Author Archive for Devon Balk

Our Class Panel with Real-Life Community Managers

This past Tuesday, I logged on to my Google+ account for my bi-weekly CMGR class, which meets via Google Hangouts. Yet, this week’s class wasn’t the typical group discussion. This week, we had the pleasure of welcoming real-life community managers from extremely prestigious companies, such as Foursquare, Lenovo, PolicyMic, and Vimeo.

Every one of the community managers present, Tracey Churray (Foursquare), Gavin O’Hara (Lenovo), Caira Conner (PolicyMic), and Alex Dao (Vimeo), mentioned something that really stuck with me. Those little snippets were all connected to Brand Ambassador programs, which I think are an extremely important aspect to community management, as a whole.

Tracey Churray (Foursqaure)

Tracey Churray, Director of Support at Foursquare, the ever-popular “check-in” app company, got her start in the tech industry from a small email marketing service. After a number of years, she she was able to land her dream job at Foursquare, where she is able connect everyday with users of the app.

Fischer, John. "FourSquare." 2010 May 06. Online Image. Flickr. 2014 April 11.

Fischer, John. “FourSquare.” 2010 May 06. Online Image. Flickr. 2014 April 11.

Within the Foursquare community, Ms. Churray manages contact with the users at large, particularly with her “Superusers”. Superusers are exactly what they sound like; they are the Foursquare obsessed, the people who are extremely passionate about the use and success of the brand. These Superusers have had an incredible impact on the prominence of the Foursquare company. In fact, Tracey mentioned that she has asked for help from her Superusers and they assisted her in a very important task: creating the naming conventions in the Foursquare database!

Min, Julien. "4sq Superuser". 2011 July 07. Online Image. Flickr. 2014 April 11.

Min, Julien. “4sq Superuser”. 2011 July 07. Online Image. Flickr. 2014 April 11.

Tracey’s tips from Foursquare community management with her Superusers?

  • Don’t be afraid to give your followers a bit of inside information
  • Categorize your very involved and influential users
  • Reach out to your users and community members for advice

As Tracey pointed out, it is very important to pay attention to and treat your community members right. After all, you never know when they will come up with an idea that will forever change the structure and operations of your company.

Gavin O’Hara (Lenovo)

Community manager of Lenovo, a worldwide technology company, with the technical position title of Global Social Media Publisher, Gavin O’Hara got his start in community management with his love for coming up with social media content. In his current position at the prestigious personal technology company, Gavin creates the content for all the different social media platforms Lenovo uses, and reaches out to community members on a daily basis.

Anicic, Goran. "Lenovo ThinkPad T530." 2013 May 31. Online Image. Flickr. 2014 April 11.

Anicic, Goran. “Lenovo ThinkPad T530.” 2013 May 31. Online Image. Flickr. 2014 April 11.

One thing Gavin said, that really connected with me, was that “Community Management is about being both proactive and reactive.” What does he mean by this?

  • Producing content and responding to the content of his community members is integral to his job
  • Getting to know the audience of the community-knowing that it’s not made up of 1 kind of person-is vital
  • Just asking people personal random questions- “Where are you from?” or “How is the weather where you are?”is necessary

It’s those serendipitous moments of tapping into members’ lives that make people feel like they’re a part of something, especially a brand as large and well-known as Lenovo.

Like Foursquare, Lenovo has their own kind of Brand Ambassador program, Lenovo Insiders. The Lenovo Insiders are the global brand advocates of the technology company, who live, breath, and love Lenovo. To Gavin, Lenovo’s Brand Ambassador program is all about pulling the community members up into the Lenovo world.

Caira Conner (PolicyMic)

Caira Conner, Community Manager at PolicyMic, a digital/media news company, wanted

a way to study relationships. As she found her way into community management, she wanted to make content more available for consumption, rather than solely readership.

At PolicyMic, she plays an avid role in Recruitment and Strategic Development. What the heck is that?

  • Basically, building mini networks within the PolicyMic community
  • Communities are the journalists of PolicyMic
  • Mini networks provide a place for community members to collaborate and communicate

While Brand Ambassador programs are super important to the brand itself, they are also important to the

collective group of users who make up that program. At PolicyMic, they are making sure the ambassadors themselves have the people, resources, and communication outlets they need to be ample representatives of the brand.

Alex Dao (Vimeo)

Alex Dao, Community Development Chair for Vimeo, a video sharing website (similar to Youtube) got her start in community management from a very young age, simply from moderating message boards and chat rooms (believe it or not)!

Beale, Scott. "Vimeo Log In Screen." 2007 June 26. Online Image. Flickr. 2014 April 11.

Beale, Scott. “Vimeo Log In Screen.” 2007 June 26. Online Image. Flickr. 2014 April 11.

Ever since her pre-teen years, she has been doing a lot of that same kind of work at Vimeo. What exactly does that entail?

  • 80% of her time on member support throughout the online communities
  • 20% of her time on planning events with Vimeo members
  • Runs the apprenticeship program which hires people directly from their community(!!!!)
  • Helps to curate Vimeo accounts of users- highlights/*stars* 5-6 user videos a day for exceptional content

Alex has an important job in making sure the members of Vimeo community have the best experience possible. Because, who knows, you never know which one of those community members, coming out of the apprenticeship program, could be the next of the Vimeo brand.


What I really enjoyed about this panel was that each community manager mentioned something that we learned in class, which really made me appreciate these different types of concepts even more. As a student, it’s probably one of the coolest things to hear things you’ve heard in a lecture or read in a text book come into reality, and it helps switch on the “light bulb”, the one that is our brain. This class panel was full of real professional, real concepts, and real application, which is what community management is all about.




Brand Ambassador Programs: The Key to Any Fan’s Heart (and Connection)

According to GC Marketing Services, a brand ambassador is defined as someone who positively represents the brand; someone who both markets and educates potential customers about that company and their products or services.


You’ve probably heard of positions that are similar to brand ambassadors, such as campus representatives or campus influencers, for many of the different brands you know and love; they sound like pretty cool gigs, right? Being involved with your favorite companies and sharing your brand obsession with others, I could dig it.

But, you may be asking yourselves, what is the importance of these brand ambassador programs to fans of that brand? Well, these types of endeavors are important because they increase the connection a brand has with their audiences. How? I’ll prove it to you in three ways, which are mentioned in this article:

  • Membership is exclusive
  • Ambassadors receive direct access to the brand
  • Ownership of the brand is transferred to the ambassadors

1.) Membership is Exclusive 

Believe it or not, it can be quite competitive to be selected as a brand ambassador, for certain companies. Why? Companies want brand ambassadors who are truly dedicated to their company, people who are the cream of the crop. In other words, brands would rather have fewer people who are more connected to their brand than to have more people who are less dedicated to their product or service; it’s more about quality versus quantity.

What does this mean for the fans of that company? If fans are selected to be brand ambassadors, it already increases the meaning of the connection they have with that brand. It means that there is a reciprocal relationship between the audience member and the brand; the brand is important to the fan and the fan is important to the brand. When someone realizes they matter, their engagement with that company is going to infinitely increase.

2.) Ambassadors Receive Direct Access to the Brand

Once selected, brand ambassadors get some pretty cool incentives and access to the brand they love. For example, some contacts with brand executives will be provided, marketing materials and strategies are given, and even free promotional material are received to give out to potential customers.

For someone who is obsessed with a brand, this a dream come true! One can talk to the people who make this brand a success, be involved in discussions with these executives, and be in on, and ahead, of the products and services the brand is producing.

By being up-to-date with their beloved brand, any audience member would have a more meaningful experience, through the brand ambassador program.

3.) Ownership of the Program is Transferred to the Ambassadors

While being an ambassador may not seem like a position of authority, it has the potential to be. An ambassador is someone representing a brand; someone who is innovative, dedicated, connected to the brand, and helping to improve the brand by connecting with current and future customers.

Brands and companies are changing their tones; they don’t want their corporate executives to be the people running the ambassador programs. Ultimately, brands want their most passionate customers, the brand ambassadors, to be the ones connecting to other customers; brands are realizing that their ambassadors have a lot of potential and influence on members of an audience, ones similar to themselves. Basically, more power is being given to the customers and ambassadors, and to fans of a brand, that is a very cool and powerful thing.¬†brandAmbassador


All in all, brand ambassador programs are AWESOME, because they give fans of a company an experience that they never could have gotten otherwise. By being an exclusive member of the brand, getting direct access to the brand’s powerful people and products/services, and eventually being granted ownership of part of the brand, the ambassador program, fans and audiences are gaining influence in the companies they love. Therefore, having more meaningful engagement and experiences with their beloved brands.

In sum, power to the people, customers, and fans. And remember, the way to any fan of your brand’s heart? Make them a brand ambassador, it will be a win-win for everyone involved.



My Interview with Community Manager, Katrina Steffensen

At this point in the semester, we have learned quite a few aspects about community managers and what they do. Just as a refresher, some of the things #CMGRclass has touched upon are Blogging, Content Creation, the differences between social media managers and community managers, Twitterverse fails, Search Engine Optimization, and Listening and Planning.

Yet, this week was a bit different from the normal flow of the class. My classmates and I all went on a quest to find a real-life community manager! Who did I interview? I had the pleasure of talking to Ms. Katrina Steffensen, a Channel Manager at VML, one of the world’s top digital marketing agencies. What brand does she manage? It’s one that everyone knows, and that is Gatorade.

Marsh, Jennifer. 24 February 2014. Online Image. Flickr. 07 March 2014.

Marsh, Jennifer. 24 February 2014. Online Image. Flickr. 07 March 2014.

During our interview, there were some main topics I wanted to find out: her responsibilities as a community manager, what the Gatorade online community is like, and why she likes being the Gatorade community manager so much.

1.) Her Community Manager Responsibilities

Ms. Steffensen made it very clear to me what the main responsibility of her job is: to talk to the Gatorade community members each and every day, to make those members feel welcome. How does she do that? She initiates conversations, creates content, and replies to comments on all of the Gatorade channels, which include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google+, andTumblr.

As the main moderator of the community, Ms. Steffensen follows a kind of schedule as to when the content for following weeks is due. In fact, at VML, content is usually created 3-4 weeks in advance! One type of content that has been extremely successful, according to Ms. Steffensen, has been congratulatory messages to community members and their teams. Whenever these posts are distributed, a lot of activity is gauged from the different channels. Why is this so? Probably because huge fans of Gatorade are receiving personal feedback from the brand they love. Basically, Ms. Steffensen is constantly in content creating mode, thinking of matters, subjects, and dialogue that will really connect well with the Gatorade community, which I am going to talk about next.

2.) What the Gatorade Community is Like

Let’s learn some facts and stats about the Gatorade community:

Brasil, Ambrev. 12 July 2011. Online Image. Flickr. 07 March 2014.

Brasil, Ambrev. 12 July 2011. Online Image. Flickr. 07 March 2014.

  • Mostly made up of 13-17 year old athletes
  • Approximately 60% Males, 40% Females
  • Males more vocal on all channels

From the facts above, it makes sense that most of the Gatorade community is made up of young athletes, right? I mean, it is a sports drink. So, therefore, much of the conversations within the community surround Gatorade and SPORTS. For example, the members of the community tend to discuss what their current favorite flavors are, or why they need Gatorade to provide motivation for the athletic performance.

3.) Why Being the Gatorade Community Manager is so Fun

So, working for such a big, successful, and influential brand, like Gatorade, should be really fun, right? I would think so, and Ms. Steffensen definitely agrees.

The best parts about being the community manager for Gatorade? Ms. Steffensen is able to give extra motivation to young athletes everywhere, directly through the channels she manages. Athletes of all sorts tell their cool and amazing stories, whether directly related to the sports drink or not, through the Gatorade channels, and she is able to listen respond to them. By being the Gatorade channel manager, Ms. Steffensen is able to receive instant gratification from the conversations she has with the members of her community. This instant feeling of awesomeness is something that isn’t really achieved in other forms of communicating, especially with an online community.

Cruz, Haleey. 24 December 2010. Online Image. Flickr. 07 March 2014.

Cruz, Haleey. 24 December 2010. Online Image. Flickr. 07 March 2014.

In sum, while I was nervous about this assignment at first, I really enjoyed it and even gained a lot from it. Meeting new people is always nice, especially professionals. And, I must say, getting to talk and get to know Ms. Steffensen was an extreme pleasure. Not only did I have fun interviewing her, but I learned a lot about her job, as a community manager, and I was able to connect many of the lessons from this class to real life (*cue the clicking of the light bulb*).

After this interview, the job of a community manager seemed a lot more appealing than before. Who knows, maybe I could be the person behind a brand, in the future, making more better consumer experiences every day.



Community Moderation: My Facilitating Experience

This past week, in #CMGR class, I was designated to be the moderator (or facilitator) for the week. What does this exactly entail? Well, I had to basically initiate and stimulate, and sustain the conversations of the class community. That’s quite a bit to handle (*Cue the mini freakout*)!

Going into the week, I didn’t really know what to expect, or what I was really doing, in fact. Yet, there were a couple of valuable things I learned along the way: being a moderator is more difficult than it seems and moderating a community becomes easier as time goes along.

Local Citation Builder. "NA". 18 October 2008. Online Image. Flickr. 17 February 2014.

Local Citation Builder. “NA”. 18 October 2008. Online Image. Flickr. 17 February 2014.

The Challenges

According to Buzzing Communities, a book written by Richard Millington, the correct definition of being a moderator is to be a facilitator of sort. In my case this past week, I would categorize myself as acting like a managerial facilitator, one who sets the agenda for the community and directs the flow of discussion between its participants (2012). While playing the managerial facilitator role, I stumbled upon a couple of challenges:

  1. Providing Appropriate Content

One of the main responsibilities of a community moderator is to provide meaningful content that will spark discussion among its members. At the beginning of my journey as moderator, I wasn’t quite sure what type of information to start with; I knew the topic of the week was about Twitter and epic Twitterverse attacks/fails, yet with a subject that broad, where do you begin?! Another thing I was concerned about was discussing a topic, such as community management, one that I, myself, wasn’t familiar with before and one that my fellow classmates might not normally talk about on a regular basis.

I found that starting broad and getting more specific really helped, warming up the floor to the relating topics of the week. Then, the more specific questions were posed, which got more people conversing in the discussion. At first, my posts weren’t getting a lot of feedback, which being honest, can be discouraging. But, I learned to not give up, because as my moderation period progressed, I found content that I thought my classmates could relate to, connect to our class topics, and ultimately talk and debate about with each other.

2. Encouraging Participation

Another duty of a community moderator is to encourage participation among its members in the discussions, doing so by guiding members’ contributions, and ensuring plenty of activity on multiple posts (Millington, 2012). At the start of moderation, along with my uncertainty on chosen content, I also was feeling down because people weren’t responding to my posts. I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t want to be a nag and bug people to respond to my posts, because that’s no fun and really isn’t promoting a welcoming environment to contribute to. But at the same time, I wanted others to think about the content I had prepared for that day.


Chan, Reginald. “NA”. 6 November 2013. Online Image. Flickr. 17 November 2014.

Thankfully, and eventually, my fellow classmates caught on to my posts and some great conversations started blossoming. How did I accomplish this? I really just tried to post SOMETHING everyday; if a post wasn’t getting a lot of feedback I would switch to an opposing topic, and would get some responses. I also tried to ask open ended questions in order to get a variety of answers from the participants. I learned, that in order to be an efficient moderator, you’re not just in charge of creating these conversations, but you’re also participating in them as well. If you’re not going to talk, who else will?

While it may have taken a bit to catch on, I did have some great participants. From being a moderator, listening and responding to other people’s thoughts really helped me to catch on to the topics at hand.

What did I learn?

Looking back on my moderator experience, I realize I went into this blindly; I had no previous experience with community management, and didn’t really have a clear idea of what it was or what it entailed. Now that I can say I’ve been a community moderator, I feel that I’ve learned so much about how to engage and learn with others, all in an online setting. If I had to sum up my lessons learned, I would say…

  • Community Management is a lot harder than it sounds- it takes creativity and dedication to ignite meaningful discussions
  • Trying to think of engaging and appropriate content is key for the activeness of a community
  • Encouraging member participation is undesirable, but sometimes necessary for responses
  • Switch up the “flavor” of your content
  • Pose open-ended questions to the members of the community
  • Be consistent and don’t give up

So, if you were like me, skeptical about trying community management and moderating out, I would say go for it! Like anything, the more you try it, the better you get at it. After this experience, I would definitely give community moderating another shot


The 4 Pillars of Blogging: How To Create Excellent Online Content

Blogging is something we are all familiar with; these online discussion sites surround us, as they are used by most people, companies, and different organizations that touch our daily lives. Yet, blogs are also something a little unknown to us, maybe even a little mysterious. Blogging has become habitual to certain professions like community managers, professionals who try to establish communities and discussions around a company, brand, product or service.

So, you may be asking, why am I writing a blog post about blogging? Hey, see what I did there?

Well, because there’s an actual science to creating an excellent blog, a system that community managers follow very closely, in order to retain and attract more active members to their communities. And I don’t know about you, but if I were to start a blog right now, I’m not really sure if I would have the confidence to do so. Therefore, in this article by ProBlogger, the 4 Pillars are laid out to show you how to obtain the essence of blogging, one of the many tasks required of community managers today. And why am I here? Well, I’m going to explain these 4 Pillars to you, so we all can learn something new along the way.

The Four Pillars 


Tiziani, Eliza. “4 Pillars”. 02 June 2011. Online Image. Flickr. 31 January 2014.


There is nothing worse than reading something you think would be relevant to you, but actually provides nothing useful. In order to have a successful blog, you as the writer must provide your audience with information that will be practical in their daily lives.


It’s as simple as this, great headlines attract readers for the things they’re looking for. My example for this post, The 4 Pillars of Blogging: How to Create Excellent Online Content; I came up with this title because it included the phrase “How To.” People are always searching for how to do certain things, therefore this post would have a high probability of catching a reader’s eye. Also, I used numbers; lists are always something that attract readers because it lays out the content in a more organized fashion.

Great headlines improve your blog’s Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, which is basically a fancy term for getting your blog noticed more by search engines. This way, people are more likely to come across your blog post when searching for specific information, and certain phrases allow this to happen. Other phrases to use in headlines include:

  • The Basics of ____
  • ____: What it is and How to Use It
  • __ Steps to Become an Incredible Blogger


In your blog posts, you don’t want paragraphs upon paragraphs of text. Why not? To put it bluntly, nobody is going to read it. People want to be able to open a blog post and scan it for the most pertinent information to them. So, how does one accomplish scannability? In a few different ways:

  • Lists- Like the Four Pillars list that is currently in numbered order
  • Bullets- Like these ones you are currently reading
  • Bolded Items- Like the bolded listed items throughout this post

All these different methods allow for readers to pick out key pieces of information, without having to dig through paragraphs of text. Ultimately, readers are going to really appreciate this and come back to your posts for more incite in the future.


People read blogs for a reason, because of their style. They’re not textbooks or difficult to read manuals, but are articles written like the way we normally talk. Blogs are an opportunity to write in a manner that we normally don’t get the chance to outside the academic or business realms. So, just write how you talk and people will most definitely understand your key points and be wanting to hear more of your voice.

Blogs also allow you to BE YOURSELF. You have a unique voice, so show it!

So, to recap, in order to start a blog with great content just follow the 4 Pillars and you’ll be on your way to blogging success!