Author Archive for Jessica Murray

Social media student @iSchoolSU, enrolled in #cmgrclass in spring 2013. Development Associate @iSchoolSU ~ Avid community volunteer @JuniorLeagueSyr / @FutureFundCNY / @UNYforNebraska. The glass is always half full.

Susan Chavez: Building Community within the Junior League

The moment I saw that #CMGRClass students were to interview a community manager for our final assignment, I knew who I wanted as my subject.  I first met Susan Chavez in May 2011 when I attended a conference of The Association of Junior Leagues, International (AJLI), a nonprofit community impact and leadership development organization.  I later attended ’s AJLI’s fall 2011 conference to continue with AJLI’s social media curriculum.  As a member of the Junior League of Syracuse and one of over 150,00 Junior League members worldwide, I value the work that Susan does to advance the AJLI mission and was looking forward to understanding more about her work.

Susan Chavez

Susan Chavez, Nonprofit Social Media Consultant. (Photo from LinkedIn.)

Susan Chavez, Nonprofit Social Media Consultant, on LinkedIn

A New York City native, Susan attended school in upstate New York, earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Cornell University in 2003.  While in Ithaca, she became affiliated with the Cornell Public Service Center and following graduation, worked in its New York City office as a literacy educator furthering programs aimed to bridge the gap in summer education to underserved populations.

Susan’s work with the Public Service Center sparked her passion for nonprofit organizations.  After working with several New York-City-based not-for-profits in event planning, fund and grant development, and web development, Susan joined AJLI in 2006 as a Marketing and Communications Specialist.  Susan continued in that capacity through June 2010 when she relocated to San Francisco to become a nonprofit social media consultant.

Since then, Susan has continued her work with AJLI as a consultant.  Among the AJLI projects to which Susan has contributed are the establishment of an internal community on the AJLI website, where members can complete profiles, connect with other members, and join discussion forums; the creation of external communities on Facebook and Twitter; the development and execution of strategy for the Junior League blog, Connected; and the development and delivery of training via AJLI conferences and webinars.

Final Reflections

Jessica Murray and Susan Chavez. (Photo by author.)

Jessica Murray and Susan Chavez at AJLI’s fall conference in 2011. (Photo by author.)

Interviewing Susan was a fitting end to #CMGRClass, providing another real-world look at the life of a practicing community manager.  So, what did Susan reinforce for me?

  • Community managers wear many hats.  Susan reports that while she spends considerable effort to content planning, listening, and measurement, most of her time (35%) is devoted to content creation.
  • To a community manager, planning is key…  Susan estimates that she spends 25% of her time setting community strategy and planning content.  The creation of and adherence to a content calendar allows Susan and her teammates to develop content aligned with AJLI’s goals and work plans.
  • … but so is flexibility.  As important as the content calendar is, some flexibility must be retained for content coming from other sources.  This could be in the form of previously-unknown information just coming to light, announcements from partners or members, or major news affecting AJLI or a Junior League organization.
  • Measure what matters.  While it can be relatively easy to look at followers, mentions, and retweets, what does that contribute to a community’s underlying goal?  For Susan, as much as mentions and retweets indicate that content is being shared within members’ networks, AJLI’s primary objective is expanding the audience receiving their training.

How does Susan keep her skills fresh?  Which of her personal traits makes her well-suited to be a community manager?  Hint: be a lifelong student (vociferous reading helps), get social (go to conferences and local events), and be a cultural anthropologist (conduct research into the culture of communities).  Check out the entire interview in this YouTube interview (also embedded below).  Read more about Susan at her LinkedIn profile here.

What advice do you have for aspiring community managers?  What is your greatest reward as a community manager?

(Featured image, a word cloud of this blog post created by the author, generated using

Using Content to Build a Community

The Community ManagerThis week I participated in #cmgrchat, the Twitter chat for community managers co-founded in 2010 and hosted each week by #cmgrclass professors Jenn Pedde and Kelly Lux.  I discovered on Wednesday morning that the topic was “Using Content to Build a Community” – perfect, I thought, to cap off this semester.

This week’s Twitter chat was not my first #cmgrchat experience.  I previously participated in a #cmgrchat about a year ago while I was a #RotoloClass student, and I occasionally drop in and out of the Wednesday afternoon chats as my work schedule allows.   This week, I used TweetDeck to track the #cmgrchat hashtag and keep up with the conversation, which can sometimes be challenging given the volume of tweets.  TweetChat is another popular tool for participating in Twitter chats.

@KellyLux welcome to #cmgrclass@JPedde welcome to #cmgrclass







#cmgrchat Questions

This week’s chat had five questions.

1. What’s your primary content type?  Trust Building, Educational, User-Generated, Conversion, or Filtered? — Why?

2. What are some integral components of a content strategy?

3. In what ways do current community members contribute to your owned content (blogs, newsletters, web pages, etc.)?

4. What companies make tools that have community building in mind?  What do you use?

5. How often do you evaluate an owned/onsite content strategy?  And what does evaluation look like?


Community Manager Insights

About ten minutes were devoted to each question, with Jenn and Kelly alternating as questioners.  Most CMs provided answers to each question, but others dropped in and out of the chat according to their availability.  I observed commonalities within each set of responses, and noticed interesting outliers as well.

  • #cmgrchat 042413 - Q1Content type: In response to question 1, most community managers participating in the chat seemed to report that they primarily used trust-building and/or educational content within their communities.  However, many expressed a goal of introducing more community-generated content in the future.


  • #cmgrchat 042413 - Q1Content strategy components: Common responses to question 2 included alignment with organizational objectives and understanding of community members’ interests and needs.  Additionally, many community managers commented on the importance of a content calendar while also acknowledging the need to retain flexibility to respond to real-time news and issues.


#cmgrchat 042413 - Q3

  • Community member contributions: In reply to question 3, a common theme among chat participants was the use of community members to share CM-developed content, provide feedback on content, and act in a guest blogger capacity.  I was excited to see one of my answers to question 3 prompt interaction with another member in the chat!


  • #cmgrchat 042413 - Q4Community building tools:  Chat participants named a range of tools they use to help build community; some I’ve used in my own community-building practice (HootSuite, StorifyTumblr), others I had heard of but not personally used (Google Hangouts and Alerts), and even more were new to me (CrowdBooster, SimplyMeasured, Sprout Social).  My motto is usually “show me the free” – and apparently I’m not the only one – but I’m definitely open to investigating some of the paid services.


  • #cmgrchat 042413 - Q5Content strategy evaluation: In answer to the final question, CMs responded that they analyze content for efficacy based on metrics and community feedback.  Reporting was a common tool, occurring on a range of time frames from quarterly, biweekly, weekly, and even more frequently.  I was impressed by the CMs’ diligence and couldn’t help but feel like I fall into the “not often enough” category.


A Sense of Community

What strikes me about #cmgrchat is the sense of community among the contributors.  Even after only a handful of appearances on my part, I recognized certain names as regular attendees.  Participants are quick to respond to, retweet, or mention comments that they find insightful – including tweets from newcomers.  (#cmgrchat is definitely not a good old girls’ or boys’ network!)  If you haven’t yet taken in a #cmgrchat, I highly recommend it: it’s acknowledged as the go-to resource for community managers, and has even cracked the Twitter trending topics list.  After my experience this week, I intend to participate more regularly to learn from this open and resourceful community.

Have you ever participated in a Twitter chat, #cmgrchat or otherwise?  What do you find most useful?

Check out my Storify of this week’s #cmgrchat here.  Visit the basis for this week’s chat, The Community Manager’s “Using Content to Build a Community” by Rebecca Lindegren, here, and tune in to #cmgrchat each Wednesday at 2pm ET.

(Screen shots of 4.24.13 #cmgrchat tweets taken by author.  Featured image’s word cloud created by author using Wordle.)

Skills and Tips for Future Community Managers

Several weeks ago, I served as the weekly moderator for #CMGRclass’ Google+ community.  The weekly topic was “Social Media Management vs. Community Management,” and among the external resources that I shared was Vadim Lavrusik’s 10 Tips for Aspiring Community Managers.  Oops – or well done.  It turns out that this article was an assigned reading during the last week of the course focusing on “The Future of Community Management.”

While the piece is over two and a half years old, it still contains practical, actionable skills and tips to help a hopeful community manager get started in the field of community management.  Interestingly, these attributes reflect many of the key topics covered during #cmgrclass and together represent the progression of the course throughout the semester.  Here, I present a summary of Lavrusik’s tips.

  1. Evangelize your product.  The most effective community managers have in-depth knowledge of and are passionate about the business or organization they represent.  Often, they brought these attributes to the table before landing their CM position.
  2. Show empathy.  It’s not enough to know a company inside and out; it’s also important to understand the perspective of its users.  This includes knowing their passions, both positive and negative, about the brand.
  3. Communicate through engagement.  As Jenn Pedde writes in The Best (and Worst) Community Management Job Descriptions, the goal of community “is to connect people with people.  Period.”  Effective communication is vital to achieve this.
  4. Be present online, including being active on social media sites and having a blog about your industry.  It demonstrates that you’re social, you can effectively communicate and engage with an audience, and you have knowledge in your business sector.
  5. Be authentic.  To paraphrase a key concept that has arisen during every class I’ve taken in the iSchool’s CAS in Social Media program, people talk to people, not businesses; they engage with faces, not with company or organization logos.
  6. Showcase (or acquire) multiple skills.  It sounds obvious, but more skills are better for a prospective community manager, especially when targeting smaller companies.  If you don’t have them, get them, and always be on the lookout for new and emerging tools and platforms.
  7. Listen - ky_olsonListen.  Perhaps one of the most important traits of an effective community manager is the ability to listen.  As Lavrusik states, “It’s important to listen to the conversations taking place around your company, industry, or product.”  Not only will this listening practice provide insight about what customers are saying about a brand, but it can also help guide the type of content to make the community more impactful.
  8. Build relationships online and offline.  Another important learning from #CMGRclass and other iSchool courses, in-person encounters will help to strengthen and deepen relationships initiated online.
  9. Demonstrate vision and flexibility.  Not only do successful community managers excel at handling individual projects and tasks, they are also big-picture thinkers.  They are able to set and execute strategy, and are also quick to learn new tools and technologies.
  10. Empower others.  Perhaps the most important of Lavrusik’s tips is the need to develop ambassadors from within.  Without momentum from team members and buy-in from management, a community manager’s  efforts can be at best wasted or at worst fruitless.

The Community Manager as Connector

The role of the community manager is here to stay.  As Erin Bury describes in Community Manager Job Description, A Definitive Guide, he is she incorporates “online tools and in-person networking to create relationships and ultimately build the company’s brand, both online and off.”  Ultimately, an effective community manager delivers value to his or her community as well as the business the community represents.  He or she has identified the appropriate audience and the platforms it uses, listens to what it cares about, planned appropriate content, measured efficacy with regard to organizational objectives, and revised as necessary.  With careful resourcing, planning, and execution, for-profit and non-profit businesses alike can realize the benefits of a community manager to their ultimate goals.

Which of Lavrusik’s tips most resonates with you?  Why?

(“Community” image from Vadim Lavrusik’s 10 Tips for Aspiring Community Managers.  “Listen” and “Quality and Value” images from Flickr users ky_olson and wetwebwork.  Featured image by Flickr user Helico.)

Online Medical Communities: A Prescription for Success?

In this next-to-last week of #CMGRclass, students learned about scaling an online community.  In PatientsLikeMe: An Online Community of Patients, Sunil Gupta and Jason Riis discuss PatientsLikeMe, an online platform “for patients to share their personal experiences with a disease, find other patients like them, and learn from each other.”  Co-founded by MIT engineers Jamie Howard, Ben Heyward, and Jeff Cole in 2004, PatientsLikeMe (PLM) was an offshoot of Jamie’s non-profit biotechnology company, ALS Therapy Development Institute; both were in direct response to Jamie and Ben’s brother’s Stephen’s ALS diagnosis in 1998.

PatientsLikeMe was formally launched in 2006 and quickly grew to a size of over 80,000 registered patients in 19 communities – including 50,000 belonging to the largest communities dedicated to multiple sclerosis (MS), fibromyalgia, and mood disorders – by 2010.  By the end of that year, the company found itself at a crossroads.  The site had received an increasing number of patient requests for new communities focused on other medical conditions: in 2010 alone, over 5,000 requests were submitted for more than 1,000 conditions.

Up until that point, PatientsLikeMe had grown in a very regulated manner the number of conditions for which it had patient communities.  Communities were built one at a time and were dedicated to only one condition.  As Gupta and Riis quoted PLM chief marketing officer David Williams, “Since our communities currently work in silos, we do not provide a full picture to even our existing members who suffer from multiple conditions.”

Going forward, the team was considering the development of a General Platform (GP) to allow PLM to grow beyond its status as a “niche player” in its space.  However, while there was tremendous growth potential, there were also substantial risks.  The team realized that other conditions having larger patient bases and similar classification,  measurements, or medications would allow it to grow its member base and revenue stream.  (PLM was, and remains, a free site; its revenue is derived from the sale of aggregated health data to for- and non-profit businesses including pharmaceutical makers and universities.)  The team also acknowledged that the number of future enrollments, degree of member engagement on the site, and cost of new member acquisition were unknown.

PatientsLikeMe - AboutPatientsLikeMe went on to roll out the GP in April of 2011, welcoming all patients with any condition to join the site.  Its new platform is more holistic; rather than grouping patients by a single medical condition for which a community is formed, patients enter data on their current and past conditions, symptoms, treatments, and quality of life, and can interact on the site with patients having other conditions.  (PLM advises users that it is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.)  In a recent interview with Fortune, the Heywood brothers revealed that PLM has over 200,000 users and encompasses over 1,500 medical conditions.


I was fascinated with those numbers and recalled a figure from Gupta’s and Riis’ case study.  In Exhibit 9, the authors cite PLM company documents identifying a sample of possible new PLM Communities.  Lupus, along with other inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, were the top of the list of conditions for which patients requested a community, based on the number of requests received in 2010.  I myself have lupus, and while I’ve visited a few online communities dedicated to lupus from time to time, I had never heard of PatientsLikeMe – but I was intrigued.

Patients Like Me - LogoSo, this week I visited PatientsLikeMe and created a profile – so completely, in fact, that I was eligible for a free t-shirt.  (Incentivizing valued community members, anyone?)  I learned that PLM has four very compelling core values (trust, openness, transparency, and the “Wow! factor”) and endeavors to achieve them via three primary patient services (learn, connect, and track).  In addition, I discovered that PLM aggregates patient data to inform medical research and pharmaceutical studies and has published over 30 peer-reviewed research studies.  Wow, indeed.

My time with PatientsLikeMe has been too brief to comment on whether PLM has successfully managed its rapid growth across its site.  However, I am extremely impressed with how PLM supplements the traditional online medical forum with a hands-on approach to monitoring one’s own medical condition(s).

Have you or someone you care about ever used a medical-related online community?  Was it useful in learning about treatment options, coping with a condition, or better informing the patient’s conversation with his or her doctor?

(Images taken by author via screen capture.  Featured image from PatientsLikeMeOnCall.)

Brand Ambassadors as Champions

This week, #CMGRclass learned about brand ambassador programs.  In 10 Things to Remember When Creating a Brand Ambassador Program, Mack Collier outlines key considerations when establishing a brand ambassador program.  I’ve paraphrased them here, grouping them into the themes of program planning, administration, and sustainability.

  • Planning: up-front planning is key to a successful brand ambassador program.  Identify brand ambassadors using both online and offline communications (#2).  More does not equal better: a small number of passionate advocates is more powerful than a small number of fans (#3).  Internal communication within the brand is as important as external communication to brand advocates (#1).
  • Administration: brand ambassadors are motivated by access.  “Make membership exclusive” (#4).  Reward your advocates with exclusive perks (#6).  Provide your ambassadors with access to high-level executives (#7).
  • Sustainability: Facilitate connections with and between brand advocates (#5).  “Create a feedback loop between the brand abmassadors and the brand” (#8).  Empower ambassadors to identify other potential brand advocates (#9).  Transfer ownership of the program from the brand to its ambassadors (#10).

Brand Ambassador Wordle

Royal Champions

One of the central themes of #CMGRclass has been “the who.”  Just as considerable time should be devoted to identifying the audience of an online community, time must be invested in determining who a brand’s ambassadors should be.

Previously, I wrote about how Royal Caribbean cruise line could more effectively engage its customers online.  Despite recent headlines (Carnival Triumph, anyone?), the cruise industry is growing and extremely competitive.  While many repeat cruisers hop between different lines, others are extremely loyal, sticking to one cruise line or even a particular ship.  Surely Royal Caribbean would benefit from developing and nurturing a brand ambassador program, right?

It turns out that Royal Caribbean has already done exactly that.  In 2007, Royal Caribbean partnered with Nielsen Buzz Metrics to identify 50 frequent supporters in online communities.  These individuals, dubbed Royal Champions, received exclusive benefits, including access to company executives and free cruises on pre-inaugural sailings.  Here’s where subsequent reports and analysis seem to vary, though.  Some sites applauded the move, applauding Royal Caribbean’s move to understand online sentiment and potentially influence online conversation.  Others called foul, saying Royal Caribbean crossed the line by granting incentives in exchange for positive reviews.

This is sticky.  As Tamar Weinberg writes in her positive post, When is Brand Evangelism a Crime? Exploring the Royal Caribbean Promotional Marketing Strategy, Royal Caribbean (most accurately, its consultant) did the work to monitor online channels, listening to supporters and detractors alike, identifying its most “ardent supporters.”  However, as Anita Dunham-Potter explains in Paid cheerleaders: Does Royal Caribbean’s viral campaign cross the line?, there was significant backlash among online community members not tapped for the elite Royal Champions group, claiming the posts were planted by the cruise line.

Improving Royal Champions

Not knowing whether or not Royal Champions still exists (the most recent search results are dated 2009), Royal Caribbean could evolve the program based on the principles of loyalty and transparency.

  • loyalty roomLoyalty.  As Collier writes in 10 Things to Remember, one key to a brand ambassador program is exclusivity.  Potential brand ambassadors should be identified not solely based on frequency of online posts, but completion of Royal Caribbean cruises.  RCI’s Crown & Anchor program, comprised of repeat cruisers, would be an ideal starting point for identifying potential brand advocates.  These cruisers have demonstrated loyalty to the brand with an important factor: their wallets.
  • TransparencyTransparency.  The extension of benefits to ambassadors should not be predicated on positive endorsement.  Royal Caribbean should want to hear positive and negative feedback from the perspective of their most loyal customers.  As Collier writes, “make special note of the customers that go the extra mile … even if they sound negative.”  To combat potential backlash from consumer sites, brand advocates should openly identify themselves as such in online posts to anticipate accusations of “pay-for-play.”

What do you think about Royal Caribbean’s Royal Champions program?  Was it ahead of its time, as Weinberg suggests?  Or, was the program too opaque, as Dunham-Potter argues?

(“Loyalty” image by Flickr user untitledprojects; “Transparency” image by Flickr user jaygoldman.  Featured image and Wordle by author.)

Placing Value On Your Community

In Community: The Inbound Resource You Forgot About, Jennifer Sable Lopez of SEOmoz discusses the value of online community to a business or organization’s inbound marketing outposts.  Whether it be content, blogging (including earned media through blogger outreach), or social media, community is the common theme among inbound or referring resources.  As Lopez states, “…our community (whoever that may be for your particular organization) is right there, standing tall.”

Community DefinitionLopez’ article stuck with me throughout this week because it almost serves as a microcosm of #CMGRclass itself: it supports concepts we’ve talked about in earlier weeks (see: Listening to Your Community, Building a Community From Scratch, Planning a Community) while touching upon topics coming up in the future (see: Ambassador Programs, Metrics).  She poses the question, “What should “community” mean to you?” and offers potential roles that members of a community can play.  For me, coming from the perspective of a not-for-profit organization, a community is an organization’s brand advocates (both lovers and, at times, critics), members, sharers of content, and sometimes, even content generators.

The Value of Community

Given the multitude of roles that an online community can play, it’s no surprise that community is vitally important to a business or organization.  While it can be difficult to place a tangible value on a community, Lopez offers these thought-provoking questions as a multi-step process of determining a community’s value.

  1. Figure out who the community is in your organization.  Who are they?  What do they care about?  What online properties do they visit?  Why do you care?  A community manager can answer these questions by examining web/blog analytics, Facebook Insights, and website signup data.
  2. Figure out what your community really cares about.  Do they simply want a daily email update?  Will they share community content?  Will they visit your forums?  There’s only one way to get to the root of these questions: ask the community.  Information can be gathered from a survey sent via email or a poll added to a website/blog or social media site.
  3. Determine how much time/energy/money you’re putting into your community.  Where are you, as community manager, spending your time?  Creating blog content?  Managing social media sites?  Gathering and examining analytics?  Are you paying someone to help in one or more of these areas?  It’s critical to know where resources are being allocated now so that they can be adjusted going forward.
  4. Are you spending your time/energy on the things your community actually cares about?  At the intersection of identifying your community and their interests and determining where energy is currently being directed is a sweet spot: are these three factors aligned?  Will your hard work in one area pay off given the interests or preferences of the community?  (Lopez’ example of Twitter particularly hit home for me, as I have recently come to a similar conclusion for at least one of the non-profits with which I’m involved.)
  5. Rinse and repeat.  These four steps are not a one-time process.  Instead, Lopez advises, “Don’t stop simply because you found something that works for now.  The biggest takeaway here is also that you need to determine what works for YOU.”

Near the end of the article, Lopez discusses the value of community to her company, saying in step 5, “Because without our amazing community, we’re just another software company.”  What is your community to you?  What intangible value do they bring to your business or organization?

(Embedded image by Flickr user DragonBe.  Featured image by Flickr user Newfrontiers.)

Social Media: The Superhero in Real-Time Customer Support

Several weeks ago, #CMGRclass learned about the importance of understanding and listening to the audience of an online community.  Olivier Blanchard, in chapter 12 of Social Media ROI (“Real-Time Digital Support – Fixing Customer Service Once and for All”), stresses the importance of customer service to a business or organization.  He emphasizes that customer service isn’t just a department on a company’s organization chart, but is a product inextricably linked to its brand identity.  While good customer service is the result of careful planning and execution, bad customer service can result in negative experiences, sentiment, publicity, and even impact a company’s bottom line.

Blanchard asks, “Now what does this have to do with social media?  Everything.”  Social media has balanced the scales of influence: anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account can immediately spread their experience with a business – good or bad – through their own networks.  If a message resonates enough with its audience, it will be shared (perhaps again and again).  Blanchard recommends the practice of social media monitoring as a triage approach to identify positive, neutral, and negative mentions and determine which require a response.  He goes on to classify online mentions into six categories depending on the context of what the individual is trying to accomplish.  Is the person simply informing their network of a positive or negative experience, or does he or she need information or assistance a “customer service superhero”?

“Sometimes, people just want to fight.”

Of course, not all online mentions are positive; sometimes, even the superpowers of a customer service hero can’t easily remedy a customer complaint.  In the last section of chapter 12, “Digital Conflict Resolution,” Blanchard discusses online conflict resolution, outlining nine rules of online conflict resolution and offering tips on how to defuse escalating situations.  The rules are listed below, but can be summarized into seven short words: “Don’t try to win.  Don’t even fight.”

  1. The Customer Is Always RightThe customer is always right.
  2. You will treat every customer like royalty, regardless of how she behaves.
  3. Unreasonable customers are not the enemy.
  4. The most effective weapon against an angry customer is a calm, generous demeanor.
  5. The most effective weapon against a rude customer is politeness.
  6. Recruit your customer info helping you craft a solution.
  7. Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances get sucked into an argument with a customer, especially online.
  8. Don’t be afraid to apologize, even if you have nothing to apologize for.
  9. If the customer’s request for a resolution is unreasonable, apologize and say that you can’t do that but offer a solution.

Online news sources have been littered with recent tales about how businesses are disobeying one or more of these rules, with many of these stories being shared in our own #CMGRclass community.

  • For instance, several weeks ago, #CMGRclass student Steve shared a story of how Famous Dave’s participated in an Twitter exchange about barbecue origins with Jason Dominy, a fellow coffee roaster – clearly in violation of rule numbers 1 and 7.  (I would have added numbers 4 and 5, but I didn’t find Mr. Dominy’s comments to be angry or rude.)  Fortunately, Famous Dave’s later apologized online to Mr. Dominy, observing rule number 8.
  • More notoriously, six weeks ago Applebee’s got drawn into backlash on Facebook following the firing of a waitress over posting the receipt of a non-tipping patron online.  If you extend the definition of “customer” into “potential customers,” Applebee’s was violating nearly all of Blanchard’s rules.  (Not to mention proving to be rather inept at social media and community management.)

What about you?  As a provider of customer service, have you ever been frustrated with resolving conflicts online?   Or perhaps as a recipient of customer service, have you ever concluded an exchange and was still left wanting?

(Featured image created by author.  Embedded image by Flickr user LonelyBob.)

Book Review: Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World

Humanize - Notter and Grant“Humanize”: this word is scattered throughout the digital landscape.  So, quite appropriately, I selected “Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World” by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant as the subject of my mid-term book review.  Notter and Grant, while having different backgrounds (he is a leadership, conflict, and diversity speaker and consultant; she is a blogger and co-founder and Chief Social Media Strategist at SocialFish), both have experience with association management, the practice of governing and leading a membership comprised of dues-paying members.  This was my primary reason for my interest in “Humanize,” as nearly all of my volunteer commitments are with dues-paying and volunteer-based organizations.  That, plus the word itself has an aspirational quality for any future community or social media management professional.

“Humanize” provides a detailed explanation of the key characteristics of a human organization along with actionable steps to how the reader can move his or her for- or non-profit organization toward effective practice of those attributes.  The chapters in “Humanize” are aggregated into sections.

  • Humanize - Notter and GrantThe beginning of the book (chapters one through four) provides a 30,000 foot look at the social media revolution.  This section goes on to discuss the natural tension between the forward progress of social media and lack of change within many organizations, while also identifying three critical factors in that tension: organizational culture, internal process, and individual behavior.
  • The “meat” of the book (chapters five through nine) sees Notter and Grant identify four key elements of being human: open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous.  They purposefully select a trellis as a basis for representing an organization’s culture, its process, and its behavior, stating that these elements together “support the cultivation of more powerful organizations – ones that will thrive in a social world.”
Culture Process Behavior
Open Decentralization Systems Thinking Ownership
Authentic Transparency Truth Authenticity
Generative Inclusion Collaboration Relationship Building
Courageous Learning Experimentation Personal Development

The Trellis

Humanize - Notter and GrantEach of these four elements is addressed one-by-one.  Challenges of and opportunities for introducing each into an organization are discussed, and each chapter concludes with a worksheet designed to assess an organization’s current position and identify future work in building a particular characteristic.  (The worksheets, shown at right, can be downloaded at the Humanize website.)  Each chapter ends with a closing designed to prompt action: “Ultimately, the changes we advise in this book are necessary, they are possible, and they start with you.  Don’t wait for permission or the perfect timing.  Are you ready?  Go.”

Gardening in Your Community

I would not hesitate to recommend “Humanize” to any aspiring or practicing community or social media manager.  Notter and Grant strike a good balance between heft and levity.  “Humanize” is weighty yet readable; their writing style is clear and the text is infused with a sense of humor and wit.

Just as #CmgrChat member @doctorcrowe indicated in his review in the @TheCMGR Reading List, Humanize is not a book about how to implement a community management or social media program.  Rather, Humanize is a book that breaks down important organizational factors that, when correctly aligned, will facilitate the successful implementation of such a program.  For example, in chapter six, “How To Be Open,” Notter and Grant emphasize the need to understand an organization’s culture on all levels – its walk, its talk, and its thought – before beginning to transform it from a hierarchical centralized culture to an inclusive decentralized one.

As Notter and Grant say on page 114 as they prepare to kick off chapter 6, “Whatever you do, do something.”

I’m going; will you?

Blog Better

Before I knew much about blogging, I equated the term with an activity done by an opinionated person who was extremely knowledgeable about some subject area – politics, business, sports – but who had far too much time on his hands.  I assumed that structurally and stylistically, if you’d seen one blog post, you’d seen them all: they were dense and chock full of ideas, and posed a struggle to get through unless you were really into that subject.

Then I came to the iSchool.  In each of my last three classes (four, if you count #CMGRClass), blogging has been an integral part of the assigned curriculum and work, and one was even devoted to blogging.  Needless to say, I now know that my original assessment of blogging was way off mark.  (At least in most cases, that is!)

This week in #CMGRClass, students studied, read, and wrote (or, more correctly, blogged) about blogging.  Included in this week’s readings was ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse’s How to Write Great Blog Content: a great go-to resource for those new to blogging or who feel they need a refresher on blogging best practices.  The post itself is a brief list-meets-link post, where each item in the series of bulleted lists is the title of another of Rowse’s posts.  Taken together, there are 17 articles providing guidance on developing content, crafting a post, and motivating oneself to blog better.

Blog Better

Rowse’s series is broken into several sections, most having at least three articles each.  Like any good blog post, each post is long enough, but not overly lengthy.  (A recommended guideline is between 250 and 1000 words).  Each has a descriptive title, and most include pictures that complement the content.  Each post has formatting that aids in digesting the content: headings and subheadings in bold, italic, or underlined text, bulleted or enumerated lists, etc.  Interestingly, across all of the posts, several of the wide range of types of blog posts are represented – instructional, list, and link.  (Turns out that idea of blogging I had may have been based on seeing a rant post or two as is described in number 11 here.)

  • Where to Start: How to Craft a Blog Post outlines “10 crucial points” to consider before clicking publish, including the importance of quality control and timing
  • Techniques: offers guidance on effective post titles, suggests optimal post length, and provides ways to make a post more scannable for reading on-screen
  • Workflow: includes considerations on post frequency and guest posts
  • Motivation: offers numerous ways to battle bloggers’ block
  • Principles: includes four excellent posts on developing content
  • RSS: provides a how-to guide for developing and growing a RSS feed

Carry On Blogging

blogging - Flickr user hgjohnSome keys to blogging will be constant.  As Rowse says in The 4 Pillars of Writing Exceptional Blogs, “… create valuable content and good writing, and the readers will come.”  Content is king.  (Yes, I talked about that in last week’s post on community content, too.)  In How to Craft a Blog Post, Rowse also writes, “small mistakes can be barriers to engagement for some readers,” and that definitely applies to me.  Provided the content is there, I also value an aesthetically-pleasing post that contains correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

I believe there’s a fine line in determining when a post is ready for prime time – especially in cases where one’s own high standards are in play.  (There’s an interesting discussion going on in the #CMGRClass Google+ group about this very topic.)  Regardless of where you might fall on the spectrum of “done” vs. “perfect,” make no mistake, what your post contains as well as how it looks are vitally important to your blog’s readers.

What do you think are your blogging strengths?  Weaknesses?  Are you more of a “done” or “perfect” blogger?

(“Keep Calm and Carry On Blogging” image from Flickr user hgjohn.)

Content Drives Community (Drives Content)

“Content is king.” – so goes the oft-uttered saying.  While the phase seems to be derived from an article by Bill Gates, I’ve come across the phrase in #RotoloClass, #NunesClass, and now #CMGRClass.  Although the specific venue within which this rule is most applicable may be debated – websites vs. blogs vs. SEO vs. online communities vs. social media sites – the importance of creating compelling content that resonates with audiences should not be dismissed on any platform.

In Chapter 3 of “Buzzing Communities,” Richard Millington addresses the role of content within an online community.  Millington compares an online community to a much older communications medium, the local newspaper, by discussing three ways the latter serves its community:

  • Establish a social order and narrative: identify the news items and individuals that are most newsworthy of readers’ attention
  • Inform and entertain: balance news and events with entertainment items
  • Develop a sense of social community: serve as consensus and determinant of community opinion

A local newspaper has a critical role in informing its community while establishing context among news items and individuals within the community.  Millington goes on to argue that online communities would be well-served in using local newspapers as a model for developing content.  He provides the following goals of content: create a community narrative, encourage regular readership, develop a sense of community, establish social order, and influence action within the community.

Whereas a content site may deliver the latest information about a topic or organization, prompting visitors to read or consume the content, Millington states that a community site “will provide information for members, establish a social order and facilitate strong bonds and heightened sense of community”, encouraging readers to participate and engage in conversation around the content.  It is content about the community that most resonates with members.


In July 2012, I became the first Online Engagement Chair for the Junior League of Syracuse.  Earlier that year, while serving as Communications Vice President and recognizing the increasing importance of an online presence in today’s world, I had lobbied for the creation of the role.  Personally, I was struggling to balance my duties at VP while managing the organization’s website and social media properties.  Around the same time, I was a #RotoloClass student, learning all about the importance of social media in engaging in two-way conversation.

Out of #RotoloClass, the idea of a blog post series entitled “Meet the JLS” was born, in which Junior League of Syracuse leaders would be profiled to demonstrate the spectrum of women who make up the JLS and humanize the organization as individual faces behind its logo.  (Little did I know at the time that this series would help to further many of Millington’s content goals, including developing a sense a community, aspirational spotlighting, and influencing activities and behaviors!)

JLS on TumblrI entered the current JLS year completely jazzed about the new blog post series.  To date, five interviews have been conducted and three profiles published (example at right).  Feedback was good, including from the organization’s leadership and membership, as well as from sister Junior Leagues who saw the posts on Twitter using the #MeetTheJLS hashtag.  However, to say that “Meet the JLS” has stagnated since the fall would be a kind understatement.  What happened? – any number of things, on a range of organizational to personal levels (competing priorities, lack of enthusiasm from participants, scheduling difficulties…).  As the time increasingly grew since the last post or interview, frustration slowly turned to indifference.

Moving Forward

The best content for a community is content about the community.  When I read Millington’s quote about the importance of community-based content, it was like a huge light bulb illuminating over my head and an Oprah “aha moment,” all rolled into one.  I immediately flashed back to the excitement of completing my first profile.  Now, I hope to reshape some of my priorities and elevate the blog post series within them, knowing that the content will add to members’ sense of place within the community, and perhaps even promote aspirations to be one of the women profiled in the series.

Do you belong to a community that is particularly inclusive?  What makes you feel part of that community?

(Featured image by Flickr user Cubosh.)