The Man in the Middle

18 05 2010

Via Alaskan Eyes

In my recent post ’10 Promises from a Community Manager’, my third promise was “I promise to be on your corner of the ring – to act in your best interests, not the company’s”.

@blaisegv commented that point 3 was not straight forward, and it’s not. (Be sure to visit Blaise Grimes-Viort site for great information on community management and social media.)

Being a community manager means that you are the middle man, representing both the best interests of your members and of your company. This is the struggle that community managers will face daily – how do you balance the responsibility advocating the brand you represent and the members that make your community?

But whose interests do you prioritise? Who really has the final say?

For me, while your company’s positioning should never be far from mind, the customer’s best interests have to come first. The reason for a brand to start an online community should be based around building  relationships with your customers, and providing a platform in which they can be heard. If this is true, then customer’s opinions should always have some weighting within your company.

While company decisions may not / cannot always be in the company’s best interests, you have to be the customer’s representative for their concerns and worries. You have to fight their battles, be their voice, and as a community manager you have to be open and honest with them about the brand itself. Tell them what you’re doing, keep them up-to-date, admit mistakes, be as transparent as possible.

A successful community is one in which the community members have built trust and rapport with other members, and believe me if customer’s think that you aren’t taking them seriously – they’ll spot it a mile away!

How do other community members deal with being a spokesperson for both your brand and your members?

Do you think by building relationships with customers, you have successfully represented your brand?

Do others think the brand should take priority?

10 Promises from a Community Manager

3 05 2010
  1. I promise to listen.
  2. I promise to respond to your questions.
  3. I promise to be on your corner of the ring – to act in your best interests, not the company’s.
  4. I promise to act on your ideas and suggestions where possible.
  5. I promise to keep the community clean, keep out any aggressive or mean members.
  6. I promise to give you exciting and thoughtful content that makes you want to come back.
  7. I promise to recognise the special members, who go that extra mile to help others (and me!), I’m forever grateful for your help
  8. I promise to protect your privacy online.
  9. I promise to moderate in a timely fashion and not leave you waiting.
  10. I promise to allow you to have your say, whether it’s good, bad, indifferent – I will not sugar coat the conversation.

Yours sincerely,


Thinking outside the box

26 03 2010

Most online communities are shaped around passionate subjects – sport, food, art, babies, travel… and the list goes on.

But what about the communities that have a less interesting and engaging subject matter? Can an online community successfully exist?

While not everyone may be passionate about topics like insurance, utilities, and other seemingly ‘dry’ topics – these can be important subjects to us – especially when our house has just been broken into and are in the midst of the claiming process. Brands who fall into the latter category shouldn’t shy away from creating a presence online, or creating an online community.

Communities formed around passionate subjects tend to organically grow online without much difficulty – but the normal rules of engagement, interaction and content should not be forgotten.

Communities with a seemingly less interesting subject matter may have to work harder for recruitment and engagement, but they can form useful tools for brands such as customer service or provide interesting information on other topics that are related to your company.

World Nomads, a travel insurance provider provides a fantastic example of how an insurance brand can engage their customers around a subject they are passionate in – travel. World Nomads Adventures includes travel tips, photos, videos and stories from other members.

Insurance companies shouldn’t want to  be remembered or engaged with the customers only when they are claiming – building a positive relationship this way is extremely difficult (even with fantastic customer service) as this is undoubtably a stressful and upsetting time for most.

Any brand setting up an online community should be prepared to think out of the box, extend their subject matter and be committed to building a sustainable relationship with their customers. Talk about things that are happening within the company but also find other topics which are a natural fit for the brand and your members – there has to be a reason for them to come back for more, and engaging content should be one of them.

Writer’s block…..

16 02 2010

So you take a little break – you feel like you deserve it after a busy year.

Then a brand spanking new year arrives. You are fresh and motivated, ready to tackle the year ahead.

But you tell yourself that not everyone’s back from holidays, you should really wait to allow everyone to get back into the swing of it.

Then the work piles up, the greater the distractions.

The niggling guilt starts to pull at your sleeve – you tell yourself “next week I will”.

But the days swiftly pass by and the longer you leave it, the more guilty you feel – the harder it is to login and start typing.

You tell yourself that your waiting for the right topic, you of course want to start the year of with nothing less than spectacular….

So here I am. Writing about what I can’t write about and the main problem at hand – writer’s block.

I’ve read numerous posts from the master’s who write so frequently it makes my head spin. They give their tips for how to stay motivated, disciplined and where to get your material from – unfortunately for me, reading about writer’s block only distracted me from my actual writing while alleviating my guilt because at least I was trying to fix my problem…

I often experience the same reluctance and foot-dragging when writing content for communities. You want it to be perfect – engaging, insightful, thought (and comment) provoking – single-handedly keeping your members entertained while at the same time encouraging future members to join. No pressure huh?

Then come the added hurdles (different with each community of course) – legal department sign off, managing internal bureaucracy, and certain ideas being squashed before they even leave the gates.

This is all part and parcel of being a community manager.

I find that my taunting writer’s block reappears when I am trying to write about a topic that I am inexperienced with or I’m daunted by its depth. Unfortunately there are no short cuts – the only solution that has worked for me is to research it, understand it thoroughly, find my position, and know my community members. And then? I start typing…

Do you have any tips for beating the pesky writer’s block?

How do you stay disciplined in your blogging/content writing?

Here are some posts that I found most helpful in my time of need –

Chris Brogan



The Power of the Moderator

20 11 2009

An interesting tweet lead me to Mathew Ingram’s recent post “Comment behaviour: How far is to far?” on the recent Greenbaum controversy.

Kurt Greenbaum is the director of social media for the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, and had written a post for the Friday’s edition of Talk of the Day – “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten. And did you like it?”. What subsequently evolved included a vulgar comment, its deletion, and finally a resignation.

Was Greenbaum justified in contacting the school, which lead to a staff member losing his job? Or does it serve the staff member right for making vulgar and inappropriate comments online while he was working?

Moderators are in a position of power to decide what is allowed onto the site. The issue is that this power should never be abused, in order to ensure an open and authentic conversation. Moderators should never delete or unpublish comments simply because they are negative for your brand, and they should never pick and choose what to allow through simply because they like/dislike it.

Moderator’s are faced with inappropriate language, weird and lewd comments on a regular basis – the anonymity of the web often encourages this kind of behaviour – but in these cases the moderator has the power to simply delete and not allow comments of this kind through.

My rule with moderating is that I edit any inappropriate language out of comments – but if they’re on topic, and their contribution is valid apart from the swearing I will allow the rest of the content through. Any comments and ideas that come through that are derogatory to other members, off topic or just entirely inappropriate are not let through and deleted. Simple as that.

But my issue isn’t with Greenbaum deleting the poster’s comment, it’s the fact that he felt justified in contacting the school directly, taking the matter into his own hands. Should the staff member have been making comments about women’s genitalia during his work hours AT a school? Absolutely not – but is it Greenbaum’s responsibility to take this action? How can you properly prevent your staff from making these kind of comments online, while on your clock? You can implement firewalls, and block known and popular sites, but with social media becoming widespread within the corporate space this is becoming more and more difficult.

Greenbaum’s comments didn’t hurt or offend anybody (apart from the staff at St. Louis Post-Dispatch) because his comment was deleted from public view – did the issue need to be take a step further?

Predictability is not predictable

13 11 2009

One important lesson I have learned as a community manager is that no online community is the same as another.

Sure we have learnings and teachings which we refer to as industry standards or ‘normal’ indications of community health – but depending on the audience, the topic, the platform – all are factors in making your community unique.

One community I manage has grown to be a star example of a fully functioning online community. It adheres almost perfectly to the 90-9-1 rule, has several recognisable top contributors, and members regularly communicated with each other. This community is a organically (and continually) growing,  self functioning community.

Another community has an audience of fierce brand advocates, but however they can become disengaged very easily. The members need fresh and new content, and techniques such as newsletters and EDM prove to be successful reminders and incentives for members to revisit the site. While they love leaving their suggestions and ideas, they prefer not to interact with other members, or comment on others ideas. This community has developed as more of a sounding board where members easily give their opinions and thoughts on the brand they love.

But what to do if your community content is difficult to engage with? Is every subject area suitable for discussion in a community atmosphere? This community had the common struggle of recruitment and retention with a perceivably dry subject area – but with the incentive of a prize (non monetary), the ideas poured in. While I’m usually against using incentives for eyeballs, as quality does tend to suffer  when a prize is thrown into the mix, the high standard of ideas didn’t suffer during the promotion.

What if a community is private, only accessible by customer’s – subsequently engagement and recruitment is more difficult than a public, searchable open community?

Comparing the health and success of these different communities is almost impossible and you must remember to take each community at a case by case basis and never assuming that each will mirror the other. You must set objectives for what you see as a successful community – that may be number of members, number of repeat visits, level of participation, time on site. Different incentive, different content, different audience, different brand = different community.

Even factors such as whether or not a community is company driven or only sponsored by a brand (Ruby Connection is a good example of this), or even if a community is based around a passionate subject matter (such as Essential Baby), will influence the size, rate of growth and ongoing success of an online community.

10 Technologies That Empower Me

6 11 2009

www1The wonderous web has made life a whole lot easier for most. Yes people complain about information overload, spam, useless distractions – I try to imagine my life without the world wide web and all it has to offer. Simply put, I couldn’t imagine my life without the following technologies.

Not to worry however, this list is not meant to introduce sites that you are more than likely well versed in, more as to explain why they are important to me as a user, and why they make my list of top 10.

  1. Google – The remaining leader in the search engine industry, with more and more competitors entering the market, it is an essential incentive for Google to improve their search algorithms and offerings – delivering the quickest and most accurate search possible for their users. Continuing to grow in leaps and bounds – I have found it increasingly hard to make the switch to any other search engines, a loyal Google user at heart I suppose!
  2. Twitter – A loyal user since the end of 2008, I will be the first to admit that I didn’t initially see the benefit of Twitter. As the site has dramatically grown over the past year especially, Twitter has emerged as an essential tool within the Web 2.0 space. Real time search, delivering up to date opinions and comments as they post – Twitter is an important channel to monitor. I use Twitter solely for work purposes, and I am provided helpful information and interesting links from the people I follow. Twitter also provides an open platform for me to comment freely on.
  3. Facebook – Keeping in touch with friends from school/overseas/another life has maintained the popularity of Facebook. Always endeavouring to change and adapt the social platform has kept Facebook fans on the toes, and apart from initial criticism (nobody likes change) has probably ensured the lasting popularity of the site. I do admit I love to see what everyone’s doing, looking at their holiday snaps, and being reminded of friends birthdays, all of which make Facebook a time-consuming and addictive social network!
  4. Wikipedia – As unfortunate as it was for me that my university made it very clear that Wikipedia was not be considered as reliable references, Wikipedia has stood strong as the site I can rely on for further information on anything ranging from historical events, people, places, movies, books, brands…
  5. Google Translate – A relatively new endeavour that will allow users to view sites from all over the world – with predictions that in “five years from now the internet will be dominated by Chinese-language content” this tool will allow us to move across the site seamlessly and without restrictions (such as language barriers).
  6. Tripadvisor – A site that I mention regularly in my posts (I must be a fan!), Tripadvisor and other review sites take a whole lot of stress out of planning a trip. A hotel’s site might provide you with prices, availability and (doctored) photos of their rooms,
  7. Google Docs – A co-collaboration tool which has made my working life a whole lot easier. Multi version documents shared through emails is now a thing of the past, with documents, spreadsheets, forms now allowing users to see the latest versions and share between colleagues. Best of all is that it’s kept on the cloud (for mishaps like crashing systems, stolen computers and not backing up your files) and you can export them if need be.
  8. Eatability – I take my food very seriously, and Eatability (and hundreds of other sites like it) put the power back into the customer’s hands. It allows you to choose your meals out carefully, not be scared to try new things, and in the case of a terrible meal – leave your review on the site, to warn future diners of the hazard!
  9. Google Books – This is the most exciting initiative I have in my list as books/reading/literature and their preservation is something I feel quite passionately about. With future generations almost certainly moving towards being 100% web based, Google’s plan to digitize books soothes my fears that stories and publications would soon be lost and forgotten.
  10. YouTube – Not only for entertainment reasons, but YouTube has emerged as another source of industry information in a video format. Events and conferences that are taped, vlogs, interviews, spoof videos – this site is fast growing in popularity, contents and visits. Ability to share and embed, ease of upload – YouTube has led the charge for video sharing sites online.

Honourable mention – As so many Google tools feature on my list, I wanted to save Google reader for an honourable mention. A large amount of my time is spent reading through content on the web – blogs and news sites – all aggregated into the one spot for me to read at my leisure. Ultimate time saver.

What sites empower you as a user?

Empower your best contributors

30 10 2009

medalIn an online  community, your top contributors are your site’s godsend. Roll out the red carpet for them, recognise and reward them, make them feel as valuable as they are to your community and brand.

Especially in the early stages of your community, your top  contributors are loyal visitors who continue to comment and post ideas – even if your numbers are small. They talk to the community manager by name, and set the high standards that should be part of any online community – listening and responding.

Once you have an established and working community, these people become your star pupils. But keep in mind – if you make a mistake, or become slack – they will certainly pick you up on it!

Your top contributors answer members questions before you have a chance, and will defend your brand when need be. A response to a customer’s negative comment always looks much better coming from a loyal customer than a company representative with obvious bias!

You can empower your best contributors by:

  • Personally thanking them for the contributions and help.
  • Launching a ‘Top Contributors’ blog post – where you recognise their efforts. Woolworths Everyday Matters community has recently launched their second Hall of Fame (disclaimer: I currently help Woolworths with their community).
  • Assign badges which assigns a special status to your best contributors. This has been effectively done in sites like Tripadvisor, which assigns a number next to their screen name to indicate how many times they have left reviews on the site, or Hostel World which classifies their customers on how well-travelled they are – Novice Nomad, Avid Traveller and Globetrotter.
  • In larger communities or communities where comments aren’t pre-moderated, you can assign these members moderating privileges which allows them to flag inappropriate comments, or allow new comments through. Communities like Game Spot, and Small Business Online Community. Communities like Slashdot use a ‘karma’ system, which depends on how good/bad/neutral your contributions have been so far.
  • Ask them to guest blog for the site.

Remember to regularly research who your best contributors are, as there may be new members rising up the ranks – especially once they see how good it is to be a top contributor on your site!

10 Tips for Engaging Your Community

23 10 2009


Online communities take time and energy at all levels to ensure their success.

The community manager must nurture the community, while the marketing team needs to actively promote the community to drive recruitment, and at a corporate level suggestions and ideas have to be taken on board and acted on where possible.

The following are tips that I like to follow, to ensure that I have a healthy community!

  1. Listen – Golden rule number for engaging your community – you have to listen. Don’t ignore the important things your members have to say to you.
  2. Respond – Don’t ignore your members, especially when they care enough to take the time and energy to tell you what they think. This needs to be done in a timely manner as well.
  3. Follow up – When a member asks you a question or leaves a fantastic comment, don’t just leave them hanging. Tell them that you’ll get back to them shortly – and then do. If your members get no response from you or the rest of the community, then why would they come back?
  4. Update content – When people first arrive at your site, they want to see that the community is active and that the content is fresh. If you haven’t updated your content since January 09, it makes the community feel abandoned and unlived in.
  5. Nurture your advocates and top contributors – One of the most important rules of creating an engaged online community is to ensure that you nurture and reward the top contributors on your site. You need to know these people by name, and these are the select few in your community who will welcome new members, answer your questions before you can get to it, and defend your brand. These are biggest advocates and need to be treated as such.
  6. Show action – You should be regularly reporting back to the community with updates on what’s happening, which of their suggestions have been acted on, which ideas are the most popular etc. Why give their ideas and thoughts if nothing’s going to happen with them.
  7. Become personable – The editor of the community should be a person, not a corporate front. That means no corporate talk and no responses written by legal. A community is a two-way street – to expect your members to give information, you have to as well. By relating to your members, with personal experiences, members will feel more comfortable to do the same.
  8. Re-engage – It’s very common for members to become busy, forget to visit your community, and become disengaged. By sending out a monthly newsletter or an email, you can let members know what’s happening on the site and is a great way to gently remind people that you’re still there!
  9. Engage other social networking sites – If you’re running a branded community, a great way to recruit and engage is by having a presence on other popular networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Depending on your member base, it’s likely that they regularly visit sites such as these, and shouldn’t be ignored or expected that people will always remember to come to you.
  10. Be open and authentic – Customers understand when they’ve made an unreasonable request, and by openly explaining why you are unable to act on some ideas builds respect and loyalty among your member base. If there is a problem, or a reason why your member is upset – be honest. Apologise for your mistake, offer to listen to their grievances. Never delete negative comments from your community (unless they are rude or defamatory) – the conversation has to be authentic, including the good the bad and the ugly.

What tips do you have for engaging your customers or community members?

5 guilty pleasures online

16 10 2009

embarrassedWhile I like to believe that the majority of my time spent online is both educational and worthwhile, I have to admit that a few guilty pleasures have  entered my favourites list overtime. Enjoy (and don’t judge)!

  1. Lamebook – Similar to watching a car crash, the content is extremely inappropriate, shocking and mostly hilarious – it’s simply amazing what some people deem suitable to post on their Facebook!
  2. Perez Hilton – You’ll either love his infamous blog or hate it, but I have to admit that I can’t seem to get enough of reading about the lives of the rich and famous. Highly addictive and very voyeuristic.
  3. Tripadvisor’s Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels (2009) – While I also love reading (and dreaming of the never likely to happen!) Conde Nast’s Golden List, I also enjoy reading the reviews of some of the worst hotels in the world. Mostly because I’m relieved that I’ve never had the pleasure of being their guest, but I also can’t believe how bad some of these places sound!
  4. People of Walmart – Simply described as “what were they thinking?!?” – take a look for yourself.
  5. Pick the Perp – WARNING: An addictive time waster – who knew I was so terrible at spotting a criminal?