Author Archive for Diane Stirling

A Look Inside Chobani’s Community Management

Chobani peaked my interest as a potential subject for this #CmgrClass final paper based on my personal consumption of the Greek yogurt brand. I also noticed,  more than once, that the brand represented a great corporate narrative and that the brand was doing fantastically creative advertising and online communication.

Chobani Products

Chobani Products

Here’s the Chobani story.

In CentraI New York, a CEO from Turkey bought an abandoned dairy plant and started manufacturing Greek-style yogurt. The “good “ that resulted in the community and its economy produced like business results. In six years, Chobani became America’s #1 Greek Yogurt brand. As I’ve watched, I thought some of that rise had to be due to the superb online presence and community management work being done by the brand. I began to follow Chobani on Twitter, and when my tweet to @Chobani received a quick response, I decided to ask if the team might be my subject for IST 620’s final paper interview.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a positive response. This blog tells more about the question-answer process that flowed from that connection, and how and why a small, in-house Chobani team fields huge numbers of digital customer engagements.

Ashley Butler is the community coordinator I connected with from first tweet. She answered my 11 questions, with responses composed together with her boss, Emily Schildt, Chobani’s Director of Consumer Engagement.

The community management team of 11 works from an open-space office in New York City, fielding customer comments and questions and listening to their remarks around the clock. That data is mined for customer service as well as product R & D.

The team is closely integrated with the other business segments (marketing, advertising, events, public relations, customer service, sales, and market research) that, in my view, presents an optimal model.

The Chobani “brand” is characterized by simple, pleasant design and friendly, easy-going, “human” talk, presented in an engaging, “fun” style, according to Ashley. Though the workload is quite heavy, Chobani responds to “each and every tweet containing ‘Chobani’,” it reports. The online traffic usually nears 2,000 tweets a day (180 tweets per each of 11 team members).

So friendly, polite Ashley answered my 11 questions. I was able to additionally capture some of her personality through an online blog profile she provided (below).  Ashley and her team function as follows:

Ashley Butler, Chobani Community Coordinator

Ashley Butler, Chobani Community Coordinator

  • Community coordinators are structured as an in-house group (Digital Communications) vs. a vendor-provided service
  • The team grew from one person in 2011 to 11 people now, and works around the clock
  • Members are housed together in an open-cubicle space in New York
  • All tasks are handled by all team members. Community Coordinators’ roles “encompass many tasks, including engagement, publishing content, communicating and harboring influencer relationships,” Ashley reports.
  • All response is authentic and on-the-spot. Per Ashley: “No scripts, just human! Of course, we have some basic messaging to cohere to, and always maintain tone across channels.”

(See the other 10 community coordinators here, on this blog post:

Chobani Offices, NYC (via Steve Rhineart)

Chobani Offices, NYC (via Steve Rhinehart)

The team fields also responses on these channels:

  • Two Facebook pages and two blogs (Chobani and Chobani Champions)
  • Three Twitter handles (Chobani, Chobani Champions and Chobani SoHo)
  • Pinterest, Instagram and Google+ accounts.

From all angles, this is the group of people in communication with the team potentially at any one time industry- entry description) (numbers as of March 2013, Shorty Awards :

  • 51,000 followers on Twitter  (as of today, it is 57,907 following on      Twitter)
  • 613,000 fans on Facebook
  • 42,000 followers on Pinterest
  • 16,000 followers on Instagram

The group is also responsible for some of the content, and you can see that they experiment in a special Chobani Kitchen which provides the setting for collaboration, creative ideas, new images and recipes to try, and the spirit that comes out of a collaborative environment.

So, thank you very much, Ashley Butler, for helping to make my assignment come to reality, and my curiosity about your community management function be satisfied.

Product/Brand image

Product/Brand image

For more information about Chobani’s social channels and community management model, look the company up at:


Community section, website:



Google +:


You Tube:

Vine: Creative kitchen times and content hours at Chobani:

Thank you, Ashley, and Thanks, Chobani. I appreciate your attention and responsiveness here, just as I did when I experienced it on Twitter.



Have You Got the Right Stuff for a Community Manager Future?

You should have seen me and heard me! 

I jumped for joy, laughed out loud, clapped my hands and smiled from ear to ear as I read the content for this week’s Community Manager Class. (Well, I only partly did all that–but I certainly felt that way.)

Flickr/CC/Alex Mestas

Flickr/CC/Alex Mestas

Given the 15-week span of this class, the 15-month effort to earn my iSchool Certificate of Advanced Studies in Information Innovation/Social Media, and more than 15 years of work in PR and communications behind me, the end week of #CmgrClass signifies achievements beyond simply finishing another class, and I found those reflected in the course readings this week about the future of community manager jobs.

Here’s why: IST 620 completes my certificate program (once some paperwork is done). Finishing my CAS/Social Media credential means that I’ve achieved a sizeable goal. A year ago January, I set out to­ update my skills and convert my thinking from the status-quo world of traditional media and PR practice to the new reality of digital and online communication spaces. So this week, I got some good lessons and some affirmations that couldn’t have been more helpful and appropriate at this time.

Here’s where I #humblebrag (Please indulge me for just a bit).

This week’s readings provided a mirror for me. I suspected before (and have learned through this class) that I possess “the right stuff” for community manager work. My work experience and educational background, personality traits, work ethic, and cultural orientation are the type of ingredients that typically makes for a fine community manager. Through this course, I also now have the needed mindset, training, and skills—things learned from highly respected community managers who are leaders in the industry. And I’m feeling that I learned well, and now can successfully go forth in #CMGR work. I’ve been very lucky to have enjoyed a leading-edge social media and information space environment at the iSchool over five semesters, another element that’s been  instrumental in moving me from  old school to new realm. (Not that I was that #oldskool.)



To provide some perspective on these readings and that vantage point for others, I’ll quote what Erin Bury says in Social Fresh about the time she interviewed for the role of #CMGR at Sprouter. She was told then that a community manager is a mix of writing, PR, communications, and social media. After being in the role for a time, she now reflects: It’s a Web 2.0 communications role,” one that is “the face of a company, managing communications in both directions. This digital-savvy employee is responsible for all communications, PR, social media, events, and content creation, among other things.”

Erin says the job includes content creation, social media marketing, events and event planning, public relations, customer relations, communications and marketing strategy, analytics, and business development. She says a person suited to the role needs: an outgoing personality, writing skills, social media experience, interest in the industry (passion), a work-around-the-clock willingness, good employee, PR experience, cultural fit, and intellectual curiosity. (Sorry to add more #Brag here, but: Check, Check, Check, Check, Check, Check, Check, Check, and Check.)

In a Mashable piece about CM jobs, Mario Sundar of LinkedIn says community managers also should love the product or company they represent—but still must be able to “have an understanding of users’ pain points.” A community manager should be empathetic, too, since “that will help them be better at responding to complaints (and, at times, rants).” (Check!)

Community managers also must “understand that their role is to help people and enable their community to connect with each other,” writes Andres Glusman, of (Another Check.) Another must for community managers, says Seamus Condron at ReadWriteWeb, is authenticity. “It’s not just about having a voice, but having an authentic one.” (A Double Check for me!)



It’s clear that the “hard tools” of the trade (data and analytics) will be as crucial as the “soft” tools for a community manager, yet it is good to understand that, as a  future job prospects go, the Community Manager role is gaining in business-world significance. As Vadim Lavrusik noted in Mashable:  “… engaging users online and off has become ever more important for both companies big and small. That’s because social media has revolutionized the idea of word-of-mouth marketing, providing not only an opportunity for companies to expand their brands but also creating the risk of a customer service nightmare.”Flickr/CC/cindy47452

So at the end of #CMGRClass, I’m feeling very good about my decision to retool, stay fresh, and keep learning. The insights, education, and  associations have been great. And I look forward to opportunities to become part of what Buzzing Communities author Richard Millington said community manager work is all about: a professional discipline whose value is backed by data.


How to Manage Your Community in a Crisis

There’s nothing like a top-of-mind topic to engage a community in conversation.



That is the main lesson I took from the #CMGRChat session of April 17, which seemed like an especially lively and fast-moving conversation.  

I don’t mean that to be misleading. It’s my understanding that a lively and fast-moving conversation is the #CMGRChat norm. The weekly Twitter chat, co-hosted by community managers Jenn Pedde(2U) and Kelly Lux (SU iSchool) is popular and much-populated. Started two years ago, and now well-established, the weekly Wednesday afternoon conversation for those in, and interested in, the community manager profession typically draws 100 to 150 participants, according to Jenn Pedde. (I’ve been able to join a handful of times.)

But the session this week was been preceded by two incredible, highly dramatic public events that were followed online as they were happening live, then conversed about digitally by millions (including community managers watching tweetchat trends).

In an amazing, digital-space phenomenon, Twitter was first out with the news of bombings at the Boston Marathon, and for the next 24 hours, devices and screens everywhere  carried out a full-court display of the events, as they happened. That included the shoot-out death of one suspect and the the live-action police chase and apprehension of the second.

All of it happened in front of our eyes, on computers, ipads and phones, and concurrently on live TV.



There also was a second incident of tragedy that week – the explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.) #CmgrChat aspires to be on trend and timely. Within that backdrop, the weekly #CMGRChat topic of “Managing Your Community During a Crisis” was highly engaging.

Six questions were addressed, two more than the typical four. They were useful and instructive in relation to the events of the week

– What constitutes a ‘tragedy’ that will require a shift in your regular practice?

– What are the first steps you take online after determining a tragedy that requires a shift in priorities?

– Do you have a system of checks / balances when it comes to continuing with content?

– OK, you made a mistake. How do you correct that mistake and apologize to your community?

– What are some ways that a community can do to help after a tragedy?

– What are some good and bad examples of post-tragedy use of social media after this week’s events?

Here is a look at the tweetchat as illustrated by its activity metrics: 

115 users     772 total tweets     363  tweets     281 replies    94  retweets    

Breakdown of activity by question response tweet number#:    

A1:  25 tweets, 21 users       A2: 45 tweets, 20 users      A3: 28 tweets 20 users     

A4:  39 tweets, 26 users   A5:  34 tweets, 22 users    A6: 12 tweets, 7 users  

Most active users (and tweets): TheJournalizer 34

Potential impact:  2.317.536 impressions     Potential reach:    442.059 users

My Assessment: this was an example of best practices for a community conversation. You can obtain much more information about the content of the chat, and the tempo and orientation of the conversation among community managers contemplating this issue, by pulling up a metrics report that shows all of the tweet responses, question by question and tweet by tweet.

  • Questions were well thought out (and given the rawness of the ongoing situation, not offensively worded
  • Questions were very pertinent to the situations each community manager might face in a real-life situation
  • Questions were thought-provoking and engaging (without being exaggerated or insensitive)
  • Answers weren’t automatic; they came quickly but required thought and reflection.
  • Questions prompted a highly-engaged conversations and due to the number of questions, a fast-paced conversation.

A record of the one-hour chat is available. The detailed report of metrics and content is available on Scribd at:

If you’re a community manager, or someone interested in the topic of community management, you can tune in. #CMGRChat is hosted on Twitter on Wednesdays from 2 to 3 p.m. EST.

To learn more about the co-hosts, you can find and follow them online.  

On Twitter, Jenn is @JPedde (her company is @2UInc), Jenn blogs at: She also manages a blog for community managers and those interested in the topic (you can read about, and maybe even write content there) at: The Community blogs for her company at 2UInc. Jenn is on LinkedIn at:

Kelly is on Twitter: @KellyLux . Her School account is (@iSchoolSU). Kelly’s blog is Social Lux.  You can find Kelly there at:


Scaling a Community: Alot Like Rightsizing

There are a lot of conversation these days, in business, social, and even governmental circles, about the benefits of “rightsizing.”

The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph

From the count of workers on a payroll, to the number of needed legislators, to the expanse of your house or car, to managing the calories you consume at McDonald’s drive-through, individuals, as well as society, perceive significant benefits in keeping things to certain size.

Rightsizing, or “The simple joy of just enough,” is something Diana Beam, of Keeping in Touch Solutions, writes about on her blog. “Comfort in life requires proper sizing,” she advises.

These same concepts can be applied to efforts to scale (grow) online communities.

From their nascent stages to their maturing ones, “rightsizing,” managing the growth and size of online communities is crucial to their success or failure. This scaling is maintaining communities online, our readings this week show.

Here’s how  Julian Stodd, a learning and development professional in the e-learning field, calls it, in his “Julian Stodd’s Learning Blog:

Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories, Project Gutenberg etext 19993

Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories, Project Gutenberg etext 19993

“Bigger is not always better. There’s a scale at which things become abstract, at which they lose their immediacy, and it’s highly significant when we look at the strange world of online communities.”

The truth is, Stodd says, “most people maintain meaningful relationships with about 100 people.”

Some people maintain a larger circle, he says, “but the reality is that you can’t develop an endless number of meaningful social relationships, at work, in the pub or online. There comes a point at which you are just broadcasting to the masses.

“You might get to 200, but not 20,000,” Stodd says.

Richard Millington, author of “Buzzing Communities,” reports the same beliefs. He cites how changes in the size and scale of a community results in changes in the activities undertaken by an online community.

“You gradually shift to macro-level activities. Activity keeps rising, but the number of newcomers which become regulars declines.

The level of personal contact, which was so essential in keeping a member active, is unsustainable over the long term (or non-scalable).

You can’t maintain active relationships with 500 people. Millington cites these four elements of scaling:

1) Social scaling processes – actions performed by people (volunteers, insider groups, rituals, and habits).

2) Technological processes — notifications, automation, and physically handling the increased load without breaking

3) Business/Organizational processes – how the organization interacts and integrated with the community (feedback loops, investing, and growing the community team).

4) Personal processes – how you handle growth personally (how you allocate your time, acquire skills, take yourself out of processes.

The author says that scaling needs to begin in the establishment phase of the community lifecycle, and that community managers need to:

  • Recruit volunteers very early
  • Coach them to build relationships with newcomers
  • Keep the newcomer rate high as you move on to new things.
  • Create a ritual for regular members to welcome newcomers every Friday, or a habit of Provie a unique welcome when responding to someone’s first post.The goal, Millington says, “is to maintain the same level of contact and quality whilst you move to manage processes and not individuals.”

And, he offers 11 processes as practical steps that are technical, administrative and personnel-oriented as the means for community managers to succeed in scaling communities.

Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Institution

If they are healthy and vibrant, online communities are destined to grow.

That growth can occur when the community is curated and cultivated by a responsive, smart, aware community manager who has recruited delegates to help with various tasks, so that the right work gets done as the community scales.

Like the Native American drum circle as a metaphor, communities that successfully scale have these elements: proper people in the right roles who are interacting and working harmoniously together; common and well-understood goals; processes that facilitate functions; and tasks that fulfill the key actors’ interests, while providing satisfaction for the audience as a whole.


Ambassador-Building: A Lot Like Good Lessons from Grade School

Judy Baker - Flickr/CCSome of the guiding words essential to brand-building through social media channels are alot like the lessons  of good citizenship from grade school. Listening. Sharing. Liking.  Befriending. Connecting. Recognition. Reciprocity.

Not only are these wise words to remember, they are the motives, behaviors, and communication styles that can lead  your efforts to create, grow, intensify and maintain positive feelings of the community members and consumers of your company, product, or brand.

Don’t worry; you likely won’t have to do the work alone.

You can attract a cadre of others who are apt to be quite willing to help. These are the brand ambassadors, product fans and company advocates you can influence and attract through social channels to help you achieve this important task.

The authors of this week’s readings hold similar viewpoints about how to create an ambassador program. There are endless ideas and tactics that can be used, but the motions, emotions,  communications and community-building recommended by this week’s #CmgrClass authors are pretty consistent.



Buzzing Communities” author Richard Millington advises taking a page from the “time-tested” advice of Dale Carnegie, who advised that you can influence others by showing genuine interest in them,  making others feel important, admitting mistakes, appealing to noble motives, and by not criticizing or complaining.

Mack Collier suggests that you plan to start small and grow your ambassador group gradually by creating some exclusivity; connecting ambassadors to one another; compensating them in meaningful ways; providing direct access to the brand; permitting ambassadors some ownership; and empowering these friends and fans with some tools and resources to help them promote your brand.

Community-builder  Britt Michaelian says that brand marketing today is no longer about promoting; “ it is about people and more specifically: connection.” Britt cites as especially important the ability of brands to strategically reach out and build relationships with their audiences.

There is an excellent new example of real genius in ambassador-building on social channels right now, in my view.

The Following/FOX

The Following/FOX

The new TV show, “The Following,” has all the standard social accounts, but it is the innovative way they are using them, and the unique, engaging ideas they employ for providing super-inclusive methods for fans to connect that catches my eye. They do this before, during, and after the show in superb examples of  ambassador program best practices. Here’s why:

  • The “Show” account tweets hints about the upcoming episode’s twist—peaking advance viewing interest (fan involvement and allowing us “inside the tent.”)
  • The show’s “dark character” also has a Twitter account and will even follow you (Eeeek!)
  • After-show recaps are posted on Facebook and the website, with video clips in case you missed some moments.
  • The site offers “sneak peeks” video clips of upcoming episodes.
  • There are short videos with show writers and producers that provide ambassadors and fans with direct access to the upper echelon  of the brand –  both compensation and gratification.
  • From the get-go, fan groups (much like Lady Gaga’s highly successful insider group, “Little Monsters,” are being built through in-episode activities that offer “insider” treatments, such as specially-fed content and episode stickers. These serve to connect viewers directly to the product and brand.
  • Encouraging insider participation and inter-active “ambassadoring” by asking viewers to take and submit pictures of the shock on their faces as they watched the horror-of-the-week for that week’s show. The fan shots were then posted on Twitter and Facebook during the episode. The immediacy provided recognition and instant fan payback. An upload tool (tumblr) was provided as the resource. ( In follow-up, the website’s “photo booth” upload function  also provided a lasting and visible ambassador connection.
  • A “shock cam” section is hosted on the site, consisting of viewer-submitted content curated (connecting fans/ambassadors to see and connect with one another visually and socially).
  • A blog that lets you further become connected to other frans is an  “inside story”blog. It provides detailed backstories and other information about the storyline and the characters’ backgrounds as a tumblr.

The evidence of the program’s success has been visible week to week, as followers, likes, and other metrics expanded by leaps and bounds.

Pictured below is another great brand whose ambassadors and fans have been playing out the story, support, and connections as ambassadors to the world, all this week, in live-action fashion as the Final Four has advanced. Otto’s Army  and SU fans  are a great example of sustained brand -building and good examples of the word “fan” (derivative of “fanatics.”)

Syracuse University

Syracuse University

Have you ever been and enthusiastic member of a brand-ambassador program?

What attracted you in the first place?

What keeps you there now?

What kinds of rewards and gratification do you get out of your affiliation?

Please let us now about your great experiences!


Micro Approach Best in the Macro Blog World



The blogger world may be macro in terms of the scope of topics and the number of blog outlets, but the best way to reach out to bloggers is on a micro scale.

That is one of the key takeaways of “A Best Practice Guide for Effective Blogger Outreach,” a guidebook to effective methods to gain advocacy, publicity, and social sharing for a brand, product, company or campaign. The guide is published by

As there once were myriad journalists, there now are millions of bloggers, the guide reports. Regardless, a mass approach to reaching them may mean a massive failure. When it comes to conducting outreach, the best way to advance an initiative is to make relationships first – then with established connections, address bloggers in individualized, specific, and precise ways which relate to their interests, topics, and audience, the guide says.

The “old school” style of public relation is all wrong now, says the guide.  That concept is confirmed by Jenn Pedde, community manager for 2U, in her slide presentation on the subject. These too-direct tactics are bad form as blogger outreach, she says:

Jeffrey Doonan/Flickr-CC

Jeffrey Doonan/Flickr-CC

  • Sending announcements and press releases
  • Cold calling (blog style)
  • Lying
  • Pitching your service/product/company
  • “Write About Me, Write About Me” requests

The guide says bloggers are willing to be pitched, but only:

  • If you do so with integrity
  • If you have relevant, quality ideas that offer value to the blogger’s audience
  • If you have first matched your outreach to the blogger’s specific interests
  • If you have made your content easy to read through and share through embedded links, graphics, and SEO optimized words.

Of course, you shouldn’t attempt to pitch   a blogger before you’ve done the requisite research, assessing the relevance of the blog to your subject matter, the potential audience for your story, the degree of audience engagement with the blog/blogger, and functional details, such as the frequency of publication. While bloggers may not have the same restrictions as traditional journalists, they will have a set of standards. Don’t assume that because they are independent, they don’t approach their work like journalists do. A post from journalism blogger Jim Romenesko illustrates how a pushy pitch fell really flat because of the PR person’s poor-form approach.



I’ve got some personal experience with and context for these asssertions and affirmations.

  • I’ve worked as a daily news journalist who was pitched (badly) by gushing PR types.
  • I’ve been a PR type who knew better than to gushingly pitch reporters.
  •  I’ve lived and worked through the transition from old news to the modern journalism, to the world of blogging and opinion-based online information purveyors.



Today, I’m still pitching the media, but I’m doing it through social channels such as Facebook, twitter, and other means to build connections with, and then later coordinate recommendations and coverage, with media, news commentators and columnists, online content producers, bloggers, and news editors.

It’s a one-to-one world now. While the individualized approach takes longer and requiresmore up-front legwork, it’s well worth the effort when positive outcomes are achieved.

Vehicles for Communities: On Paper and Online

It seemed about as close as you get to having an episode of deja-vu while in the process of reading.

I was only on the first page, and in the first few paragraphs, of Chapter 3, “Content,” in Richard Millington’s Book, Buzzing Communities.

As I was reading along about how Richard advised, “The best content for a community is content about the community,” I immediately thought: JUST LIKE A LOCAL NEWSPAPER.  A few sentences later, local newspapers were exactly what Richard was talking about.

“Think of your content as the equivalent of a local community newspaper that tells you what’s going on in the community.”

“The content of an online community is the same. It tells you what’s happening in the local online community.”


Suddenly, the true-to-form image and understanding of an online community, and online community content, suddenly couldn’t have been any clearer for me.  That’s probably because working at a local community newspaper, reporting local community news, editing the writing of other community reporters, was my first job in journalism. (Actually, thinking back, I worked as a community-interest writer first, while a student, before I became a paid “general assignment reporter.”  That recollection provided even more clarity of what makes for good community content.

Even as newspapers have evolved to manage some sort of future in the wake of Internet journalism and online publications, people always still want to know the same kinds of things.  They want to know what is happening for their friends and neighbors, what “bigger things” are occurring in the community, and they want interpretations of how it will all affect them. In this way, Millington describes, just as the local newspaper performs “a key role as a facilitating agent for the community.”

The author continues to draw the parallels between local newspaper and online community content:

  • To provide informative and entertaining information
  • Create narratives that allow the community to follow what’s happening.
  • Develops a sense of community among members
  • Initiate conversations, things to talk about, and activities to take part in

He goes on to compare how the elements of a news publication are similar to the content parts of online community content: news stories, feature articles, announcements, opinions and guest columns, classified ads.

In fact, I know someone who has transferred the concept of the local community newspaper and made it into an online community content system.  A journalist by training, he did this several years ago, before most mainstream papers developed their online presences. He has put into effect online all the elements of community-building that Millington says comprise a thriving community.

Radio Free Hamilton

For the reasons people have turned to newspapers for decades, they can be motivated to turn to communities online that fulfill the interest and information needs they have now.

And as newspapers face increasingly challenging economic futures, it may indeed be online moderated communities that do – in addition to or in place of, perhaps — what newspapers were founded to do – record, report, and be a sounding board for the community.

With Customers/Community, It’s Never Right to Fight


Tambako the Jaguar / Flicker - CC

Tambako the Jaguar / Flicker – CC

Rarely have so few pages of text carried so many straightforward and applicable messages as  Olivier Blanchard’s writings on resolving conflict in the digital space.

The author pulls no punches and offers very sage advice.

Sometimes, people just want to fight, he says. (How true, I’ve experienced.)

Regardless, the person on the receiving end of the customer service transaction should never, ever engage in a grudge match­­­–especially if you are a community manager or otherwise serve as the voice of a company, Blanchard advises.  (A great recommendation, I can attest as a former corporate spokesperson.)

In the customer service space, the author advises, “Don’t try to win. Don’t even fight.” He explains how it’s a no-win and a no-brainer.



This is a particularly important consideration today because of the ever-ongoing life of digital communications. Social networks are the medium where customer service communications are most likely to occur now, Blanchard says, so CS interactions are much less private and much more share-able now than in the past. (Before, they might have been restricted to a grumpy-one-one phone call, a haughty letter to a customer service office, or a nastygram e-mail to the CEO.)

Today’s customer service outcome reach is vast because of its social networking dimension­­­­­­. But the good news, Banchard reminds, is that positive interactions are just as broadcast-able, as well.

Both negative and positive words publicly exchanged and positioned “will be archived by Google forever,” Blanchard reminds, so losing your cool on a customer service interaction means it will be set in social media stone (and perhaps transmitted instantaneously to thousands).   That’s a real reputation builder (or not)­­­ if you’re the community manager, spokesperson, relationship outreach person, or other formal representative of an organization. (I’ve come to acknowledge that reality through difficult tribulations.)

That brings Blanchard to his rules for social media customer service interaction. (I’ve abbreviated and interpreted them here.) He points out succinctly that there are real costs to both positive and negative implementation. The chapter is a true wake-up call and guide to today’s online interactions.

Clive Andrews / Flickr - CC

Clive Andrews / Flickr – CC

#1   The customer is always right (Still. And especially in today’s delicate economy.)

#2  Treat customers like royalty. (This is actually a favor to your mindset.)

#3  Regard testy customers as tests of your coolness and professionalism. (Really!)

#4   Your “calm, generous demeanor” is the mindset that helps you diffuse conflict; and time is on your side.

#5   Politeness diffuses anger. (Simple. Tested. True.)

Ashley Wang/Flickr-CC

Ashley Wang/Flickr-CC

#6   The customer can help you    turnaround his/her dissatisfaction. (Ask how you can help, show  understanding of the situation, recruit the customer in solutions to diffuse problems.)

#7   Don’t ever argue. (Don’t’ get sucked into a fight.)

#8   Apologize; it doesn’t hurt. (It will help the situation and impress everyone.)

#9  Offer alternatives if you’re asked for an unreasonable resolution. (If you must offer variants of solutions, take that conversation offline.)

Blanchard’s recommendations are good ones, as I can affirm from personal experiences.

I’ve lived through some very difficult yet very interesting “customer service” situations, as Imight characterize my role of community relations point-person and media spokesperson during several years of very public land claims litigation. The organization I worked for was pushing its legal rights through a volatile litigation strategy. That left many area residents and homeowners (many of whom were also the organization’s buyers, consumers and employees) unsure of their own legal status and unclear of the too-subtle differences between an aggressive litigation strategy and real-life threats.



Many people ended up being understandably concerned and upset that their homes and properties were being talked about in legal terms (and as some thought, physical ones) as potentially able to be disrupted or “taken back.”

(Maybe that’s why I particularly enjoyed and understood Blanchard’s on-point and very practical recommendations.)

Have you ever had a really horrible customer service experience you can relate?  By contrast, have you ever had a great outcome from an excellent customer service provider? Please share your stories about those!

Book Report: “Community: The Structure of Belonging”

Photo: Survival International via Fox News

Photo: Survival International via Fox News

Peter Block understands what constitutes community and what satisfies the human need for connectedness.

The best-selling author and consultant penned Community: The Structure of Belonging. In that book, he looks at how people want to be part of something larger than their own small circle of influence and join others in exchange of comment, the engagement of ideas, the melding of goals, and the vision of an interconnected and enlivened community.

While Block writes in terms of literal communities, his concepts are rock-solid for the kind that form and engage virtually. The ideas conveyed regarding neighborhoods, schools, civic organizations, workplaces, and governmental entities are just as valid when applied to the workings of and motivations of online communities, in my view.

Humans are hard-wired to want to interface in meaningful ways.

Oneida Community members via NY Times

Oneida Community members via NY Times

Block says we have a “need to create a structure of belonging,” emanating from “the isolated nature of our lives, our institutions, and our communities.

He cites the ways of American society as creating “gaps” that fuel a desire for connectedness. Today’s American life, with its western culture and individualistic nature; and the tendency of organizations and professionals to be more inward-looking in their perspectives these days, adds to that distancing.

With our neighborhoods, businesses, schools, social service organizations, churches, and government entities all operating in their own worlds, preoccupied with individual pursuits rather than collective ones, even “parallel effort added together does not make a community,” Block notes.

  • He laments that such separateness diminishes the talents of individuals as well as those of whole communities.
  • The resulting dearth of abilities and talents makes for situations where “there are too many people in our communities whose gifts remain on the margin,”Block says.
  • It is a situation that is as true for those who remain in their home communities in a disconnected state, as it is for groups who have been forced from their homes to live out their lives in displacement.
  • The lack of interface and fragmentation of communities, Block suggests, can create the lack of enthusiasm and action that is exhibited in issues communities face such as “low voter turnout, the struggle to retain volunteerism, and the large portion of the population who remain disengaged,” Block contends.

I can identify. 

Seattle Skyline/

Seattle Skyline/

Years ago, I moved cross country to a place where my husband and I knew no one else at all, and I experienced firsthand the feeling of displacement and the longing for connectedness and human need for engagement with my new community.

As humans, the state of a connected community comes naturally, it seems to me. Humans lived as tribal groups all over the world, and many peoples still do. We formed communities of our own to engage in like-mindedness and unified visions.

Photo: Alicia Moura/via CNN Money

Photo: Alicia Moura/via CNN Money

Even until recent generations, families lived together in multiple-generation households, providing an automatic sort of engagement and enlivenment to everyday living. (It’s a trend that may be experiencing a resurgence due to current economic times.)

It’s all about forming engagement and sustaining conversations.

While the first half of Block’s book dealt with identifying and characterizing the issue of disengaged communities, the second part is a playbook for how to remedy that. The author offers a selection of insights and tactics that can be used to re-engage community members and  restore and transform communities, as well as a wide selection of “doers” and resources who’ve been successful at that task.

@rhappes - Twitter

@rhappe – Twitter

“Connector” and founder of Community Roundtable Rachel Happe (@rachelhappe) put it well when she tweeted recently to CMGRClass guest expert author and blogger Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder):

“I don’t think real communities exist around products,

they exist around shared needs, locally or virtually #sbs2013.”

 So, I’d like to hear what you think about the ideas Block presents.

  • Is the rise of individual organizational pursuit diminishing our ability to collectively problem-solve for our communities?
  • Are online communities, and the resulting potential of community activism that can take place from those engagements, a solution to re-engaging and transforming our living styles today?


5 Takeaways From Moderating #CmgrClass

I moderated the class discussion for the week of February 17 – 24 on the topic of “building a community from scratch,”and came away with five key conclusions about the work of managing a community.



To begin the week, I pulled a selection of comments from three noted authors and their thoughts on building community. This included Peter Block (Community- The Structure of Belonging); Olivier Blanchard, who was our first guest expert and Social Media ROI author, and Chris Brogan, who co-wrote Trust Agents.

Sunday night, I put up the posts, and added links for a brand that I think does an exemplary job of managing its community: yogurt-maker Chobani.

These provided a look at the Twitter, Facebook, and Web presence of the brand.

And I promised, “I’ll show you a little more about this brand and how it has developed its voice soon.”

The week went like this:


I tweeted about my posts. To my pleasant surprise, Chobani was listening and responded. This was fortuitous; when I asked, a Chobani community manager agreed to be my interview for the #CMGRclass final project.

Feb 18 Chobani@Chobani

@stirlingdm Happy to be helpful!

10:16 a.m. – Feb 18, 2013 · Details

Later that morning, I discovered an emerging issue that related to how a community reacts to a brand, so posted from multiple sources regarding the hacking of Burger King’s Twitter account: ; and and asked the community to react.

Hannah Warren responded the same day; Steve Rhinehart added information the next morning; and others followed. I responded to each shortly after their posts went up. (On Feb. 21, I continued the conversation by adding an update about some side benefits of the hacking.)

Instructor Jenn Pedde also posted course and schedule information this day.


Steve Rhinehart put up an article regarding Famous Dave’s flubs that garnered some immediate attention. Alaetra and Rod posted responses the same day.

Kelly Lux posted the professor’s summary.

Since I was busy at work all that day and evening, I only monitored what was going up and the general activity of the community.


After a prior quiet day, I put up two articles I hoped would promote discussion. The first, by Deb Ng, discussed being careful what you ask the community to do. The second, from Douglas Atkin, included a graphic of the community “commitment curve.” I asked for comment on both posts. 7158723040_ab7ff243a1_q.jpg curve

By now, I was beginning to get a little concerned about the level of interaction being experienced.  I thought it was a slow start. I recalled the pace of Steve and Jessica’s weeks, and reflected what I might do to boost the interaction.

Later that day, I picked up on some good content — a livestream event that I thought would be of interest to the community. I posted the link and a Twitter hashtag to follow.

“If you’re able to tune in, Social Media Week Ogilvy is now hosting livestream panel (Ford, Ogilvy cmgrs) on “The Role of the New Community Manager” through 1:00 p.m. Tune in here:”. I also posted  the hashtag.

Later that day, Kelly Lux posted a reminder about course participation and its grading component.

I wondered later if the mid- to late-week increase in response had been incentivized by that. It made me think about how a “reward” – or some sort of imperative — may be useful in gaining engagement.


I asked the community if anyone had a chance to review the commitment curve and gauge their position on it. The next day, I received several responses to that post. I made a point of sending a reply in recognition of each person’s points on the day they posted their response.

I also decided to look back at my early-week posts, to see what might be going right and what might be needed to be done before the week ended. I recognized that I had failed to follow-through on my “more info” Chobani promise. So I did more research and posted several new links: Who we are;  Community; Shepherd’s gift.


I didn’t post this day. I was busy with work and class assignments, but did monitor the posts to see what was going on.

SATURDAY, FEB. 237006581850_4de3436371_q.jpg nugget

Knowing this was my last day of the moderating week, I wanted to leave several good informational nuggets.

I posted three articles about change in communities that I had seen and researched during the week. The posts were about building a community; change-management processes, and how to transition when a community manager leaves.

Michael, Steve and Hannah responded on Feb. 23; Rebecca and Rod responded Feb. 24.

Here are the five big takeaways I got from moderating for the week:

1)      Moderating a Community is not haphazard or a simple task. It takes organization, time, and thoughtfulness to curate, prepare, and develop good content.

2)      Preparation is critical.  I prepared for my week by doing readings in advance and during the days. A community manager must always be preparing and curating information. Maintaining high standards takes a good deal of time and work.

3)    Moderation takes intermittent, yet focused attention. There were only two days when of the week when I wasn’t busy preparing and curating content. Still, I was monitoring the conversations and checking in on activity every day. On the days I was actively engaging and responding to comments, I experienced a “tension” or “pull” from the community to be constant, and I checked in often.

4)    Engagement Differs Per Time of Day, Day of Week  and People

I learned that most people don’t seem to post in the mornings; they are likely busy at work (or if night workers, sleeping then). Mid- to late-afternoon and early evening were much more “active” times.

Days of the week matter. For me and other moderators, Monday and Tuesday seemed  slow-start days. Wednesdays picked up, and Wednesday through Saturday was the most active time. Next time, I would schedule my posts around these high-interest times.

5)    It’s really hard to get people to react, respond, and integrate online.

Even when I posted what I thought was good and interesting content, it still seemed hard to get community members engaged. It isn’t an easy thing to do. While many in our community knew one another face to face and had the same community of interest, we still were a diverse group. Our ability to respond, engage, and be part of the community differed from time to time in part based on what other activities we had going on. Life and work situations –in one case a workforce reduction, in another, a major event hosting—as well as more casual interruptions and scheduled activities – played a key role in people’s ability to be part of the group and to thoughtfully respond.