Spring14 Semester Starts Monday January 13!

Go to the Syllabus

Finding Your Community

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

Find the puzzle pieces and put them together

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

Puzzle Pieces

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

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

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

24 hours later…

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

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











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

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

It’s really about value.

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

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

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

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

Belize Beach

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

New to Twitter Chats? This Can Help

large twitter chat

Photo: Labor Day Twitter Chat, by: Us Department of Labor

At the risk of revealing any information that might give the impression that I am out of touch with the world, this week I joined my very first twitter chat.   Now, I know this statement probably sounds overly dramatic.  I could easily choose 50 friends and family at random and be quite positive that none of them had ever participated in a tweet chat before, so my dramatic declaration comes from more of a personal sensitivity that I felt out of touch and out of alignment with everyone on the chat.

The chat I joined centers on Community Management and is usually held weekly, with a focused topic of conversation.   This week the group discussed, “Transitions: Gracefully Exiting your Community.”  I knew this in advance, so I spent that morning preparing my thoughts by doing some research on the similarities and differences between leaving an online community vs. leaving a typical job, with the hopes that  I could participate intelligently if the opportunity arose.  However, I was completely (and very quickly) caught off guard by the chat process.

My observations, as a twitter chat beginner:

  • I was not ready for the pace of the conversation and found the constant steam of tweets very difficult to keep up with.  (There were almost 40 posts in just the first 10 minutes).  I had to read along at a pretty good clip, and I still felt behind the conversation the entire hour.
  • I was using hootsuite rather than the simple twitter feed.  Each time it refreshed, I lost my place when it spilled 20-30 more tweets into the stream.  That was very frustrating.
  • It was a challenge to keep up with answers and comments within the conversation, especially if they were not directly related to the moderated questions.  Basically, I am referring to tweets made in response to others’ tweets.  For example, if someone tweeted:“@yyy @rrr @mmm I love that idea. Thanks Mary!”  I wanted to know what Mary said so I could follow the conversation, but I could not find Mary’s original tweet (partially because I did not know who Mary was so I did not know who to look for, and partially because Mary’s tweet may have fallen into the stream 20 tweets before) so I had no way of knowing what “idea” was loved.
  • All of the above issues left me unable to gain a strong enough comfort level to tweet any of my own comments.
  • The pace of the moderated questions was easy to follow and I liked that they were re-tweeted several times.  That allowed for a good sense of conversation re-focus… even when there were tweets that had nothing to do with the questions steaming in between the “answer” tweets.

At end of the chat I sat back, surly I had missed something.  People who participate in twitter chats love them, but I just felt like I was lost in a very unfamiliar, crowded room.  So I took to the internet to see what I could find on the following topics:

  • How to navigate or better manage a fast paced tweeter chat,
  • Advice from others who encountered the same frustrations as myself

Much to my surprise, there was very little out there.  It seems that no one else was talking about the opportunities that I had encountered!

What I did find though was a lot of good content that focused on How to participate in twitter chats with helpful dos and don’ts.   So I dug in a little deeper and started playing around with different keywords combinations.  I then came across a blog by Bruce Sallen, How to participate in #dadchat or any other chat.  In it, I finally found a little validation. He suggested using services like Tweetgrid to help with the issue of trying to keep up with speedy chats.   I checked the service out, but did not care for its format.  So I pressed, on until my search brought me to JD Roth’s blog, GRS housekeeping: comments, follow-ups, and tweetchats.  In it he recommended Tweetchat.

This service seems very user friendly as it links directly to a twitter account through the services “sign in” button, and also has several nice features:

  • Each tweet automatically gets the #hashtag added when one posts (something I could not figure out how to do on hootsuite).
  • It allows the option of a “user control” feature so one can focus on specific people or block spammers.

tweet chat serviceI plan to participate in more twitter chats so I can get more practice.  I know that that will help my comfort level.  However, the next time I will be using the technologies of the service:  Tweetchat.  Hopefully, it will help me through some of the opportunities that I encountered today and will make the next twitter chat much more enjoyable.



So am I the only one in the world that has found tweet chats overwhelming?

Is it just a matter of getting used to the pace, platform, and people participating in the chat?

Why Internal Corporate Social Media Initiatives Fail to Generate ROI: a chat with Olivier Blanchard

Business Success Collage

Image courtesy of Krom Krathog FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week our Social Media and Community Management class had the pleasure of “hanging out” (in the Google+ sense) with Olivier Blanchard, author of “Social Media ROI” as we discussed various topics related to his book. Here is a paraphrased summary of two of the questions related to internal corporate social media implementation challenges.

Question: A recent Gartner study predicts that by 2016, 80% of enterprise social software efforts will fail. Are there different factors that cause internal enterprise social media adoption to succeed or fail compared to external social media? If so, could you explain these factors?

Olivier: One of the primary challenges of introducing social media to a corporation is that the existing dysfunctions of the organization work against it. The existing departmental silos, the inability to “play nice” and communicate across the silos is not magically corrected by implementing social media software. The culture of the corporation is not going to change fast enough on its own to allow social media to succeed in the organization. Ideally, the corporation should appoint a C-level or SVP-level internal Social Media czar with authority and support from the CEO. The Social Media czar would take a holistic approach building support and structure at the top of the organization for social media and integrate it down into the departmental silos from there. He/she would build a team of people with skills that cross existing silos, drawing from IT, Corporate Communications, etc. to provide a training and support function for social media. Once the support structure exists, the czar can then focus on each individual department, working to train a “hub” of resources within the department and develop successful applications of social media there. It is best to start with “customer facing” departments and work inward. Also, be careful in choosing your success metrics. Remember that measuring Social Media success must go beyond counting the number of “likes” and other simplistic measures; you have to be able to measure and translate your success into terms the business can understand.

My personal experience has been that there are definitely many ways to fail at social media. Recently our IT department rolled out the tools with great fanfare, but little training. The Marketing and HR department C-level executives are the most visible executive users of the tools and have developed the most thriving communities; many other departments appear to have little support from the top and seem be struggling. While the corporation is working diligently to become more agile, the barriers of the departmental silos, built up over decades, work against the implementation of social media and are difficult to overcome. This is compounded by the less than user-friendliness of the social media tools themselves, and the lack of modern features, chief among them, the mobility option.

Question:What issues do internal communities face that external communities don’t?

Olivier: The primary challenge is that most people have “better” things to do with their time, and don’t have the time (or energy) to fight the system. A technique I’ve used to create successful communities (and this works for internal and external communities) is to create “scarcity” to make people want to belong to the group. Start with a small “by invitation only” group, get the core group active, and make sure you have a small, but thriving community. Next, allow the group to start inviting a few others. Pretty soon, more and more people want to belong to the group. By restricting the number of invites you have created scarcity and a certain cachet that makes others want to join.

Hearing this reminded me of how badly I wanted to join Google+ and scrambling around trying to find someone who could get me an invite into the group. I certainly must say that this technique worked on me.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Taken by realbruts in August, 2009

Taken by realbruts in August, 2009

This week in #cmgrclass one of the key concepts discussed was the importance of authenticity behind building up a brand name and presence. In this kommein piece written by Deb Ng, the author laments over the intrusive and forceful tactics some organizations employ to grow their online communities.  Namely, she lambasts certain organizations for using DM and inbox on Twitter and Facebook, respectively, to ask individuals to “like” a certain page.

Soliciting likes via private messaging is akin to insurance companies soliciting products via knocking on your front door. It’s intrusive. It’s mildly uncomfortable. And the receiving party feels unduly pressured to endorse a product or service he probably doesn’t want.

In her post What Not to do When Using Social Media for Business, Alyssa Gregory dedicates four of her seven “what not to dos” to items related to Ng’s initial pet peeve. Gregory suggests:

  1. DO NOT Spam Your Fans, Followers, Circles
  2. DO NOT Share Too Much
  3. DO NOT Self-Promote All the Time

By following these three commandments, an organization may avoid being absolutely horrible and learn to build trust authentically.

So if you’re not supposed to directly ask for people to like or endorse your online brand representation, what exactly are you supposed to do? This question leads me to my theory of If You Build it, They Will Come (yes I took poetic license with the name adaptation, but it’s applicable as much here as it was in Field of Dreams).

If you manage the community for a brand, the best way to build up a community around that brand is to identify the target demographic of your brand and then create content and conversation that appeals to that demographic while also properly representing the brand. If you can accomplish this, community members will organically be drawn to the brand in question. Aka, if you build it, they will come.

Let’s use Zappos as an example here. In her blog post How Zappos makes social media a part of its company culture, Susan Rush opens with “When it comes to social media,Zappos.com just gets it.” And get it, they do. As a company that started as a small startup with almost no community, as it grew it built its presence by engaging in authentic conversation and creating content that not only had to do with its own product and overall brand, but also appealed to its demographic.

“But how did they do it”?, you may ask. According to Zappos’ Thomas Knoll, their success comes from implementing the “social media policy [of] be yourself and don’t be stupid.” No inboxing strangers. Not DMing Twitter users with a high Klout score. Just plain old authenticity. And from there, a community was built.


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?

Listening, Audience Awareness Key to Social Media Success

Melvin Gaal/CC

Melvin Gaal/CC

Listening has always been a crucial skill in informal communication exchanges as well as organizational communications work, and so much of Olivier Blanchard wrote in “Social Media ROI,” resonated with me and reminded me of past experiences.

Blanchard points to “focused listening” and “situational awareness” as critical elements in the social media space for brands and organizations, and essential activities for the social media teams and community managers who represent and communicate on behalf of them. The readings brought to mind some real-world situations and experiences.

My first recollection was of the skillfully-designed “Listening Tours” Hillary Clinton initiated years back, before she was elected as New York’s U.S. Senator.  That was a convincing (if not overt and transparent) public relations initiative, supposedly undertaken before she formally decided to seek election.

These tours comprised a well-publicized, weeks-long effort showing New Yorkers that she could, and indeed would, listen to potential constituents and the media reflected the act of her listening to constituents occurring.



The tours were an effective way of providing ongoing publicity for Clinton, and I watched them with interest because I was a practitioner of political and community-oriented issues PR at the time.

Hillary’s recognition of her audience’s need to be listened to was the first “win.”It was the kind of intuitive connection that all constituencies seek, in my view.

This same human need is also the element that makes social media such an effective two-way communication channel, and so a preferred means of organizational communication today.  Social-channel communication is highly differentiated from traditional PR tactics of pushing messages (only) outbound today.

Blanchard advises that social media programs must begin by asking what the organization should be listening for, not what it should be saying (p. 128). That discovery begins by asking questions  about what might be most valuable for the organization to learn from its audiences.



This discussion reminded me of two situations with national brands where consumer feedback affected corporate decision-making at the highest levels.

A few years ago, Coca-Cola, in what seemed like an “out of the blue” internal decision, changed the formula and taste of its quintessential soft drink product. The company spent millions retooling and advertising an introduction to the “New Coke.”

It was a klinker, a #fail move.

  • Consumers didn’t like the “new” taste
  • They overwhelmingly preferred the “old Coke.”
  • Eventually, consumers won out and Coke retreated.
  • The company pulled New Coke products off the supermarket shelves and returned to production of the original product.

If social media had been a mainstream communications tool at the time, this would have constituted an epic #FAIL.

Another similar consumer reaction to brand changes that did occur within the realm of real-time, online communication shows the velocity and power of these means of communication.  When GAP stores changed the company’s logo, consumers rebelled and rejected the new look, and they did it through social channels. The forceful reaction caused the company to pull the new logo and revert to the original.  As reported on Mashable on October 10 2010 (Ben Parr):

“Gap has announced on its Facebook Page that it is scrapping its new logo design efforts, acquiescing to a torrent of criticism coming primarily from Facebook and Twitter users.”

Blanchard also talks about “situational awareness.” This is the same sort of activity that is typically called “scanning the environment” in conflict resolution practice.

In my personal experience in the public relations and public affairs department of a large and controversial organization, we routinely did on a face-to-face basis what is now possible by listening through online social channels and tools.

The upshot of Blanchard’s contentions is that companies need to have some sort of system in place to “capture, analyze and respond to situations where the organization is being mentioned” online.  An organization or brand is unable to respond to threats and opportunities, he says, “if you are not aware of them in real time.”

That’s why I agree with Blanchard that for any organization or any brand, a plan of  “listening before talking” is essential. Because as he says, “the  more you know, the more you understand about your environment, the more you can react to it and adapt to it.”



Shhhhh… Listen

listen first with social media

Image appears on: http://www.therenegadeblog.com/using-social-media-to-listen

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

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

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

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

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

Case study: The Junior League of Syracuse

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

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

The Path Forward

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

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

History and Evolution of Community Management

Quill Pen & Letter

Image courtesy of Simon Howden FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Were there communities before Facebook?

The primary focus of our Google+ hangout and our theme for this week was the “History & Evolution of Community Management.” One of the questions discussed was what “platforms” we personally used in our earliest community participation. AOL Chat, ICQ chats, and LISTSERVs were mentioned. My personal earliest memory is of a private bulletin board service put up by a friend in 1992 that a group of us used to discuss the software we were developing for a non-profit group. This conversation also reminded me of a story that my mom told me about her early “community group”. When she was a teenager, she would write a paragraph about what was happening in her life and send it to one of her friends. The friend would add what she was doing onto the letter and send it on to another friend, and so on, until it completed the circle and came back to my mom, who would add onto it again and repeat the cycle. Consequently, I believe community groups have been in existence for a long time even though the underlying supporting technology might seem very primitive by today’s standards.

The State of Community Management Today

The proliferation of communities over the years has created a much more diverse set of communities. Today there is a group for almost every niche topic. It is much easier for “birds of a feather to flock together”; however, it is also more difficult for a single community to meet the needs of all of its constituents as it grows larger.

Outsource or Hire

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sourcing Strategies for Community Management

Building a strong Community Management team is not as easy as it may appear. A small sole-proprietor in a start-up company may need to do everything him/herself out of necessity. A large brand may find it easier to outsource community management duties to a company specializing in these tasks, but may risk losing the authentic “voice of the brand.” Steve shared examples from his internship with a community management company where he had to spend several weeks studying up on the businesses he was to represent. Early on, all of his posts were reviewed before they could be released. While the best way to learn about a community is to actively participate, there is a great deal of upfront work that goes into getting to that point. Reviewing the Social Media Maturity Model can also help a new community manager understand where his company or brand is in the life cycle and provide guidance as to how to best engage the community.

Communities for Brand Mascots

Brands with mascots bring their own challenges. The community manager must “become” the character for which he or she is speaking. Being “in character” as Captain Crunch or the Geico Gecko every day can be difficult, but creating a mascot with a strong persona can lead to audience growth and help build an energetic community for the brand. Customers tend to become more engaged and enjoy interacting with the mascot. Keeping the brand in the forefront of customers’ minds can lead to increased sales.

Community Management

Image courtesy of Simon Howden FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who should be a Community Manager?

Are Community Managers born or made? While community manager capability can be improved by the right training and on the job experiences, there are certain characteristics that good community managers are born with. Chiefly, a desire to interact and connect with people, not just via social media, but face-to-face as well. In this respect, my natural inclinations cause me to gravitate more toward that of social media manager than community manager. Social media managers are more likely to enjoy developing marketing strategies and measuring results with analytics than spending most of their day interfacing with people.

Tips on Listening to Your Community

An online relationship is fundamentally no different than a “normal” relationship with a friend, significant other or a family member. The most successful types of relationships are built upon good communication, and the most important part of communicating is listening.

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine are the authors of The Networked Nonprofit, a book about using social media in a nonprofit organization. This is what they have to say about the importance of listening to your community:

The Networked Nonprofit quote 

Don’t you just love when people listen to what you have to say and value your opinion? Your community members are no different.

I work in higher education and run social media sites for my University’s office in New York City. Our community is made up of our alumni who now live in NYC. It is really important for me to listen to what our alumni are interested and what they are looking for from their Alma Mater after they graduate. Below are some tools that I find helpful when monitoring our community.

Tools to help you listen:

  • Google Alerts: Google alerts are extremely useful to track what other companies and blogs are saying about google alertsyour organization, product, service or company. You can set up email notifications that will be sent to you when your search term shows up on other blogs, articles, websites, etc.
  • RSS Feeds: RSS Feeds (Real Simple Syndication) allow you to get the headlines and summaries of blogs, newspapers or other publications that relate to your industry. Since I am in higher education, having RSS feeds of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Chronicle of Philanthropy help me stay updated with what universities and nonprofits are doing around the world.
  • Blogs about your industry: Following blogs about your industry is a great way to network and learn from others in your same line of work. You can see if other communities of people are interested in the same topics you are covering or if they run into the same issues within their community. Reading other blogs could also give you ideas of what to talk about with your followers. Engage Alumni and social @ edu are two blogs that help me lead my community better.
  • Comments on blogs: It is important to read comments on blogs because you are getting opinions right from your own community members. They have something to say and they are telling you what issue or accolade they have publicly.  Kanter and Fine point out that it is especially important to listen to your critics, even if it is painful to hear, “criticism is an opportunity to learn and build relationships with the critics themselves.”


    Monitor Hash Tags and Key Words

  • Key word searches: Do a quick key word search in Google every now and then to see what comes up. Since I’m interested in how higher education institutions use social media, by typing in “higher education and social media” articles, blogs, and discussions that could be useful to me pop up.
  • Hash tags: Like key word searches, searching for hash tags on Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, etc. will bring you to what your community members are talking about. It can also lead you to potential new community members.

These are just a few of the tools that I find helpful. Listening to your community is the first step when trying to build your community and it is also the key maintaining it.

What tools do you find most helpful?

Listening to the “Voice of the Customer” using Social Media

Listening Ear

Image courtesy of Ambro FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What does it take to Hear the Voice of the Customer?

When I was working on six sigma process improvement projects, one of our first steps was to gather the “voice of the customer” or VOC, as we called it, for short. This involved gathering documentation on the current process and interviewing the appropriate stakeholders (a.k.a., customers). From reams of paper and hours of testimony we would develop a short problem statement of what the “customer” wanted to improve about the process. Listening to the customer was not always easy. Some had personal axes to grind, others feared changing the process would complicate their lives, and still others found it difficult to articulate their issues with the process. Today, social media promises new ways to determine the VOC for true customers. Unfortunately, many of the same obstacles still remain and some are even amplified by the same social media that is promising to be our savior. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to overcome these obstacles and make social media work for us in our search for the authentic VOC.

Where does your customer “hangout”?

While I thought the volumes of data associated with developing the six sigma VOC were large, they are nothing compared to the universe of customer data available today via the internet and social media. Most companies have fairly well-defined target market segments. By knowing the demographics of the target market segment, we at least can develop a starting point. In “Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities”, Richard Millington states that the first step toward finding your audience is to determine what platforms they use. Based on some simple demographics, we can make some good guesses as to where our customers and potential customers will hang out. We know from the PEW Internet poll that the 65+ crowd has the smallest presence on social media, but that this is growing as the baby boomers age into this category.  From this Mashable infographic we know that students and engineers, especially males ones, are the primary users of Google+. While in the past Twitter has had a reputation of having a more early-thirties to mid-forties demographic, currently the 18 to 29 year segment has a larger representation. Simple Google searches can help you find where your target audience is most likely to reside.

What does your customer care about?

Once you know where your customer “hangs” the next step is to determine what they care about. Millington suggests asking these questions:

  • What issues does your customer care about?
  • What do they aspire to be and do?
  • What do they know and want to know?

There are many tools that can help you determine the issues that your customer cares about most. Packaged software by the likes of SAS, IBM, and Salesforce.com (current owner of Radian6), can parse your customers words and phrases to determine which topics come up the most frequently. Digging deeper into what your customers aspire to be usually requires a more human touch. While tools my give some insight into the deeper workings of your customers minds, nothing can discern the aspirations of their hearts better than actually reading their thoughts and interacting with them. By taking the time to do this, you will gain insights into their needs and be able to develop content that can help them meet these needs.

Human Touch still Needed

While social media “listening” technology is evolving quickly, actually engaging customers in a conversation and listening for their answers is still the best way to determine their needs. Social media has opened up a larger window of public access on their conversations, but the technology still can’t “feel” and decipher the customers innermost needs and desires. It still takes the human touch.

What do you think? How much of customer listening can be delegated to software? What are some examples you’ve seen where it took a human to discern what wasn’t discernible by software?