Author Archive for Steve Rhinehart

Lessons In Building A Real-world Community From Scratch

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been gearing up to launch a new project here in Syracuse, something I call Beansprout. My aim with Beansprout is to bring this city’s coffee lovers together, no matter their skill level or favorite flavor, and create a new community from the ground up, focusing on local cafes, educating, as well as light-hearted social gatherings. I love coffee, and I love my home city, but our local coffee culture is more grab-and-go than it is social. So, my aim is to change that, and slowly but surely I’m working toward launching something which I hope will be inspiring and helpful to Syracuse’s citizens, as well as our local businesses.


So what goes into building something like this? To start, it’s a ton of research. I’ve gotten a sense of who our coffee enthusiasts are in this city over the past year, but without actually looking into the demographics, and as Richard Millington puts it in Buzzing Communities, the psychographics – the collective thoughts and feelings– of my intended audience, I’d be left trying to grab random people to bring them in. Instead, my strategy is to target people I know, and ask them to bring in some people they know, and then those people bring in people they know – building off the organic networks that are already in place, building in waves.

Millington’s text was actually very inspiring this week, and covered a lot of what I’m aiming for, as well as teaching me a few new things to work on. For example, I originally thought Beansprout would be a community of interest; after all, coffee lovers are interested in coffee. But because I’m keen to focus on coffee specifically in Syracuse, it is also a community of place, and my want for educational events and resources also makes it a community of practice. I’m comfortable with the hybridization, but defining the scope of the community is integral to understanding how to build it.

One key thing I hadn’t considered until this week was to interview potential community members, to see what they have to say, and whether they’d really be interested. Millington asserts that short, 15-minute interviews with potential members will yield information such as challenges, or aspirations, as well as help to identify symbols which represent the potential community and its members. David Spinks also echoes this in his article, How to Build a Community From Scratch. I found these insights to be incredibly helpful, as promoting Beansprout to others was one of my key challenges, and these interviews seem quite capable of helping to flesh out some options and targeting.

Overall, this week’s topic has been incredibly helpful in giving me some direction. Building a community from nothing is not an easy task, but it would be a fool’s errand to dive in head first without first conducting the proper research. And, even though this is a personal venture, the lessons it has taught me so far will be invaluable for my career in social media.

Have you ever built a community from scratch before? What were the key lessons you took from the experience?

Measuring Social Media Success, With Olivier Blanchard

This week in #CMGRClass, we were lucky enough to have Olivier Blanchard, the author of Social Media ROI, join us in our biweekly Hangout on Google+. We were asked to write some questions down ahead of time, relevant to his book and expertise. Given my current position as a social media strategist at SU’s IT Services, I was eager to hear Olivier’s commentary on using data metrics to improve your social media efforts.


One of the issues I’ve run into at work is that my boss and coworkers are unsure of what sort of goals they have for their social media presence. Part of the issue is that no one person is really devoted to working on our social platforms, it’s more of an extension of our phone support services instead. As such, when I asked about specific metrics that I should be looking at in my daily work, they wanted to defer to me to figure it out. That’s not something I would mind doing, but I’m still rather new to this particular organization, so I’m not well-versed in the overarching strategy and goals that already exist. I’m flying a bit blind until I learn them or help my superiors develop some more concrete wants and need in terms of data.

So, when the conversation with Olivier turned to finding and demonstrating value in your social media efforts, I knew it was the right time to ask the question burning in my brain: what questions can I ask to help my employers figure out what they want out of social media? If they’re paying me to look at Twitter all day, I’d love to give them some data and results that they can in turn act on to improve their services and better address customer needs. Olivier’s response, borrowed from Brains On Fire, was “What would you like to be celebrating in six months?” He went on to talk about how social media for customer service might prove to be a better medium for resolving issues, and one person on Twitter may accomplish just as much as three people on phone calls. Speed of response and speed of resolution were other metrics he recommended looking at, but he also brought up the point that if a leader can’t tell you why you’re using social media for business, there’s a problem with the leadership that should be fixed. I agree with that point, and I’ve gotten the impression that social media was adopted in this office more on a hunch that it would be useful, rather than with a clear goal of extending our service mediums to better meet our customers’ needs. Now that we have these accounts, and I’m in a position to influence our direction, I would like to help establish real goals, and I think the language Olivier offered will be helpful in having that discussion with my superiors.

As this problem has been on my mind for a few weeks, I’ve done some research of my own into what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) similar organizations use, which metrics work, which are just for show, and so on. I found an article on a Harvard Business Review blog, entitled Why Your Social Media Metrics Are a Waste of Time, by Ivory Madison. Madison writes that pageviews and unique visitors, Twitter followers and Facebook likes aren’t exactly relevant to running a business on their own. Instead, she advises that actionable metrics that align with clear business goals are better, something you could present to your CEO with no further explanation. I’m inclined to agree.

What KPIs are most relevant to your business? Were they difficult to establish?

Five Ways to Love Thy Community

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and love is in the air. It’s the perfect time to reflect on how certain community management skills are exactly like good personal relationship skills. In fact, I would assert that managing a community is like being in a long distance relationship. Here are five reasons why.


1. They Need You Around

Just as your girlfriend in Ohio wants to hear from you more than once a month, your community needs a steady reminder that you’re there for them. A good, strong community is one where the manager is paying attention to needs, and doing what they can to meet them. Your community will notice if you’re absent, and that probably won’t be a good thing. Sticking around and showing you’re invested in the relationship is a great way to keep everybody happy.

2. Communication Is Key

Let’s face it, every relationship has its fair share of miscommunications, but in a community, it’s hugely important to keep people in the loop. Without encouraging your community to speak up about their likes, dislikes, interests, and need, and without speaking up on behalf of your organization, both parties will be in the dark. That leads to resentment, a sense of neglect, and a community manager who doesn’t know why members are leaving the group. Don’t lose touch!

3. Listen!

You’ve got two ears and one mouth, use them in that order! Listening is a huge part of any good relationship, and it is indispensable in community management. Listening to your members, including (especially) when they’re not talking directly to you, will reveal what your strong suits are, where you’re falling short, where you could totally wow your community, and far more. Listening is a constant, active part of being a good community manager, but its importance cannot be stressed enough. Many tough situations can be solved by listening more to inform your course of action. How will you ever know if she wants a diamond or an emerald if you don’t listen?

4. They Need to Know They’re Special

You’d never forget your spouse’s name, why would you ever forget the name of a community member? Now, of course, if you’re working with hundreds or thousands of people, that’s not exactly practical, but every community member should be treated like an individual. Every interaction should make them feel like they’re important to you, as if they’re getting the VIP treatment. When a customer gets a sense that they’re number 6 in line, or account number 33295, they know they’re not a person to your organization. But when you take the time to address their needs and concerns, or even go beyond what was expected, they know that the both of you are human beings, and they’ll walk away impressed.

5. A Little Romance Goes A Long Way

There’s nothing like coming home to a dozen roses you weren’t expecting, or having your loved one take you to lunch unannounced. A community can stay alive with typical everyday interaction and support, but it does not thrive unless it knows it means something to your organization. Arrange a special event or giveaway without announcing anything. Have a customer appreciation day and feature your community members. Show them how much you love them, and ask nothing in return. Whisper sweet nothings into their ears, and capture not just their attention, but their hearts. Community members can love their community just as much as you do, so help them find a little romance to keep them coming back.

A little love goes a long way

A little love goes a long way

How are you showing your community you love them this month?

So What’s a Community Manager, Anyway?


This week in #CMGRClass, we’ve been exploring the difference between community management and social media management, and what kinds of skills are needed for either role. The fact is, there is a distinct difference here that a lot of organizations struggle to see, much to the chagrin of many a social media professional.
To make things more difficult, nobody has a standard definition for each job, and everybody sees the roles a little differently. In practice, a Community Manager may act a bit like a Social Media Manager, and vice versa, depending on the needs of their company. Sometimes the lines are totally blurred, and one person is doing it all. But organizations and social media professionals alike benefit from distinguishing the two roles, and emphasizing where each is most proficient.
So let’s break it down – what does a community manager do that a social media manager doesn’t? How are they alike? How are they different?
The Social Media Manager
Think about this literally, the SM manager takes care of the social media; note the emphasis on media. Rather than focusing on the intricate relationships of the community on the other side of the media, they turn their attention to the platforms themselves. From a strategic perspective, platforms are considered and developed, campaigns are planned and executed, and data is gathered and analyzed to ensure the choices being made are good investments for the organization. Hard goals drive their work, focusing on increasing sales or improving the company image. Social media are business tools to get the job done, so they need a certain level of expertise in the technologies used, as well as the business acumen to succeed.
The Community Manager
Again, the name being fairly self-descriptive, the CMGR is all about the community. The people internal or external to the organization who need support and engagement are the CMGR’s job. Some technical expertise is required, as in order to fully utilize a given technology, a “superuser” mindset is greatly beneficial, if not required. Day-to-day, the community manager creates and distributes content, interacts with the customers/community, provides customer service and support, listens and responds to community members, and uses data metrics to analyze customer satisfaction and community performance and health. Communities are fairly platform agnostic, meaning they can exist and communicate using any number of media, so a community manager is essentially a kind of polyglot. Beyond business and technical skills, however, the CMGR also needs excellent people skills – they need to be able to read people and respond accordingly.
And there you have it, a brief outline of what makes a community manager, versus a social media manager. Again, sometimes these lines are blurred, and definitions vary, but the two roles can be quite distinct. It is important for organizations to understand this, so they can plan, hire, and train appropriately.
Does your organization have each of these positions, or do they blend a little of each into one role?

Starting a Discussion #CMGRClass Style

Today's #CMGR has nicer gadgets than yesteryear!

Today’s #CMGR has nicer gadgets than yesteryear!

Being the first person to do something is always a bit daunting. In the case of being the first #CMGRClass moderator, I was a little concerned I wouldn’t quite know how to approach it. After all, while I’ve moderated communities before, they’re usually interest-oriented, rather than academically-oriented. This being a class, I wanted to make sure I was both engaging and thought-provoking.
For this week, we read quite a few pieces about the history of community management, and how the technologies and responsibilities have evolved up until now. This was a great review, and provided some solid context and history for the rest of the class. After all, there’s value in knowing where your field has come from, and how far.

I opened up the discussion with the following questions:

  1. In what ways are online communities today different from their early relatives?
  2. How have the changes in web and mobile technologies been reflected in community management?
  3. What were your most useful take-aways from the readings and video?

The class responded by noting how technology has vastly improved interactions and response time. In old bulletin boards, a message might receive a response hours or days after posting, whereas social networks today, coupled with mobile technologies, allow for responses in seconds. The rise of transparency was also brought up – users use their real names far more often than in the past, when a pseudonym or screen name was more common. Anonymity has been known to encourage users online to act in ways not becoming to their normal personalities, such as being more rude or aggressive, or even making remarks they wouldn’t make in person. This trend toward transparency is an interesting shift in online communities, with implications that may yet to be seen, though it may represent more genuine online interactions.
We also addressed how new technologies, especially real-time technologies supported by high-bandwidth networks, have changed how communities can interact. I’ve already mentioned how impressed I am with Google+ Hangouts, and what they can do for communities. The class also mentioned Facetime, and we’ve all used Vsnap at this point. Sharing rich media with another person on the Internet is now easier and more accessible than ever. Real-time communications, from chat clients to Skype, are also widely in use. Will we even need cellular service in the future, if all of our devices can make calls over IP? How’s that for saving on customer service?
Mid-week, I also presented two more articles, and a few more questions to go with them. I found the social@Ogilvy: Introduction to Community Management 3.0 piece on their thoughts on community management, and The Community Manager: How to Build a Community From Scratch  post about emphasizing two different views on starting in community management. Right away, we noted that Ogilvy’s ratio of organic conversation in your community to talk about the brand (70/30) doesn’t match up with the recommendations of others. There are many many opinions about community metrics, and no hard rules. Kelly Lux pointed out that Ogilvy’s proficiency is in audience, whereas David Spinks (who wrote the second article) is more of a community expert. Audience and community are not the same, and shouldn’t be treated as such.
There was, of course, more to this discussion, as I’m sure will be the case every week. However, it seems our class is well-suited to having great in-depth discussions about community management, and we had some really solid analyses of the readings show up this week. It was great to see how everybody else interpreted the articles and questions posted; we seem to be a well-rounded and insightful group.


In closing, I’ll leave off with my bonus question of the week, about the history of Community Managers:
What’s the most ancient online community you’ve been involved in?

Photo Credit: Yo Spiff via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Yo Spiff via Compfight cc


How Games Make Communities Sticky

Blog1_GamesInspired by the Preece and Lau readings this week, I took some time to reflect on my own involvement with online gaming communities, especially the one I helped form in high school. Back in the day, I spent a good many evening hours playing Counter Strike: Source, an online team-based first person shooter. What started as a casual weeknight activity for me grew into a very involved and structured commitment, as I found a place to interact online with my peers.

In 2004, I found myself regularly playing on a 24/7 “Assault” server – Assault being the name of the particular map, the only map used on that server – where I came to know a few of the other regulars. Over time, we went from casual playing buddies, to forming a clan, starting our own server and forums, and bringing more people into our group. As the co-founder and second in command of our team, I helped form our community of teammates and friends from the ground up, by moderating our online activities, encouraging teamwork and fair play, collecting payments from our clan members to support the servers, and so on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was a community manager, through and through.

This reflection has made me aware of how both technology and games themselves had an influence on how the community functioned. The game server, the forums, and even our Teamspeak server, all provided centralized locations for synchronous and asynchronous interaction. We were brought together by our love of Counter Strike, but we found we had a lot of other interests in common. I ended up going to design school, and tutored two of our members in design concepts, setting up image-creation contests for nothing more than bragging rights. We would also simply join into the Teamspeak server, used primarily for strategic chatter during competitions, just to casually talk when few of us were playing. Technology facilitated a level of bonding and understanding over great distances; while most of us were in the EST time zone, not all of us were American. We had effectively built an international, albeit English-speaking, community from scratch, based on interest alone.


Jane McGonigal presents at TED on how games can “fix” reality.

The value that gaming added, however, is what really intrigues me. Jane McGonigal, game designer and author of Reality Is Broken, has spoken many times on the power of gaming to bring people together. Friendly competition and teamwork in a game tends to build relationships outside of gaming as well, a concept which leads her to recommending “gamifying” activities that aren’t normally seen as games. For instance, her web community Super Better adds gaming aspects, like bad guys and check points, to the act of working on personal goals. Super Better also encourages peer interaction, to have users help each other to get up when they stumble, and support each other to completion. In the same way, though the game wasn’t the sole focal point of our community, it did serve to color our interactions with each other. It allowed us to come together with a common goal, and work together to achieve it, thus building and shaping our relationships with each other. Our teamwork was so strengthened by our high level of interaction that we started competing in amateur gaming leagues, a testament both to our abilities and the confidence inspired by peer reinforcement. In fact, while I’ve moved on to be a member of many other communities, I can’t help but notice most aren’t as tight-knit as the gaming groups I’ve belonged to. I’m not sure if this is because gaming is better at bringing people together, or if it’s simply a factor of group activities being a great bonding agent for communities, but it’s a very noticeable difference in my mind.

What do you think, do games or other synchronous activities make a large difference in community interactions? What are your experiences?