Debate: Do All Community Managers Need Social Media?

Photo cred: Rishi Bandopadhay

Seems that a lot of people are under the impression that all community managers have to use social media.

Social media is one tool.  It’s one of the many tools available to marketers, community managers, PR professionals etc.  It is not a requirement for all roles that a community manager could possibly take on.

On twitter, I had a long debate with Alana Joy on this topic.  This discussion led to this post on the ever insightful social media explorer.  This is my response to the twitter debate and that blog post.

We’ve cast this term “community management” over an entire range of roles and responsibilities.  Honestly, most of this debate could probably be settled with better defined roles within the “community manager spectrum”.

There’s so much more to it just than social media outreach and engagement.  Today’s community manager might be responsible for anything ranging from customer service to marketing to event management and the list goes on.

Can social media help all of these potential roles? I don’t know…maybe it can.  Is it required in order to be successful in each of these roles? Nope…

Debate the semantics of social media all you want but for the purpose of this discussion, we’re talking about the twitter and facebook type sites…not email, forums etc…

To give you an example, I spoke with my friend Justin, who has several years of community manager experience and is currently the community manager for Change.org. Here’s Justin’s take:

“I focus primarily on internal communities. Turning “owned communities” (an ugly term for “on my site”) into rabid evangelists who love the people who are there as much as where “there” is, will defend it, contribute to it, and go out on a limb for it. Managing, engaging and leveraging “owned” communities vs. external communities are two distinct skill sets. Both are needed, just like you have “PR” and “Advertising” as two separate but related industries. Internal communities and external communities are two different beasts, meet different business needs and have different tool sets.

One of the communities I managed was a casual gaming site.  My goal was to take the community that we had (~400 people when I was hired) and turn it into an asset. The community produced content, moderated our forums, ran tournaments, produced plugins and dealt with cheating, abuse and customer support issues. My job was to manage the community we had and to leverage the shit out of it. It was someone else’s job to do user acquisition, but once they were on the site, they were mine.

Am I a social media expert? Far from it, and I’m ok with that. I don’t use it in my day to day job because it’s not my primary value driver at this point. Is it incredibly valuable to many many organizations – most definitely. Will I ever need it? Maybe. Will I definitely need it? Probably not.”

Justin’s full response can be found here.

Justin doesn’t use social media in his community management role because it doesn’t make sense for his objectives.

When looking for the community manager that I’d like to achieve these kinds of goals I’d look for someone who:

  • Understands the userbase and the content related to the userbase.
  • Can create a platform where members of the userbase can interact and connect effectively.
  • Can effectively engage with users.
  • Understands the advantage to the company of turning a userbase into a community.
  • Can organize events and projects to strengthen the community.

…none of which require the use of social media.

It’s easy to think that social media is ubiquitous to those of us who spend hours and hours on these platforms every day.  In reality though, even with their enormous stats, not everyone is using social media and those who do aren’t using it as religiously as one might assume.

It’s definitely popular and it’s definitely a growing trend, but to call it a ubiquitous form of communication is ridiculous.

So before you blindly slap on “social media expert” on your next community manager job description, take a serious look at what you’re really trying to build.

Have at it.

Social Media is for Fakers

Photo cred: Ben Fredericson

Sitting in the subway at 12:00am, reading the chapter titled “The Cost of Social Norms” in Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, I realized what it is that bothers me so much about businesses in social media.

Businesses cannot honestly exist in the “social” realm.

I’ve touched on issues I’ve had with the “I’m here to be your friend” mentality that professionals and businesses take in social media communities.  I just can’t agree with the idea that everyone is really that close with each other, and that everyone gets along so well based on sincere feelings…  not when there’s money involved.

While Dan wasn’t discussing the issues I bring up here, the concepts that he studied and shared in his book are highly relevant.  The subtitle of the chapter that I read was “Why we are happy to do things, but not when we are paid to do them“.

Ariely goes on to explain that people simultaneously live in two worlds:

The Social World

The interactions we have in the social world are founded in emotions and relationships.  It’s why we’ll cook a full feast for our family on Thanksgiving without expecting anything in return.  It’s why we hold the door open for others.  We do these things because it makes us feel good and there is no immediate reciprocation required.

The Market World

The interactions we have the market world are different.  In the market world, we do things based on the financial returns that we get.  The exchanges we make in the market world are based on a cost-benefit analysis.

So what does this have to do with social media?

Well as Ariely explains, “When social and market norms collide, trouble sets in.”

Many interactions that are considered “best practices” for businesses using social media, are made to look like “social” interactions, but they’re really not.

Look at the common advice you hear about joining the conversation, building trust, engaging in communities… it all sounds like it’s in the “social world” when in reality they are in the “market world”.

The very fact that businesses are concerned with the returns that they get from their time spent on social media, makes it a purely market based interaction.

Ariely uses the example of a guy who takes a girl out on several dates and pays for dinner each time. He grows impatient because he’s spent a lot of money and hasn’t gotten laid.  A situation that seemed to be purely social, was really founded in market values, and all came crashing down then the true motivations came to light.

Making exchanges in the “market world” isn’t a bad thing.  Making them out to be purely “social” interactions? That’s wrong and can cause trouble.

And so I ask…Is social media for fakers?

Is it for those who can pretend to be your friend?  Is it for those who can paint the image that they care when really their actions are motivated by market forces?

The very nature of business makes it impossible to have truly sincere social interactions…maybe we should start treating it that way.

The Stupidly Obvious Secret Ingredient to Social Media Success

Your success in social media is determined by this highly scientific equation:

Effort + How Funny You Are + (Luck/100000) = Social Media Success

You can’t control luck. You definitely can’t control how funny you are. So what do you need improve to find success with social media?

Effort.

Photo cred: Ferdinando del Drago

The more effort you put into blog posts, into helping customers, into building relationships with bloggers, into participating in conversations etc…the more you’ll start to see returns.

No one said it was going to be easy.  Setting up a twitter account, a facebook page and a blog doesn’t take much effort.  Keeping these things updated and getting returns will take a great deal of effort.

Get your hands dirty, go above and beyond for your community, struggle for the of benefit others, and rack your brain for new ways to help people.

And yes, as hard as you work, you’ll still have to be patient.  It will take time and you will make some mistakes… but if you’re willing to contribute a great deal of effort into social media, then you will see returns over time. I guarantee you will.

The tools, the tricks, the tips…that’s all easy to pick up with a little practice.

Effort won’t always work in other areas of business.  Certainly, you can put a great deal of effort into marketing, and still see no results.  Same with advertising and traditional PR.

The good part?  Once you start to see returns, it gets much easier.  It starts to flow.

Take a look at some of the most “successful” people and companies in social media.  Look at Chris Brogan, Amber Naslund, Gary V, Scott Stratten, Scott Monty and the list goes on.  They’re bringing success to themselves and their brands because they’re hustling their asses off day in and day out.

So, stop acting confused when your blog post that you threw together in 10 minutes didn’t go viral.

Stop questioning the value of social media when you can’t get any twitter followers in the first few months.

Stop dipping your toes in, and wondering why the rivers of cash haven’t started flowing.

It’s frustrating.  It takes time, it takes practice…it takes serious effort.

But trust me…it’s worth it.

Recap: PRSA Digital Impact Conference Day 2

As promised, here is the recap of Day 2, of the PRSA Digital Impact Conference in NY this week.  I was invited to cover the 2 day conference, and was happy to join the discussion with all the bright and interesting professionals that it brought together.

Unfortunately, I missed Jennifer Preston’s talk but fortunately for you, Eric Schwartzman has you covered.  You can watch the whole talk here. I heard it was really good.

The first speaker I caught on Day 2 was Carlos Dominguez.

He said that people don’t want to change, which makes it hard to change a process within a company. It usually isn’t the system that’s the problem, it’s the people in it. Once they become comfortable with a system, they don’t want to change it.

He went over a lot of the stuff you hear all the time.  Know your goals and objectives.  Measure…etc.

He mentioned that Cisco does a lot of reverse mentoring with their employees.  They host meetings and create an environment where the younger (Gen-Y) employees mentor the older employees on how to use the new tools.

You guys know where I stand on that one.  Reverse mentoring is great, and needed…but to assume that a young professional is more knowledgeable on how to use social tools for business than an older professional, is a mistake.  Gen-Yers grew up using these tools recreationally.  It’s very different than how businesses approach it.

Carlos also said, “Video is going to be the killer application”.  I think it already is.  Either way, he’s right, and he spoke a lot about how cisco is embracing video.

Next, I listened to Rishi Dave (Dell) speak.

"Forget the numbers. The impact of SM is this big"

Rishi had some good stuff.  Here are some gems:

“It’s all about who and how many you follow, not how many follow you”.  On twitter, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have.  What’s important is that you’re following the right people.  This way:

  • You can gather the best viewpoints in that space, and organize it for potential and current customers to consume.
  • The followers will come.

He broke down the growth of the web, and it’s purpose in terms of information, into 3 stages:

  • Internet Age: Used to send information (ie. Yahoo)
  • Information Age:  Used to find, or search for information (ie. Google)
  • Connected Age:  Used to follow, as in a stream of information (ie. Twitter)

Towards the end, I appreciated this line: “Successful companies in social media act like party planners aggregators and content creators.”

Next I watched Kevin Roderick – UCLA Newsroom

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with this talk.  I really don’t have points to share with you because he didn’t say much.  He had great content, with a timeline of videos and images from the crisis they faced when Michael Jackson passed away, and mobs formed around the hospital.  In the end, it just sounded like they were in a tough situation, and had no idea what to do.

The talk was supposed to use this situation as a learning experience,  and show us how we can apply UCLA’s insights to developing a social media program that’s nimble and ready for anything.  It really didn’t.

Or maybe I’m just a bad listener.

Finally, I truly enjoyed a panel about “Where is PR headed?” with Kami Huyse, Clay Hebert and Jonathan Kopp.

The responses were a bit scattered so I’ll try to just list out a few key points from the panel as a whole.

Trends to look for:

  • Augmented reality is going to be huge.
  • Location is also going to be huge.
  • Social media overload is only getting worse.
  • Mobile will continue to grow and will probably be the most important platform for business.
  • End of privacy as we know it.  (The hot topic as of late)

Overall I really enjoyed this conference.  The speakers were pretty insightful and the crowd seemed to genuinely find value in the content.  Everything ran on time, the people were great, the food was awesome, the Day 1 networking after party was done really well and the location got the job done.

I’d like to thank the fine folks of PRSA for inviting me to cover the conference.

You can find all of the photos from this event here.

You can find the Day 1 recap of this event here.

Recap: PRSA Digital Impact Conference Day 1

I was invited to attend and cover the PRSA Digital Impact Conference in NY this week.  It was packed with PR professionals and business owners looking to wrap their heads around the digital innovations that have warped the traditional field of PR in the past year.

The speakers that I listened to provided content that ranged from beginner level basics, to a sort of “mid-level” understanding of the social space.

Jeremiah Owyang kicked it off.

He covered 4 main points:

  1. Understand customers and focus on objectives
  2. This is a movement, get your company ready.
  3. Invest in Social CRM systems
  4. Develop an advocacy program

He was as helpful as always, and set the conference off right, as many speakers that followed him referred back to his talk.  I loved his idea in “Love yourself first then love your customers – get your company ready for social engagement”.  If you and your employees aren’t proud of your company, how can you expect your customers to be?

Next came Paul Gillen and Dave Balter, two guys who really know how to work a crowd.

They were witty, to the point, and actually pretty damn insightful.

Paul went first, sharing his thoughts on the term “ambassador”.  He explained, “An ambassador can be a friend, a relative, a blogger…” making the point that really, anyone can be an ambassador for you or your brand.  Start by looking around you at the people you’re close with.

Paul also made the point that you don’t have to pay someone to be an ambassador.  In fact, it’s probably best you don’t.  Dave then drove that point home with an example that I loved.

He asked, “If you were my good friend, and I offered you 5 dollars to come help me move my couch, would you help me?”  A few hands went up.

Then he asked, “Now what if I made this awesome pizza with all this good stuff on it, and asked you to come over to help me move my couch, while we hang out and eat pizza?”.  Almost all the hands went up. (probably some veggies in the crowd).

It really nailed a huge concept in social media.  People don’t want to be bribed or manipulated into doing something.  Give them something they can appreciate, act like a person, and they’ll be happy to help out.

A few more gems from Dave:

  • If you get one person to share content in the best places possible, that’s better than 50,000.
  • Influence is a “topic state”. You can be influential in coffee, and not influential in sneakers.
  • Seek out ordinary influencers, not just the “influentials”.

Next I sat down to watch Heidi Sullivan and Shashi Bellamkomda speak about crisis management on the social web.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Be active and be present so that when a crisis hits, you’re there, and you’re ready.
  • Try to spot a “crisis” situation early.  If you see several tweets come in at once about a particular issue, look into it immediately.  It can spread like wild fire on the social web.
  • Respond to every single complaint.  If there are too many complaints, you’re probably facing a crisis.  Put up an official statement that will answer a lot of questions, and make sure that it’s clear for your customers.
  • You can manage your online reputation, with offline events.

And now we arrive at the second keynote with Google’s communication manager, Gabriel Stricker.

The talk didn’t really give you much actionable content, but it really did give you a lot to chew on.  He touched on the concept of crisis management as well, acting as a good follow up to the previous panel.

Using a blog post from Jet Blue as an example, he explained how effective it can be, in a crisis situation, to just get out a message that speaks to your customers on their level.  Don’t put out an over-worked, dry press release.  Speak like a human, because humans are the ones that you have to convince.

Stricker also spoke about Google’s “launch and iterate” process of doing things.  It’s how they launch their products, and also how they approach their communications projects.  Everything doesn’t have to be perfect when you launch it.  It’s better to get something out there, and rework it based on customer feedback and testing.

Next I watched Deborah Schultz (Altimeter group) speak.

Her message was simple…

Like the tagline on her blog says: “Technology changes, people don’t”.

Be present consistently, and be genuine.  Don’t “ignore ignore ignore” and then reach out when you need something.  To build a connected, and strong community, you have to create an “ongoing experience”.

And finally, I watched the wonderful Deirdre Breakenridge

She rocked out for an hour on the topic of “Building a Social Media Strategy”.  Certainly a tough topic to cover thoroughly in an hour…or at all.

I won’t get into the whole strategy that she lays out.  You can find her slides online.  I did want to touch on one aspect of her talk and that’s research.  She put A LOT of emphasis on doing research before hand, and I couldn’t agree more.

The term “social media SWOT analysis” is something that anyone looking to get involved on social platforms should get to know well.  Understanding the environment internally and externally will really help you understand what you need to do.

Do research before you start a facebook fan page “just because”.

You can check out all the pictures from the event here.

Stay tuned for the Day 2 recap.

The Forgotten Art of Research

Photo cred: Troy Holden

Research.

It’s an art.  One that we practice for many years, but forcefully forget.

It’s something that was drilled into us since the first day of school.  If we wanted to learn something, we had to read about it in a boring, overpriced textbook.  We would then have to take a test, write a paper, or do something to prove that we actually did the research.

It sucked.

It sucked so much that the second that diploma is handed to you, you feel a huge sigh of relief knowing that you’ll never be forced to study again.  You can now spend the rest of your days reading what you want, and learn by doing.

Research is still valuable long after you graduate but you avoid it because it feels like homework.

The professionals and entrepreneurs that really go far are the ones taking in as much information as possible related to their topic.  If you want to be great at your job, you have to research the crap out of it.  Read books, blog posts, case studies…do anything you can to make yourself more savvy and get an edge.

BUT…relying on blogs or twitter to learn everything won’t cut it.

Bloggers don’t dig deep enough…and twitter lacks any depth whatsoever.  Google the term “research”.  The number 1 result is Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is the cliff notes for the cliff notes.  They can all be great research tools but will only teach you so much.

Don’t forget about research.  It takes time and commitment.  It’s not easy to find the right information.  In the end though, it will pay off.

When was the last time you really researched something?  Has the art of research been forgotten?

If you have any good research tools or practices, share them in the comments.

A Lens Cap, a Pegshot, and a Shitty Envelope

Last week I was at social media week New York.

I went to the Obliterati party on Thursday night.

Whilst mingling and pretending I know how to take pictures, my lens fell off my camera…never to be seen again.  Needless to say, I was mildly distraught.

See? “=(“ = sad and “=\” = mildly sad.

But wait…

Phil DiGiulio (@holaphil) found it!  Just when I thought all was lost…

Yea…he even added a picture using his awesome website, pegshot.  He also used his service earlier in the week to provide the public immediate coverage of an elevator he got stuck in with Ann Curry, Jeff Pulver, and others…

Within moments, Patrick Johnson spotted the tweet, put tweet and tweet together, and excitedly tweeted that shit in my direction… tweet.

We then connected, and Phil offered to mail it over to me.  He’s the man.

Finally, my lens cap and I would be reuinited!!!

Until the envelop ripped on both sides and the lens cap fell out in the mail…

So the moral of this story is uhhhh…