Blurring the Lines: Are You TOO Personal with your Community?

Posted on 9 August 2010 | 5 responses

Being a community manager, it’s difficult to define where the “professional me” and the “personal me” begin and end.

For instance, I’ve got both a professional (this site) and a personal website.  Of course I have different personal and professional email addresses.  I’ve created three separate twitter accounts, one for my professional tweets one for my personal tweets and one to follow a Star Trek crowd.

However, I’ve NOT created a separate, professional Facebook identity.  There are quite a few people from my communities following me on Facebook and I’m hoping that doesn’t hurt me in the long run.  I use LinkedIn as well, but that’s an industry focused site and my end users probably don’t visit it much.

My community management style is pretty laid back and I don’t try to mute my personality so I don’t think anyone would be surprised by anything I post but there is a danger that anything you post can be used against you IN your community…so be careful!

As a community manager I’m used to being known.  I’m become accustomed to using my real name and haven’t hesitate to post a photo every now and again.  This, of course, can haunt you if you’re not careful.  I’ve actually had disgruntled community members show up at my place of business on more than one occasion and it’s a bit disconcerting.  I’m a decently sized guy and while I’m not bullet-proof I don’t worry for my physical safety but I do

Where is the proverbial “Professional Line?”  I don’t think it exists.  If you’ve been in this profession for any length you’re used to being “out there” and you’ve had learning experiences to help define your exposure level.

The irony of this discussion is that I’m always seeking more exposure than I have right now.  I’m always anxious to take part in the benefits of my position, which includes representing my communities at expo’s, conventions, meetups, industry events…whatever!

Do you mix your personal life with your professional life?

If not, what lengths do you go to separate the two?

Have you been visited or contacted in an inappropriate way by a community member?

How do you market yourself as a brand and not a human being?  Should it be only about the brand or do you feel that YOU and your personality MAKE the brand?

Please share and keep thinking!

-Eric

Macs + Valve = Awesome, but a Little Too Late

Posted on 5 August 2010 | No responses

While I do have an iPhone, it’s no secret that I’m not an Apple fanboy.  One of the first things fanboys mention to me is “Well, Macs don’t get virii or spyware like Windows machines do.”

Over the last decade Mac’s have accounted for less than 3% of the total PC market share, which explains the reason why Macs aren’t the primary target for Spyware/Virus authors.

That being said…the same reason Macs are less susceptible to these hazards are the same reason why Macs don’t have much in the way of gaming software available.  Developers want as many people as they can get to play their games…and that, by corporate strategy, isn’t the Mac crowd.

That is…until now.  Kotaku announced that Counter Strike will be available over Steam.  In fact, Valve has recently and mysteriously bent over backwards to accommodate Mac users.

Wow…it’s only taken 11 years to get Counter-Strike onto the Mac.  What’s next…Everquest?

Thank Valve for this, not Apple!  Mac fanboys…your time has finally come!  Just when society is finally moving away from relying on PC’s for gaming!  Consoles are just now entering into the online domain for more than just gaming.  They’re taking on some of the tasks, like web-streaming and serving media, that will finally usher in the age of the connected family.

Gaming for me, and I’m guessing others, has driven MAJOR hardware purchases.  I’m very curious how Apple, as a company, would have faired with gaming exclusivity similar to what was afforded by the PC crowd.  How would the Apple’s corporate landscape be different?  How would gaming hardware have evolved?

I LOVE that Apple has embraced gaming on the iPhone,  In fact, I would say that Apple finally recognized that gaming can drive industry and they started promoting the iPhone as a gaming platform.

In my opinion, a little too late.

Do you think the days of platform specific software is coming to an end?

-Eric

Community Disrupted: Dealing with Miscreants!

Posted on 2 August 2010 | No responses

So, as with just about every web based community you’ll need to deal with the occasional miscreant.  Sometimes these events occur once, sometimes the offender is more persistent but rarely do things go on for more than several days unless you’re dealing with a pro.  Handling these cases can be tricky and must done in an intelligent way.  If the perp is a regular community member I find that personal communication is the best way to resolve the underlying issue.  If the person is a pro and isn’t a regular member I find that swift and decisive action must be taken, not only to reassure the community but to encourage the pro to move on to greener pastures.

I find that there are several different types of offenders.

  • The Jilted Community Member:  This user posts because of hurt feelings, either by an individual or the facilitators of the community due to a perceived injustice.  They’re consistent community members which means they know the ins and outs of the community and the temperament of those that use the community.  These members usually use an alias when posting and are sometimes the least likely characters.  The jilted member can be disruptive and really puts the community through the ringer until he/she is satisfied.  It’s important to note, this person expects plenty of attention and will try to recruit others to the cause.
  • The Link Spammer: Fortunately for most communities these “users,” and I use that term loosely, are interested in getting their link in front of as many eyes as possible.  Removing these posts/groups/creations that contain these spam links should be pretty straightforward but I find removal doesn’t deter these posters.  These spammers ALWAYS take the path of least resistance and will usually move on if they have to take too many steps.  For instance, on Tabblo if you sign up and attempt to create a group without taking any of steps a normal user would you’re challenged.  On Tabblo users sign up, upload photos, fill out their profile, create Tabblos and such.  Things created outside of the ordinary user flow are flagged and I’m notified.  I’ve received email from people complaining, “I couldn’t create a group” and then I ask, “What was the name of your group?”  I usually don’t hear back but when I do I hear things like “Acai Berry Drink,” or “Santa Fe Real Estate.”  SPAMMER!!!!!!!
  • The Testers: I’ve had the misfortune to encounter those rogue groups of QA/Beta testers that choose a site based on it’s functionality and application to whatever they’re testing.  I’ve seen communities ravaged by groups testing software.  My experience has been that these companies reside in foreign countries and rarely leave any clues which would lead to specific company.  This is really disruptive to active communities.  Thankfully these posters are pragmatic and are testing something specific so they don’t test for long periods of  time.
  • The Anarchist: This person lives on the web and exists for attention.  If one of these people decides to lay roots in your community and is able to get even a shred of attention you’re in trouble.  A dedicated miscreant can not only endanger the community but is usually also adept in how communities work, making sure to use things like privacy policies and “terms of service” work in their favor.  The creative ones will cause all sorts of commotion/destruction and then report it to the owners of the web property, claiming not enough is being done.  This may be the most difficult of miscreants to deal with, fun stuff!

There are certainly many other types of people that disrupt online communities.  The important thing, as a community manager, is to have an early warning system, filters to make spamming difficult, a reporting system for community members, a member base that cares about the health of the community and tools to deal with the spammers that get through.  Spend some time with an engineer and investigate ways to keep your community safe.

The BEST way to deal with this is to have a robust reporting system and an intolerant community.  When a community member identifies inappropriate content on Tabblo.com an email is sent to my cell phone.  A community manager’s immediate response to an issue imbues the community with the confidence to report inappropriate content.

Until next time. =)

-Eric

Dogs and Cats Living Together: Engineers and the User Experience

Posted on 2 August 2010 | No responses

My friend Antonio made the closing keynote at the last PyCon.  I was eager to read his presentation because knowing Antonio it would, hopefully, be perfectly “over the top.”  He had some great points, which I’m trying to relate to Community Management. One of my favorite concepts is this:

“Traditionally, there has been this separation between “business” things and “technology” things, with people that do one or the other.  This is a false dichotomy. It probably has always been.”

I think he brings up a great point.  Having people who can own the experience makes them better at doing what they do, so how does that relate to my job?

I’d love to replace two words in that quote to make a slightly different, but similar point. Let’s replace “business” and “technology” with “engineering” and “community support.”  I’ve always been a fan of “immersion” of engineers in the support process because it connects engineers with the people who are using their code. There has always been a separation between the coders and the code-users that has never made sense to me.

The BEST code is written by engineers who are exposed to the customers that use the product.

Everyone likes to stay in their little comfort circle, whether you’re a biz/dev guy, a community manager or a coder.

I think Antonio is right when he says that most people would think busting up the false dichotomy of traditional business,

“is a crazy proposition, one which will make anyone here who has ever worked at a startup suck in their breath in disapproval and wonder why they let the crazy on stage.”

I know plenty of engineers who would feel the same way when asked to answer a few customer support emails.

-Eric

Letters from the Masses: Are You Really Hearing Your Community?

Posted on 2 August 2010 | 2 responses

Since I’m the Community Manager of the Tabblo group here at HP, I’m involved in quite a few projects.  In addition to Tabblo and Tabbloid we’ve created some projects for some of the more common social networks.  This means we’ve had to appeal to a diverse audience, which also means I’ve supported that same, diverse audience.

In an effort to engage some of the engineers I work with I’ve created physical lists of the feedback I’ve received and posted them around the office.  I made sure to get some of the funny ones as well as some of the serious ones just to mix it up a bit.  If I can get a chuckle out of an engineer who is reading member feedback, he/she may read more, and that NEVER hurts!

Some people complain that CM’s get a raw deal because they hear people’s complaints all day long, and that may be true, BUT, I also get some real gems!  It really makes my day to have someone go out of their way to let me know that they really appreciate something we’ve done for them.  That’s my fuel, is it yours?

Here are a few examples of my favorite, less pleasant ones.

From the simple:

“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“This sucks.  I hate it.  It is not fun.  It hurts me to use it.”

To the detailed:

“This application is not only a complete waste of time and horrible, but shouldn’t be appearing on _______.  I look on my friends list and EVERYONE is bitching that they go to click on their top friends and this magically appears.  It’s slow to show up and keep freakin’ annoying EVERYONE.  This application is retarded (only 4 friends!!!) and just a complete waste of space but moreover it is ANNOYING EVERYONE.  I’m glad I clicked on to this to find out it’s an HP program.  I will never buy HP again.”

We’ve also had some really nice ones.

Some of the simple variety:

“This is poppin'” (”This is one of my favorites!)

“This program is wonderful.  Thank you and the staff for making something so useful and convenient, free to us users.”

“This is SO CUTE.  I love it.”

Some went into TOO much detail and get a bit creepy:

“This is so awesome.  My dog just died and this made it perfect. GREAT IDEA!!!”

(I know it was phrased incorrectly, but I can’t help but picture this little girl making photocubes of her dead dog.)

Some share some really personal stuff:

“I wanted to communicate to you how much I enjoyed making photo cubes.  I’m a retired grandmother and most of my family is on the east coast but I’ve printed out so many photo cubes of my grandchildren it makes me feel like they are here with me.  Thank you all for helping me feel like my family is all around me.  I love all the fun projects I can start using family photos.”

One thing is for sure, people want to let you know what they think of something you’ve done.  Good or bad, you’ve got to treat each one the same in order to provide a high level of service.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget that CM’s do the dirty work of answering customer email, logging bugs, and performing administrative tasks for the benefit of the community.

If you pay attention,

and you listen closely,

and if you respond as a human being,

you’ll be rewarded.

What interesting feedback have YOU received in the past and what have you done with it?  Do your co-workers know how your community is faring?  Could you do more to engage everyone to view your projects as your customers do?

-Eric

5 Tips to Create a Compelling Community Experience

Posted on 2 August 2010 | 1 response

I use the word “compelling” quite a bit so I figured I would take some time to explain what I my definition of a compelling online experience is.

People revisit websites for many reasons, all of which I don’t pretend to know.  I can only speak of my experience with the websites I’ve had the pleasure of managing.

What do I mean when I use the word “compelling”?  I mean the user should be inspired to create, share, view, rate, and save their experience on your website.

To have a truly compelling experience these 5 things help:

1)  Provide some sort of ego feed to the user. You’ve got to provide some way for people to share themselves or something they’ve created.  Sharing is the basis for being social, whether it’s sharing your time, your creations, or your opinion.  It empowers the member to share and gives them a foothold in the community when they leave something personal, like a creation, on your site.

2)  Provide an opportunity for members and their shared content to be judged by the community. Whether it’s a “like” button, a rating system, a thumbs up or just an opportunity to critique in depth, people want to be rated and in turn, to rate others.  Of course, praise and admiration are motivators but that also rings true for negative commentary.  To judge and be judged, regardless of depth of the rating mechanism, is essential.

3)  Provide access to Social Media and the web through your community. EVERYTHING that a user creates on your site should have the ability to be shared through multiple mediums.  FacebookTwitterWeb, it doesn’t matter as long as people can show the rest of the world what they’ve created.  Allowing for social media interaction will not only put your brand out in the marketplace, but it will also be owned, in that space, by the member.  Ownership strengthens that bond between community and member.  Often times you’ll find that your community has brought your brand into the social media arena and you didn’t even realize it.  Search Facebook, Twitter lists and hashtags for your brand.  You should ALWAYS be Googling your brand!

4)  Enable diversity through functionality. The more variety you allow in the “creative process” the more diverse a crowd you’ll attract.  For instance on Tabblo.com you can make an online Tabblo, you can print photos, posters and books at home, you can belong to specific groups, you can print out photocubes to construct offline, you can invite friends and family, you can create event Tabblos that multiple people can submit photos to, there are a wide variety of things to do on Tabblo that draw in a diverse set of folks that enrich the community.  However, you can certainly go overboard with too many outlets if you’re not focused on the core user experience.

5)  Present the user with a simple interface that reflects current web standards. Consistency with web standards will enable people to use your site without stumbling through the experience.  If you confuse your members they are less likely to become compelled users.  Remember, consistency with the current web environment doesn’t mean you’ve got to be boring, push the envelope with design, but don’t over-complicate the process or you’ll alienate the end user.

I’m not touting these ideas as original or absolutely necessary for a community to thrive.  These are just things that I’ve learned over the years and have worked for me.  Of course, there are more tidbits to engaging members and you’ll discover them the more active you are in your online community!

Was your community designed with any of these tips in mind?

Does your community inspire or compel creativity and sharing?

Is your company engaging in social media?

Is your community connected through social media outside of your efforts?

I’m VERY curious, so please don’t hesitate to leave comments.!

Cheers!

-Eric

Social Networking: Circa 1979

Posted on 30 July 2010 | No responses

Much of what I need to know about social networking I learned from my 70 year old Dad.

It’s true.

Thomas Foster sold everything from shoes to jeans to mattresses and he did it using skills he honed dealing with people face to face.  Sales is a tough racket and he was great.  My Mom used to say, “your Father could talk a dog off a meat truck” and I’ve seen him do it.  So when I called him to ask his advice about something I was hoping he would have a great answer, and as usual he did.

Without getting into details I was angry about something when I called him and expecting him to concur with my thoughts about what I should do.  I spent the better part of 5 minutes filling him in on the details, explaining why I was justified in being angry.

The first words out of his mouth were “You’re approaching it from the wrong angle Son.  If it were me I would…”

He proceeded to tell me how he would handle the situation in a reasonable way that gave me a sense of retribution AND the satisfaction of knowing that it would garner me a little something through good will.  Now how can you argue with that?

My point is that humans now are just like humans in 1979.  The same interpersonal truths are still evident, whether you’re buying a mattress 35 years ago or Tweeting in 2010.  My Dad isn’t very computer literate and I feel he probably wouldn’t have the patience for the the informational micro-bursts of today.  Perhaps it’s completely unfair to expect that of him but I’m sure he could STILL work a room better than just about anyone.

So, I’ll continue to use him as my social networking oracle.  His social networking Fu is strong!

So, thanks Dad, for the help.

-Eric

Getting your Hands Dirty: Community Administration from the Trenches

Posted on 30 July 2010 | No responses

As a community manager for Tabblo I’ve got daily maintenance tasks to complete. Among these tasks is dealing with spammers and I think we’ve done a pretty decent job of it so far.

In fact, Ned and I have devised a screening process to weed out the most obvious.  Certain actions get flagged and an email is generated with the account information for me to review.  I absolutely LOVE seeing account usernames like”Health Supplements,” or “South Florida Airport Transportation,” because those are easy to identify.  It’s the not so obvious ones that cause me problems because then I’ve got to delve a little deeper.

Good administration tools are paramount.  As a CM I’ve got to be able to respond quickly to issues on the site, regardless of the time of day, or day of the week.  Web based administration is probably the easiest during this silver age of the smartphone as it can be done remotely and in real time.  When I see something that’s inappropriate, or spam I need to be able to click to remove it.

Being warned real-time is also key which is why I’m emailed if certain events happen such as  a complaint is registered, a technical issue arises, or someone invites a massive amount of people to view a Tabblo.  My smartphone is INVALUABLE to me on weekends and provides a great secondary platform for managing the community.

The amazing thing is that the majority of the community has no idea that this stuff is going on, which is precisely what we want.

I’m currently trying to polish up the administrative tool we’re using for the ePrintCenter and it’s coming along nicely.  It’s real-time and I’m working on the warning filters that determines what is emailed to me.  It takes time to fine tune all this stuff because I actually need people to use the site to know what I’ll need to keep the closest eye on.

Unfortunately there isn’t really any boxed software solution that can be plugged into an existing code set.  The tools I use were customized by Ned and Dave from the existing Django database admin tool set.  HP is GREAT at supporting products but not much in place for supporting communities, which is why a common admin tool set would be awesome.

So that means that community managers will still have to work in the trenches and clean the junk out by hand, but then what is community management without actually getting your hands dirty with a community?

Oh yeah, Marketing.

Maybe I should start my own company, hire a few engineers, and produce common admin modules that can be used across many different platforms.  What do YOU use?

-Eric

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Closing your Community

Posted on 30 July 2010 | No responses

Most community managers have had to deal with the inevitable closure.

We all know that website aren’t forever so how do you, as a CM, ease the community out of it’s misery?  We’re the ones charged with keeping the band playing regardless of how quickly, or worse, how slowly the ship sinks.  One of the toughest experiences I’ve ever had was the closure of Abuzz.com and most of the lessons to follow were learned during that process.

The sad reality is that most communities are tied to revenue of some sort.  If you’re the CM of one of those communities that don’t have any expectation placed upon it then you’re a lucky bastard because that situation is very rare.  Revenue can come from direct sales, subscriptions,  exclusive feature sets, or”added value,” amongst other things, and if your revenue stream fails then your days are more than likely numbered.

Long before the digital doors are slammed you’ll see the signs, and so will your community.  When growth is no longer a topic at production meetings you’ve got to start asking questions!  If you’re not able to secure engineering resources start asking questions!  If bugs you’re writing are being re-prioritized start asking questions!  If your co-workers pretend you don’t exist, ok, that might a different issue but ask questions none-the-less!

I’ve been a part of several closures and it’s never pretty.  Usually CM’s are asked to not divulge such news to the masses until the last minute, which is contradictory to the instinct to protect and serve your community.  Usually engineering bandwidth is the first to dry up, so how do you respond to requests made by the constituency?  Do you lie?  Do you err on the cautious side and not commit to a definitive answer?

Especially tough are long term projects that members are aware of that simply fall off the board.

In one of my previous positions we had made announcements to the community that we were going to reimplementing the search functionality, which had, through a hardware issue, been suspended.  Search functionality is something that’s expected on a cataloging website and something that we assured the members they would have again.  Well, after a few months I did a little digging only to find that we were not going to allocate engineering bandwidth to restore that very basic functionality, which put me in an incredibly awkward position with the people I was serving.

Maintaining the “company line” and living up to the expectations of a responsible community manager are, sometimes, two very different things.

I find that, ultimately, you’ve got to choose to tow the company line in a caring and responsible way if you value your job.  You’re the nursemaid to the rabid dog, you’ve got to take care of him until Pa decided to pull the trigger…and Pa isn’t in a rush.

As CM’s we’re rarely in charge of budgets, engineering resources or schedules, branding opportunities, or promotional dollars but we’re still the face of the company to the members.

Fight for your community!

Don’t give up pressing for resources for the people you represent until the bitter end!

What has been YOUR experience?  I’d love to hear from those of you who’ve gone through similar circumstances.

-Eric

Fine Tuning Social Media and Marketing for your Community

Posted on 30 July 2010 | 1 response

Does your company understand the community, product AND the intended audience?

Which of YOUR company’s products can support its own community?

Which ones should be sheltered under the auspices of the overall brand?

Does it make sense to split up the social media share by creating separate channels for each product?

Is there more value in having one brand page with the bulk of followers seeing updates for all of your products (e.g., like Facebook)?

Should you differentiate your audiences to fine tune the message?

It’s obviously not as simple as answering one question, in fact, it’s not straightforward at all.

It really takes an active community manager and effective marketing to enhance the experience of disparate customer groups that view your brand through social media.

Understanding your social media audience is very important.  It could mean the difference between increasing followers through strategic updates or causing groups to hide your updates or having them ignore you entirely because they feel spammed.

Senior citizens are a perfect example.  Most seniors have specific needs that others may not have, especially when it comes to computers and the Internet.  Whether it’s familiarity with the tools or the format, most seniors are used to traditional marketing practices which can make it difficult to market to them digitally.  Doing extra research and visiting sites that have successfully marketed to seniors should be a top priority. Again, seniors citizens are easy because their needs are more easily identified, but what about students, women, men, kids, and specific professions?

So finding a balance and understanding your audience is critically important.

Does your company pay attention to it’s audience? Do you as a community manager have any input into how your company markets to your community?  Could you improve that marketing?

I’m personally trying to learn more about marketing everyday as it’s one of my weaker areas.  This topic was inspired by a discussion I had with a fantastic  community manager here at HP that I met last week.

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!  See you on Monday!

-Eric

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