Author Archive for Michael Billington

Greetings! I am Michael Billington, a student at Syracuse University's iSchool, and currently employed as a Lead Software Developer for Aspen Dental Management, Inc. I've been in the industry for roughly 7 years and am always looking to learn more about my industry. Online communities are a great way to gain knowledge about a specific area, such as Software Development or Employment Opportunities.

The Man Behind iFroggy: A Community Manager Review

Patrick O’Keefe, owner and founder of the iFroggy Network (www.ifroggy.com) has over 10 years of experience creating and managing online communities. He has an obvious passion for online communities and continues to maintain, create and promote them through the iFroggy Network. Patrick was kind enough to participate in an hour-long interview that discussed his experiences in the industry as well as his opinions on topics related to the evolution of Community Management and how someone can approach managing their own communities.

patrick-headshot1About Patrick

Patrick has been managing online communities for 10+ years and has published several papers and wrote the book “Managing Online Forums”, a practical guide to managing online communities and social spaces. Along with his published work, he blogs about online community at ManagingCommunities.com, his favorite record label at BadBoyBlog.com and more at patrickokeefe.com (O’Keefe, About Patrick O’Keefe, 2013). Patrick has a great deal of knowledge about community management and often speaks about its practice at conferences and events which have been held at Northwestern University, South by Southwest Interactive and North Carolina State University.

Based on the interview that I conducted with Patrick on March 22nd, 2013, he’s had an interest in community management for at least 15+ years, dating back to when AOL was the popular ISP and Geocities was a modern platform. He’s had an interest with people, connecting them and how each person can contribute to the creation and continued development of a community. Throughout the years the platforms have continually gotten better, but the purpose is the same: people connecting and contributing to a certain topic.

Patrick’s passion for online communities has led him to creating popular communities such as KarateForums.com, a martial arts discussion forum, and phpBBHacks.com, a PHP bulletin board platform discussion. The team at iFroggy assists with the management of these communities. All of these sites and more can be found on the iFroggy Network, which provides an easy way for users to find other communities that they may be interested in.

Tips from Patrick on Starting a community and managing its evolution

Through our interview and Patrick’s own blog postings, he provides several tips for starting an online community. One of my own questions to the iFroggy owner was “how do you go about starting your own online community?” Patrick answered that he has many ideas and referred to his blog posting on ManagingCommunities.com. There’s a certain commitment required to start a community, this is not something you want to do if you’re looking for a quick turnaround without any investment of time.

The Power of Un-popular

The Power of Un-popular

Targeting your audience is extremely importing when starting a community. Your community is not going to cater to everyone, you have to consider who you are trying to appeal to, who you want to appeal to and then go after them (O’Keefe, I’m Starting an Online Community, Do You Have Any Tips?, 2013). Previous in the semester I wrote a paper on “The Power of Unpopular” a book by Erika Napoletano that underscores this concept of targeting your audience. Communities cannot cater to everyone in the world, you need to define the audience.

Aside from tips for starting your own community, we briefly discussed handling change within an established community. Patrick has a few blog posts related to managing change, generally the message being “give everyone as much advance notice as possible” if people know that the change is happening prior, the fallout will be less severe (O’Keefe, Advance Notice is Essential to Successful Change on Your Online Community, 2013). Change is a scary thing and the members of your community must be aware of it prior to it taking effect.

Finally, a job description for Community Management!

Time has certainly flown by! This is the last weekly blog post for CMGR Class and we’ll be concentrating on the job description of a Community Manager (CM). Based on the various materials that we have read throughout the semester, there seems to be a lot of confusion in the industry as to the specific responsibilities of a Community Manager. For the last readings, we concentrated on the definition of a Community Manager and what they should be doing in a company.

The Community ManagerStandard Definition of a Community Manager

Some companies in the industry have a very difficult time with defining a Community Manager’s responsibilities. According to Erin Bury’s article, a Community Manager is the face of the company and handles managing both incoming and outgoing communications. Depending on the company, this may or may not be beyond the expected roles that a singular person will take on. The Community Manager will work with existing Marketing, HR, and “Digital-Savvy” employees to ensure that the correct voice is being portrayed across all platforms.

Erin goes on to list some common responsibilities that a Community Manager may face, I believe the most important of which being content creation, customer relations and communication/marketing strategy for the company. Content is king and without it you have nothing to show for your efforts. Check out Lindsay Stein’s article that explains the trend of content being used as a valuable asset in the industry. Interacting with customers through major social media platforms is important for public relations and the sustainable growth of the community.

Social Media Manager vs. Community Manager

Based on the various articles that we have come across for the past 13 weeks, there is a difference between a Social Media Manager and a Community Manager. Many companies seem to use both titles interchangeably, which can be confusing to people attempting to enter the industry. There is no solid defined way to approach either position, but generally the main difference between Social Media manager is the concentration on only handling a company’s presence on major social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Community Managers should be handling the connection with people and the creation and sustainable growth of a community. There needs to be a clear definition of what your target audience is and how you will be measured for success. SMART goals are key when defining the role of either a Community Manager or Social Media Manager in your company. The role also needs to be scoped correctly; don’t overwhelm the position with random responsibilities that would fall more into a Marketing-specific role, such as creating print advertisements or creating internal correspondence for the Human Resources department.

Final Thoughts

This class has taught me what a Community Manager does and how they can add value to an agency. I believe that the role will be more clearly defined as companies implement it. Only time will tell if there will always be this mixture of social media / community management in a singular role.

Community Moderation Fun!

After about 11 weeks of class, my turn has finally come to pass for moderation of our Google+ community. The subject of this week was community scaling to ensure its manageability, which is a very important topic because it has implications on the level of success that you will have with the growth of the community. Prior to moderating the community, I read chapter 4 in Richard Millington’s “Buzzing Communities” book per the recommendations of the syllabus. I must say that the content was spot on for how you should generally approach community moderation.

Image from http://www.inflexwetrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/IFWT_offensive_language.jpg

Image from http://www.inflexwetrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/IFWT_offensive_language.jpg

Importance of Community Moderation

Originally community moderators were seen as those that simply removed unneeded or unwanted content from a forum – such as spam, inappropriate posts, excessive language and unproductive conflict. Community moderation has changed over the years to include stimulating conversations, resolving conflict and keeping the community active through posts. Communities that aren’t active can result in the death of the community, a Community Manager must ensure that their participants are actually participating in the discussion. Here are a few ways that I found a Community Manager can stimulate activity:

  • Personal posts that are somewhat entertaining, but appropriate
  • Pose questions to the community that will allow them to post personal experiences in the industry
  • Post your own experiences as it applies to the conversation

These are only some of the tasks that I believe a Community Manager has while moderating a community discussion. I personally used these approaches during my time posting on our CMGR Google+ community group. The most important of the 3 listed above is posting your own experiences at it applies to the conversation. My experiences are unique and can’t be found in an online article or book, hence I think this is the best way to convey an idea or concept and influence a discussion.

Experience this week

Despite my various posts, I haven’t seen a lot of activity from my classmates. The most activity I have seen thus far was from a presentation by Patrick O’Keefe that was an entertaining take on what NOT to do when managing a community. Lacking activity can be a real problem because it can turn away potential new users of your community.

Several things that were mentioned in the book such as creating guidelines and monitoring spam really doesn’t apply to our scenario due to the exclusivity of CMGR Class. The community is limited to students that are enrolled in the class, thus eliminating the need for constant monitoring of posts to ensure there are no conflicts or inappropriate posts. Everyone will follow the guidelines that were defined in the syllabus and the repercussion for disobeying is a low or failing grade for IST620.

Overall, this week was good, but I just wish we had more activity from the class. Honestly, I think the nice weather may have had something to do with the lack of posts… just a thought…

Last Google+ Hangout of the Semester

Greetings CMGR Class! Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the Google+ Hangout for class due to an unfortunate family matter. I’ll spare everyone the details, but I truly regret not being able to participate in the last hangout of the semester. This week we’re discussing scaling a community and how to make it more manageable, which I will be moderating. I believe this is a very important topic because it ensure that a Community Manager isn’t overloaded and can adequately maintain their community.

Last week we discussed analytics, metrics, and ambassador programs. I find metrics to be very interesting because it is something that I use every day at work. We have a multitude of SaaS providers that we use to monitor the performance, up/down time, and various other aspects of our web portals. Ambassador programs are important because it can expose your community to a new audience therefore improving the discussion between your participants.

outreachAmbassador Programs

Kelly mentioned Wegman’s food stores for ambassador programs, emphasizing the endless possibilities for implementing them. I think this is a great example because Wegman’s has a great, well-known brand (in certain areas) that can be used to generate a lot of interest among consumers. Depending on the location, Wegman’s could benefit from an ambassador program embracing an online community that may be a bit foreign to their own. The new audience would definitely prove to be useful when they are attempting to expand their market to a new city or state.

Justification for such an ambassador program requires detailed metrics, which may include the following:

  • # of consumers participating in community that convert to sales
  • Overall social media activity – # of tweets, posts, likes, etc…
  • Feedback from surveys sent to your audience
  • # of unique visits between major social media networks (Twitter vs. Facebook vs. Tumblr)

The most important of all metrics is conversion – how many participants on social networks turn into actual customers? How much revenue am I gaining for each of these new consumers? Questions such as these must be answered to justify any type of spending by a company to support a program.

Metrics

I listed a few metrics that I use for my job that assists me with assessing how we’re doing when meeting our customers’ needs. These include metrics such as average load times, browser usage, down/up times, server load / bandwidth and Google analytics. Metrics assist me with determining how we can improve our process to make our audience happier. If they are waiting over a minute for a page to load, obviously a person won’t be happy and might leave.

Overall, last week was great and I’m looking forward to this week’s moderation assignment. I wish I could have made it to the last class… this was a truly valuable experience and I appreciate everyone’s feedback.

Justifying Your Community Through Meaningful Data

question markWhy do we create online communities?

This week we are concentrating on the topic of metrics and how it can justify the expenditures of creating an online community. According to Richard Millington’s book “Buzzing Communities”, many organizations develop online communities in order to meet objects that aren’t suited for communities. An example of such an objective is to reach new audiences with the intent of them buying a certain product or service.

Such objectives raise questions on why would someone participate in a community for a product (or service) that they currently don’t buy? How do you attract new customers? Initially, you don’t, according to Millington, you should concentrate on your existing customers. If you create a community of your existing customers, they may bring in their acquaintances, friends or family, ultimately bringing new customers to your community.

Once you have an established community, you can begin analyzing its behavior. Monitoring is vital to justifying the amount of resources that you are spending on the community’s development and maintenance. According to Harry Gold’s article, some of the social media ROI metrics that are commonly used by companies include:

  • Engagement Rates: Ultimately, this is a clear indication of the community participant’s loyalty to your company. Loyalty can potentially result in repeat purchases and new customers through their own recommendations. In Harry’s examples, engagement rates metric is the total amount of Facebook likes and comments divided by the total fan count.
  • “Talking about this”: This is a “buzz metric” that indicates how many people are talking about you on Facebook. Can provide insight on how well a marketing campaign is being received by your audience.
  • Facebook Reach: Metric that Facebook generates based on the organic, viral and paid searches. This metric is very useful for determining how well each of your registered search terms are being utilized by community members.

The items above I believe are some of the most important metrics to use while justifying the costs of an online community. Engagement rates are vital, these indicate loyalty between customers that are participating in your online community. These are just some of the metrics that can be used to show upper management how important community management can be.

Reflection: My Own Experiences

During my time working with a previous employer’s marketing department, I gained some experience with tracking conversion through our social networking presence and public website. Through our consulting agency, we were able to track how many people interacted with our Facebook and Twitter page. Once we had a detailed view of who had been using our social media pages, we were then able to link the person to an appointment in our system, thus linking actual revenue to our online community.

Our ability to link our customer engagement to a specific dollar amount was instrumental in justifying our significant costs to upper management. Incurred costs included the day-to-day maintenance of our Twitter feed and Facebook page, along with general updates to our public website. Overall, this was a great learning experience on how to explain the value of investing in an online community.

I Love This Brand, and You Should Too.

Building a brand requires the company to build a relationship with their customers. They must take the time and use their resources to establish a dialog with each and every consumer that conducts business with their company every day. Each interaction with a customer can have a profound impact on their opinion of your entire company based on their feedback, which they will share to their friends, family, and their own online community.

Photo by Valerie Everett

Photo by Valerie Everett

Who needs loyalty these days?

According to Britt Michaelian’s article from WorkSmartLifeStyle, “When you build a brand, one of the most important aspects of being successful is building a community of brand loyalists who will listen to your words, read your posts, show up at your events, purchase your offerings and connect with like-minded individuals.” In order to establish such loyalty, a company must create an active relationship with their community; a feeling of being wanted and needed in the community. With the age of social media upon us, reaching many people that may be interested in your community is easy, but making them invest their time is difficult and requires a significant amount of dedication in the business.

Connecting with your audience is key, which will drive their interest in your brand and product(s). Another article written by Britt Michaelian includes a list of ways to connect with an audience through social media, some of which I found very interesting. Here are a few that I think are the most important items out of his list:

  • Engage in meaningful conversations with their followers on a consistent basis.
  • Keep social exchanges positive and uplifting.
  • Don’t just broadcast an advertisement, connect with the followers and establish a long-term relationship with them.
  • Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
  • Without their audience, the message will not be heard; express and show gratitude often.

I think one of the most important on the list is engaging in meaningful conversations with your followers. I currently follow over 50 businesses on Twitter, the majority of which post advertisements 90% of the time. Majority of the businesses seem to use Twitter as a central hub for their latest headlines and/or marketing campaigns, which is understandable, but lacking on relationship development. Due to their apathy, I generally disregard their posts and feel as though I don’t matter to their bottom line.

I’m currently working on establishing my own brand for my consulting business, Billington Consulting,LLC, which requires me to post daily on Twitter and Facebook. Creating a community is difficult, especially when your initial members will consist mainly of your clients. Throughout Britt Michaelian’s articles, he indicates that building your brand is like raising a child; both require time, effort, energy, and some “love”.

Outreach and Loyalty

While expanding a community and attempting to establish new relationships with potential customers, a Community Manager must understand their audience prior to engagement. Reaching out in an informal sense through social media sites (i.e. Twitter) is a great way to begin dialog. Erica Moss’s article contains some great ways to engage bloggers that may have their own followers, which will enable the brand to reach multiple audiences.

Overall, loyalty ensures that customers will champion the brand and any products that they purchase. Concentrating on your target audience is a good start and remember that not everyone outside of your target audience will like the brand and/or its products. As a Community Manager, we can utilize social media to develop the dialog with our customers that can lead to a long-term relationship

Class Hangout Review – Midterm paper feedback and fun

Unfortunately, I missed class last week due to other priorities I had at work in Pittsford, NY. I reviewed the recorded hangout and noticed that I missed a great discussion on the midterm paper, analytics and blogger outreach. Overall, the hangout seemed to generate a lot of useful discussion about content generation and what techniques Community Managers may use to keep their members interested.

The Power of Un-popular

The Power of Un-popular

The Mid-term Paper…

For my midterm paper, I chose to write about the book, “The Power of Unpopular” by Erika Napoletano. I approached the project by first creating a general outline of what I wanted to cover with the paper. Once I began reading the book, I kept modifying the outline to include specific information about the subject matter and what I thought of the featured concepts.

Generally, I found the book to be enlightening and quite entertaining. Material was presented in a unique fashion that wasn’t dry and kept the reader interested in what they were reading. After reading several business-related books, I found Erika to be honest and upfront without using a massive amount of jargon to make her point. Her advice was well received by me and I will definitely take her comments to heart when pursuing a new business venture.

I’m unpopular… and I’m okay with that!

Blogger Outreach

Last week we studied blogger outreach and how it can be used to expand a community’s audience. Based on the readings and discussion that occurred on Google+, I found that successful blogger outreach is done by knowing the blog, its purpose, and the author prior to developing a pitch.  Any marketer can create a generic advertisement in an attempt to get a blogger’s attention, but generally a more personal interaction is needed.

Bloggers are experts in their field and have their own audience. Getting a blogger to write for your community can expand your audience, expose you to new partnerships and add value through the knowledge they bring to the discussion. Along with the potential for expanding the audience, a blogger can drive the conversation within your community in a new direction that you may haven’t thought of before, thus making it more interesting for your active participants.

Brand Managers

Another topic that was discussed this past week was brand management – the idea of establishing a voice/personality for your company (or community). There was some discussion about using customers as one of the main ways to promote your brand and the various concerns with this approach. I’m generally on the side of using customers as your main marketing tool because they have the loudest voice.

Overall, great week and I’m looking forward to next week!

Blogger outreach and the establishment of community

According to Jenn Pedde’s presentation, blogger outreach is the act of extending services or benefits to the author of an online log, which contains their own observations, experiences, or knowledge relevant to a specific topic. Bloggers are generally considered to be experts in their field and have an established audience relevant to their topic(s). There are various advantages to engaging bloggers to be an active member of your community which include:

  • Additional Traffic from Their own Established Fan base
  • Potential ad revenue from additional traffic
  • Increase in social media exposure
  • Targeted audience

2971658475_e27d08f561_m[1]What NOT to do while reaching external bloggers

As Community Managers, we have a responsibility to represent our established community in a professional and respectful manner. While reaching out to any external parties, especially experienced bloggers, you need to ensure that you understand their goals and audience. Without understanding the author of the blog, you cannot relate to them and it often results in inaccurate communications being sent to them.

I used to run my own blog that centered on IT-related topics, such as software development, IT training, and business process improvement. During the time my blog was online, I received several e-mails from other reps from various online communities. These representatives sent generic e-mails requesting my participation for their .com, which generally involved adding my insights to their customer forums. The problems with these generic solicitations was that they were, in fact, “generic” meaning that they had no idea what I was doing with my own blog.

Why is this a bad thing? This is an easy question to answer… I knew that they had no investment in my blog, nor did they care about my success as a blogger in my field. A generic template being sent to a massive e-mail distribution list doesn’t help my enthusiasm with the Community Manager’s belief in my blog’s purpose.  Community Managers must read the blog and know what the author is attempting to achieve, all of which can assist with their “sell” of a bloggers participation in the community.

What should community managers do?

Community Managers need to invest time into researching a blogger’s material. Once the manager knows what a blogger is doing, they can reach out to them personally via e-mail. Making a personal connection with the author can achieve their buy-in to your community therefore enabling you to reap the benefits of the relationship.

Overall, reaching out to bloggers is a great way to further promote a community and can enable you access to a new audience. Relationships with the bloggers themselves are key to ensure their buy-in and active participation in your community.

Book review: The Power of Un-popular

The Power of Un-popular

The Power of Un-popular

Among the various choices of reading material that were presented to me at the beginning of the semester, I chose “The Power of UN-Popular” by Erika Napoletano. I chose this simply because the title sounded more interesting than the majority of the other choices provided. After reading the book, I can confidently say that I learned something from Erika’s writing and am a fan of her outlook on how to establish a brand and develop a community of customers. The material presented throughout the book is directed towards entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own business and/or develop a brand.

Why don’t you want to be Popular?

The World English Dictionary’s definition of popular: “appealing to the general public; widely favored or admired.” According to Erika, this is not something a business needs or truly wants because the general public is simply “plain vanilla” that doesn’t specifically suit your business. If you build a business in order to be popular, you’re going to fail because you take the same path as something or someone else; completely devoid of innovation.

One of the most important takeaways from Erika’s writing was the importance of defining your audience due to the potential of wasted resources in marketing towards people that will never buy your product. Some people will never buy your product, whether it’s due to the price, type of service, or general liking to your brand’s personality. There is no need to waste capital on marketing towards such individuals or businesses – they don’t like you and never will.

Targeting an Audience

The process of refining a business’s audience requires a few pieces of analysis to ensure you can accurately identify your customer base. Erika presents some of the more common tools that will assist with developing a plan for targeting an appropriate audience such as competitive analysis techniques and hiring a 3rd party Analyst. Competitive analysis can be done by going through materials that are public – such as your competitors’ public website, press releases, web reviews of their products and services, and peer review materials.

What NOT to do…

There were several things in Erika’s book that are meant to be avoided by an emerging brand. These “brand personality defects” can have a negative impact on the relationship with customers and hinder their advocacy of the brand.

  1. Don’t be “That Guy”: a person that is consumed in their own problems and doesn’t care about the opinions or problems of others. If you monopolize a conversation with customers, they will leave.
  2. Don’t be mean, be positive.

Paths for Success

Establishing a relationship with your customers is important because people do business with people – if they like you personally, they will continue to do business with you. Be approachable to your customers and always ready to assist them with their needs. Creating a consistent, enjoyable experience for your customers will eventually turn them into advocates of your brand.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I thought this book was very interesting and made sense. The concepts were presented in a straight-forward way and embraced common sense. I appreciated Erika’s blunt language because it made the reading more entertaining and made it easier for the reader to relate to the material. In my opinion, her advice is spot-on for establishing a successful brand.

My First Twitter Chat Experience – #CMGRChat

On March 13th 2013, I participated in my first ever #CMGRchat by using TweetChat.com. The experience was unique and very beneficial for someone such as myself that is being exposed to community management for the first time. Participants of the chat ranged from community managers to bloggers and enthusiasts, all having a great deal of knowledge in the creation and management of communities.

question markWhat is it all about?

#CMGRchat provides a means of discussion and collaboration between community managers from around the world. Hosted by Jenn Pedde and Kelly Lux, the chat concentrates on the discussion of topics related to the emerging field of Community Management, and how professionals in the field approach day-to-day problems. The hosts present several questions to the group to stimulate discussion, which seems to work pretty well with achieving a meaningful conversation about Community Management topics.

My Experience

I thought that the chat was very interesting and provided some great insight on topics such as testing within a community, handling changes and managing UI / UX testing. I never knew that Community Managers would be involved at the user interface or user experience level, but according to David Spinks, “often, CMs (community managers) should be involved in those projects.” Prior to chat, I always believed that Quality Assurance specialists or web designers would handle the testing of an interface, but this was not the case based on the feedback provided in CMGRChat.

The general consensus during the chat was to ensure user acceptance of any change in the community through extensive testing. The communities in question where such extensive analysis and testing was performed, varied by size and audience. Change affects everyone in a community and regardless of how large or small the size, it can impact the potential growth, thus making it vital to keep as many active participants as possible.

One of the questions that was presented to the group was how to implement a major change to the community. I personally believe any major enhancement which may alter the way a user does something should be gradually implemented over time. Major feature releases can be done in smaller “chunks”, ultimately making the new/changed features transparent to the end user. In my own experiences, I’ve always used a phased rollout with a detailed action plan on how to handle end user acceptance of any changes being made.

Closing Thoughts

Based on the discussion between the participants of CMGRChat, testing is a crucial part to the pursuit of an online community’s continued growth and response to a changing industry. The Community Manager (CM) role itself is still undergoing change and continues to be crafted throughout the various companies that have established the position. Discussions that #CMGRChat provides weekly, creates a useful discussion that may allow CMs define their role effectively themselves.