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.

A Community At Sea

This week in #CMGRclass, the topic has been Building A Community or Social Media Program from Scratch.  The accompanying readings included chapter 12 of Richard Millington’s “Buzzing Communities“, entitled “The Audience: Demographics, Habits, and Psychographics.”  Millington describes the importance of understanding a new community’s target audience: “who they are, what they do, and what they think.”  He goes on to describe five types of communities:

  • Communities of interest, revolving around a company or organization and its goods, services, or other raison d’être.  Example: MacRumors Forums, where fanboys/girls discuss their passion for all things Apple.
  • Communities of place, relevant to a specific location.  Example: Omaha, Nebraska’s Omaha Forums, where Omahans talk News and Events and Dining/Culture/Entertainment.
  • Communities of practice, cultivated around something practiced by its members, such as specific functions at work.  Example: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) users’ groups like the ESRI Petroleum User Group.
  • Communities of action, helping members progress toward a specific goal.  Example:‘s online community.
  • Communities of circumstance, fostering relationships based on shared experiences.  Example: health-related support groups like the Lupus Foundation of America’s online community.

A Missed Opportunity

I recently vacationed with a large group of extended family – about 15 in all – on a five-day cruise on Royal Caribbean International‘s MS Liberty of the Seas.  It was a great experience filled with fun, food, and family time.  Reflecting on the cruise, though, I can’t help but think that Royal Caribbean is missing the boat (no pun intended) at leveraging the power of their loyal fans to promote their brand.

While Royal Caribbean has a social media presence on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+, these sites provide more of a one-way push of information to their audiences, rather than two-way dialogue between the cruise line and its customers.  Their social tools on Facebook, including the Royal Connections app and Discussions tab, are not highly-used.  (For instance, there were only seven people attending the Facebook Event corresponding to my cruise.  The boat seemed a bit more crowded than that!)

Not only do these tools lack in content, I believe they are also misplaced.  Leading up to the cruise, I had done all of our planning – researching our itinerary, on-board amenities, and the like – on the Royal Caribbean website.  As Billington asks, “What tools and platforms do members use?”  I can’t help but wonder, why not add a community where future cruisers are already spending time online?

#royalcaribbean #libertyoftheseas

(Instagram image by @josuelopz_.)

  • Communities of interest could target specific passenger segments sharing common attributes.  For example, parents traveling with their children could discuss the best kid-friendly activities or individuals with unique needs – say, those with special diet or accessibility concerns – could converse about their needs.
  • Communities of place are perfectly-suited for specific vessels.  Liberty of the Seas passengers on Twitter posted updates as the ship set sail, using the hashtag #LibertyOfTheSeas – a self-organized community of sorts.  (See photo above.)  How about formalizing that group as a community centered on a specific vessel, and even hold an on-ship tweet-up for passengers?
  • Communities of circumstance would be a valuable resource to allow brand-new and seasoned cruisers alike to converse with each other before, during, and after their cruise.  (See photo below.)  Websites and online forums like communities like Cruise Critic already provide this platform.

(Twitter image by @Cewitz.)

Set Sail!

Businesses and organizations would be well-served by identifying and implementing the type(s) of communities that, when developed and nurtured, help to meet their strategic objectives.  Travel companies in particular would benefit from hosting online communities for consumers to share tips about destinations and activities pre-trip and provide opportunities for meet-ups while vacationing.  Certainly, providing an online forum closely coupled to an official website poses some risk – à la angry traveler makes waves – this action also demonstrates transparency, can help to humanize the brand, and opens the door for a far greater number of satisfied customers to broadcast their positive experiences.

What travel companies are doing this well?  Do you think the potential benefits outweigh the risks?

.@RoyalCaribbean #Flirtini.

Beach still life. #sun #sand #cruise #family #lifeisgood

(Featured image and Instagram images by author.)


#CMGRClass Community Moderation: A Week in Review

During the week of January 31 through February  3, I served as the moderator for #CMGRClass’ Google+ Community.  The theme for the week? – “Community Management vs. Social Media Management.”  After a warm introduction from classmates Steve Rhinehart and Diane Stirling – the former had been the previous week’s moderator, and the latter was kind enough to trade weeks with me – I was ready to go!

Monday: introductory post.

Community Moderation Post 1I started my moderation duties by asking classmates for their thoughts on the differences between community and social media management and how their own skills and abilities were well-suited to these roles (photo at right).  I wanted to start the week by exploring any preconceived notions (and perhaps even misconceptions) about community management.  Discussion participants honed in on two main differences:

  • A social media manager builds reputation and talks to people; a community manager builds relationships and talks with people, or even better, facilitates people talking with each other.

As Justin Isaf stated in You may not actually be a Community Manager – and that’s ok., “For most (again, not all) Community Managers, they “win” if they put themselves out of a job because their users are talking to each other (not just to the community manager) …”

Wednesday: resource citation.

Community Moderation Post 2I’m a #RotoloClass alumna, having taken the course last spring.  One week was dedicated to community management and the readings included an article relevant to our #CMGRClass theme: 10 Tips For Aspiring Community Managers by Vadim Lavrusik.  I asked #CMGRClass to identify whether they found any of the tips thought-provoking, surprising, or challenging to put into practice (photo at left).

Friday and Saturday: supplemental material.

On Friday and Saturday, I posted links to two articles, Fast Company’s 5 Things Lady Gaga Can Teach Marketers About Community Building and SocialFresh’s The 2013 Community Manager Report [INFOGRAPHIC].  The former was another #RotoloClass find; the latter, a teaser of this year’s update to one of the readings assigned for this particular week of #CMGRclass.  (Author’s note: I had difficulties downloading the 2012 Community Manager Report, always receiving an error message when trying to access the report.)

Sunday: revisit opening question and handoff to new moderator.

By the time Sunday rolled around, my moderation duties were nearly over.  Early in the afternoon, I reposted the questions posed to classmates at the beginning of the week.  Alas, comments were light, which I attest to the day of the week, time of the day, and the fact that it was Super Bowl Sunday!

Community Moderation Post 3At the end of the evening, I handed over the moderation reins to classmate Katie Hudson and provided one last quote to emphasize the importance of relationships in community management.  In Social media ROI: Managing and measuring social media efforts in your organization, Olivier Blanchard writes, “Success in the social media space is predicated upon an individual or organization’s ability to forge and nurture online relationships and to some degree convert them into equally valuable offline relationships.”


  • #CMGRClass is awesome!  #CMGRclass students have a depth and breath of experience that inform their posts in our Google+ community.  Furthermore, even only two weeks into our course classmates’ posts reflected their own personalities.
  • Comments breed comments.  I observed during my week of moderation that a post with a couple of comments had a better chance of attracting other comments than one without.
  • Patience pays.  The efficacy of any given post can’t be determined in a single day or two.  Below are two charts showing community participation for each moderator post.  At left, the number of comments and “+1″s are shown; at right, comments from the moderator (blue) are distinguished by those from classmates.
  • We are a community!  In only the third week of #CMGRClass, it was fun to observe and facilitate our class’ interactions with each other in the context of our shared experience of learning about the theory and practice of community management.

Community Moderation Post 4Community Moderation Post 5

Finding Your Community

It’s been freestyle week in #CMGRclass.  There haven’t been assigned readings, and students were asked to provide questions for our February 12 hangout with Olivier Blanchard, author of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization.  #CMGRclass students came through, asking questions that addressed the execution and monitoring of social media activities within corporate, not-for-profit, higher education, and small business settings, and Olivier spoke to the class for nearly an hour on those questions and more.

Find the puzzle pieces and put them together

One #CMGRclass student, Katie Hudson, asked how a person without formal influence should communicate upward that social media is important and go about selecting the metrics that will demonstrate its success.

Puzzle Pieces

Olivier admitted that it can be disconcerting to see progress from an organization’s social media efforts, thinking that things are going well but lacking confirmation from management.  Olivier suggested that consulting with a company’s decision makers and asking key questions can go a long way toward identifying an organizations’ goals and how social media can help meet those objectives:

“What can I help you with?  What can I help you do?”

This is truly a win-win situation: the social media manager will have a better understanding of the business and its managers’ motivations; the business leaders will in turn understand how social channels can help them meet their needs within the business.  Olivier said, “It’s like finding all the puzzle pieces and putting them together.”

24 hours later…

The night after our Google+ hangout, I had a Junior League of Syracuse meeting.  The organization’s usual monthly membership meetings are executed slightly differently during the month of February, where the membership breaks into smaller groups – “sectionals” – that provide training and education on specific topics of interest.  I was excited to see social media on the docket, but just imagine how I felt to learn that the JLS was welcoming Kelly Lux as the featured speaker!

In the space of an hour and a half, Kelly covered a lot of ground with the dozen or so members in attendance: from the importance and ramifications of having a presence on social media (“If you don’t exist online, you don’t exist.”) to suggestions for platforms that might be useful in different business or personal situations.











This year within the JLS, I hold the title of Online Engagement Chair.  I manage the organization’s social media accounts, work with other JLS leaders to understand their activities and goals, and identify content and suggest new opportunities.  I like to think I have a good idea of the platforms on which members are present and, even to some extent, their relative level of activity.  On Wednesday night, though, I must say that I was inspired by the breadth of my fellow members’ questions, their engagement in the discussion, and their tangible level of excitement.

On my way home after the meeting, I thought about something that Olivier had said on Tuesday night.

It’s really about value.

Another classmate, Alaetra Combs, had asked how a community manager can establish an internal community that strengthens an offline community.

Olivier advised the use of a scarcity model.  By starting with a small number of highly engaged community members, the community would provide tremendous value to those within it and be seen as desirable by those outside of it.  (Think Pinterest, when it was still operating in its invitation-only model.)  I wondered if the JLS members in attendance at the sectional would be a good incubator for starting a community of Junior League members.  I considered the potential scope of the community: perhaps the personal growth that comes from civic leadership, or maybe the challenges of balancing personal, professional, and volunteer commitments.

I’m getting ready to embark on a Caribbean cruise without ready access to the internet.  (Seriously?)  I have ample time to ponder these questions and more, but while asking whether the JLS and its members would benefit from an online community, I will keep one comment from our recent #CMGRclass hangout in the front of my mind:

It always pays to start small and grow big. – Jenn Pedde

Belize Beach

(Featured image from Flickr user cameraburps.  Puzzle pieces image from Flickr user designmilk.  Belize beach image from Flickr user JessieHarrell.  Other images by author.)

Shhhhh… Listen

listen first with social media

Image appears on:

The theme of this past week’s #CMGRClass was “Listening to Your Audience or Community.”  In Buzzing Communities, Richard Millington talks about the crucial need to understand key aspects of a community and its members, including

  • who its members are and what they do (“who”);
  • the social media platform platforms used by members (“where” and “how”);
  • the knowledge base, edges, and gaps of members (“what”);
  • the issues cared about by members (“what” and “why”); and
  • the motivations and aspirations of members (“why”).

These community characteristics will help drive the determination of its audience, tools, content, and more.  In his book, Millington says, “The important step is to understand what members want and know how to take that information and apply it to practical activities within the community.”  In other words, knowing the “five Ws” “four Ws and the H” will better inform the delivery of effective content and assist in its application to audience engagement.

Another quote from Millington particularly struck me: “Too many communities launch and then struggle to grow their audience, attract members, and sustain high levels of participation.”  He goes on to explain two possible causes, an inaccurate concept resulting in a meager audience, or lack of engagement by existing community members.

Reflecting on these concepts, I couldn’t help but relate them to experience with a local non-profit organization that I nearly wrote about last week, but edited out for length.  In my discussion of the differences between social media management and community management, I characterized Upstate New Yorkers for Nebraska as an accidental community, but originally had also classified the Junior League of Syracuse as a reluctant community.

Case study: The Junior League of Syracuse

The Junior League of Syracuse, Inc. (JLS) is a volunteer-based women’s leadership development and community impact organization.  As part of its overall communications strategy, the JLS has slowly waded into an increasing number of online outlets and now has a blog and a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Storify, Pinterest, and Instagram.  The JLS has multiple audience segments for its social network sites, including current and potential members, community partners (e.g., local not-for-profit organizations) and supporters.

I manage the JLS’ social media sites and am occasionally stymied with audience response to posts, particularly from members.  The JLS is in the business of doing good: delivering training and education opportunities to allow its members to develop as civic leaders, and collaborating with other non-profits on efforts that promote health and wellness for at-risk families.  To raise funds for its mission, the JLS holds an annual holiday market, Holiday Shoppes.  When reviewing recent engagement on the JLS’ Facebook page, I realized that the highest degree of engagement had to do with Holiday Shoppes, not mission-critical activities like its member development programs or community partnerships, because it was a shared experience across all audience segments.

The Path Forward

About a year and a half ago, the JLS brought in as member training a Junior League-affiliated speaker.  Janet Wieland of Solutions Provided identified volunteer organizations as a prospective “third place”.  This term was coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1999 book The Great Good Place to characterize locations where people gather outside the traditional environments of their homes and workplaces (the first and second places, respectively).  Janet challenged the JLS to make itself a third place, meeting not only the social needs of its members, but also delivering a sense of personal fulfillment.

This week I was struck by how Janet’s challenge can extend beyond the physical spaces in which the JLS operates to its online communities as well.  If its community managers can listen to members – understanding the platforms they use, the issues they care about, their aspirations to help build a better Syracuse – the JLS’ online communities have an opportunity to become more vibrant and fulfilling to members.

An Accidental Community

This week’s readings discussed the key distinctions between social media management and community management.  The following table shows some of the similarities and differences (the size of the “x” and accompanying comments describe the scope of that facet):

Social Media Management Community Management
Strategy X (campaign objectives) x (community health)
Content X (blogs, social sites) X (blogs, forums)
Engagement X (one-to-many, transactional) X (one-to-one, many-to-many, relationships)
Analytics and Metrics X (campaign ROI) x (community health)

Clearly, these functions have some overlap.  A social media manager (SMM) sets strategy, creates and curates content, drives engagement, and assesses results; a community manager (CM) may collaborate with a SMM on developing content and identifying engagement tactics.  As Jenn Pedde describes in What a community manager is not, “A community manager does work on social communities some of the time.”  However, “‘managing accounts’ is not the sole responsibility.”

These two roles also have important differences.  A SMM manages an organization’s perception by engaging individually with members on a social platform.  In contrast, a CM manages relationships between an organization and its constituents by facilitating conversation among community members, often strengthening online encounters by hosting offline events (Vanessa DiMauro, Justin Isaf, Jenn Pedde).  In other words, a community manager builds, develops, and sustains relationships.

In this post, I’d like to discuss in the context of an organization with which I volunteer whether the management of its primary social site can be categorized as social media management, community management, or both.

A Community By Chance

Upstate New Yorkers for Nebraska (UNY for Nebraska) was chartered by the University of Nebraska Alumni Association in 2011 to help connect and engage alumni, friends, and fans of the University.  Its primary online properties are a Facebook page and Twitter account.  Facebook has been the primary vehicle used to inform and engage followers about chapter and University news and activities.

UNY for Nebraska has a core group of 50 people who regularly attend chapter events and have opted in to email communications.  This modest audience is far exceeded by the chapter’s 180 individual Facebook fans.  Consequently, response to and engagement with site content can vary widely depending on an individual’s investment in the group.

    • Typical posts receive a like or comment or two, while photos tend to be shared more often by Facebook fans.
    • Not surprisingly, posts representing shared experiences garner more engagement (example below).
    • Community members also post their own content to the page, and fellow members frequently respond.


What Next?


This week’s readings differentiated the outcomes of social media management from those of community management.  While a social media platform serves as a basis for an organization to connect individually with constituents, an online community provides an environment for participants to authentically connect with each other.  In You may not actually be a Community Manager – and that’s ok, Justin Isaf writes that community managers “‘win’ if they put themselves out of a job because their users are talking to each other…,” whereas social media professionals “‘win’ if they maintain a conversation with every person who touches a brand…”

Upstate New Yorkers for Nebraska is not yet truly engaging in community management.  The very fact that this post discussed metrics such as likes, comments, and shares underscores this assessment.  However, individuals’ alignment with UNY for Nebraska is self-selective based on their affiliation with an institution; this should be considered a powerful driver for future potential community engagement.  UNY for Nebraska’s Facebook page has organically become an ad hoc community where fans interact with others’ content (example at right).  Going forward, it would be strategically advantageous to tap an appropriately-skilled volunteer to serve as community manager to cultivate and encourage engagement between fellow Nebraska fans.

Have you ever managed a social site that seemed to be on the brink of becoming an online community?  What did you find successful in encouraging members’ engagement?

(Featured image from Flickr user SalFalko.)

Bulletin Boards and Discussion Forums: Then and Now

In History and Emergence of Online Communities (2003), Jenny Preece, Diane Maloney-Krichmar, and Chadia Abras define an online community as “a group of people who interact in a virtual environment.”  In an earlier publication (2000) Preece et al. offer an online community’s key characteristics: they have a purpose, are supported by technology, and are guided by norms and policies.  The authors go on to differentiate communities by whether their participants are co-present in time (asynchronous or synchronous).

In this post, I’d like to explore one type of asynchronous technology: online bulletin boards and their modern-day cousins, discussion forums.  First, some basics: how do they work?  A moderator (community manager) is constantly present, often in the background, to enforce adherence to the board’s or forum’s policies and ensure appropriate etiquette.  While it’s possible to view posts without logging in to a site, registration is required to contribute to a discussion or post a question.  Posts are grouped into threads to organize responses to the original poster’s (or OP’s) question.  Each site typically has a frequently asked questions page outlining its rules of the road.

The Truth Is Out There

My first introduction to online communities was through a friend with whom I watched a television show, The X-Files.  In 1997 the show was in its heyday, and bulletin boards dedicated to the show abounded.  Its underlying mythology stymied new and die-hard fans alike, and “the boards” were the place to dissect (often ad nauseum) the previous week’s episode and speculate on upcoming eps.  I never posted, but voraciously read others’ threads on the plot twists of the week.  (Yes, I was a lurker.)

  • Have a purpose?  These bulletin boards allowed fans of the X-Files (X-Philes) to congregate online to discuss the show.
  • Supported by technology?  Yes: asynchronous bulletin board.
  • Guided by norms and policies?  The X-Files bulletin boards had moderators and site etiquette and also featured inside references to the show, including an extensive set of acronyms.

As the internet evolved, so did forums.  Instead of being standalone destinations rendered in text, they were often embedded into websites dedicated to work and leisure topics.  I tend to refer to forums when I have a specific question which would benefit from collective intelligence.  Just like in the X-Files days, I lurk more than actively participate, but I have used them to post threads about health questions, automobile issues, and technology questions.

Trust (Almost) Everyone

MacOS X Hints ForumFor example, five years ago after I applied an update on my iBook, I experienced a technical problem.  I searched online for assistance but without any luck.  So, I took a breath, posted a thread on the Macworld MacOS X Hints forum, and waited for a reply.  Within 12 hours three different users had posted responses.  (Discussion forums may be categorized as asynchronous, but with users scattered across the globe, oftentimes the OP doesn’t have to wait long for a reply.)

MacOS X Hints Forum

  • Have a purpose?  Have a question?  There’s most likely an online discussion forum dedicated to that topic.
  • Supported by technology?  Yes: asynchronous discussion forum.
  • Guided by norms and policies?  When posting my Mac question, I searched (and re-searched) the discussion forum, not wanting to break a cardinal rule of posting a question that had been previously answered in another thread.  Forum participants were friendly,  informative, and encouraging.

Online bulletin boards and discussion forums are still very much present in internet culture, although their user interfaces have evolved as their supporting websites have done the same.  Although they might not be the sexiest technology, discussion forums still serve a valuable purpose, whether the participant is a consumer or contributor.

What do you think?  Have you ever used an online discussion forum?  If so, when and for what?