Do You Participate in Your Own Community?

Posted on 29 July 2010 | No responses

In my opinion, it’s imperative as a CM to be invested in your community, which means being an active member!

Tabblo: Rhode Island Air Show 2009I use Tabblo.  I upload my personal photos to Tabblo, I create Tabblos, I use Tabblo groups, I’m a community member, which means I go through the same steps and click on the same links as the people I support.  This also empowers me within the community because members see me as not only a company representative, but a fellow user.

I understand that not all communities are as rich and as social as Tabblo, but that shouldn’t matter if you’re passionate.  There is a reason I’m not the community manager for a financial advisory company, or a medical instrumentation company or an insurance company, those things aren’t exciting to me.

Tabblo excites me, which has contributed to the loyalty I feel towards the community.  I would offer that if you’re not really passionate about the community and products you support you’re not fulfilling the commitment you’ve made to your community.

Tabblo: Blissfully UnawareThe same goes for EVERYONE involved in the production and maintenance of your community, from sales, to engineers, to the product managers, to QA and coders.  If you’re not a user then you’re not a community member, and if you’re not a community member how can participate in the direction of your community especially from a logistical point of view?

Every Monday I sit through an engineering production meeting and I usually end the meeting by suggesting that everyone check out the Tabblo of the Day on Tabblo.com.  Granted, Tabblo has been on our team’s back-burner for some time now, but it’s still generating a bunch of exciting great content that I try and share with the Tabblo group.

Tabblo: Spinach and Gorgonzola Stuffed Flank SteakIn the past, when very senior executives have visited our office I ALWAYS asked if they’ve got a Tabblo account (or visited Tabblo) because it’s been an indicator to me of how interested they were in what we were doing.   The Tabblo group has many different projects, most of which I’m sure have never been visited by the higher ups either.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out that most of the executives that determine the fate of major websites have never even visited the websites for which they are responsible.  This is unacceptable.

FOR SHAME.

Do you really care about the communities you support?

Do you use the products you support?

Are you an active participant in your community?

What have you done as a community manager to engage the people who hold the fate of your community in their hands?

Thanks for taking the time!

-Eric

How do YOU get through monotonous daily tasks?

Posted on 29 July 2010 | No responses

Do you listen to music as you trod through your daily responsibilities?

I do, in fact, I find it almost impossible to wade through a weekend’s worth of email WITHOUT listening to music of some sort.

I’m a rock-ish sort, but I appreciate most styles of music.  Many people use streaming services and swear by them, but I’ve never really been hooked by them because my musical tastes vary from minute to minute.  I used to love the old Napster days because you could basically locate any song you wanted and download it relatively quickly, of course you were violating all sorts of laws, but that rarely came into mind.

No matter, YouTube is now the “on-demand” Napster.  I love making a YouTube playlist and just minimizing the window.  Most of the time I actually forget there is a video playing in the background.

In fact, I’ve even scared myself before when maximizing windows, forgetting to expect motion when the page pops up.  Silly, but true.

Here’s what I was listening to this morning!

How do you get through the monotonous tasks of your day?  What are some of your favorite albums that carry you through 40 minutes of email parsing, data entry or comment browsing?  Let me know how YOU incorporate music into your day!

-Eric

People VS. Products: Teaching an Old Dog

Posted on 29 July 2010 | No responses

Supporting a product is quite obviously not the same as supporting a community. In fact, it’s completely different.

Products, in my opinion, are much easier to support.  Products are meant to do a finite list of tasks and supplying directions for those tasks is pretty straightforward.

“To get your printer to print you need to do A, B, and C.”

Because there are a finite amount of functions there is a finite list of things that could go wrong. Making a list of those potential problems and creating resolution paths for those problems is also very easy.  Have you ever looked through a printer owner’s manual?  Each potential problem is clearly outlined, usually with diagrams no less.

“If your printer fails to print, check A, B, and C.”

Products also are much more specific in design and functionality.  You know a printer is supposed to print, and so does the consumer base.   Communities are obviously much more complex than a printer, they involve people, who represent an infinite set of variables that need constant attention.  These people will always view things differently from one another, or simply not “get” something that will undoubtedly need explanation even if the directions are clearly visible.

Supporting communities takes a great deal of flexibility and patience, often more than required in “real-life” simply because the digital medium is bereft of nuance.  FAQ’s are great but the need for “semi-live” support is constant, especially the more complex or subjective the experience.

Even more difficult, is the integration of community management into a product infrastructure, which can be a monumental task. It involves convincing each person in the chain of command to abandon the notion of established practices and embrace hard to quantify goals.  Metrics are great but they can be arranged in just about any configuration to provide the information you want to see and often fail at determining a proper course of action, don’t completely rely on them!

So, how does a company that excels at providing product support become good at supporting communities?

They take a leap of faith.

“It’s the lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself.” – Muhammad Ali

Have a GREAT weekend!

-Eric

Resistance is NOT futile: The Battle Against Off-Site Support

Posted on 29 July 2010 | No responses

Who is providing the support for the user experience on your website?

It’s probably not who you think!

Most 1st tier “support” isn’t really support, these people are facilitators.  It’s their responsibility to go through a checklist of questions designed to direct the support request to the right people.  This extra step is potentially wasteful not only of company resources but of the user’s time away from the designed experience.

The reason for this buffer is that companies don’t like to directly support a specific product or group.  It’s far more cost effective to create a massive support infrastructure that you can plug customers into.  The only problem with that is that it’s impersonal and usually leads to many steps for the customer to get an answer.

A great deal of those customers don’t actually make it to the imposed depth required to actually ask a question, which also must be cost effective or they wouldn’t do it, right?

Firstly, no matter how large the user base, you have to provide site specific support.  I know this is contrary to what you’ll be told, but trust me, if you can’t truly support someone’s experience they won’t come back unless your product is AMAZING, and few things are that amazing.

Secondly, giving dedicated support technicians the training and the tools to make changes such as account, editorial, and administrative modification does several things:

  • The user’s support request is resolved quickly.
  • Ability to identify and resolve requests that don’t require escalation.
  • Much easier to identify bugs, write tickets and route those tickets to the appropriate engineer/group.
  • Eliminates wasted company AND user resources by turning facilitators into support people that resolve issues.
  • Makes it easier to collect performance data, problems and traffic specific to the user experience.

Automating is easy, that’s why so many companies do it.  I’ve heard a bunch of excuses over the years, “It’s not scalable,” or “People EXPECT a forum,” or whatever!  We all want to AMAZE our users, so let’s be willing to go to amazing lengths for them.

I’m so tired of project managers discounting the need to plan for support because “we can plug it in to what we’ve already got.”  That person should be fired!  It’s amazing that in this age of silicon and social networking, when there have more support tools THAN EVER, that such little emphasis is placed updating support practices.

What type of support experience would you want your mother to have?  How does your company handle it’s support requirements?

-Eric

My name is Eric, and I’m a gamer.

Posted on 29 July 2010 | No responses

I’m a gamer.

I’m not talking consoles, but custom built, loaded to the max gaming rigs.  I’ve not discovered a gamepad that had the feel and accuracy of a good keyboard and mouse setup.  First person shooters are a no-brainer, especially with Zombie shooters (pun intended)!

  • I spend between 20+ hours a week gaming.  Before I was married I spent 40+ hours gaming.
  • I’ve been in the same WoW guild for over 5 years and held just about every guild position, save Guild Leader (no thanks!).
  • I’ve been known to take days off from work when new games come out.
  • I’ve camped specific mobs, in 8 hour shifts in EQ for DAYS.
  • I’ve made head-shots in SO MANY first person shooters I should have nightmares!
  • I’m actually the proud author of “Kubla Khan” which was a text-based adventure game, based on the Coleridge poem of the same name, in basic when I was 12!
  • All of my computer upgrades were designed around gaming requirements!
  • I’ve even made movies of me playing computer games!

I have, in the past, owned a console or two.  Probably my favorite was the original X-Box and the Halo, Need for Speed and Tiger Woods series my fave console games.  For the past few years I’ve considered getting a 360 but I just don’t want to have to buy $60 games that I can’t re-play on the next X-Box.

In the next few weeks I’m going to be writing about the various gaming communities, console and PC.  I’m going to be spending a lot of time on the World of Warcraft community, which goes beyond Blizzard and extends to other companies and platforms, highlighting the true meta-community that it is.

I’m also going to be covered some of the local gaming houses like Turbine, 38 Studios and others.  So expect more gaming related content here in the future!

Have a great weekend!

-Eric

What I Won’t Be Seeing: My E3 Software Review

Posted on 29 July 2010 | No responses

So once again I’m not going to E3 which is a great disappointment.  Even though I wasn’t be there doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of great news to report.  In fact, there are a bunch of games I’m looking forward to as well as some new tech that I’d love to get my hands on (or OFF as the case may be)!

Let’s start off with software and one of my favorite genre’s, the First Person Shooter!

  • Halo Reach :  One of the strongest franchises in the last decade has been Halo, and Halo Reach is one of the most anticipated releases of the summer.  Bungie made a bunch of big changes, but the ones I’m excited about are the social features they’re implementing such as built-in recording software to record sessions and the ability to automatically upload them to the web to be shared with the entire Halo community.

  • Deus Ex Human Revolution : Deus Ex was one of my favorite games during it’s day.  I’m very glad to report that Eidos also loved the original and they’ve resurrected the franchise with Deus Ex Human Revolution!  I normally wouldn’t report on a game that had NO in game footage, but the original title was SO GOOD that I’ve got to include this on my list.  Can’t wait too see more.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops :  Quite possibly the best first-person shooter franchise EVER, this game looks to carry to torch for the CoD series this year.  It’s a title that’s been carried by a couple of different companies but somehow remained consistently decent over time.  When a CoD game is released I have to spend 6-8 hours glued to my PC and I’m never disappointed.  Of course the game play is top notch, with extremely accurate weapons, vehicles, ordinance and exercises but it’s the story and cinematic play that drives me to continue just to see what happens next.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten through a section and realized my heart was pounding, my knuckles were white, and an adrenaline haze was blanketing me.  I will buy this game, you should too.

  • Transformers: The War for Cybertron :  Mark my words, this is going to be the sleeper hit of the season.  I’ve been disappointed in the past by Transformers games, so don’t think of it as a Transformers game just yet.  The group at High Moon Studios is responsible for the Bourne Conspiracy game and it appears as if they’ve done their research, the trailers for this game are amazing!  If Team Fortress, Unreal Tournament, Quake 3, Spy Hunter and Robby the Robot were to have a baby, that baby would be this game.  Check it out!

For Real-Time Strategy fans:

  • StarCraft 2 :  Despite to several delays Blizzard is finally launching StarCraft 2 this summer and I, for one, am excited!  Sure, the Command and Conquer series kept us well occupied, but StarCraft originally carved the RTS niche into the gaming zeitgeist.  Blizzard is famous for shipping no game before it’s time and for good reason, they’re known for delivering polished goods!  And, for the record, this trailer’s sequence trumps Iron Man/Iron Man 2‘s “suit up” sequences in a big way.

For MMO fans:

  • Star Wars: The Old Republic : No, you’re not having Deja Vu`.  Yes, there has been a Star Wars MMO in the past, and yes, it was bad.  Yes, there was another game with a very, VERY similar title, which was decent.  This is neither of those games.  LucasArts has released a few suspect games in the past, which is why they’ve teamed with the creative geniuses at BioWare for the latest entry into the MMO arena.  I’ll save a LOT of commentary by saying if it’s better than World of Warcraft that it will still be behind the 8 ball.  Star Wars is a fickle franchise, some games are really good and stick, but some games are horribly bad and quickly forgotten.  I’m hoping this one is one of the former.
  • World of Warcraft: Cataclysm :  WoW is the heavy hitter in the MMO arena and I don’t see it being supplanted anytime soon.  Don’t forget, this is the game that redefined MMO’s and has set the bar impossibly high.  Cataclysm introduces two new playable races and re-envisions and replaces the original Azeroth to present an entirely new world for the 11+ million users to sink their collective fangs in to.  The world is waiting for the WoW-killer but I don’t believe it’s even in development yet…until Blizzard decides to develop “World of StarCraft.”

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Last Guardian : This PS3 exclusive challenges the gaming status quo with beautifully rendered, “relationship” game.  The Japanese have a way with these types of stories and I’m reminded of similar relationships in Panzer Dragoon: Orta and Shadow of the Collossus, the latter being another game by Team Ico for the PS platform.  The challenge for this genre is perfecting the interface and controls, and judging by previous releases we’re in for a treat!  Check out the amazing trailer:



  • Homefront : This game from THQ is a mix of Modern Warfare’s “Wolverine” level and Red Dawn, which inspired it.  This time it’s the future and North Korea (wait for it…) is a world super power which is invading the U.S.  Fast paced action, cool vehicles, and future weapons are a plenty, it’s the actual game play that remains to be seen.  The FPS market is crowded and I’d love for this title to succeed!  WOLVERINES!
  • Marvel vs. Capcom 3 : I love fighting games, they’re so mid-90’s!  This one gets a little Marvel in your Capcom and a little Capcom in your Marvel.  With awesome controls and a killer engine this title should take it’s place along side MvC 1 and 2!  In a world where most developers have evolved beyond the fighting game, it’s nice to see a group putting such care into this revered franchise!

So, that’s my preliminary take on the games being previewed at E3!  I’d love to be there but I’ll be watching all the coverage I can, thanks to G4TV.  Of course as a community manager I’m going to have a ton of fun studying the way these communities develop and what these companies do to promote community.  As we all know, it’s hard to predict what will be a hit and what won’t and ultimately it’s up the the end user!

So go out and use!  If you don’t like your experience then complain to whoever will hear you!

Thanks for reading!

-Eric

Taking Ownership of Bugs.

Posted on 28 July 2010 | No responses

I’ve had the great fortune of working in many different professional environments.

I’ve worked in small groups, large groups and even LARGER groups, even worked for myself.  Each of these types of groups has it’s advantages and disadvantages that impact the end user.

Currently I’m in the largest of possible professional groups, the largest technology company in the world, and we’re working on a very big project.  While the scope of what can be created is much greater in a larger group, the path for problem resolution is also much larger and more diffuse. As a community manager it’s necessary for me to follow bugs that impact the end user, down that path, to their conclusion.

Following that path when working with multiple groups across the globe INSIDE of a large corporate infrastructure, is as difficult as it sounds.  Each of these groups relies on the basic infrastructure the corporation offers such as IT, legal, procurement, etc throughout the development process, and sometimes, beyond.  In that type of environment, even if everyone is super focused, there are going to be gaps resulting in issues that impact the end user.

So, how do we resolve these issues? Good question!

Someone needs to OWN the issue! If the issue impacts user functionality, that’s YOU, the community manager. Often the buck will be passed, ESPECIALLY if the problem hasn’t been concretely identified, that’s where you come in.  When a technical issue arises in my community I trust I’ll hear about from the users before I hear about it from an engineer so take advantage of that advanced notice!

The most important thing you can do is DOCUMENT the issue.  Create a bug report, write a ticket, use whatever documenting system you’ve got in place!  With a ticket in the system you’ve covered your bases and time becomes ammunition for issue resolution.  The LONGER something  remains broken the more urgent it becomes, usually.  As always, the CM represents the company to the members and the members to the company.  Unfortunately co-workers and outside group members that don’t have to interface with upset members don’t feel as motivated to give answers as you are to provide them.  So a little patience goes a long way and candy to butter up the engineers doesn’t hurt either.

I’d love to hear from others in the same position.

Do you have any tricks or tips you’ve got for supporting large projects with multiple groups or for coercing engineers?

How do you update your communities?  Do you update through your community or through branded social media?

How do you retain your members when the issue isn’t resolved in a timely manner?

Feel free to contact me by posting a response, tweeting me @ericfoster or on Facebook.

The Reason Bookstores are Doomed.

Posted on 28 July 2010 | No responses

First let me state emphatically, I love books!

I even love going to bookstores too.

How great is it collect a few books, grab a coffee, sit in a comfy chair and read a few books? It’s GREAT!  Unfortunately that’s all I do at bookstores. I go because I can browse a ton of books in nice chair with refreshments, alibrary with a coffee bar.

It’s a comfort experience for me, not a purchasing experience.  I may be wrong but I believe that most people view it the same way.

I understand that it’s impossible for a brick and mortar store to compete with an online entity in regards to cost, but I believe the big chain stores MUST understand that too. Then why are books in bookstores so expensive?

I don’t mind paying a little extra for the experience and as expected, online the books were much cheaper.

Here’s my experience today, which sparked this post.

Book 1 at Borders: $29.95
Book 1 at Amazon: $17.46
Difference: $12.49

Book 2 at Borders: $29.99
Book 2 at Amazon: $19.79
Difference: $10.20

$22.69 difference…that’s almost enough to pay for another overpriced book!

I’m an impatient guy, which leads to purchases like just like that. I don’t have a kindle, or any other type of e-reader other than my iphone and laptop and I WANT to hold print in my hand but at what cost?

Apparently $63.69.

-Eric

iPad, Comic Saviour or Destroyer?

Posted on 28 July 2010 | No responses

As a huge fan of comics and an obsessive collector of several different book lines I’m excited and yet horrified by the possibilities for comics now that the Apple tablet has launched.  I really like the feeling of getting a new comic book in hand and paging through, looking at the sheen on the pages and the smell of the ink and paper mash wafting up takes me back. Am I ready to abandon comics now that a “revolutionary” new medium for delivering them has arrived? Am I to accept the digital versions saved to my hard drive as a collection worthy of the pride I have for my bagged, sealed, and graded copies of relatively rare books?

When I’m buying a line of books I always get 2 copies, one to read and one to bag immediately. Following a particular artist you like can provide hours of discovering new and interesting lines, or a great style or formatting choice.  John Romita Sr. was my first real obsession The Amazing Spiderman series in particular.  One of my two very favorite is his son John Romita Jr. and his work on Peter Parker: Spiderman and most recently Kick Ass which was made into a movie.  J. Scott Campbell is the other.  This guy can flat out draw. He started on Gen13 was great and followed that up with my favorite series Dangergirl.

Great stuff, but could this medium be replaced by the iPad?  My guess is no, but it’s a direction that the publishers are already heading.  Apple has indie comics available for download on the AppStore, and both Marvel and DC have their own apps so it’s clear that industry is banking on micro-transactions and ease of access that the iPad delivers.

In fact, in a recent article I read, former DC executive Charles Kochman says, “As publishers, I don’t think we have to worry about e-readers replacing books or comics.  There are still always going to be readers and collectors who want the real thing. I just gave a friend of mine a handful of graphic novels for his birthday. I can’t imagine gifting him with e-versions. It would have seemed chintzy and cheap.”  It’s good to know that the people who make comics appreciate the form factor as much as I do.

But, can you imagine the multi-media possibilities available when one of the major publishers completely adopts the digitization of comics?

The iPhone took me a step closer to that complete integration but this device, well, it might change how all content is delivered.

Are you a comic fan or an avid reader?  Do you prefer one form factor over another?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

-Eric

Generating Brand Awareness through Comedy

Posted on 28 July 2010 | No responses

Comedy genius, pretty clever marketing too.

I mean…who’s never heard of “punchbuggy?”

VW taps in to the nostalgic with this ad campaign, meant to deliver a punch the the proverbial arm of American zeitgeist, and they’ve succeeded.  Do you have a punchbuggy memory?

I can remember riding on the school bus through Louisa Co. Virginia with my friend Donny Donovan at the age of 8.  There were several VW beetles in town and we both knew where they were and we NEVER knew about the 5 second rule, as mentioned by Sluggy in the video.  Would have certainly served me well to have known.

VW’s marketing dept. has quite a few hits and one notable miss.  Those horrible Brooke Shields ads of last year for the VW minivan only lasted about a month before they were shelved, which clearly illustrates the very fine line a company walks when they deviate from common practice.  I’m sure that campaign didn’t cost VW anything it couldn’t afford to part with but you’ve got to wonder. Many of the corporate stalwarts are simply frightened to become more personal and personable with consumers precisely because of this fine line.

Fortunately for us VW has had more hits than misses!

Thanks VW.  Now please, let me buy a new Scirocco in the U.S.!

Does your business advertise or promote with comedy? Does a comedic attitude deter you? Attract you? Chime in!

-Eric

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