Author Archive for Hannah Warren

The Evolution of a Community Manager’s Job Description

flickr-Slack pics cc license This week’s readings revisited the idea of pinning down a specific job description for community managers. While it’s true that the duties and responsibilities of community managers vary by company (just as the office environment and reporting structure varies across company lines), there are a few tenets pulled from these readings that I think are applicable to all community managers:

1. Communicate, engage and build relationships

You’re nothing without the members of your community, and you have nothing without their unique voices and talents. To keep them coming back, and to facilitate an environment where people are self-motivated to return, is your ultimate goal. You should have polished communications skills, and the ability to engage and build connections between people should come as second nature, both on and offline.

2. Be good with numbers…

…Both from an analytics perspective and a strategic one. Know which metrics are important and why, and use the numbers you collect to your own advantage.

3. Listen to and empower your community members; make the empowerment and action process easy and attainable for them, your community members and the lifeblood of the very thing you built.

Facilitate change, and give people easy opportunities to help themselves. Model the user experience after what the customers want, and never lose sight of their value as your single biggest resource and provider.

How will the community manager’s job description change?

I think it’s a safe bet that job descriptions and the explicit roles of community managers will, by and large, stay pretty consistent. But the hard skills necessary (i.e. user competency on new platforms) to perform these tasks which will morph, and continue to develop as the technology develops. The adage that you must go where your customer or community is stands true here – whichever platforms house the target demographic you’re looking to engage should be the ones the community manager uses, and in that sense, the job description will evolve at the platforms evolve.

Also, if current trends in customer service and business are any indicator, I think the future value of the consumer may be a very variable thing between different companies and service industries. I think that the community manager’s job description will therefore include a lot more company-to-customer interactions; though not necessarily in the genre of marketing or of customer service.

I see community managers as people responsible bringing themselves and their company down to the level of their consumers. It takes a very gifted community manager and the right company to provide a space where the people interacting are enthusiastic enough about a company or service that they willingly talk about the company positively, and on the company’s turf. To me, that’s the ultimate goal, and it will be interesting to see how the appearance of that goal changes over time.

The Quest for Blogging Inspiration

flickr_Tiago DanielAs an undergraduate in the Newhouse school’s print journalism track, I once received some great advice from the chair of the magazine journalism department, Professor Melissa Chessher. I sat with my classmates around the dinner-style table in the magazine lab room one day for a session of MAG 406: Magazine Article Writing, when she exclaimed  we should all be carrying an idea notebook everywhere we went. Better yet, we should regularly take clippings of articles, pictures, even phrases that we loved or wanted to follow up on, and that we should keep a binder of all those juicy tidbits closeby our writing desk. I’ve now received this advice twice – most recently, from blogger Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.net, as part of our readings for CMGRClass.

Stay Motivated!

Rowse recommends keeping a journal of titles or phrases that could be made into blog posts someday, as a method of fending off the apathy which can set in when you’ve been blogging regularly for a long time. In addition, he suggests varying the kinds of stimuli bloggers turn to for information. Reading a book, subscribing to new sources of information and news, flicking through TV channels for relevant clips (whilst consciously resisting getting “sucked in” to the tube), and even taking a walk are methods I’ve found helpful before.  However, he adds that it can be helpful to start a content series, which sounds like it will become a second battle to keep up with. Still, whatever helps you chip away at the writer’s block!

Teamwork

Bringing community and conversation to your content stream sometimes sounds difficult, but many of this week’s readings address this concern. Whether it’s through recruiting bloggers and retaining them through a rotating editorial calendar (and showing how valuable they are by providing them tangible rewards), or involving the community by addressing questions, putting out a survey, sharing suggestions, or holding a competition/project (see “Meme it Up” in Rowse’s post) interactivity is the way to attract participation. Most importantly, interacting with people – other bloggers, professionals and fans within your niche can provide both the ideas, motivation, and support to achieve more on your blog. It’s as we discussed on Google+: get out, try the one-hour challenge to produce content quickly, and just write something – anything. Sometimes breaking through a writer’s dry spell is as simple as deviating from your personal norm.

#CUSEtoATL and #CUSEinATL

Our reading on brand ambassadorships coincided pretty perfectly with the Syracuse Orange’s win in the Elite Eight and the mass exodus of ‘Cuse fans, students and staff to Atlanta, Georgia. In looking at the general buzz around the Final Four game against the Michigan Wolverines, there are thousands of examples of people advocating for the “Syracuse University” brand (whether because they are paid to do so, or just want to be a part of the hype and anticipation).

I’ve been following the #CUSEtoATL feed (now #CUSEinATL, as they’ve arrived) on Twitter, and keeping an eye on the RebelMouse site (if I’m not mistaken, set up by our own Kelly Lux), and have noticed that it has taken some of the advice in our online readings to heart.

Membership is exclusive.

On a wider scale, the membership can include students and fans all over the world. But this particular journey and discussion is focused on the travel logs of a small group of SU staff members. There is an athletics and multimedia focus, because both are so centric to the tournament and its web presence. But a member of the Alumni Relations office was also along for the ride, and as she made her way south, she met with SU alumni about the “Orange network,” why they chose Syracuse, and their individual career paths.

As an aside, students were not involved on this trip, and hundreds, if not thousands of students wanted to go to Atlanta. While they did eventually get the funding and support to organize a university-sanctioned bus trip  to the Georgia Dome, it would have been awesome to see them directly involved in this social media campaign. I know it was a limited time frame, but I would have loved to see contest held for students with multimedia or social media skills apply to cover the #CUSEtoATL trip, in return for transportation.  And how awesome it would have been for them to meet alumni and fans along the way?

Connect with advocates. Provide ways for them to connect with each other. 

This is a given in the trip’s use of social media, but it’s also unique in the planning of the trip’s stops. Some of these included Eric Mower and Associates (an advertising agency with a satellite branch here in Syracuse, NY), a variety of restaurants, and other attractions. Connections were both in person and via social, and involved a variety of topics, from rats at a science museum to fun historical facts about each town visited. And the times and locations of the #CUSEtoATL team were announced beforehand, providing events for people to look forward to and post about in anticipation.

Don’t try to control the community’s message.

While it’s true that this topic was already rather specific, it’s important to note that submissions were allowed from a wide variety of people, in a variety of locations. Some moderation is always necessary, but as events occurred at different TV stations, places of employment, or involving the very youngest fans across the country, a diverse and interesting set of variations on “Go, ‘Cuse!” made it to the website.

In summary, a job well done for the members of Athletics, Marketing and Alumni Relations who went on the trip. Enjoy the game, one and all, and GO ORANGE.

 

My #CMGRChat Experience

flickr Rob BoudonFull disclosure, I have participated in a few #CMGRChats before, but it wasn’t until I tuned in a few times this semester that the topics, strategies and tips really started to make sense!

This week’s chat, led by our own Kelly Lux and Sahana Ullagaddi (@iamsahana), centered around brand evolution, and how CM’s should go about facilitating changes and positive development around their companies or products.

Brand education strategies centered around telling a full story about where the brand/company/service started, and where exactly the staff and the users want it to go. Participants mentioned using “behind the scenes” content, like staff intros or funny exclusives, to build a relationship with users and create a culture of trust across the full spectrum of users (from the reminding diehards who have been there from the beginning why they should stay, to the newbies you’re still trying to “stick.”)

So, how do you do that?

Basically, be authentic and transparent about how any changes will be good for the user, be open and available for discussion, don’t throw out any surprises which might cause adverse reactions, and “under-promise, over-deliver” on the changes you roll out. Some useful tools to ensure this happens include hangouts and tailoring quality, relevant content to each chosen medium your organization has used to maintain their online presence.

I was especially interested in the discussion of brand ambassadors during this chat. For me, this title calls to mind the people who used to stop me on the street on my way to my internship in New York, and either try to hand me a colorful flyer with a worthless coupon, or try to get me to sign a petition (or worse, a newsletter sign-up sheet). However, I can see how a group of brand ambassadors who are very good at their jobs could be very useful at disseminating a message amongst their followers, friends and even people who pass by on their morning commutes.

This idea applies to my own job within the campus police department in that, technically, I have access to around 140 “brand ambassadors” in the officers who are paid to patrol the campus and surrounding areas. There are always officers working, at any given time of day, because we have shifts rotating in 24 hours a day. I handle the “broadcast” functionality, basically providing a constant stream of information on events inside the department; technically, the officers could be utilized for the other part of it, at least in their “in real life” interactions.

The idea’s been floated that we, as a department, start Facebook pages for the more well-known officers, and make it a more personal way for “us” to interact with the student body online (sans marketing, “click here, do this” speak). That responsibility will eventually probably fall to me, so it will be an interesting process to change the way I think and the way I post – from institutional to personal.

“Earned Media” Means Earned Relationships

flickr-alamodestuff

Searching for A Golden Opportunity In the Rubbish

I really appreciate that our readings this week focused so much on the power and importance of relationships between bloggers and product/service representatives (or between PR agents, as idea pitchers, and bloggers.) So much of the spam that I remember getting as an intern and blogger at ShermansTravel.com, a travel website based in New York City, was impersonal, dry (though not for lack of trying, via using lots of exclamation points or big words to describe something unexciting), and not at all engaging. Many were very obviously mass-mailed to as many contacts as the PR company could get its hands on. Most of the time, it seemed like the worst phrasing and pitching seemed to come along with the worst events or offers – like the email blast was such a last-ditch effort for a mediocre product that everyone just lost their motivation and pushed out more less-than-stellar stuff. And the sheer volume of the “garbage” PR spam made it difficult to weed through the bad to find the good opportunities.

In a Perfect World…

The e-book by Evernote frames the creation, facilitation and maintenance of a relationship  between blogger and PR rep as a responsibility that’s largely placed on the PR side. In an ideal world, this is how it should be (ideally, for every single blogger out there in the blogosphere) because it intrinsically means that the blogger’s voice and platform are valued to such an extent that a PR agent is required to devote the energy, time, and sometimes money into convincing them that a subject is worth writing about.

The converse, though, leaves smaller-stage bloggers, with small followings, few fans, and few resources in the dark and unlikely to get a “scoop” about events or new products from public relations firms. As we’ve discussed, it takes a lot of effort and planning to build a reputation and become a “top blogger” – one who receives those quality pitches, with positive relationships attached, from their “suitors.”

The Best PR Rep – Blogger Relationships Will Include:

  • Our readings list a lot of ways that PR reps can demonstrate a blogger’s value:
  • Mentioning them in speaking engagements
  • Following up with “thank you”‘s and feedback
  • Tracking the “outputs” of other bloggers picking up their quality material
  • Engaging and promoting the material as much as possible on social media
  • Compensating the bloggers fairly (and being open about expectations and rewards from the beginning, plus ensuring any material rewards are disclosed in the material)
  • Optimizing the post for search engines
  • Telling a good story, on as many platforms as possible.

Most importantly, I think that the best example with also include an outlook towards bloggers (Ahem. And writers, journalists, photographers, reporters…) as valued partners, who are really in it for the same reasons PR reps are – to produce quality. They are not just a microphone for your message or commodity, and if PR companies appeal to their human side with respect, personal interest and understanding, they can become an invaluable ally and resource.

 

The Customer Is Always Right (Take Note, Eddie Bauer!)

dklimkeI had a very negative experience recently with a Customer Service department, and I think this might be the space to lay out all the details and analyze what made things so bad in the first place.

I ordered two items from Eddie Bauer online. The first was regularly priced, the second on clearance. Because the two items were in two separate warehouse locations, in two separate cataloguing systems, they could not be paid for or shipped together. So, the regularly priced item was charged to my debit card, shipped, and I received it the next week.

However, there were all kinds of problems with the second.

Firstly, I, the valued customer, was expected to pay shipping twice, which I think is ridiculous (the organizational problems at Eddie’s warehouses shouldn’t be my problem!)

Secondly, the charging systems they used to bill Mastercard/Visa decided to place three pending transactions for the same item on my debit history. The item was $18.35 total with shipping, but there were three holds for that amount, which tied up some of my hard-earned funds.

Thirdly, when I called Customer Service to try and resolve this issue, I was told I’d have to take things up with Mastercard/Visa – not the service they used to make transactions through these companies. Calls to my bank and to the credit card company sent me straight back to the same Customer Service agent, who apologized and said there was nothing she could do. I would just have to wait out the computer glitch.

At that point, I was fed up, and I requested to cancel my order. The agent on the phone happily complied. Three days later, all three pending charges were still in my transaction history, and two separate phone calls, on two consecutive days yielded two assurances that the order was cancelled, and the charges should disappear.

One day later, I received two notification emails about this order – which I had cancelled.

“It’s processing!”

“It shipped!”

Calls and emails to the customer service demanding that they refund my money (which, technically, they had no authorization to take anymore) only got me apologies, and sheepish reminders that I could pay more shipping and return the item for a refund.

I know this is a relatively small transaction, and sounds like a relatively small issue. But I was so incensed that all my responsible efforts and kind interactions with the people who were supposed to handle these things didn’t pay off. Plus, neither item ended up fitting correctly, and I ended up returning them both, at a loss because of the shipping charges. Figures.

According to SM ROI, here are the things they could have come better:

Recruited me into crafting a solution. If they had offered to credit my online account for the same amount they erroneously charged me, I would have been pacified. If they had apologized and refunded me for the clearance item’s value (even still charged for the shipping!) I would have been happier. Instead, they blamed the problem on their own charging/shipping processing systems!

They added air into my “angry balloon,” by not acknowledging the company’s fault. And, if they thought my request was unreasonable, they should have provided some alternative that benefited both of us. Any alternative would have been better than the falsely apologetic, “Sorry, it wasn’t our fault… it was our equipment…” excuse.

Anyone else ever had a negative experience ordering online from Eddie Bauer? Have to say, I was hugely disappointed, because I do love their physical stores and their clothes. I am never ordering online from them again.

Book Review: Cognitive Surplus, Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Photo credit flickr, jdlasicaClay Shirky’s book focuses on the cognitive surplus: concisely defined, the immense potential humanity now has because of its trillion of hours or leisure time to devote however it likes.  The shift is manifest in social interaction online – a preferable activity, Shirky says, than wasting time watching television (which was the main time drain of the 20th century).

Shirky discusses the change in “media,” from a profession and industry that produced exclusively for consumption to a word with a meaning to encompass the new digital environment. Now, anyone with a digital camera or device can contribute “news,” become a well-regarded “expert” in their chosen niche or expertise, and engage in a discussion around anything that traditional media glosses over (either selectively, in order to retain their advertising revenue, or because there simply isn’t enough space/time/perceived interest). His very excited revelation, shared by the billions of people who participate socially somewhere online, is “You can play this game, too!”

While his differentiations are not arbitrary and seem to be positively guided, Shirky spends a large amount of space in this book differentiating between private, public, and civic social production.  His claim is that civic production creates some real, societally necessary good or change from its efforts. I disagree with how cut-and-dry he presents the three categories.

While I think his description is idealistically true, it seems a bit subjective. Fundraising for charity or organizing a neighborhood-led cleanup effort is arguably a goal with civic improvement aspirations as the motivating force core. But what about communities that raise money for lobbies in a government setting, or devote their time and energy to political causes on one end of the spectrum or the other? What is civic improvement, and what is civic regression, and where do you set the shift from one to the other?

Shirky refers to lolcats as a community and phenomenon that’s for private benefit – it’s funny, but it’s not for the social good, regardless of how clever it is or how many laughs each meme generates. I think Shirky might have some trouble defending the sorting of causes into one category or the other.

However, I do think this book is worth reading for community managers out there, if only for the discussion of psychological motivation for participation in the many online communities where there is no tangible or monetary reward for individual efforts. The major takeaway within his discussion is human emphasis: If you devalue human interaction in your online community, be it through a change in appearance/usability, the addition of advertising to “monetize” the site, or the institution of fees as a punishment for negative behavior, you’re likely to experience a decrease in devotion and use. Shirky discusses this tendency as the underpinnings of social production – the open-source creation of value by a group for its members, using neither financial motivation or managerial oversight to coordinate the efforts of individual participants.

How to Approach Effective Moderation

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

First, of logistics:

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

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

Secondly, consider some questions of message:  

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

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