Author Archive for Steve Rhinehart

Interviewing Community Manager – Adam Britten

Adam Britten has an amazing job. He gets to go to work every day and interact with happy people, engage an active and supportive community, work with a team that is receptive of his ideas, and best of all, he gets to work with froyo. There’s something about frozen yogurt that just seems to make for an incredibly rewarding job, and I can’t say I’ve ever met somebody who represents a frozen yogurt brand on social media who isn’t incredibly satisfied with their job. It’s this perfect combination of a fun treat that’s fairly good for you, the happiness it brings to customers, a delightful lifestyle and a product that basically sells itself, which opens up a world of marketing possibilities. Those possibilities apparently lead to fun and engaging social media campaigns and active communities around the brands. What’s not to love?

Camera fail. I'm the black square in this shot.

Camera fail. I’m the black square in this shot.

I interviewed Adam for my final assignment in #CMGRClass, to get a sense of his work life, and how he approaches community management. He’s the community manager for 16 Handles, a small chain of self-serve frozen yogurt shops based mainly on the East coast. His brand – and his work – is notable for being the first to adopt the popular picture sharing app, SnapChat, where picture messages can be viewed for only a few seconds before they disappear forever. Adam used the platform to offer a promotion to Handles fans, which got picked up by social media news outlets, trade magazines, even Wired. Innovation like that is just one way he works to make his employer look awesome on social media.

16 Handles is more than a yogurt company, which is apparent in all their online media. Their web site describes their mission to help make the world a better place by participating in green projects, planting trees, and improving communities. On Facebook, they share photos of their staff’s Earth Day improvement projects, on Instagram you’ll find pictures of the office dog (a frenchie named Handles) decked out in his very own 16 Handles hoodie. On Twitter, every fan gets a personal touch, whether they have a question, a complaint, or just want to say hello. Adam has ensured that online, 16 Handles is more than pictures of froyo, and is instead a very approachable and human brand.

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When you’re competing with giants like Red Mango and Pinkberry, and you’re established in a crowded city and a saturated market, it’s tough to stand out. And yet, here’s a brand who is recognized by Quick Service Retail Magazine, a trade publication focused on retail operations with small footprints and in-and-out service, as a company to keep an eye on. If social media were the judging criteria, 16 Handles would be high on the top of the list, posting engaging content and very plainly valuing its fans. In contrast, Pinkberry, Red Mango, and TCBY all share more product shots than anything, and often ignore their customers on Twitter, only responding to a few each day.

Speaking with Adam, it’s plain that he’s not only a social guy who loves making people happy, but a talented and driven community manager. He’s forward-thinking and proficient at marketing, he fully understands his business’ goals and works hard to attain them, and he’s on the lookout for every opportunity to be at the forefront of digital marketing. He loves his fans, and he goes out of his way to make sure they’re engaged and positive, while striving to get more bodies into their stores, get more franchisees interested in the company, and get 16 Handles’ name on more headlines. He’s certainly a model #CMGR.

Adam’s favorite froyo flavor is salted caramel. What’s yours?

Let’s Play! #CMGRChat Gets Gamified

Reality is broken, so let’s play games instead; that was the main point of Jane McGonigal’s keynote speech at 2011’s PAX East convention. In a large auditorium at the top floor of the Boston Convention Center, Ms. McGonigal got the entire audience to partake in a massive thumb war, after discussing the merits of injecting games and play into real life. Her arguments were strong, citing psychological evidence that play improves many quality of life factors, and can result in better work. I came away from that keynote with a shiny new achievement (Double Kill – I won both thumb war games simultaneously!), a heightened sense of enjoyment (the video games on the show floor didn’t hurt, though), a plan to buy her book, and a lasting interest in “gamification.” So when it became the topic of the day for #CMGRChat, I couldn’t wait to see what people had to say.

On April 3rd, dozens of community managers tuned into Twitter to discuss four questions about gamification and community. The questions posed were:

  • Is every community a good candidate for gamification? And how do you know yours is/isn’t?
  • What do you expect to gain from gamification within your community and how do you measure that?
  • What are some best practices for someone just starting to add game elements to a community? Things to stay away from?
  • What are some examples of gamification within communities that has worked well? Not so well?

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The summary? Well, not all communities are created equal, and that goes for how suitable gamification is for them. Some communities are too casual for games to really motivate them, but others are hyper competitive and would love to be rewarded for using the platforms. Two examples I knew before I really knew how widespread gamification was are SuperBetter and Fitocracy. SuperBetter is Jane’s self-improvement network that ties personal achievements to in-game achievements. It’s a great concept, that’s really more about making a game out of real life than it is about joining a gaming community, but the community aspect is very much present and very helpful as a support system. Fitocracy, in contrast, is a bit more competitive. It is also based on fitness and self-improvement, but it rewards high scores and progress, pitting you against yourself as well as your peers. The community on both exists to support, but Fitocracy tends to emphasize safely one-upping your buddies.

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Gamification doesn’t work without a strategy, however, so some of the answers in the chat were especially helpful. Knowing what benefits there are to which features you want to implement is of high importance, right behind knowing whether or not your community will actually buy into them. Michael Hahn suggested using gamification to find advocates and influencers, as well as gather feedback. Evan Hamilton suggested using what already inspires community members as the focal point of gamification, which will likely lead to higher engagement. There are many ways to go about it, but going in blind is never a good choice. I think the rule of thumb is to actually spend the time needed to make a game that’s right for your community. If you can’t commit to that initial investment, it’s going to be very hard to commit to the long-term maintenance and upgrades of the game, and if the fit isn’t right, the game will very likely fail quite early. It’s really a lot more than stickers and achievements.

What is your favorite example of gamification? What worked best about it?

Your #CMGR Career Starts Here

It’s hard to believe it, but #CMGRClass is almost over, and so is my time as a graduate student here at SU. That means I’m about to don my big boy britches and start my career – and I’m aiming at community management. There’s a lot about the field that is attractive to me, mainly in the mix of creative and technical know-how, but also in working with people. I don’t have any offers just yet, meaning this week’s topic and reading was a long-awaited and welcome finale.

Since about January, I’ve been gearing up for graduation and my job search, mainly by taking a look at my repertoire of skills and figuring out how to market myself. I’m a designer, an IT consultant, a social media strategist and community manager, a creative thinker, a go-getter, and a total nerd (in a good way). That might look like career chop suey, but I think it reveals the nature of my skills – I’m a creative problem solver, with a technical mind. And if anything would prepare me for community management, I think it’s that.

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This week’s Mashable article covers 10 tips for the aspiring community manager (read: me), and seems to be a pretty solid list of things to do to both figure out if the role is right for you, and to make sure you’ve got a good start on your professional life. The points were all good, but one really hit home for me, because they’re where I need work most; my critiques of myself put in writing by somebody else.

9. Think Like an Entrepreneur and Be Quick to Adapt

I wish I could say that was me. I’m a flexible guy, I’m not too hard-headed, but springing to action isn’t my forte. I can get stuck in my head, where I’m still weighing options and trying to apply logic, rather than putting one foot forward and going from there. But knowing is half the battle, right? If I know my faults, I can work to correct them.

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Another article we read this week, from Social Fresh, was practically a big pat on the back though. Covering the job description and hiring criteria of a community manager, I felt like I fit right in. This is my dream job out of school, I love social media and tech, I really want to flex my creative muscle and do some awesome work, and here were nine items which describe me – not quite to the letter, but close enough that I put on a big stupid grin while reading. It’s kismet, I’m convinced.

So if you’ve checked all the lists and read all the blog posts, and you’re convinced it’s your destiny to be a community manager, what’s next? Well, you’re right where I am, and I’ll tell you it’s the “fun part.” Find employers you’d love to work for, reach out to them, apply to their open positions, or just send them a tweet. Get your resume in their hands and your name on their minds. Find a notable community manager you’ve been following or have chatted with, send them a Vsnap just to say hey and ask if they’re hiring at all. Take the initiative to put yourself out there – a good community manager doesn’t just sit in the shadows. Be social, be proactive, and always be cheerful, and you and I will get out dream job soon enough.

It’s been a lot of fun, class! What’s your favorite #CMGRClass moment of the semester? What have you got planned for this summer?

How To Prove Your Worth As A Community Manager

ROI, those three dreaded letters, are always on the minds of your benefactors as a community manager. Social media is still a pretty new ballgame, so many employers are still wondering if their community investments are going to pay off. The ace up your sleeve as a community manager is simple: metrics. By measuring data that is relevant to your organization’s needs, you can effectively monitor, correct, and prove the success of your management efforts, especially those that pertain to returns.

Before you can even start collecting data to observe, you need to outline the business goals behind your social media presence. In Social Media ROI, Olivier Blanchard urges specificity in goals, stating that a measurable target like “we need to sell 245 more red bicycles” is more helpful and desirable than a simple goal of “increase sales.” If you can attribute those bike sales to your community campaigns, you’ll have a measurable goal with an endpoint to determine success. But not all business goals are profit-driven.

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Working for the IT services here on campus, none of the metrics I measure regard sales, simply because we don’t sell anything. We have some paid services, but if anything, our goal is to educate our customers so they never have to bring their personal devices in for repair. On Twitter, we are trying to improve our customer support services, as well as make our presence more known on campus. So, the business goals I’m considering when looking at data include offering more efficient issue handling, improving our online reputation, establishing ourselves as a trusted brand on campus, and broadening our overall support coverage.

So what metrics tie into those goals? For issue handling efficiency, I look at a lot of different criteria. The first is the length of time it takes one of our support staff to respond to the user about their problem. During working hours, we’re fast, with an average response time of under 20 minutes. That’s impressive considering how we function internally, but it could be improved. On nights and weekends, however, we average something like 12 hours. If you send us a complaint at 6 PM on a Monday, we may not get to it until 9 AM Tuesday. We could definitely improve upon that, which is why we’re training our night staff on Twitter usage. Another metric I look at is “tweets to resolution” – how many back and forth tweets does it take us to solve a problem? Now, not every IT issue can be described and fixed via Twitter, so we have a strict 3-4 tweet rule; if you can’t fix it within 3-4 sent tweets, you escalate to a different contact medium. Still, with that in mind, we do pretty well, as most issues are simple and can be handled in 2-3 tweets.

Blog13_DemoOther metrics I measure include brand and product sentiment, inbound issues (95% of our issues are from outreach, responding to a tweet not directed at us), issue tracking/conversion (how often we escalate or defer to a different medium), as well as the usual numbers like followers and retweets. Every single metric has a distinct purpose, and most are tied directly to business goals. Your metrics as a community manager may very well be different from mine, but they should at least have “business relevance” in common. When planning out your metrics, it will be helpful to work with your superiors to develop hard goals for your social media work. That way, you’ll all know what the expected outcomes are, and you will be able to deliver evidence of your successes and difficulties in a way that is easily digested.

What are some of your key metrics, and what business goals do they stem from?

Satisfied Isn’t Enough – Turn Happy Customers Into Ambassadors

The Internet can sometimes be a negative place, and social media is by no means an exception. I know I’ve noticed far more complaints in my social feed than I’ve seen unsolicited praise, especially for brands, products, or services. The Internet can be a bit of an echo chamber, so when somebody says something negative, like “Apple Maps steered me into the Atlantic!,” others will eagerly chime in with their horror stories. The problem is that it doesn’t always work in reverse; after all, an unhappy customer wants somebody to fix the problem, whereas a happy customer may not have anything they want to say. Therefore, satisfied isn’t enough anymore, and you need to figure out how to empower your happy customers to speak up and advocate your brand.

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A good starting point is to identify influential customers you have. They may have already mentioned you, which is a great start. In my own social accounts, I rarely talk about products, but when I’m happy with a brand I’ll go out of my way to recommend them given the proper context. One big example for me is Baratza, a manufacturer of home coffee grinders. Whenever the subject comes up and my input is welcome, I’ll name-drop them to make sure they’re represented. I love their business, their products, and most of all, their customer service. If they had an ambassador program, you can bet I’d be in line for the opportunity. Chances are your brand has people like me who would jump at the chance to help you out.

This brings up another key element of a good ambassador – they have to be passionate, and to a certain extent, loyal to your brand. “Fanboys” and –girls can be overly pushy and annoying, so they’re not always the people you’re looking for, but those who would consider your brand first in your industry are the ones who will be the best performers as ambassadors. Britt Michaelian writes that loyalty comes from a sense of connection, especially when a community is built for each member to have an important role. The more they love your company, the more they’ll want to spread the word.

He may be loyal, but is he a good spokesperson?

He may be loyal, but is he a good spokesperson?

The final key point I’d like to make is that ambassadors aren’t free. As Mack Collier notes in this week’s reading, you need to make it worth their while. They already love your company, but to help them help you, you need to offer them a bit more for their efforts. Empowering them with the tools and resources, such as exclusive membership to an ambassador community, is one thing, but actual compensation is often a must. Ambassadors don’t need to be paid monetarily per se, but other options, like discounts, “swag,” access to events or figureheads in your company, are all options to be considered. Ambassadors have a different relationship with your brand than customers, so they need to be treated a bit differently and rewarded for their efforts. Essentially, if you reward them for their hard work and loyalty, they will reward you in kind. And most of all, don’t forget to thank them!

How do you turn your most vocal supporters into ambassadors?

Nailing the Pitch From a Blogger’s Perspective

I’ll admit up front that I’m not a very serious blogger, and I operate in a fairly niche environment. I’ve also never followed through with promoted content on my site, but I have received plenty of bad pitches in my time. Combined with our readings this week about pitching bloggers, I thought I might contribute my perspective with tips that would work for my blog.

I write about coffee, plain and simple. I’ve been a coffee enthusiast for years, I’ve started a few side projects around coffee, and I regularly inundate myself in the world and industry of coffee. As such, my writing is tailored to people who are also interested in specialty coffee, though they may have more or less experience than I do.

Coffee, being as large and varied a topic as it is, comes with its drawbacks. Even though I’d never in a million years review Keurig K-cups for a promoted post, that hasn’t stopped two separate requests from arriving in my inbox. I’ve gotten bulk e-mail pitches that were obviously not targeted to me or my audience, but were vaguely related to coffee so of course I must be interested. The only good one I’ve ever gotten was a product review for a monthly coffee sample subscription – which started as a “try us out then write what you think” pitch, but I negotiated to only write something if I actually thought the product was worthwhile. Well, I never wrote anything about them, but I did appreciate that I was treated like a human being.

Bad pitches make me Hulk out.

Bad pitches make me rage.

Here’s the thing about these pitches: not one of them seemed to be familiar with my blog at all. They may, at best, have seen that I write blog posts, and the keyword “coffee” shows up in them. But I don’t review products, nor do I make great attempts to expand my audience – I mostly write for me, and I write about other people or local events more often than I write about a company or a product. Every pitch I’ve received has automatically triggered my SPAM alarm, because they’re written for some other blogger, surely, but not for me. The one product pitch I chose to entertain was because these people had found me on Twitter first, then found my blog, so they knew more about me when they approached. They seemed to think they could be my first product review, which would be exciting for me and my readers, but I wasn’t so ecstatic about taking orders, so I made sure I was the one who laid the ground rules. In the end, my lack of coverage was better for them and for me than my writing a negative review.

So how do you reach somebody like me? For one, know the platform. You can’t reach out to somebody writing about their most passionate subject and not know what you’re talking about. You can’t come to a coffee enthusiast who roasts their own beans at home and ask them to review your stale pre-ground capsules, you’re in the totally wrong market.

If we can both benefit, sell me on it!

If we can both benefit, sell me on it!

Second, just as InkyBee suggests, take some time to make it personal. If you think this blogger relationship is really worth it, then you’ve got to show them it’s a mutually beneficial situation, and you’re not out to reap your reward and cast them aside. This is an alley-oop, it needs cooperation and understanding to be successful for both parties. You’ve got to make your intentions known right out of the gate, and work with them to make sure you’re both on board and compatible. If you wouldn’t hang out with this blogger over a few beers to talk business, you’re better off moving on.

Are you a blogger? What are the best ways to reach you with a pitch?

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

When I opened up Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant’s book Humanize for the first time, I had a good idea of what I could expect. The title alone paints a pretty clear picture, right? This is clearly a text full of tips about creating a more people-friendly presence on social media, and turning that presence to your advantage in an organization. That’s not a bad assumption, but it turns out it’s only partly correct. You see, rather than list out a few dozen ways to be more empathetic or share some how-tos for customer appreciation, Notter and Grant take a hard look at organizations and management today, tear the rulebook to shreds, and break down how to reformulate who you are as an organization. Humanizing, it seems, starts at the core of your company, with your internal culture, structure, and mindset.

My main reason for selecting this book was to try to see what I could take from it and apply to my work as the social media strategist/community manager for Syracuse University’s IT and Services department. I’m in a position where we’re all learning as we develop our strategy, goals, and voice, so I like to look for useful guidance whenever I can. We’re an organization in need of “humanizing,” I feel, so I knew this book would be fruitful for my work.

A more social organization starts with the people inside it.

A more social organization starts with the people inside it.

Notter and Grant start their work off with a bit of a history lesson, covering where organizations and management principles came from, how technology has begun to disrupt the status quo, and how sticking to traditional ways of thinking are stifling some great opportunities for truly innovative growth. They take issue with the adherence to the mysterious act of strategic planning, lament at the barriers of communication erected under the guise of process control, and bury their faces into their palms over the stuffy organizational cultures that seem to be revered today. Organizations are broken, and to repair them means regrouping and crafting a new foundation, to create an adaptive, collaborative, learning organization from the ground up.

After identifying the problems at hand, the authors launch into a structured and consistent presentation of their ideas for becoming a more socially-minded organization. Four thorough chapters each focus on one aspect of humanizing: being open, being trustworthy, being generative, and being courageous. These are not mere lists of tips, but well-reasoned explanations of why and how to bring about change, with looks at real-world cases to highlight both the benefits of being more human, and the pitfalls of failing to adapt. The cards are laid plainly on the table, and I couldn’t help but hunger for more with every turn of the page. I didn’t agree with everything that was written, but I can certainly respect the authors’ viewpoints, as they are backed up with reasoned arguments most every time.

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After closing the back cover and reflecting on what I had read, I knew I had some key takeaways to apply to my organization. In particular, I plan on pursuing some of the penultimate thoughts in the book, on being the catalyst for change in your organization. As a student, I’m not in a great position to command or lead an organizational shakedown, but I can still be an influential voice in the department, and I have some incredible advice to assist me now. The delightful part about this is that Humanize wasn’t written with my position in mind – it was tailored for the association industry. But that’s the beauty of the text: it’s clear, poignant, structured, and reasonable, and thus can easily be applied very broadly. Give it a look, you may be surprised at how relevant it is to your organization, and find yourself pondering how to humanize your work as well.

What About When the Customer is Wrong?

Call me a boat-rocker, but I don’t personally subscribe to the notion that the customer is always right. I happen to love customer service, it’s a topic I’m very passionate about and I’m always out to find shining examples of service done right. But I think it’s folly to go in thinking the customer’s needs are paramount – rather, I think it’s important to go in thinking that you’ll be interacting with a person who has needs, which may or may not align with your organization’s products, services, or mission. Sometimes, the person who gave you money, or is prepared to do so, is actually somebody else’s customer, and it’s your job to help them figure that out.

"We don't have that, but let me help you find somebody who does."

“We don’t have that, but let me help you find somebody who does.”

I’ve worked in a variety of service positions over the years, from a snowboard instructor, to a barista, to an IT helpdesk consultant, and a small handful of social media roles. My opinion years back, when I was teaching snowboarding, would have been that the customer needs to be fluffed up and treated like royalty, otherwise they won’t tip you. As a barista, I felt the same way. As an IT consultant, my opinion changed slightly, as there were no tips, and my customers were not charged for our services. These were people who simply needed my help to maintain their status quo, and while a minor network issue may take me two minutes to diagnose and fix, they may come to me belligerent, accusing us of running a sub-par organization. That position was draining, but I knew exactly what the perspective was on the customer side; I was the expert in this matter, not them, so they were dealing with a problem they had little to no capacity to fix, and thus I needed to be not only a mechanic, but an instructor. To help stem the tide of repeated problems that have quick fixes, I had to show our customers that really, they didn’t need to be our customers sometimes. A problem with your network can be as simple to fix as switching off the network switch under your desk, then switching it back on. A problem with your computer being slow can be fixed by restarting it, and freeing up some of the memory. These customers weren’t wrong to not know how to address their problems, but they were rather innocently wrong in that they couldn’t possibly handle the problem themselves.

This was an important lesson for me to learn – sometimes the customer isn’t right, and sometimes they don’t need to be anybody’s customer. Then, in spring 2011, I took a trip to New York City that I will never forget. I was there for Coffee Fest NYC, a coffee-and-tea industry event, but I also took the opportunity to hang out with some local baristas, most of whom I had never met before. One such barista, Sam Lewontin, was a revelation to talk to. He was absolutely passionate and outspoken about customer service in coffee, holding both customer happiness and product quality to high standards. However, he would be the first to tell you that sometimes a person walks into a café thinking they are your customer, when in fact they are somebody else’s, in the wrong place. As a coffee professional, and an ambassador to an industry, Sam felt that it was his job to make sure that person got something that satisfied them, even if it meant directing them to a café which serves a caramel macchiato – which cannot be found on his menu at Everyman Espresso. This, to me, was everything I felt about service, summed up beautifully.

This week, we read a short section in Olivier Blanchard’s book, Social Media ROI, all about customer service on social media. The reading started off with nine rules of online conflict resolution, the first of which was of course “The customer is always right.” Reading through the list (and the rest of the section), I agreed with everything Olivier wrote – be polite, apologize, an angry customer isn’t an enemy – with the exception of rule number 1. I don’t think this mindset is productive for everybody, because it can lead to an organization making unnecessary concessions for a single person, or even a small subset of people. I would personally be left more impressed by a service professional helping me solve my problem at somebody else’s business, rather than bending over backwards to make sure I gave them my money. The former demonstrates humility and respect, whereas the latter makes me wonder if my wallet is more valuable than my wants and needs.

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And that’s what it’s all about – good old word of mouth.

It is always important to be polite as a professional in customer service, always treat that person with respect and humanity, but keep in mind that sometimes the customer isn’t right, and sometimes they are lost. Sometimes you have to do the right thing and help them understand that their business can be directed elsewhere. And who knows, they might be so impressed with the level of service they just received that they stick around to give you their money anyway.

Do you agree with my premise, or is the customer really always right?

Blogging For Bullseyes

Writing a blog post is a bit like public speaking – you’re sending your unique perspective out to a large audience of listeners. But you wouldn’t get up to speak about 10 Ways to Cook a Steak at a vegan convention, nor would it be very productive to deliver your industry-specific insights in a sidewalk sermon. Selecting the right audience is not only key to reaching people who are interested in what you have to say, but it’s one of the most important steps to deciding on what you’re actually going to be writing about. You probably have an overall theme in mind, but the specific topics of your posts should suit your audience’s wants and needs. So, how do you go about targeting the right audience?

Are you reaching the right audience?

Are you reaching the right audience?

Who are your customers?

Assuming you’re blogging for a brand, you probably have products or services that you offer. So, as Joe Pulizzi puts it in his Ultimate Guide to Blogging, who is buying what you’re selling? Those people are already interested in your brand, so why not target them with your blog? You can write more interesting articles related to your products, your industry, your community, even feature power users or helpful tips. Chances are you know how your customers use your wares, and you know a bit about who they are, so using them as a base audience is a solid place to start.

Demographics and Psychographics

As you narrow down your audience, imagine a few different individuals who might read and share your content: how old are they? Are they male, female, both? What are their other interests, what do they do for a living, what are their passions? Sometimes, companies create personas to assist with targeted marketing or communications, and the same tactic will work for your blog. When you consider what people are really looking for, you can better tailor your blog posts to their expectations and needs.

Pick Your Corner of the Market

There’s nothing wrong with writing for a particular niche, as Sherilynn Macale writes for The Next Web. If you have an audience of enthusiasts, blogging your expert opinions on their favorite subjects can be great for your traffic. For example, I keep two different blogs about specialty coffee; one is for general coffee topics, like news, how-to posts, opinions and musings, and the other is exclusively for coffee reviews. My niche is the same for both blogs – specialty coffee enthusiasts, with an extended audience of those who wish to learn more about that level of geekiness – but the content is fairly different. Even if your niche is already occupied, you may still be able to provide some unique and valuable insight.

Expand and Contract

Often, it can be difficult to determine how large your audience should really be, so don’t be afraid to experiment. You can always adjust the tone and subject of your posts to alter your targeting. If you find your blog is reaching too many of the wrong people – people who may never share your content or buy your products – you might need to rethink how you write your posts. The same goes for trying to increase your reach, so it is important to keep track of your key metrics, and make sure your targeting is actually working as planned. With a bit of planning and effort, you should be able to hit your target spot on – bullseye!

Rewrite and adjust your content to suit your new targeting.

Rewrite and adjust your content to suit your new targeting.

What are some of your most helpful tips for finding your blog’s target audience?

Thou Shalt Not Troll: Creating Community Guidelines

Planning a community is of high importance to its eventual health and your success as a community manager. One of the chief stages of community planning is the creation of community rules and guidelines. Without rules or guidelines, your management duties are simply going to be a nightmare. You’ve got your target audience, and topics to focus on, but how will you know what’s in and what’s out of bounds for content, discussion, and interaction? How will your community members know? Obviously, this is where those rules and guidelines come in, and where effectively communicating the intent behind them is key.

I’m a moderator over at the Coffee community on Google+, and that experience has taught me a bit about creating and evolving community rules. While the community itself is simply called “Coffee,” our main purpose is to encourage discussion of specialty coffee – beyond Folgers, beyond Starbucks, to the point where coffee is treated as a culinary product, much like wine. This distinction has always been communicated in the description in our sidebar, but it has created a small amount of confusion and tension, especially when a member feels their post was removed for some kind of bias. But we feel our rules spell things out pretty clearly, take a look:

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Some of these rules are pretty obvious choices, some are aimed at protecting our members from spam or risky business (the MLM posts are especially notorious for phishing and malware), some are merely preference for our community, such as discouraging introductions (we don’t need over 22k “Hello” posts, which add nothing to discussion). The last rule on there, about foreign language posts (non-English) is mainly because most of our members only speak English (our moderators too), so non-English posts received almost no interaction early on.  But are we too strict? Should we be more inclusive? I don’t personally think so, and our members seem to agree that we’re being reasonable – with a few, occasional exceptions in the form of snide commenters who think we’re some kind of coffee gestapo.

So where should you draw the line in the sand for your community? Who gets to make those decisions? This was actually the topic of a recent #CMGRChat, where contributors offered that the initial rules should be simple and based in common sense (be civil, don’t post spam, etc.), but you should also turn to the community itself to help craft more particular rules. In one of this week’s readings, Do Your Community’s User Guidelines Only Protect People You Like?, the author emphasizes equality and fairness in rules; we are all entitled to free speech, even if some of our opinions are controversial.

In the Coffee community, we don’t remove a post just for mentioning something like Kopi Luwak (a.k.a. “cat poop coffee”), so long as it isn’t a commercial post. We would even encourage discourse on the issue, as hopefully it would raise awareness of some of the animal welfare issues or other drawbacks of the product. Censorship, in that regard, would lead to no discussion whatsoever, and leave our members feeling shunned and disappointed in our closed-minded approach.

Blog7_goats

Animal welfare.

So, when you’re crafting your rules, keep your community in mind. Think about what you want for your members, as well as what they might want for themselves. Then, as the community grows, periodically ask for input from your members, and revise your rules to support their needs and yours as you progress. And keep in mind that everybody has a right to their opinion, and that voicing an unpopular opinion in a civil manner is something that should be encouraged, not blocked.