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Register for #CMGRClass Spring 2014!

The spring semester at Syracuse University starts on January 13th and there are still a few spots left in #CMGRClass. This online course is open to all graduate students and select undergraduates who have a significant interest in community building, online communications, online content, and social media. For undergrads, if you’ve taken #RotoloClass (IST 486) or the Newhouse Social Media Course you’re eligible to take #CMGRClass.  If you haven’t taken either of those courses, but have experience in an internship or student activity you may still join as an undergraduate.

#CMGRClassWhy Take #CMGRclass?

In this online class, you’ll use social media tools first hand and meet a number of professionals who are working on community management and/or social media for some of the best companies out there. This course is broken up into three parts that are designed to help you understand various aspects of community management.
1)  Content Management – Blogging is an art and different than your typical academic writing.   You’ll write blog posts about the topics in this course and learn some of the best content strategies.
2)  Social media – The tools are always changing, but there’s things you’ll walk out understanding such as important metrics and best practices.
3)  Community Building – how do you start a community from scratch?  How can your users help you to generate content? Where do you find your key influencers?

What’s new and exciting about this course?

This isn’t your typical online course. The class meets every other Tuesday at 7pm in a Google+ Hangout and once per month we’ll have guest speakers join us and tell us how they got into their roles and what their jobs are like.  Though if you can’t make the time due to work or other classes, the class is recorded for you to watch at your convenience. Students have the ability to network throughout the semester and they find out about excellent opportunities like internships and careers.

Last semester we had guests from Google Local, Cycle to Survive, MRY, JetBlue, Scoop.it, LiveFyre, Klout, and Moz, and students met community managers from a variety of different industries.

We also don’t use blackboard all too much! #CMGRClass primarily takes place in a Google+ Community group where it’s easier to interact and post fun content.

If you’re curious about this semester’s syllabus you can take a look on this site.  If you want to register, sign up for IST 600 by January 13th (or the add/drop deadline by January 21)!  And of course you can always contact the professors, Jenn Pedde (@JPedde / jmpedde@syr.edu) & Kelly Lux (@Kellylux / kalux@syr.edu) with any questions.

Best Scheduling Practices For Community Managers

Running a community is no easy task, especially when several social media networks are involved. Community management is demanding, and it’s important to meet the needs of community members while also posting relevant content for members to discuss. Because of the various activities that a community manager must keep track of, it’s important to know how to effectively use a calendar.

Author Richard Millington of Buzzing Communities offers the following tips:

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Calendars can get messy! Make sure to use a system that works best for your community

1. Don’t forget about offline content! Although lots of information is online, don’t forget to stay in touch with what’s happening around you physically.  Millington points out that “you can look at both online and offline content produced within the sector to identify…popular categories.”

2. Plan out your weeks – Millington discusses how different categories of news should be posted daily while certain categories of posts can be reused every week. This variation is okay, as long as it is planned out accordingly. Using a calendar to figure out which content should be posted on certain days of the week is helpful when determining to push content.

3. Don’t forget about subcategories – It’s not enough to put that you’re going to talk about something as generic as “news” on a particular day. Millington emphasizes the importance of subcategories, and to be specific when defining posted content. Eliminating ambiguity helps define clearer goals for you and your team.

Although Millington’s tips are helpful, he fails to mention different methods of keeping track of all these tasks. Some helpful tools to keep you in check with all of these tools include:

1. Google Calendar – If you’re an avid fan of Google, have a Gmail account, or like color coded calendars, Google Calendar is a great way to keep track of different schedules. Your calendar can also sync up with your phone which allows you to view and modify your schedule while on the go.

2. Physical Wall Calendar – Lots of companies like to see things written on walls rather than on small computer screens. If you have a lot of space in your office, utilizing the space on a whiteboard can allow you to write all over your schedule, which is something you can’t necessarily do in a digital environment. If you have a wall that you want converted into a large whiteboard space, that can be easier to create than you think!

3. Wiggio – Wiggio is an online calendar that allows you to create events that can also sync with your other calendars. With SMS alerts that keep you on track, you won’t have to worry about what you need to do at each point throughout the day. The calendars can also be viewed by certain groups, which can be incredibly helpful for when you are working with a large team.

Regardless of how you schedule your calendars or the medium in which you choose to update it, it is important to stay organized and stay up to date with the content that needs to be managed within a community. Using the tools and techniques above, you can be well on your way to effectively managing a community!

How do you keep track of scheduling within your community? Do you have other tips or advice? Let us know in the comments below! 

Listen up!: Using comments, blogger outreach, and ambassador programs to build your community

When trying to grow or maintain your community, it is essential to provide your audience with unique opportunities to interact with your brand. Comments, blogger outreach, and ambassador programs are all paths through which a CM can better connect with the community. Read on to see what I’m talking about.

Comments
Read between the lines

As if it hasn’t been said enough times, Buzzing Communities reminds us that the customer is always right! ALWAYS. Take it from someone who has angrily reached out to brands on social media many times, I always remember which brands were pleasant to deal with, and which were not. Online conflict resolution is not only vital in that it calms dissatisfied customers, but the manner in which this resolution is dealt with speaks highly to the brand — and the reason why it’s included on this list.

Blogger Outreach
Why is this even necessary?

Unlike journalists, most bloggers are not constrained by traditional media models. In The Best Practice Guide for Effective Blogger Outreach, an eBook by InkyBee, it is noted that bloggers have instant and exponential reach. They are also a source of “earned media,” a relationship that is based on a real connection — both on and offline. PR professional Sally Falkow said that a BlogHer study showed that women in the US rank blogs as their “number one source of information.” That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of power.

The first steps

Once you decide blogger outreach is the way you want to go, you need to devise a plan. First, consider all of the possible outcomes that, according to Jenn Pedde’s “Building Community in Blogger Outreach” presentation, blog outreach can yield:

  • SEO/link building
  • Increased sales
  • Engaged customers/users
  • Product testing
  • Being the dominant voice in your industry
  • Being the most trusted voice in your industry

Next, InkyBee recommends identifying the blogs where the target audience lives. And Pedde reminds us that not all blogs are created equal. In fact, according to a chart entitled “Blogger Outreach: Tiers of Blogging and Link Building” (Fig. 1) in her presentation, there are five tiers of blogs: news outlets, large blog outlets, influencers, specific subject, and everyone else.

Blogger Outreach: Tiers of Blogging and Link Building (via Jenn Pedde's "Building Community in Blogger Outreach")

Fig. 1: Blogger Outreach: Tiers of Blogging and Link Building (via Jenn Pedde’s “Building Community in Blogger Outreach”)

Perhaps the most important piece of advice offered from InkyBee is to remember to personalize your pitch to the blogger. Investigate how they prefer to communicate — Twitter, Facebook, Quora — and capitalize on it. You need to offer something that mutually beneficial; no one likes to walk down a one-way street.

Keeping it going

Once this mutually beneficial relationship is established, be sure to not let the relationship die. You’ve worked this hard – so keep it up! Thank them, continue providing them with good content, and maybe treat them to a nice lunch 🙂 Be sure to also store his/her contact information and maintain and updated blogger database.

Brand Ambassador Programs
Say what?

brand ambassador program, as defined by Mack Collier:

… allows for an ongoing, working relationship with special customers who are fans of your brand. Their job is to stay in constant contact with your customers, not only promoting you to these customers, but also giving you invaluable feedback on what your customers think about your brand.

As a result, as a CM, you gain a greater understanding of your target and can pass along valuable insights to your marketing and advertising teams. Brand ambassador programs are especially helpful for larger companies, who find it overwhelming to connect with their consumers.

Collier offers 10 tips for creating a brand ambassador program. Three of my favorites are:

  • Spread the world internally as well as externally
    • If you don’t have the entire organization behind any given initiative, it’s doomed to fail
  • Make membership exclusive
    • You want to ensure that you are giving “membership” to the customers who are true advocates to the brand and who are truly committed. No phonies allowed!
  • Give your advocates direct access to the brand
    • Be sure that your ambassadors have access to some executives or people of significance at the company. These people are the “brand’s biggest defenders and advocates,” so it is essential that their voice is always heard by someone who has the power to enact change.

Buzzing Communities also recommends that brand ambassadors meet at least one of these criteria:

  • High levels of activity
  • High levels of expertise or passion for the topic
  • Distinctive contributions
  • Interesting real-life positions
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Great contacts
  • Overall strategic fit

 

Many agencies and brands who are looking to reach college students are now targeting these same students to be their brand ambassadors (image via MrYouth http://mryouth.com/)

Many agencies and brands who are looking to reach college students are now targeting these same students to be their brand ambassadors (image via MrYouth http://mryouth.com/)

Choose wisely!

 

Which of these three avenues do you think best suites your brand? Try them out and let me know!

 

3 Dos (and 1 Don’t) for Reaching Out to Bloggers

This week’s topic of discussion dealt with blogger outreach, or, fostering a relationship with, and offering services to, online writers who might prove beneficial to a brand or company in some capacity. From class, we’ve learned that connection is key, but there are definitely right—and wrong—ways for going about it.

Image courtesy of Social Media Marketing University

DO…

1. …Have a goal in mind.

Blogger outreach starts in-house, a point stressed in the ebook, “The Best Practice for Effective Blogger Outreach,” which tells businesses to have objectives lined out. Much in the same way that an army can’t go to battle without a strategy, a business can’t extend itself online without an idea of why. Identifying one’s objectives also means identifying a target audience, effectively narrowing down the wide pool of bloggers on the Web to a relevant selection.

Tips:

  • Research potential target audience first. You should know everything about them going in—not the other way around.
  • Social media isn’t the only factor to keep in mind. PR and brand awareness is good and all, but not if they don’t translate into some sort of revenue.

2. …Be creative with your methodology.

According to “12 Ways Strong Social Brands Connect With Their Audience,” Britt Michaelian makes a point of saying that it’s not enough to just have a voice online; it should also be different from anything else online. Easier said than done, yes, but it helps if you’re already in touch with blogger lingo and etiquette, as referenced in “Building Community in Blogger Outreach.” Do what you see other prominent bloggers doing; tap into their interests and make it work to your advantage.

Tips:

  • As in real life, don’t be afraid to have a quirky personality. “Weird” or “eccentric” just means being one step above the white noise of the Internet.
  • The Denny’s blog, for instance, benefits from being hosted on Tumblr: They can post topical things they see other Tumblr users responding to and reblogging themselves.

3. …Build loyalty for your brand.

The best way of going about this is offering accessibility. In Britt Michaelian’s “How to Build Fierce Loyalty for Your Brand Community,” she argues for helping audiences feel “wanted and needed within the community.” By creating spaces for discussion and thinking in terms of we than I, brands can maintain conversation that will slowly but surely lead to support from within the community.

Tips:

  • Extend across social media platforms. The more places for discussion, the more loyal customers.
  • Lead, but don’t make it apparent. You’re not there to herd people around; you’re there to engage them.

DON’T…

1. …Forget to be human.

This seems to be at the crux of everything we’ve learned this semester, but that’s because it doesn’t become any less true the more we learn about community management. Press releases and cold calling (…blogging), then, are ill-advised ways of reaching out to bloggers. Instead, stay honest and stay personable. Don’t be afraid of humanizing a brand—thinking small-scale also means paying more attention to detail, which works miles on online readers.

Share your thoughts—or any other dos and don’ts—in the comments below!

Brick By Brick: Creating Your Community

With all this talk so far this semester about community managers, it’s easy to forget the other, perhaps more important, half of the equation—the community itself. Yes, community managers (CMs) have to be fiercely defensive of their communities, but the community has to be fiercely defensive of itself as well as the brand it advocates. As such, CMs bear the responsibility of building a community and maintaining it long enough before it can function on its own. And with proper building techniques, CMs can create communities that, in the real world, do what CMs can’t do on their own.

Community building doesn’t just happen overnight.

Building Your Community

Communities are comprised of individuals. Remembering that means remembering to reach out to one person at a time. Startups and larger organizations alike suffer the same problems of having to keep audiences in mind, whether that means having to start slow or having to do more than just “throw money” around to get eyeballs on content. Being a human comes first and foremost, since CMs have the dual role of representing and humanizing a brand. Reminding potential community members that there’s more to a company than just its logo and mission statement fosters a relationship that could translate into future loyalty.

Maintaining Your Community

Once customers start coalescing, conversation is key. Strengthening ties between the brand and the community as well as between community members themselves marks a key difference between CMs and social media managers; after all, it’s one thing to attract people, but it’s another thing to keep them there. Fostering natural discussion with community members ensures that everyone connects with each other. Starting simple and focused, rather than using rewards and incentives, allows for organic community growth.

Letting Your Community Go

This doesn’t mean actually letting your community go. Rather, it means working up to a mutual level of trust that both the CM and the community can function less intimately, but without losing efficiency. Just as show dogs grow tired with each hurdle, communities lose patience with every added hoop they have to jump through. Form upon form and promotion upon promotion can quickly become taxing, so CMs would be wise to step away from expecting more from their communities and instead let them work on their own terms. At the end of the day, word of mouth and fervent community dedication matter most—not micromanagement.

What brands or companies seem to have succeeded at community building? Which ones haven’t? Share in the comments!

Vsnap’s Trish Fontanilla on Being Human

If you ask Trish Fontanilla what Vsnap means to her, she’ll mention the word human at least five times in under one minute.

Which makes sense, since Vsnap is in the business of connecting people. In the words of its website, Vsnap believes “customers are not people.” People, more than anything, are the building blocks of any company, and their feelings and input are as important to any enterprise as hard facts and revenue. As the vice president of community and customer experience, Trish deals directly with making Vsnap—an already personable brand, especially when compared to other business in the marketplace—that much more user-friendly.

And fortunately, I had a chance to speak with Trish and, in turn, got to learn firsthand what it means to be a community manager is, what it isn’t, and what she does to make Vsnap what she’d like to call “a lifestyle brand.”

A conversation with Trish Fontanilla over Google Hangouts.

A conversation with Trish Fontanilla over Google Hangouts.

According to Trish, the confusion between social media managers (SMM) and community managers (CM) is understandable. To clarify, however, she wanted to make the distinctions apparent.

Therefore, in her eyes, a social media manager:

  • Deals explicitly with social media.
  • Exists solely in an online workspace.
  • Often get restrained by email and social media.

A community manager, on the other hand:

  • Uses social media techniques.
  • Reaches out and (physically) goes out.
  • Has greater, personal investment in a company.

As a community manager for a company that already has greater visibility compared to most, Trish turns to people in other communities to help build her own. Aside from being an active member of #CMGRChat, she travels frequently and often shouts out to her followers to see if anyone is available for a real-life meet-up. In a professional capacity, she spearheads Customer Love meet-ups, which focuses on the stories and narratives—not the “slides” and “pitches”—of other CMs and marketing people who, as she says, just “get it.”

Stories, she says, are integral to Vsnap. Since she doesn’t work directly with search engine optimization (SEO), Trish relies on stories from users and other CMs to help gauge “grand sentiment metrics.” After all, Vsnap deals with users on a person-by-person basis; Trish even sends daily Vsnaps to users who respond on Twitter, celebrate anniversaries for involvement with the company, and any other reason to keep people engaged. Putting a face to the conversation, she says, is the whole point.

And she’s not worried about potential competitors, either. I’ve used Vsnap myself, and the difference between a business-oriented video platform and a social one is apparent. In fact, she says Vsnap supports its contemporaries, since it both increases social media activity and also trains users ahead of time in video before they turn to Vsnap. Which, if the brand’s accessibility and functionality is anything to go by, should be sometime soon.

Follow Trish at @TrishoftheTrade!

Community Management Pros Talk Big Picture and Efficiency

Looking back at older blog and discussion posts, I’m realizing that I’m definitely not the only one who enrolled in this class with a half-formed mental definition for community management and what it means to be a community manager. But now, midway through the semester, I’ve got a better grasp on the material—thanks in part to weeks’ worth of reading and practice, as well as one Online Content Panel Google+ Hangout already behind my back. That’s probably why last week’s panel—with David YarusMorgan Johnston, and Nick Cicero—proved this semester’s highlight thus far. Not just because the discussion flowed easier for me, but because I could finally relate to the conversation and connect it with ideas we’d already visited in class.

MRY

I loved that David was able to put community management into perspective during the panel. Through his management of influencer communities for MRY, he could share a different aspect to the idea of community management, one that sits apart from our typical idea of community management as a whole social channel with millions of users and fans and followers and engagements. I found that incredibly helpful, since it helped scale down the idea of community from something so large and nebulous to something more tangible and comprehensible. And because his work centers on igniting advocacy and word of mouth across college campuses, he proves that community management doesn’t necessarily need to remain confined to Internet work; it can break beyond normal web barriers.

For JetBlue—as well as MRY and LiveFyre—the community comes first.

For JetBlue—as well as MRY and LiveFyre—the community comes first.

JetBlue

As a frequent flyer, I was very interested in what Morgan had to say as a JetBlue team member. What I found most heartening, however, was hearing about their customer insight team. Having gone through my own share of frustrations while flying, I loved hearing that all the online feedback funnels into what he called “a voice of the customer.” Whereas other airlines might tackle tweets, for instance, on an individual basis, he explained JetBlue’s policy for compiling all of that information while ensuring that something actually gets done to rectify the situation. That tactic embodies the ideal community management aspects of both transparency and efficiency.

LiveFyre

With Nick, on the other hand, I found what he had to say about “looking at the big picture” to be really enlightening. As he mentioned, it’s easy for community managers to get swept in the day-to-day routine. But by having a team—and a position where he can act as a “mentor or coach” for that team—he can ensure that no corner of the community and its goings-on gets overlooked. Most of the community managers we’ve talked to (and the one that I’ve interviewed for my midterm) tend to work with the company as a whole, but mostly as the sole representative of that particular job of engaging the community. Nick’s perspective, however, maintained that yes, there’s a hierarchy of sorts, but not in a way that detracts from the overall group effort to keep the community active and involved.

Tips from the Pros: Community Management

In class last week, our community management class was fortunate enough to speak to Sean Keeley and Ally Greer, the founder of NunesMagician.com and Community Manager of Scoop.it (respectively). Each professional brought up interesting points as they shared experiences from their lives in social media and blogging. Throughout the hour long discussion, each person brought up important lessons for students to internalize.

50% Proactive, 50% Reactive

Ally Greer commented that community management was 50% proactive and 50% reactive. Although I understood prior to her comment that community management was more than just managing, it didn’t strike me that community management really had to be a balance between managing conversation and allowing them to happen organically. I thought it was important that she reminded the class of the balance a community manager needs to maintain in order to have a thriving, yet natural community. This also reminded me of what was talked about in class, which is to moderate a conversation, not dominate it. It was interesting to hear people apply the lessons learned in class to their own experiences, and phrase these lessons in words that applied specifically to their communities.

Sean Keeley talks to #cmgrclass via Google Plus.

Sean Keeley talks to #cmgrclass via Google Plus.

Write For Yourself 

When asked if Sean Keeley writes towards a particular demographic (perhaps a 25 year old Syracuse male), he replied by saying that he writes for himself. Although this comment at first seemed self-serving, it soon seemed like that was the only acceptable answer. While every blog may have a typical member, it is important that one’s own interests and passions are satisfied when writing. As discussed later in the Google Plus group, how can one run a successful blog if their own interests aren’t taken into consideration? Sean’s unique answer certainly gave all bloggers and class members an opportunity to think about why someone may want to initially start a blog.

People Need To Know What They Want

Although both bloggers/community managers have had different experiences, they can both agree that people need to know what they want. Based on Ally Greer’s experiences, she specifically mentions how users may not know what they want from a service until the option is offered to them. For Sean Keeley, offering news about different sports may not be something that users knew they wanted until the news was on the website. Regardless of the type of field one is blogging about, it’s important to give users options and allow them to figure out what they want for themselves.

What do you think about these points? Is there anything you’d like to add or disagree with? Let us know in the comments below! 

SU Graduate Tackles Blogging

The Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician logo.

The Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician logo.

Sean Keely is a Syracuse University graduate who has a passion for all things Syracuse University sports. He started noticing sports blogs and channels were not covering sub-topics such as soccer. They also did not have the type of content that he was looking for. When it was time for Sean to take matters into his own hands, he decided to just create his own sports blog. Now Sean’s blog, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician has many readers and brings in revenues.

A popular question that occurs in the blogging space is, “How do you attract reoccurring readers?” Although there may not be a “right” answer, bloggers typically have an idea of how they gained their audience. For Sean, his focus was simply writing for himself. However, using key words and amping up SEO are also beneficial to gaining traffic. There are many factors that are taken into consideration when using SEO. Blogger, Victoria Edwards lays out some key points to enhancing your SEO. In Sean’s case, he puts a focus on key words. Especially when a large or breaking news event occurs.

During our time with Sean, we were wondering if he had a relationship with the University now that his blog has many readers. Sean stated that at first the University was not involved, but he was okay with that. Now, SU is well aware of his blog and will invite him to special events or let him in on new news. Sean reached out to the University himself because he realized that he needed special access. From the panel, we also learned that Sean credits job offers from his blogging experience. One of these jobs includes his teaching position for a blogging course in the iSchool. This tells us that building a community is a valuable asset in the working environment.

At this point, it is safe to say that Sean Keely has built a name for himself in the blogging space. He has readers, access, and a “secret society” (if you know what Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician means, you’re apart of this society). He also has user-generated content, that he calls “Fanposts” and reader interactions. All of this has built a strong community made up of Syracuse University sports fans. Don’t forget to check out Sean’s blog here!