Interviewing as a Community Manager: Could “Culture” mean “Age?”

Posted on 12 November 2012 | 1 response

As many of you know I left HP a while ago and have been consulting while I look for CM position, hopefully in the gaming industry.  I’m certainly also interviewing for roles outside of the gaming industry, but I’m best if working on projects I find interesting.  My preference is generally to be in a role that interacts with end users.

In regards to job searches and interviewing, things sure have changed over the years.  Gone are the, “come in for an interview” days.  Now it’s 2 or 3 phone screenings…so impersonal, and not the ideal way for a CM to sell themselves.

I’ll share some of my interview experiences here in an attempt to understand the process of hiring a community manager.

Just recently I was invited (after 3 phone screenings) to come into the office for a formal interview, and I was excited because it was for a cool company, doing cool things.  Included in the invitation was a schedule of the people I would be meeting with and a clearly printed sentence that read, “Prepare for the interview to last 7 hours.”

Seven hours seemed a bit extreme, but as I stated earlier it was a cool company so I went with it.  Please comment with your story if you’ve been through a similar, lengthy interview process!

For something so involved I decided to make a dossier which included bio’s of the people interviewing me, position requirements with my notes and questions, company information, and the companies policies with FAQ.  Homework was being done and I was determined to be as prepared as I could be for this running of the gauntlet.  I even took a dry run ride to their offices during rush hour to make sure I could find it and to measure the mileage.

Needless to say, I arrived early was prepared.  The day was progressed quickly, with no gaffes or gremlins that sometimes pop up during interviews.  My notes had served me well so far, we were down four interviews by lunch time.  About 5 minutes into my water and granola bar one of the admin assistants came in and told me that I wasn’t right for the role and I wouldn’t be needed for further interviews.

She escorted me out of the building and I was on my way home.  I was disappointed, but also oddly relieved.
One of the things that kept coming up during the interview was the “culture” of the place and how important “chemistry” was to the group’s process.  It didn’t strike me until I was leaving that my interviewers were in the 25-30 year age range.  Upon reflection the words, “Culture” and “Chemistry,” could have been code words for, “You’re too old.”

It’s not the first time I’ve felt a generational gap with an interviewer and the truth is some interviewers are willing to forgo experience for perceived “chemistry,” to which age could play some factor.  It’s important to note that it usually costs less to hire less experienced people and the potential PR price to pay for that inexperience isn’t as costly as it once was.

Ultimately, I wasn’t hired because the positional expectations of the interviewer weren’t met and I accept that.  If I were amazingly amazing and community spouted from every post I’ve ever made then age wouldn’t be a factor, I get it.

It just makes me think.

As an interviewer, does age play a factor in terms of determining chemistry in your group?

As an interviewee, have you ever felt a generational gap or cultural gap during the interview process?

Oh, and if you’re looking for an experienced community manager let me know…I’m a value!

Cheers!

-Eric

Personality & Community: Building User Trust by Being Yourself

Posted on 22 September 2011 | 1 response

Working for an industry giant like my previous employer, I was conditioned to be accurate, well written, and maintain an even tone. It was very…robotic.

Everyone that produced content to be consumed by the public had to go through a stringent vetting process, agreeing to conform…basically becoming one part of a collective voice.

Everything that was written or said had to be able to pass through a legal “filter” if challenged, so most of the content was as bland as an unsalted cracker. Yuck.

Phrases like “we’re sorry,” and words like “unfortunately” were frowned upon because they could be construed as admission of fault, which could be a liability.

The thing is, that mentality distances the company from the end user and vice versa which is never a good thing. Over time that collective voice becomes hard to trust because you don’t know who (if anyone) is really talking to you.

If everything is metered and without nuance how can the end user relate? Relating is the basis of relationship and relationships are what EVERY business should strive towards. It’s that relationship built on trust that earns brand loyalty!  Most of the time all a customer is looking for is recognition of the problem, which should always be the first step in problem resolution.

I once got an email from a user with a complaint that ended in “I’m sure no one is actually reading this and my response will probably be from a robot.” I answered the email in the manner in which I was vetted, but ended it by saying, “Robots are people too.”  I wanted him to know I was paying attention, and it worked.

The customer was not only amused but went out of his way to write me back, thanking me profusely for my attention and efforts to help him resolve his issue.

To me, that’s proof that when someone believes that you’re paying attention they appreciate and trust that you’re interested in helping. Keyword, “trust.”  Trust leads to brand loyalty.

It sounds simple eh? Yeah, it is.

In my opinion, the best community managers are humans, not Borg.

Obviously it’s important to work within the boundaries set by your company but don’t be afraid to show some humanity. You’ll find it goes a long way.

Thanks for reading!

-Eric

Why Gaming Companies Understand Community

Posted on 23 August 2011 | 4 responses

So I’m now on the market and officially looking for work.  It’s a daunting prospect but I’m having fun and learning a lot.

Moving into the gaming industry should be easy right?  I mean, community management is community management isn’t it?

Apparently it’s not.  To my chagrin the fact that I’ve never worked in the gaming industry comes up often during the interview process.  If anything I would think that building communities around printers and print related products would be considered very difficult and earn me some bonus points when being considered for a CM position.  I’ve also successfully managed other sites and those experiences, in many cases, were hard-earned.  My resume is chock full of CM goodness but no professional gaming industry experience.

So far it’s been an uphill battle but I’m keeping my head high and refusing to give up.

A big reason I’m considering moving to the gaming industry is because they seem to have learned the hard lessons of “community” over the past 20 years.  Early on companies were (and still can be) made or broken by a single title launch, so getting it right is imperative.  Those learned lessons are centered around focusing on the end user’s experience and supporting them before, during and after title launch.  No one needs to buy a game, so those who choose to drop $50+ bucks on your product should be coveted, supported, and nurtured.  To me it’s evident that the gaming industry has figured that out.

In my experience it’s often the case that businesses outside of gaming don’t include “community” in the development process, which is a big mistake.  Successful gaming companies incorporate communities from the start because they understand that those end-users are consumers and those consumers have a huge impact on the success or failure of a launch.

A community will form around your product, regardless of whether you’ve planned for it or not.  It’s infinitely easier to support that community in your own space rather than in web space that you don’t control. Plan for it!

History has shown us that community is the lifeblood of consumerism, but it requires commitment, patience, communication, planning, transparency, vision and bravery.  It’s this ethos of “community” that has fueled my professional life.  Those aforementioned traits are not often found together in many corporate boardrooms but they are traits that community managers usually have in spades.

So, as a CM I “get it.”  As a gamer for the last 32 years I’ve experienced it.

If you’re an HR person for a gaming company looking for an experienced community manager please consider me.  I’m a CM who truly cares about delivering the best experience possible to your end users.

Game on!

Check out my stuff at my About.Me page.  There you’ll be able to access my LinkedIn page as well as my blogs and other social media streams.

Cheers!

-Eric

The Killing of a Community

Posted on 17 August 2011 | 1 response

I’ve been pretty inactive lately and wanted to explain why.

I’ve recently been laid off and it’s been a trying time for me getting all the loose ends tied up.  There is absolutely no ill-will harbored by this layoff and truth be told, it doesn’t disappoint me from an employment standpoint.  These things happen and I’m not taking it personally, but it doesn’t bode well for the communities I managed.

The most important of those communities to me is Tabblo.

It’s important to note that Tabblo hasn’t received one iota of company resources in 3+ years except for the electricity powering the small portion of the server Tabblo resides on.  I’ve been working on projects other than Tabblo for years, spending minutes a day making sure the site is free of junk and answering the occasional email.

Now that I’m gone the site is basically unmanned, which in my opinion is completely irresponsible.  It will more than likely be overrun with spammers, porn, and wholly inappropriate content which will infest the community resulting in a slow, lingering, spam and booby-ridden death.  There will be no support, no moderation, and there will be no responses for incoming email.  If that is going to happen then shouldn’t it be shut down in a gracious, responsible way?

Granted, Tabblo is a smaller, legacy community that was gutted, like a fish, of it’s ability to generate revenue. The reality was that Tabblo was purchased not for the .com value but for the value in the engineers that created it.  That is still no excuse to abandon the community, the members and their content.  These actions and this mentality are contrary to everything I stand for as a community manager, and it bothers me not only because I manage Tabblo, but because I’m also a member.

I’ve trying to reassure the community because they are aware of the situation.  However, being unable to truthfully answer questions like “What happens to Tabblo after you leave?” and “What will happen to all of the content we’ve created?” is sickening.

Member uploaded content is a big issue when considering closing a site like Tabblo.  Some members have uploaded thousands of photos to the site and currently photos can only be retrieved one photo at a time!  All community members should have the ability to batch download their images.  That functionality doesn’t currently exist on Tabblo which means to implement such functionality resources MUST be spent.

The onus is on the company to find those resources and create the ability to batch downloads, but I’ve been unsuccessful in convincing anyone of that.

If a potential closure is imminent, or even on the horizon, every single registered community member should be emailed, notifying them of this potential, and giving them easy access to their content…but again we run into issues with  a “lack of available resources” to get that done.

Not only does this lack of action send a clear message to the members of the Tabblo community, but also to the members of the Internet community at large.

I would not be surprised to find that one day very soon we’ll see a “Tabblo has closed” page in place the login page.  It defies common sense that the largest technology company the world has ever known can’t allocate enough resources to do the right thing by these loyal community members.

So please forgive my lack of social media zeal…I’ve been terribly preoccupied by this issue and my time to act on behalf of Tabblo is fading quickly!

How have you dealt with a lack of resources?

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

I’d dig some insight.

Cheers!

-Eric

The Battlefield 3 “Physical Warfare Pack” isn’t unfair, here’s why…

Posted on 15 June 2011 | 5 responses

I don’t believe there was a bigger hit at E3 than Battlefield 3, but the “Physical Warfare pack“ has caused quite a stir due of the addition of premium content available in limited editions of the game.  Many people have cried “foul” but I don’t think there is any proof to support these claims of gross inequity and here is why…

During the PAXEast convention I attended the Turbine keynote given by the great Fernando Paiz.  He discussed the premium content model used in LoTRo, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and other popular games.

Watch this snippet from the keynote where he discusses his findings regarding purchasable premium content and why he feels that it’s really not a factor in the long run.

Lotro Store

Some titles like EA’s Battlefield Heroes and Paiz’s own Lord of the Rings Online allow for the purchase of in-game items that provide specific, tangible advantages (premium content) over the stock experience.  Better weapons, faster leveling, added faction, all above normal baseline abilities.

These models have been around for a while and are the perfect examples to study.  Granted BF3 isn’t a “free-to-play” game, but I feel the commentary still applies because the “Limited Edition” costs more and provides extras not available at normal retail cost.

I give little credence to forum posts proclaiming the unfair nature of a few minor additions to a limited editions of Battlefield 3 because all I’m reading is “It’s unfair,” which doesn’t hold up in the long run vs. the data collected so far.

These claims are based on the premise that everyone should be on equal footing at all times but is that EVER the case in a multiplayer PVP setting?  I don’t think so.

Riot Points Store

Another free-to-play title is League of Legends, which has quite a large in-game store FULL of purchasable weapons, champions and stat items and it’s been incredibly successful.

League of Legends allows for the purchase “Riot Points” (via PayPal, Credit Cards, pre-paid cards, etc..) which can be used to purchase in-game items that give an advantage.

Those same items can also be purchased with “Influence Points” which are free and gained over time but the markup in point cost is incredibly high.  It’s common for a premium item that costs 975 Riot points to cost 6000+ Influence points.  It’s clear why a player would choose to shell out a few bucks for a quick advantage.  Sure, there are some people who complain that it’s a rip off, or not fair, but overall it doesn’t seem to affect game play in the slightest.

In fact, it’s probably done the opposite and Riot’s success was demonstrated when it was recently acquired by Tencent and valued at $472 million.

I found this incredibly fascinating and I think it applies to the Battlefield 3 discussion. Ultimately FPS’ers such as Battlefield 3 still rely on skill, strategy and teamwork…so much that these little “bought” advantages don’t end up meaning much in the long run.

In fact, it may open the door for some people who aren’t normally FPS’ers and isn’t that a good thing for everyone?

Have you ever purchased a limited edition specifically for the “extras”?

Have you ever paid cash for in-game items?

Cheers!

Eric

Credit to StrollToMordor for the Video.  That’s actually ME coughing!

Community Manager – Guardian of the User Experience?

Posted on 2 June 2011 | 4 responses

I’m often reminded of the veritable fact that I don’t “own the company.”

While it’s true that I don’t own the company I certainly feel a responsibility to ensure the user experience (UX) is the best that it can be.

Most CMs are typically community members which puts them in a unique position to understand the needs of the end user.  As CM’s we’re expected to represent those needs to our employer and work with various groups within the company towards improving the overall UX.

While there are many people who want input and control over the UX, the CM is probably the closest employee to that user experience.  It’s critical that whoever is responsible for the UX be an actual member of the community!

We’re often put in between a rock and hard place (id est - company and end user), but that’s part of the job and something most CMs are accustomed to.  Of course, employers are most concerned about the company, which is as it should be.  That’s why they hire a CM to be concerned about the community.  But, what happens when your goals and your employer’s goals for the UX are vastly different?  This raises questions such as:

  • Should a CM have input into (or own) the UX?
  • Can someone who’s not a participating member of the community effectively plot a course for the UX?
  • Who (or what) in your company drives the UX?  Short-term profit?  Long-term profit?  Feedback?  End users? Usability? Design? 3rd party vendors?
  • How much does your company care about the UX if the community isn’t counted on for a sizable amount of direct revenue?

For me, those answers are easy, and they may seem like no-brainers to everyone reading this…but do you know how your employer would answer those questions?

If those answers aren’t consistent with your ideals then you’ve got a decision to make.  You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to question, challenge, correct, comply, capitulate or quit.

After tweeting some of my thoughts on the subject I received a lot of feedback that gave me pause for thought:

Perhaps it wasn’t healthy to adopt a mentality of ownership so I needed to shift my perspective.  Upon reflection, and feedback (which I appreciate!) I decided to amend my stance by substituting the word “owner” with “guardian.”

“Guardian” is more appropriate, fits much better into the concepts I want to promote and it’s closer to how I really feel.  It’s important for the community (and to me personally) that the end users trust a CM is doing his or her best to represent member needs, which isn’t easy if you are at odds with someone over the UX.

Improving the user experience on a daily basis is what fuels me, whether it’s thwarting spammers, passing along positive feedback, helping resolve a customer issue, or pushing a particular bug ticket through to the engineers.

That’s what drives me.  Is that what drives you?

Is that what drives your employer?

Are you ok with the answers if they aren’t in line with yours?

Who’s responsible for the user experience in your community?

Cheers!

-Eric

A special thanks to Rick, Collin, Brittany, Jenn, Shawn, Evan, and TheCR for all the feedback!

The Dirty – Real Responsibilities of a Community Manager

Posted on 12 May 2011 | 3 responses

I just read another article regarding “attributes of a good community manager.”  Unfortunately, it’s almost identical to the last article I read, with an almost identical title.

We all know about “passion,” and “listening,” and being a brand “evangelist” don’t we?  This rehashing of bulleted content makes me wonder who the intended audience is because most of it is simply preaching to choir.  It’s usually our bosses that don’t understand the basics of what we do.

Most of those posts are great but they should be in email form and sent directly to all major CEOs with the heading “Hire people like this.”

What I don’t see is the real stuff, or what I refer to as “the Dirty.”  The integral part of our jobs that isn’t flashy or full of catch phrases is the dirty, the stuff that most CMs should be good at.  This is the stuff that I think would be helpful to other CMs.

Bug Ticket pushing is a big one for me. I work for a very large tech company and some of my projects involve many groups responsible for lots of different stuff.   Navigating those disparate groups to get bug tickets pushed through requires a lot of patience, perseverance, tenacity and social engineering.  I work just as hard managing my communities internally as externally.  Knowing WHO to approach with WHAT is also a big challenge and be one of the first things a CM should get straight.

SQL queries and working with our databases is another big task of mine. CMs absolutely need to access and understand how to use the user/account database!  Every bit of data that your end users give you about themselves is located in the user database, whether it’s usernames, email addresses, account status…and it’s all useful in resolving everyday issues your customers face.  If you’re a CM and don’t know the basics of SQL query generation you should buy this book.

All CM’s should know how to use an image editor. I don’t care if it’s Photoshop, Paintshop, GIMP, whatever, as long as you don’t have to ask someone else to do it for you.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used GIMP to edit a last minute photo addition to my (and other people’s) copy.  Once other people know you’ve got those skills you’ll be surprised how often you’re approached for last minute help!

Own the posting of your content. How are articles and images posted on your website?  It could be FTP, so it’s helpful to have an understanding of the process and the ability to do it yourself.  There are plenty of free, quality FTP clients so you’ve got no excuse…besides it adds to your knowledge base!  The less a CM has to rely on others the better.

Good book!

HTML is another one of those little pesky things that many CMs choose not to delve into and that’s a mistake.  Become familiar with the basics of HTML and you’ll find you have much more control over your content than any editor will give you.  Don’t get me wrong, relying on HTML editors isn’t a bad thing, but knowing how to tweak your code is incredibly helpful.  There are so many HTML tags and you NEED a good book.  I’m not big on technical reading so I use this particular book as a reference tool and find it most useful.  Again, if it saves you from having to bug someone else then it’s worth doing and you’ll be a better CM because of it.

Community managers used to be referred to as “Jacks of All Trade” because CMs usually fill in “the cracks” in regards to work environment.  They did “the Dirty,” all the things that no one else wants or cares to get involved in.  In the last 5 years or so the growth in social media has redefined community managers as marketers, which big business can embrace because “marketing” has been in the corporate lexicon for decades.

Marketing is amazingly important but a distinct step away from the “Jack of All Trades” moniker…the original catchphrase that made CMs indispensable.

I urge all CMs to embrace all the roles of a CM, especially the Dirty.

What’s your Dirty?  Please share!

Cheers!

-Eric

The Power of Community: Part 2

Posted on 22 April 2011 | 1 response

A while ago I posted a video made by Tabblo member (and AMAZING photographer) James Nicolay which, for me, displayed the power of community.

Now I’d like to introduce you to Eduardo Affonso.  

Just like Tabblo is more than a photo site, Eduardo is more than a photographer.

He’s a proud Brazilian, a poet, activist, brother, uncle, friend, soccer football fan, tourist, has a sense of humor, and shares his secrets.  He’s so invested in friendships made on Tabblo that he’s gone out of his way to look up fellow Tabbloers while traveling the world.

He’s also a the model for what every community manager would want in a member.  Not only has he contributed to Tabblo consistently over a long period of time, he’s become a pillar by welcoming and helping others, commenting, reporting spammers, and basically going out of his way to watch out for Tabblo and it’s community.

So what compels this kind of devotion?  I believe it’s the core community on Tabblo.

Eduardo and the rest of the core community have trusted in Tabblo enough to really invest in each other.

That investment is something a CM dreams about and corporate America should strive for.  Millions of dollars are spent on PR campaigns to humanize corporations and earn consumer trust which baffles me because telling people to trust isn’t as effective as being trustworthy.  Unfortunately most businesses aren’t patient (or brave) enough to risk trying something new…instead relying on PR and a shopping cart icon.

Don’t get me wrong…I understand why businesses think short term and feel the need to monetize quickly.  It’s unfortunate the term “Added Value” became synonymous with the Internet bust of the early 2000′s, because it’s a big part of what community delivers.

Member loyalty and good sentiment go beyond a dollar value if given enough time. Judging a community by direct revenue is like judging a Church based on the collection plate totals.

How has your community affected your members in a positive way?

Affected you?  Affected your business?

Do you recognize your community superstars?

Has your community connected in other Internet spaces?

What are YOUR thoughts on the power of community?

-

Eduardo, Happy Birthday and thank you!

Cheers and have a great weekend!

-Eric

Community Management is kind of like Cooking

Posted on 11 April 2011 | 2 responses

P151

Working on a new recipe tonight.

I’m making a stuffed flank steak. So far I’ve seasoned the meat with shallots, cilantro, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, Chilis, and lime juice. Also added some Gournay cow’s milk cheese, NOMS!

Next, I’m adding either Swiss chard or spinach and then some panko or other filler…rice maybe? Not sure.

That’s how I like to cook…with whatever I’ve got. It’s the same when managing a community. Sometimes you’ve got to make the best with what you’ve got! There is no recipe or measuring guide…it’s about taking inventory and putting it all on the line.

Sometimes you burn things, that just how things work.  The truth is that you’ll never cook a really great dish and be able to call it your own if you’re following a recipe.  All great recipes are culled from a bunch of failed ones!  Keep doing YOUR thing but learn from your mistakes.  With cooking it’s easy to figure out thatanchovies and strawberries don’t go together…it’s hard to make those types of determinations with a community.  Take informed chances and risk something once in a while!

You’ll eventually come up with a really good recipe you’ll be able to use regardless if your in-laws OR your boss comes over for dinner.

Eric

Finding Your (My) Path as a Community Manager

Posted on 30 March 2011 | 1 response

Alex's work so far!

One of my sons, Alex, is finishing up his freshman year at college and he’s yet to decide what he wants to do professionally.  My message to him is what many fathers tell their son, “Do something you love!” I’m convinced that if you’re passionate about what you do then you’ll be driven from within to be the best.  His current fascination is with glass blowing, which isn’t something he’s studying at college.  Despite the fact that I’m paying a ton of cash for his education I’m encouraging his creativity.  I’m not sure how I would react if he decided to drop out of school to pursue glass work but if he’s meant to be an artisan I’m not going to get in his way.

I’m lucky. I’m working in my chosen profession and I’m rewarded nicely for it.  However, lately I’ve felt dispassionate about some of the non-community related facets of working in a super large organization.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the bad with the good but my passion has always stemmed from interacting with and serving end users, which is only a small portion of what I do.  Working on fun projects takes some of the sting out the added responsibility, and I’ve been able to work on some really cool projects.  I’ve been thinking about the differences and similarities of working for a start-up and working for a corporate giant:

Working in a large organization on a large project means there are more voices to be heard, more checks, more approvals, more PowerPoint presentations, more of everything on the business side.  Less direct interaction with the end user. Less direct impact on the direction of community. BUT, it’s a larger community reaching more people.  It’s also probably more stable and more able to handle the leaner times.  It’s also nice to know you’ll get a regular paycheck.

Working in a small organization is equally tough. You’ve got to have SKILL!  If you’re the only one making community decisions it’ll be clear who to fire when the first social media/forum meltdown happens.  Forgoing a personal life is also required because you’ll be busy from dawn to post-dusk!  You’ll also likely have fewer resources, though fewer constraints.  BUT, having direct (or complete) authority over a community is a wonderful thing if you know what you’re doing.  At one time I found it very rewarding, but that was a time when it was easy to live on less, and living on less is what you’ll have to get used to.  This is where you can become a rock star if the stars align, but SO MUCH has to fall into place to get national recognition.  Of course it’s easy to get attention for the WRONG reasons, but that’s another blog post.

Remember when I mentioned that it was nice to work on cool projects?  Yeah, that’s the trump card in this discussion.  I’ve chosen to work on a few projects that I knew were doomed but they were so damned cool I had to participate.

I’m trying to find that passion again!

I’ve been a gamer for the last 30 something years and that’s an industry with some really cool projects as well as an incredibly passionate fan-base.  Most of the CM’s I’ve met in the gaming industry have the best of both worlds – a company and end users both passionate about community.  I’d eventually love to end up managing communities based around games or the game industry as it seems like a natural fit.

  • Are you really passionate about your job?  About what you’re supporting?
  • Is your company passionate about community?
  • Are you making a difference for your end users?
  • Does that matter to you?  Does it matter to your company?

SHARE!!!

Thanks for reading!

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