In the middle of the PaxEast din…

Posted on 13 March 2011 | No responses

P123

I’ve discovered a small oasis.

So far it’s been a busy few days and I’ve got another left to go.. My main goal was to meet as many gaming community managers as I could and I’ve been successful.  They’ve all been very friendly and remind me of people I’ve worked with in the past…just normal folk.  There were a few great talks to attend and I was suprised how popular the “community” stuff was…it seems like CM’ing is the hot new thing, which has it’s positives and negatives.  Most of the panelists were very insightful and some touched on some of my weak points so I listened intentl.  I was told to keep writing.  No matter how crappy of a writer you are (or think you are) keep writing.  It only helps.

The throngs of people get tiring but f you can navigate the channels there is quality content to be seen. Beyond the BLAM there are real exchanges happening between company and end user which is always inspiring. Talking to the CM’S here it’s clear that the gaming industry has failed enough to understand that success starts and concludes with the end user.  Upon retrospect, it seems completely odd to think a company wouldn’t focus on the individual user experience during the development of a product or service.

I’ve always advocated the need for a hook, or a core experience that captured an end user’s attention in such a way that he or she felt compelled to talk to others about it.  Once you’ve got that core experience down then you can refine how the business interacts with the customer.  If you don’t have that core experience down then you better have a stranglehold on the market share of whatever product or service you’re trying to sell.

So, it was refreshing to see an entire industry healthy enough to be so clearly dedicated to the entire branded experience from an end users point of view.

As refreshing as this beer.

More to come..

Eric

So you want to be a Community Manager?

Posted on 16 February 2011 | 3 responses

Many people think being a Community Manager is a great job, and it definitely is, but it’s also a lot of work!  In order to understand what type of community manager you want to be you first need to figure out what type of community you’d like to manage.  Each type brings it’s own challenges and pitfalls.  Let’s dive in…

A website based community?

I’m most familiar with website based communities, having managed properties owned by New York Times Digital and HP.  Abuzz.com and Tabblo.com were/are centered around a small, core group of engineers responsible for the end product.  The CM’s role, in this type of scenario, is paramount due to the close proximity to engineers.  Frequently in a smaller group the CM is asked to provide support flow, do usability testing, create FAQ’s, provide metrics, perform SEO, do brand research and more.

An ethereal web-based community?

An ethereal web-based community is primarily driven via social media and isn’t tied to a specific website.  A good example would be the “Mommy Blogger” community that exists all over the Internet.  These CM’s cull and participate in pertinent discussions that exist on multiple websites.  For instance, companies that produce baby/mommy-centric goods will often hire community managers familiar with (or already a presence) in that specific medium.  The information companies pull out of these groups is astounding!  Not many people would fill out detailed questionnaires asking for sensitive, family based information but will readily make posts on mommy blogs and in social media conversations containing intimately personal information.  Companies know this!

A closed professional community?

A closed professional community is a captive audience, so emphasis is placed on support for that group.  Oftentimes these communities are spartan and built for purposeful function due to the professional expectations of it’s members.  Examples would include managing a development community for a tech company, managing a broker community for a financial instution, Dr.’s and Nurses for a medical practice, etc…

An open professional community?

Open professional communities are most interesting to me because people WANT to be there!  Second to web-based communities on my “fondness” scale, these communities are usually minimally supported and user driven but still require moderation and management.  Frequently corporations will “plant” people in these public groups to support or promote their related content.  For example with Tabblo,  a site centered around telling stories with your photos, benefited from associating with local photography clubs, specifically ones that existed online.  These groups usually have more contributions from a wider variety of users than most other type of communities.  These groups also tend to self-moderate which requires less corporate interaction.

A support community?

Support communities require a lot of work and center around supporting a product or service.  People who visit these communities are, more than likely, going there for answers and little else.  Being resolute in purpose doesn’t mean it’s an easy task.  This CM has to have connections to every facet of the company to provide the best possible support.  Unfortunately, most of these communities exist as forums since nothing better currently exists for mass consumption.  Fortunately for the end user, most companies WANT to support their products so these CM’s may have decent resources.

A social media community?

Social media communities aren’t actually communities in the traditional (why does that sound odd?) sense.  Oftentimes social media managers evolve into CM’s just due to the fact they’ve got a large set of followers and generally stick to the same subjects.  Companies views these followers as free ad targets predisposed to listen to the message due to affiliation. Followers often aren’t valued as much as end users and thusly fewer resources are spent on the individual and more is spent on marketing to the whole group.  The issue with these groups is that following is based on a social media presence and so the followers must be constantly stimulated by specific and engaging commentary by the personalities they follow.

I’ve consider myself very lucky to have managed some GREAT communities in my career.  To me, it’s SO important to love what you do. This post covers some of the different facets of Community Management and hopefully it helps clarify some of the roles you’ll find within this field.  Perhaps the next time you see a CM job listing you’ll look a little deeper to see what type of position it actually is.

In closing, the role of  “Community Manager” can mean many different things depending on what type of community you’ve been teasked to support.

I’ve only covered a few of the types of communities out there – what other types of communities exist?  What type of CM are you and what kind of CM do YOU want to be?

Thanks for reading!

-Eric

Community Lessons from Southwest Airlines

Posted on 11 January 2011 | 1 response

It’s amazing to me to see the disparity in community focus around the corporate community.  Some companies devote a bunch of resources into community while others don’t.  You would think that in this day and time that everyone would understand the value of having people, your patrons, champion your brand.

Southwest Airlines has recently started a campaign to point out “change fees” and the tagline for the commercial is, “They love money.  We love people.”  Now, before you start chiding me for drinking the marketing kool-aid, take a look at how they operate.  The go out of their way to humanize their employees.  They also take great pains to humanize their business using straightforward language and sending a message, from the top down, that they’re truly interested in people (those that work for them and those that are patrons).

They also, very smartly, provide a means to share your Southwest experience in multiple formats, be it photos, videos, Facebook, Twitter, even the CEO’s LinkedIn page and they go out of their way to help YOU let the world know.  This bar is at the bottom of every one of their pages:

They welcome the creation of product oriented content AND provide a means to share it via social media.  Haven’t we heard this somewhere before?

They make it easy for the customer to become branded advocates on other networks.  So by investing in community they’ve increased brand awareness and created branded interactive opportunities on other networks where none previously existed.

I’ll end this post with a quote from someone who really knew business:

“A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.” – Henry Ford

There are so many things in the corporate environment that one has to pay attention to…it’s easy to lose sight of the real goal.  Serving people.

-Eric

“Us” vs. “Them”: Ego and the True Technology Divide

Posted on 18 November 2010 | No responses

So, the world is finally catching up to the concept of Web 2.0, which is great!  To those of us who work on the web, web 2.0 is old news.  We’ve been thinking 3-5 years ahead.

“Web 2.0?  That’s SO 2004-2007!”

Unfortunately for our egos the world doesn’t work that way.

While most of “us” are web savvy, the rest of the world still isn’t quite there.  Working in a brick and mortar computer shop I had a chance to interact with “them” on a regular basis…and they’re EVERYWHERE!  I’ve come to realize that “we” are outnumbered quite heavily.  It’s that daily interaction with non-experts that opened my eyes…and I’ve not talked down to an end user since.

This is an end user!

Let’s use web browsers as an example… put me (or any of my co-workers) in front of a web browser and we’ll understand the basic functionality.  We know that somewhere we’ll find “Forward,” “Back,” “Stop,” and “Reload/Refresh” buttons and we understand how they relate to the experience of browsing HTTP…right?  Now think of your Grandmother…would she be able to navigate using Mozilla, Opera or another, non-mainstream browser?  If something doesn’t load on the page does she understand how “reload” works or how Flash and Java interact with the browser?  Probably not…in fact, most people don’t.  I bet you would be AMAZED at the number of AOL browsers that visit your websites!

Don’t get me wrong…I think that “we” are doing great things but let’s not forget who we’re doing all this stuff for.  Making something accessible and easy to understand doesn’t mean you’re playing to the lowest common denominator!

“End User” is too vague 0f a term and has added to this divide between “us” and “them.”  Replace the term “end user” with “Grandmother” and you’ll instantly remove the ego barrier that separates you from their experience.

How can you connect with the people that use your site?  How can that connection influence design, interaction, or response?  How much of a role do you have in planning out your company’s community strategy?  Do YOU feel connected with your end users?  More importantly do they feel connected to your brand?

Cheers!

-Eric

Control Freak Enthusiast

Posted on 25 October 2010 | No responses

We’re in the middle of moving our group from one facility to another and it’s quite the process. About 2 weeks ago we noticed large stacks of neon orange moving crates distributed throughout the office building. These, of course, were for the big move…and apparently we aren’t expected to move anything ourselves.

If you know me, you know that’s simply not going to work!

I have to move all this stuff myself because I can’t bear the thought of not being responsible for my own stuff. I could spend all sorts of time packing things into these crates…and have the movers mess up the transport. Then were would I be? Down the creek without a paddle!

Ok…so perhaps this is a testament to my overbearing personality, I get that.

One might say that it’s about controlling things, and that may be the case…but I would rather control all things that pertain to me than to NOT control them. Wouldn’t everyone?

I guess that’s what also drives me as a community manager. I don’t like NOT having control over the user experience…because ultimately I’m accountable to the end users. I’m confident that I’m the best person to dictate to my employer the steps that need to be taken to nurture our little, not quite yet, community.

When it comes to your community do you control the user experience?  Do you participate in usability studies?  Do you contribute to the design of your community?  How deeply are you involved in operation of your community?

-Eric

The Little Things – What Every CM Should Know

Posted on 21 September 2010 | 2 responses

Every community manager needs to have a repertoire of skills to be effective.

In the everyday practice of doing my job these skills come in very handy.  They allow me to get through my daily grind without having to leave my seat every two minutes or wait on someone to finish something I can do myself.

Some things that all community managers should know how to do:

  • Use an image editor.  (Photoshop, PaintshopPro, GIMP, whatever)
  • Basic SQL query construction
  • Transfer via FTP
  • Edit HTML
  • Perform keyword searches
  • Distill basic metrics

What are some of the little things that help you get through your day?  What tools or functions have you picked up to help you become more effective and independent?

What secret skills or tips do you have to share?  DO TELL!

-Eric

Discovering the Voice of Your Community

Posted on 9 September 2010 | 3 responses

One of the questions recently asked of me was to define what the “voice” of one of our new communities should be.  I was asked…

“Should we be funny and irreverent?”

“Should we be quiet and informative?”

It's easy to spot a faker.

This immediately struck me as odd because I’ve never considered creating a distinct personality for my communities.  In fact, I’ve often hesitated to ascribe any personality to my communities…because site personality evolves depending on the member base.  I’m of the mind that anything faked will be spotted quickly.  One of the necessary ingredients for a successful community is building a trust with the people you serve, so faking a personality is deadly.   If you’re TRYING to create a funny and irreverent persona you’re not likely to succeed unless you’ve got a writing staff.  I’m guessing most of you don’t have such resources.

So…be yourself and let your members be themselves.

You don't need a voice...just be sincere!

Always allow  communities to set the tone.

If you’re good at nurturing AND you listen, you’ll find that the community will reveal it’s own voice.  For instance, the feel on Tabblo is very photo-centric…which makes sense because of the content of the site.  Crowding the site with my vision of what the site’s personality should be would only take away from what the USERS want the site to be…and we all know the end-user is king, right?

If you’ve given your community a safe space to create and share, you’ve done all you can until they’re ready to define the community voice, which they will.  Trying to figure out what demographic audience to market to is tough unless you’re targeting a specific group like seniors, teens, gamers, or the like…even then you’re guessing and could be far off the mark.  Why risk upsetting process by inserting your ego…corporate or otherwise?

Having the patience needed to discover the voice of your community is tough…especially for suits that like to strategize months in advance.  Patience is an important trait for CM’s to have and a vital part of the community nurturing process!

Have you ever been asked to affect a certain mood, personality or flavor to your community?  Do you play to a demographic or does your community have it’s own unique personality?  How have you affected the “voice” of your community?

Thanks!

-Eric

Getting Squirrelly: Preparing for the Fall Rush

Posted on 30 August 2010 | No responses

Are you ready for the fall rush?

As the weather cools and people migrate indoors and online and kids go back to school our communities will become more active!  Whether you’re a retail, service, information or community space this time of year usually brings with it some change.

Is your community taking advantage of all those extra eyes on your property? Addressing minor bugs and adding small enhancements to the user experience is part of daily life for a CM but extra time should be taken to prepare for this time of year. You don’t want members coming back after long absences to encounter the same irritating bugs present 3 months ago! People want to belong to active communities and that means active QA, Engineering, and CM’ing behind the scenes!

Perhaps your community has a large student or fall sports population, which means a large influx of users come September…how are YOU planning to handle the increased load? Are you gearing up new site revisions or product launches?

Perhaps you’ve got limited resources and have to become more creative!  Are you planning any contests, events or meetups for your community?

Contests are easy and don’t take much effort or money, depending on the size of your community.  The contests can range from something as complex as a weekly prize for member submissions or as simple as a sticker give-away.  Earlier this year I offered free Tabblo stickers to members and they loved it…it only cost me postage and effort to spread that much branded good will!  We ALL got a kick out it.

I’d love to hear how other CM’s are getting ready for the fall rush!

-Eric

Babysteps: Noting Community Milestones

Posted on 27 August 2010 | 1 response

Here’s one of my first video entries!

I was lucky enough to witness one of the first steps in the evolution of a community!  You’ll have forgive the giddy nature in the video as I was a tad nervous about making it!

Some communities are based around social experiences, so exchanges like the one I mentioned pretty common. In a content specific environment like the ePrintCenter I feel like helpful member interaction is even MORE important as an indicator of community potential.

I’d love to hear YOUR experiences regarding the growth of YOUR communities! Can you name a specific instance where your community took one of it’s first steps?

Have a GREAT weekend!

-Eric

Community Managers…Who Do You Report To?

Posted on 26 August 2010 | 3 responses

When I was hired to manage the Tabblo communities I was labeled as a “Customer Solution Specialist” because my employer didn’t have a specific job code for a community manager.

The “Customer Solution Specialist” title allowed me to report to people within the Tabblo group and didn’t tie me to a specific division with the company, outside of my group. This worked out well for a time and gave me the flexibility to focus on managing the many communities that sprouted out from our group without having to answer to some faceless suit. Now that the Tabblo groups has been assimilated a bit more by the larger company I’m trying to change my job title to reflect my actual position and afford me a voice in the larger, company infrastructure. Being able to have a say in what happens with future HP communities is a great opportunity for me, and the end users of these communities because I know what I’m doing.

Unfortunately so many divisions want a stake in the “community” so it’s not clear to me where, in this huge, nebulous company I should fit.

So who do YOU report to?

Who should community managers report to?

Who “owns” the customer experience in your company?

In your company does community management fall under Marketing? Support? User Experience/Usability?

SHARE!

-Eric

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