Hats off to those NOT a community manager

Today is Community Manager Appreciation Day. You may be familiar with my thoughts about this day of recognition. Those thoughts have not changed. I am excited the role of community manager and responsibilities of a community team are being recognized in organizations large and small.

This day makes me feel uncomfortable. I have never been great at giving myself a pat on the back, so when an entire community does so, it feels incredibly odd. I do not conduct my job in a silo. While I have had great accomplishments in my career, they did not happen because of me working alone. My genius is a recluse, but cannot take all of the credit! I guess, this is why this celebration does not seem to be a recognition of the entire team, but individual egos. And a community manager cannot have an ego or the career path will be short and rocky.

Today, I want to to give thanks to the talents who do not have a day of recognition, but who make my job and accomplishments possible.

Thank you to the legal/compliance/privacy teams. I understand it is your responsibility to protect the organization and employees. We may not always see eye-to-eye, but you have taught me to respect policies and guidelines as a positive force and not an obstacle.

Thank you to the HR teams. Together we have learned how and when it is appropriate to embrace employee communication. Having a smooth internal communications workflow results in improved external communications.

Thank you to the customer service teams. The front lines are not warm and fuzzy. No matter what the channel or time of day, we have to be ready to service the customer and help them feel heard. Not all issues can be solved, but they can be resolved. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, but understand what has worked across all channels of communication, adapt and embrace our own best practices.

I have seen how the hat metaphor of community management has evolved. The role of student and teacher have emerged as the primary responsibilities of a community manager and team. Sometimes we switch from one role to the other. At other times, we are both. We are the young Jedi Knight learning to trust our instincts and listen to our surroundings. We are the Master teachers educating without patronizing others in our community and organizations about how the culture is shifting.

There are more teams to thank. At one point or another we have been the teacher and the student. Let’s remember we don’t have to go down the path of change alone.

Mountains and Molehills in Community

I am sure you have heard the expression of “making a mountain out of a molehill” meaning that someone is over exaggerating an issue or the reverse, understating the issue. Community managers need to be able to discern the molehills from the mountains. This will be an EXTREMEMLY short post, because there are considerations only you can reflect on and then take action.

Negative posts can take the form of a molehill. Ignoring or making a knee-jerk response can turn the mention into a mountain. You do not have the power to control others, but you have the power to control the response and additional engagement or action from your organization. You have the power to turn a molehill into a mountain. When you do not have a supporting policy / process structure and strong internal engagement, you open the door to turning any mention across any channel into a reputation management issue.

I have seen community managers move mountains, but don’t make this a daily event. Take some time to understand what is being said across all channels on/offline and the community journey by topic. Knowledge is one of the powers needed to be able to discern a molehill from a mountain.

Empathy can’t be taught, but it can be practiced

Earlier this week, I conducted a workshop for community managers or those with community management responsibilities to practice empathy. The flash of the social media / digital command center or the structure of a playbook can only go so far in improving the community conversation. What really matters is what happens human to human. Can the person on the receiving end of the conversation distinguish between human and robot?

A week before the workshop, I gave the community managers eight scenarios that have actually occurred across their social media / community outposts. Each person was asked to answer the following questions for each scenario and come prepared to discuss the scenarios during the virtual workshop:

  • How is the other person feeling? Why?
  • What would the other person like to do?
  • What would the other person like to say and to whom?
  • What is the other person’s biggest fear / makes them most happy?
  • How will you provide the other person your undivided attention; be non-judgmental; read the speaker; and assess your understanding?

Empathy is about stepping into another person’s shoes. It is easy for community managers to get caught up in the timeliness of response that they forget to pause and think about what the other person might be feeling or how they may react to any engagement. These things cannot be mapped out for every single scenario in your playbook. Empathy is not a black and white formula to be ingested and regurgitated. Each person will need to figure out how to infuse their own personality into each situation. This takes practice. A lot of practice.

Stephen Covey defines empathetic listening as “reflecting what a person feels and says in your own words to their satisfaction so they feel listened to and understood.” There are only so many characters to get across that you empathize with the other person. The FranklinCovey Blog uses these Empathetic Listening starters to help make the other person the focus of your dialogue:

  • So, if I am understanding you correctly you are saying…
  • What I’m hearing is…
  • You seem…
  • You must have felt…
  • You feel…about…

For each scenario or dialogue, the community manager not only needs to pause and place himself / herself into the shoes of the other person, but also place the words into proper context. What is driving this person to speak out? Look at the person’s online dialogue history. Is this a genuine concern or a rant being directed to your organization and others similar? Context is key into knowing how or if to acknowledge another person’s frustration.

Here are two Ted Talks I have used as empathy training resources:


Being exposed to interactions and social experience in which empathy or the opportunity for empathy to be demonstrated is the best way to become a better empathetic listener. All the structure of a playbook or the glitz and glamour of a command center will not teach or make someone more empathetic.

How do you practice empathetic listening? How do you encourage others in your organization to be better empathetic listeners?

Oh What Big Eyes You Have! The Difference Between Looking And Seeing

We have discussed the importance of listening, the differences between active and passive listening, and responding to what you are listening to, but how many of you think about how people look at versus see your engagement and / or content? Does it make a difference? I think so. Let’s start with the definitions for a level-set:

To Look

- (verb) To direct one’s attention (towards)

It is extremely easy to hit publish and have whatever you want to say out there in the world at whatever time you desire. The fancy digital activation strategies you may deploy to spread your message across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or any other social media / community platform, may get you in front of eyeballs, but are they the right eyeballs?  People may look at your content, but does it hold their attention long enough for them to see it and take any other action?

To See

- (verb) to perceive with the eyes or mentally; understand

I look at a lot of content. I am constantly browsing Zite and Flipbook for headlines and opening paragraphs that capture my interest. From there, I do not immediately share across my social networks because I have yet to understand the value for myself. I bookmark the content and continue to browse. Periodically through the day, I will stop and read the content I have saved. Occasionally, the content will be deleted after initial read. If it is not deleted, I tag and further classify the content. I ask myself about what I have learned and the value of such information or perspective. If I can ask and answer clarifying questions about the content and others are able to get or add value, then I share the content or expand on the idea by creating content on my social properties.

Mindful Observation

Living in Boston and driving a car, you have to share the road with several cyclists. This was a huge change for me and how I was used to cruising down the highways in Dallas. I would look at, but fail to see or recognize the cyclists. (Don’t worry, no one was hurt, but I am sure hearts were racing.) The content we produce (blogs, tweets, videos, whitepapers or dialogue on any platform), shares the road with a lot of competing interests. We need to build paths for our content to travel and expectations for how our content will share the space, so the community can easily stay present, observe the content from a distance and experience as they desire, when they desire.

Being a Good Cyber Citizen

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to a class of sophomores about the meaning and importance of being a good cyber citizen. I sat on a panel with four other adults and two student representatives. Each panelist was asked to come prepared to address the following questions:

1. In terms of your own experience, what do you think it means to be a good cyber citizen?  Describe behaviors that you think are important to being a good cyber citizen?

2. How do you think students’ virtual lives can impact their “real lives”?

Being a good citizen on or offline is not the result of a one-time action. It is crucial to demonstrate accountability, responsibility and compassion each day. Am I perfect? No, not even close. Do I handle each situation with grace and maturity? There are too many people who could answer to the contrary if I pretended I was holier than thou. Being a good citizen takes practice. You must have patience with others and yourself. Here are the tidbits I shared with the young adults to the first question:

  1. Online persona is only one facet of a person’s character. You may have heard of the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” (though the phrase seems a bit archaic in the age of ebooks), the same is true of not judging people solely on their online profiles, comments or shares. While this content may prove insightful, it is not indicative of the person as a whole. You know the person as they choose to show themselves.
  2. There is a continuous blur between your professional and personal profiles. No matter how hard you try to keep the two separate, there will be someone, somewhere who will be able to follow the online breadcrumb trail and connect your profiles or attempts at anonymity. What you do and say anywhere is a reflection upon you and your networks – past, present and future.
  3. Nothing is private; Your online conversations are your unique digital tattoo. What you write and say online is captured forever. Anyone can take a screenshot of your actions and share, despite your privacy settings. Deleting your social profiles does not stop people from talking about you. Stop trying to take control of how others perceive you and take command of your actions. Be aware of what you post. Think about the consequences. And when you slip up, because you will…take responsibility and be accountable. These are the actions that define maturity, not age.

We are the voice and controllers of history. Us. Everything we write and say is being tagged, classified and judged by humans and robots. I can’t look into a crystal ball and personalize my response to the second answer. Some people have to learn the hard way. I know, in some respects, that has been me. Even if I had the opportunity to redo some of the messier parts of my life or questionable decisions, I would have probably taken the same path because that is what needed to happen for me to learn and be accountable in the future.

What you do now, impacts you now and in the future. Even before the digital era this life lesson was true. Today, what you say or do will be seen forever. When you are 50 and you see the thoughts and ideas publicized from when you were 15, you may cringe, but will you be ashamed? Will you know that that very public and visible tattoo influenced every other decision you or any other person or organization made? Life is not so black and white, but it should give you pause to reflect how those shades of gray will be reflected.

Exploring Takes Two

Do you get the conference blues? I am fortunate to be able to travel to many conferences across the nation, meet new people and explore new cities. Being camped out from dusk until dawn in a hotel room or conference center does not promote creativity or the space to reflect on what you may have learned or been inspired by during the conference. This is why I try to find time to get away from the conference area and explore the surrounding city and culture. Whether it is a nice restaurant with close friends, baseball game or museum, it is good to step away and let the stress of travel or thoughts rattling around in your skull settle.

Two weeks ago while at Dreamforce 2012, I decided to wander through the Exploratorium in San Francisco before going to the airport to catch a red-eye back to Boston. I was extremely excited about going to the institution because of the case studies profiled in the book, The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon. Normally, I prefer to explore museums by myself on the first visit. I am able to go at my own speed, digest information as I can, and not feel rushed through exhibits or feel pressured to like or stay longer in exhibits that do not catch my interest. That might not have been the best choice for the Exploratorium.

In 2013, the Exploratorium will move into a new location, Piers 15/17, with more foot traffic than the current location on Lyon Street. Perhaps the location and it being a weekday in the middle of September was the reason there were so few people in the Exploratorium during my visit. I expected crowds of students and young families in the large warehouse, but may have shared the building with less than ten families.

Almost every space in the Exploratorium was interactive and it was obvious some of the exhibits had been through the ringer and had not withstood the participation. The warehouse environment opened up the exhibit space, but lack of windows and exhibits not well maintained made the space feel dark and a bit depressing. Several exhibits required more than one person to participate, so I observed other families and groups go through the motions. Since the space was so big and there were so few families, there was not an opportunity for shared participation with strangers or impromptu conversations. The exhibits brought groups already familiar with each other closer, but did not encourage participation outside of the immediate physical boundaries.

There were exhibits I thoroughly enjoyed like the “Alice and Wonderland” distortion room and Mix and Match Emotions. One of the most interesting exhibits was Retrained. A small room contains a 19th century constraining device known as a Utica Crib. At the entry/exit, visitors were asked to describe how they felt restrained and write the response on an index card. Visitors could share their response by pinning the card on twine ropes displayed in the glass windows at the exhibit entry/exit. It was amusing to read several responses containing the answer, “skinny jeans.”

Perhaps if I had explored the museum with a friend or my children, the experience would have been more enjoyable. I felt disconnected from the mission of the museum because it was hard to interact with the objects and the visitors. There were no museum professionals visible in the museum outside of the ticket area. I was disappointed with the overall experience, but happy to have had the opportunity to see the exhibits I have read so much about. When the Exploratorium moves to its new location, I will visit again. Dreamforce 2013, anyone?