This establishes loyalty. Also, remember you cannot expect folks to take an interest in you if you don’t invest time in getting to know who they are. Let your supporters know you care by reading the article they posted to Twitter (retweet it), visit their blogs and share their content, an document on their Facebook posts so they’re aware that they’re on your radar.

The stronger your bonds are with your advocates, the more effective establishing a brand ambassador program will be. No business survives without the unselfish and undying support of outsiders who willingly commit their time to what they feel is worthwhile. Think about the brands you love. Do you consider yourself an advocate for these brands? Even if you cannot personally identify as being a brand ambassador, are you familiar with other brand ambassador programs implemented by corporate brands? We’d love to read your commentary!

#CMGRclass Moderator: Ambassador Programs

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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulbrigham/8596883041/)

This week I was the moderator for the #cmgrclass Google+ community. It was my duty to generate discussion among the group as it pertains to class material. The first example I presented to the class dealt with crisis management. It found it to be fitting because one thing we’ve learned this week is that in recruiting advocates, you must “cultivate authentic relationships.” Wegmans took a risk when the company decided to create a hash tag during the time of Hurricane Sandy to stay connected with its audience. Carol Kelly said she felt, “it was effective for Wegmans. I think they did a good job of keeping the customers appraised of the situation which gave their customers confidence in them.”

I tackled the issue of what to avoid when establishing a brand ambassador program. I also, with other articles, communicate how to spot a brand ambassador program and how to see value in existing programs. I also provided examples of popular brand ambassador programs, which seemed to resonate with the class. Through providing examples, my classmates were to identify programs they’ve witnessed on campus or elsewhere and express how they, too, have been involved in advocating for a brand.

Something I found to be important was understanding how to launch a successful brand ambassador program for small businesses and start-up companies. Sonny Gold mentioned that, “[it was a] great article that outlines great steps for setting up an ambassador program. I think creating a lifestyle is huge, your brand truly has to be a lifestyle in order for it to be successful.” I found this article to be particularly helpful to someone like me who comes from an entry-level point-of-view.

I encouraged the class to seek outside examples to answer the chosen questions. I know I personally had a difficult time identifying a brand ambassador program and explaining the importance of what it was until I began researching for this assignment. I did expect the group to be more responsive, but I understand at this point in the semester it’s crunch time.  I found that people were more interested in making individual posts rather than contributing to class discussion.

I feel my take away message is that brand ambassador programs are an essential and significant component of commercial success. Without the implementation of brand advocates, the brand has to rely on digital platforms to stay connected with its members. Brands are for people, and the more we invest in our audience, the more our audience will have faith in what CMs do and be more inclined to commit!

Book Review: Trust Agents

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/24632434@N07/3929909865/

In the book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan, the authors discuss topics and give insight into leading successful online communities based on genuine trust and forming long-lasing interpersonal relationships.

Times have changed and gaining the trust on an individual level is more complex than ever before. Anyone can be a journalist by simply creating an account on wordpress.com or tumblr.com. As a content creator, how do you establish trust and credibility with your audience? Well, Smith and Brogan suggest the label trust agent, but dare not call yourself a trust agent. It is not selected by the individual, but rather ascribed by others who can attest to your specific skill sets and talents. A trust agent is someone who has mastered the “extension of the human body” by using digital mediums to broadcast to audiences, understanding new technologies, and leveraging one-to-many communication methods. Trust agents are non-sale orientated, non-high marketers, and like community managers take a genuine interest in humanizing their business.

In becoming a trust agent, the authors suggest several steps. I am going to discuss three that I feel are most significant. The first is gaining new skill sets. It’s highly important to in the know and fully aware of how to operate new technological advances and digital platforms that arise.

Second the authors feel community managers should recognize the shift from creating content for the individual opposed responding to the group’s interest. As a community manager, it is your duty to keep your audience engaged. Part of embracing your audience requires listening and sheer willingness to provide user satisfaction.

Third, Smith and Brogan provided the three A’s to address customer complaints and dissatisfactions. Those include: acknowledge, apologize, and act. Although, it’s agreed that these suggestions are a great solution to resolving conflict with customers/users, will it work in every case? As community manager, you have the right to filter through material and decide which posts are relevant. Posts that negatively impact your community can be removed and reported. In other cases, simply ignoring the post all together is an even better solution. Pick and choose the battles you’re willing to tackle.

Lastly, Smith and Brogan speak on building an army, which in other words translates into have an internal community. “Build an Army. No matter how great you think you are, you can’t do it all alone”. By establishing a mastermind group of all highly talented individuals sharing the same core values and goals, your community will expand and others will place value on what you do.

Smith and Brogan outline very basic yet extremely crucial steps in becoming a person online users can confide in. As a community manager, which steps do you think are necessary for gaining the trust of your audience? Include your responses in the comment box. Feel free to use examples not stated above.

What do magazine journalists and community managers have in common?

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Entering college in 2009, I knew I wanted to be a magazine journalist. My ultimate goal was to create a magazine that caters to all women of color. Although still a passion of mine, I am exploring other fields to broaden my perspective on the vast world of communications.

In doing the #cmgrclass readings for this week, I found a lot of commonalities in how community managers and magazine staff writers and editors prepare for content creation.

Throughout this post, I am going to focus specifically on the editorial calendar. All major publications have an editorial calendar in which the staff refers to before going to print. It’s essentially the element that keeps publications structured and organized. Our readings have indicated that community managers also use this method to ensure consistency when writing compelling and engaging content.

Editorial calendars allow community managers to plan ahead. This will prevent the infamous writer’s block in the future. When you have a clear direction it’s much simpler when it comes to creating stories to share with your community. The calendar will also help community managers foster short and long terms goals for the evolution and progression of the community in the future.

In the documentary released in 2009 called “The September Issue” director R.J. Culter explores the most anticipated Vogue magazine issue of the year—the September issue. Readers and subscribers also informally know this issue as the fashion issue. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief, is frequently captured referring to the editorial calendar in preparing for the publication’s largest issue of the year. The Vogue editorial calendar helps her see the completion of particular projects, look ahead to see what needs to be tackled, and continually track progress until the issue goes to the publishers.

In essence, community managers are doing the same when creating an editorial calendar. They will have an opportunity to delegate responsibility based on the number of incomplete components of a blog, oversee which tasks are currently in the works, and see if there’s room to address current topics that may happen throughout the year. In using this method, community managers allow room to create themes around the content they produce, which has the potential to attract advertisers. Planning ahead gives community managers time to carefully construct topics and pick an angle that will further engage members.

Like magazine journalists, community managers are expected to use a conversational writing style. Therefore, users feel an urge to comment and inquire about specifics. Community managers and magazine journalists also have to understand the difference between timeliness and timeless works. Covering current topics in a timely manner is important. You’re users want to have access to the information while it’s still relevant. Otherwise, they will look to other sources for the most up-to-date information.  It is also crucial to produce pieces that are timeless, meaning no matter the time frame, the information contained in the post can be useful and applied even years after it has been published.

As a community manager, do you use an editorial calendar? If not, in which ways do you manage the content being posted to your site? Share your stories with the #cmgrclass!

Where to Start when Starting a New Community

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This week the #cmgrclass focused on building a community from scratch. While companies see the importance of establishing a social media presence, very few are educated on how to properly navigate through digital platforms that result in successful outcomes.

For starters, companies and even industry leaders cause confusion when distinguishing between social media management and community management. Kelly Lux posted an article to the #cmgrclass Google+ community entitled, 5 Brilliant Ways to Staff for Community Management. The author noticeably blurs the characteristics of the two. If companies could decipher between the two, they could better pinpoint if it would be more beneficial to develop social media strategy or create a community to sustain and enhance their existing brand.

Olivier Blanchard spoke on building internal communities in last week’s Google+ hangout session. Many of the basic concepts from his chat can be used when looking to form a start-up community. Community building should almost be effortless. Blanchard suggested allowing it to grow organically. Prospects don’t want to feel like they’re being targeted by a company’s pitch to market and promote new products. Remember, start small and grow big.

In the article written by Dino Dogan, How to Build a Community of Fanatics, his third step in starting a community from scratch is, be a human. Members aren’t going to form relationships with automated voices or avatars of wild animals. Be the face of your community by including your name and picture. If your community requires people to create a profile, how do you expect them to share who they really are when you aren’t being authentic? Brand extension begins with the community manager attempting to cultivate and maintain genuine relationships.

Author of How to Build a Community from Scratch, David Spinks, offers a strategy for start-ups and larger companies to build trust and loyalty amongst members. It’s simple. Pick up the phone and call a user or customer, depending on the type of community you’re managing. Ask them for their personal insight on the experience they’ve had with your company. Don’t expect to complete this task in one sitting. Over time reach out to as many people as you can. Spinks says, when building a true community no interaction should be overlooked. Is time management an issue for you? Well, make the time. These are people who are ultimately investing in your company/brand. Without them who will market for you while you’re sleeping?

When Building an Internal Community, Start Small and Grow Big

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Olivier Blanchard uses Pinterest as an example to promote exclusivity when building internal communities. 

On Tuesday, February 12, 2013 the #cmgrclass instructors made it possible for Olivier Blanchard, author of Social Media ROI, to be guest speaker of the bi-weekly Google+ hangout session.

Prior to the hangout, participants were asked to submit two questions to be asked during the chat. Here is one of mine:

We’ve learned that building an internal community is equally as important as forming online communities. As a Community Manager, how do you go about establishing an internal community within an organization?

Blanchard offered incredible insight. Here’s what he had to say:

In establishing an internal community, don’t be blunt about your motives. If you go around announcing to the organization you’re looking to build an internal community, your colleagues will be pretty unresponsive. Blanchard strongly suggests engineering it as a scarcity model. Initially, you should interact with people within the organization with whom you already have internal relations. These people should, ideally, already see value in community management and the importance of creating an internal community.

By making a small, private group, others will begin to take notice and inquire. It’s not a snob club, but let’s face it, scarcity and exclusivity rise people to want to belong. They suddenly urge to be in the know and become active internal community members. This will happen over time as you give your core group permission to invite others and allow the internal community to grow organically.

Blanchard uses Pinterest as an example. In the early days, Pinterest required newbies to be invited by a current member in order to be eligible to create an account and become an active user. Use this exact model when establishing your internal community, the core group you begin with will reinforce the value and drive adoption amongst other colleagues. As Jenn Pedde would say, “Start small and grow big.”

In terms of value, Blanchard suggests selling value internally as well. Companies tend to hire people to run social media. They see how relevant is has become, but aren’t necessarily sure how to began creating a presence on various digital outlets. Community managers need work at convincing companies, especially those in high leadership positions, of the value and possibility social media can add.

Schedule meetings the decision makers, which can include, but certainly isn’t limited to department leaders, team leaders, product managers, marketing managers. During this meeting, ask how you can help them. How can you be an asset to what is it that they’re trying to accomplish? These leaders will begin to share their long-term goals, what they need more of, and what they’re trying to sell more of. As a community manager, aim to meet that goal using social channels.  By seeking to understand what everyone wants to establish within a company and understanding the desires and motivations of top leaders, you can allow them to see value in what you do. Use social media as a tool and driver of what the big decision makers are chasing. They’ll then begin to come to you with questions and requests. Report to each leader with wins and hurdles and be vocal about what you need from them in terms of content to produce successful outcomes.

How were you able to create value within your organization? Share your story with #cmgrclass!