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.

Everyone Blogs – And So Should You!

This week we take a look at blogging and how its use has risen over the past decade. A “blog” is an abbreviation for “web log” that allows a user (such as business rep, private individual, or ad agency) to post content that is available to everyone on the World Wide Web. Many businesses are currently using blogs to keep their audiences informed about the current state of their business. The popularity of blogs has risen substantially over the years, which has increased the need for companies to establish their own blogs throughout the Internet.

According to Joe Pulizzi’s guide, blogging has been a steadily increasing practice for most companies. Business-to-business marketers increased their use of blogs by 27%, making blogs the 3rd most common content marketing activity. The ubiquity of the Internet is responsible for such growth, which is now requiring companies to establish an online presence through the use of popular blogging systems such as Word Press.

Costs and Maintenance

6355220839_982b1263d5_mHow much is this going to cost my company? I’m sure that’s a common question asked by many business owners when deciding to create a blog. Referring to the previously mentioned guide, there are several aspects that need to be taken into account when attempting to calculate a cost for the blog. Depending on the types of platforms you use or resources that are employed, the costs can vary greatly. Some factors that will affect costs are the following:

  • Company size
  • Location (taxes, regulations, etc…)
  • Are you hiring in-house or outsourcing to an agency?
  • How much content is being posted and managed?
  • Hosting fees / ISP fees

According to Jay Baer’s article, calculating the cost and ROI for your blog can be done in 9 steps. The specific calculations are listed in the article (see link above), but seem to concentrate on assertions of how many hours per month your resources are spending on the blog management.

Overall, blogs are great way to inform and interact with your audience about content that’s relevant to your company and customers. This is a popular tool that is being used by companies around the world to establish a more direct relationship with their community of users.

327122302_bbc4a3935b_mWhere’s the content? Planning your community…

We’ve already discussed the benefits of having an active blog in your community, but what about internal management of content generation? How are you going to plan for future content? When will it be posted and made available to the community? When will the community post content?

Say hello to the editorial calendar. The benefits of the editorial calendar can be found here. The editorial calendar allows community managers to stay focused on mid to long term goals and provide members with regular initiatives to drive content creation. Such calendars can promote teamwork and allow for easy delegation of tasks.

In Closing…

Overall, blogs are a popular trend that is not going away any time soon. There are many different services on the net that enable a business to create a blog, but there are many steps needed to make it successful. The referenced guides promoted the concepts of successful blog posting and content generation that a business can use to further develop its online community via blogs.

What’s the plan? Steps involved with planning a community

This week we’re concentrating on the necessary planning involved with online communities. There are several things that must be planned prior to the implementation of the community such as your goals, objectives, member conduct policies, software and supported platforms. Will your community require expensive monitoring software due to the amount of resources being invested? Are you a smaller shop and only require minimal investment to succeed? These are some of the questions that must be taken into account when planning a community.

Where to begin?5524669257_ab67585fd0_m

After reviewing several articles online and the readings for this week, the first step is to identify your target audience and establish what you are attempting to accomplish. According to Joshua Paul’s article the first step is to identify a problem that your audience is facing. Your audience can include customers, businesses, fans or other parties. You must fully understand what they are looking to achieve through their participation in your community and how it will benefit them in the immediate future.

The purpose of your online community may be defined by both internal and external parties that are willing to change their behavior to solve certain problems. A business plan for the community may also be necessary to clearly define the goals and key performance indicators (KPI) to determine success. These indicators are needed to justify the resources that the business is committing to the development and continued support of the community. KPIs can include banner clicks, RSS subscribers, increase of sales, participation in company-led events or increase in overall traffic of physical storefronts.

In order to assess the success of the online community and attempt to calculate an approximate return on investment (ROI) calculation, there are several suites available that can monitor across several social media platforms. Dustin Betonio’s article lists some popular software services that provide a detailed view of an online community that can be used to assess its success. Most packages include pre-packaged reports that can give a view across multiple platforms and the activity on each.

Establishing Policies

Aside from understanding the purpose and KPIs for an online community, a Community Manager must have a clear idea of what policies each member will follow. What will happen if your community gets infiltrated with spammers, racists, or generally negative users? Do you want to allow messages of hate on your community? Obviously, this isn’t something you want in your community as it most likely will result in a loss of active, meaningful members.

In order to prevent abuse, a Community Manager must implement guidelines for users to follow. According to ManagingCommunities.com article, you must be impartial and apply the same rules to all participants of the community. Regardless of how a Community Manager may feel about a particular member, they are the impartial entity in the oversight of the interactions that occur between members. Do you want to eliminate any kind of negativity in the dialog? Should community members be allowed to “hate” politicians or other people that are in the spotlight?

These are all questions that a Community Manager must be mindful of when creating an online community. The justifications of resources spent on the community are extremely important because a company may have limited capital and needs to see tangible results in order to continue support of the initiative. How will you approach the planning process for your online community? Are you going to have a formal approach or something informal?

Challenges of Starting an Online Community

Many of the readings this week discussed ways on how to approach the creation of an online community and some of the questions you should ask yourself when establishing a social media presence. Along with the readings, the Google Hangout discussion with Olivier Blanchard, author of Social Media ROI, indicated that there are many questions on how a company should manage their Online Community Managers. Some companies may find themselves with the lack of experienced personnel to handle the duties of community management or establishing the vision of their social media presence.

Where to Start?

According to David Spinks’ column, the easiest way to start an online community is through the personal connections with your established customers. Invite them to a private Facebook group or Twitter following that will enable them to share their experiences with other customers in the group. According to David, through time and effort, you will have an online community of customers that has the potential to grow into an external audience that can promote your product/service. Personally, I think this is a simple, straight-forward method to start an online community, but can be limiting if you are a startup that does not have an established customer base.

One of the most significant takeaways from the Google Hangout this week was that many companies can struggle with the creation and management of an online community.  If there isn’t executive management support, then initiative must come from within and gradually change the pre-conceived notions of upper executives through the successes of social media integration. Third party agencies are another way to handle the creation of a community, but they must be managed appropriately. A company should never detach itself from an agency due to the high-level of visibility with customers.

Any company that is considering the pursuit of an online community needs to ask itself “why are we doing this” and “what do we want to get from this?” In my opinion these are two crucial questions to ask prior to assigning any resources on the creation of a social media presence. My previous employer spent millions on a social media campaign without taking the time to establish a thriving online community; relying on an agency without internal involvement with the initiative. Clearly, my employer had no idea what they wanted to get from this except for a general sales figure.

Specific, measurable, attainable goals need to be defined in order to measure the success of an online community. I’m curious to see what experiences my fellow classmates have had with determining the success of a social media campaign… If you have experiences, feel free to post comments to this post.

Reaping the Rewards: Community Campaigns

4316028378_74885d814e_nOne of our readings this week was an article on Kommein.com, in this piece, the author listed five questions a Community Manager should ask prior to the launch of a community campaign. There is a significant emphasis that must be placed on preserving the members of the community and their involvement in day-to-day activities. Making them jump through hoops to get to their desired content or products/services is a big no-no. Can you think of any other questions that should be asked while considering an online community campaign?

Time Spent Well with Olivier Blanchard

sm ROI

Olivier Blanchard was our guest this week in class, who is the author of one of our text books, “Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization.”

Silos and Company Culture

Olivier discussed how certain companies may be divided into various departments or “silos” that can create certain political issues when attempting to pursue a social media initiative. Other dysfunctions include operational issues and lack of insight on what social media is, leading to inadequate funding or incorrect hiring. Another major issue that was mentioned is the lack of training throughout the silos that make up an organization – some departments or teams may not have the understanding of how to use social media tools.

I definitely agree that to implement social media in a company you should have support from executive leadership. Olivier mentioned that culture is extremely difficult to change and is a gradual process. Gaining buy-in from individual silos throughout the organization through implementing social media in their various processes is a great way to start. Showing how social media can meet their needs and improve their business at the department level can gradually “bubble up” to top leadership.

Based on my own experiences, I have seen that executive leadership concentrates on generating revenue through their mainstream business processes. Generally speaking, executives do not care how social media can help with their business, it is up to community managers and social media experts to show them how it can generate revenue and/or cut costs. The lack of understanding by top management and the mentality of “just get it done now” can lead to extremely frustrating work environment where the end result is an inefficient social media implementation.

Noteworthy Discussion Points

There were several questions that were asked during the discussion with Olivier that I thought were very good takeaways. One of the questions asked related to a boss that had no idea what metrics they wanted for a Twitter account they were using for PC support. Olivier provided some straight-forward questions to ask the boss to determine the metrics, but the biggest take away that I go from it was that “if a manager cannot tell you why you are doing something or how it should be measured for success, then there is something wrong with them.” I completely agree with this statement and have found myself asking this question to my previous manager.

I was lucky enough to have one of my questions answered by Olivier. Using agencies to handle your online social media presence seemed to be a generally accepted practice according to Olivier. I found it very interesting that some agencies bring a client’s resource in-house to manage direct communications with their customers. Other agencies seemed to only sell content creation and publishing services, which is not online community management.

Overall, I thought the hangout included a great discussion with some useful information sharing.  Did you watch the hangout?  What did you think?

Technology and Online Communities: Relationship for Success

Throughout my career I’ve had to constantly adjust to newer technologies and adopt new methodologies to complete an assignment in the workplace. I’ve also been required to do the opposite; learn an older piece of tech to support an existing process. This week I want to concentrate on the reliance that online communities have with technology and how newer technologies can significantly change the way people interact within the community.

Online communities are significantly impacted by the software that is supporting them. According to Preece, Maloney-Krichmar and Abras in “History and Emergence of Online Communities”, online communities can vary greatly depending on their purpose, size, duration of existence and the software environment that supports them. Originally, communities were limited to such technologies as List-servers and e-mail (originating back in the ‘70s), but with the constant innovation in technology, users now have the ability to easily communicate with potentially millions of people across the world.

This relationship between technology and online communities is mutually beneficial and enables technology to further advance through the collaboration of developers, designers and other IT professionals. One of the greatest examples in the use of online communities to further the development of software is the open source movement. Open Source software development relies heavily on volunteers that have experience with creating and testing various forms of programs. These can range from Operating Systems such as Linux to Web Browsers (Mozilla Firefox).

During his address at OSCON 2012, David Eaves described the importance of online communities to the development of open sourced software. David concentrated on the aspects of “Social Capital” and bug resolution, both of which are important to the creation of a quality software product that is free for users. Social capital is value that is generated through the online community that supports your software product by testing and reporting various bugs they find. These communities also add direct value through developing the product itself.

I found David’s address interesting because it showed how communities can be tracked and monitored to improve the continuing development of a product. He detailed a unique tool that shows how many members of the community reported bugs, added fixes, and was active on the various support forums that they host. The importance that these members have on the innovation of a product is quite astounding and can be seen not only in the open source sector, but in proprietary solutions as well.

Oddly enough, Microsoft has developed a large community of developers through their Microsoft Developer’s Network (MSDN) service and has begun to embrace open source-like methodologies with some of their own proprietary technologies. An example of this is Microsoft’s “Openness” service, which supports multiple open source technologies such as PHP, Drupal, Python and Java. The company has also migrated some of their solutions to an open source platform, such as the Entity Framework, allowing developers to see the source code and modify it as necessary in an effort for various improvements in the architecture.

Overall, I think it’s important to remember that technological innovation and online communities have a mutually beneficial relationship that will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.