Being a conscientious online community tourist

Just over a week ago my husband and I took a whirlwind vacation to Istanbul with a stop in Rome on the journey to our final destination. Of course, you know me, the typical Type-A personality, I like having a plan and a process. This does not mean I cannot be spontaneous. Other than a dinner reservation on one night of the trip, we did not schedule a minute-by-minute itinerary. Yes, we had a list of places we would like to visit, but did not want to feel any more rushed than our four day trip was by default.There was pre-trip planning and a plan to be had, however.

You see, I did not want us to be “that tourist” – you know the one I am talking about. I can see you cringe right now. Let’s not generalize either. It is not just the Americans visiting other countries. There are folks fitting this description of every culture, gender and age. Unfortunately, folks tend to generalize the population of an entire country based on the case of one rotten apple. Just take a read through this post on the most annoying habits of tourists. How many of us have ever committed one of these fouls due to ignorance or blatant disregard?

So, I may not have planned my every move in Rome and Istanbul, but I did study the habits and customs of the cities visited. Trust me, I had my fair share of sticking out like a sore thumb in high school. My goal when visiting any location (this includes within U.S.A. too) is to put on the hat of an anthropologist and study the community before entering. Perhaps this study habit is the product of my career as a community manager or developed as a military brat visiting and living in a multitude of countries. There is nothing worse than being “that tourist,” knowingly or unknowingly.

Applied anthropology may be a useful practice extending beyond your annual vacation planning. You may consider applying this research habit to your daily online ventures, as well. It is so easy to hop from one blog or community platform/group to the next without hesitation or consideration of the inhabitants and regular participants in these spaces. Interrupting a conversation or insulting a community member because you did not have context of prior conversations or actions is a blunder similar totrying to touch in on London’s Oyster system using a paper ticket.

Before you can map the connections between your organization and community, you have to understand the methods, motivation and venues of participation.

Observe

  • Try to be an impartial observer and look at the community surroundings and interaction through the lens of one without bias.
  • Read between the lines and examine the underlying emotional triggers of what is said and shared or not mentioned.
  • Look at the content being shared and discussed to pinpoint trends and hot topics.

Lurk

  • Go for a community walk (similar to a photo walk) and take action without being disruptive and document landmarks or other areas of the community space or platform you have not noticed before:
      • How are people organized within the community? Are there subgroups? What is the cause of these subgroups and current conversation topics/exchanges?
      • How do people influence each other and outcomes?
      • How much space is allocated to sharing different types of content (i.e. documents, blog posts, discussion forums, etc)? Is discussion enabled and encouraged around content?
      • What type of information is considered important enough to label as announcements or advertise prominently within the community space? Does this priority of information align with conversation and subgroup organization observations?
      • What topics of conversation or forms of engagement utilized in common community areas?
      • What type of lingo is used in conversation to reference topics and company/brand/product/service mentions?
      • What level of emotion is expressed in the interactions? What is the tone?
      • What types of interaction is observed? Is the interaction limited to community members or are there official company spokespeople participating?

Question

  • Interview community members (Once again, don’t just analyze the answers to your questions, but observe how and what is said and not said in reply) to help make sense of the information gathered during the observation and lurking stages:
      • How do community members discuss the community with friends outside the online community space?
      • What would community members change about the space and interactions?
      • Who are the (perceived) community heroes?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg of the information you can and should glean before participating in any community. You are just a tourist like any other until you become familiar with the habits and customs of your community. Avoid being labeled as the ignorant tourist. Your Internet connection may be your passport and transfer you immediately to any community destination, but citizenship is a process. In online communities, citizenship is earned with trust and credibility.

Online Community Management for Dummies: A Review

Now let me be clear, I have never been a huge fan of the ‘For Dummies’ books. Don’t get me wrong, I have cracked a couple of those books in the days when I was attempting to learn how to code. I have, however, read the recent, Online Community Management for Dummies book by the wicked smart Deb Ng and have to say it is the best I’ve read in this series.

If you are new to the community management role, this book is for you. Deb outlines the many hats you must juggle as a community manager both on and offline. The book is comprised of seven parts ranging from community governance to hosting meetups and is full of tips and tricks from someone who has the battle scars of fostering a community. The underlying theme of each chapter is the focus on the health of the community…not the numbers or superficial and false indicators of success.

The role of community manager is anything but new, but it is the “it” job at present. If you are making the case for a community manager, the final section is comprised of three top ten lists that may help you with your cause. The lists outline the tasks, skills and best practices of a community manager. A community manager is an integral part of the organization because he/she is the bridge between the organization and the communities it serves. This is no position for a dummy, but everyone needs a good roadmap or refresher course, so pass on this book on to your community team. Start a discussion about how you can begin fostering a healthier dialog online and offline.

Thanks to Wiley and Deb Ng who sent copy of this book to me. Good news for readers…I pre-ordered this book months ago and have a highligher-free copy to give away. Please enter a comment below about why you would like to read this book or pass along to your community manager.

Community As Family

Two weeks ago, I attended my daughter’s second grade open house. Fortunately for us, school drama at the beginning of the year was kept to a minimum because my daughter is in a looped class (same teacher/students, grades 1-2). I expected the usual run-down of the upcoming curriculum, pack an extra set of clothes reminder…you know or remember the drill. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the teacher begin the parent meeting by talking about the importance of social skills and how the students would be learning about the importance of community.

Community. Other people besides themselves.

Perhaps this does not seem significant to you, but as the parent of an almost-eight year old girl, this is a big deal. This means she is learning she is not the center of the universe. She may be special, but so are others. She may have needs, but so do others and it is her responsibility to be aware of others.

Family

The teacher informed parents that she describes the classroom to the students as a community. The other students that make up this community should be treated like family. You may not like your family members all the time. Sometimes you may be upset with a family member. No matter what may occur, the other students are family and are to be respected.

Needs vs. Desires

As part of the social studies curriculum this year, students will research three cultures. The goal of this exercise is to not just memorize a bunch of facts, but understand that other people have different needs, desires and challenges. This is teaching children to view things from another perspective and determine the difference between needing something for survival and wanting a material item.

Goals

Just as students are being taught to think of others as family, they are being encouraged to be aware and elevate others to elevate self. The students are responsible for writing goals that are not exclusive to their own growth, but the include the needs of others. This exercise is to help the children be more aware of the needs and challenges of fellow student and be solution-oriented and help find others solve issues.

Take a lesson from these second graders: Social skills are the foundation to a healthy and well-rounded person. Find the balance between individual and community. Learn to live and let go.

*Also, I am thrilled to report that my daughter used the word “funky” to describe herself in a magazine print collage. This should say everything.

Not All Community Managers Created Equal

Oh where oh where does a community manager originate? Is the job of a community manager ever complete? What is the afterlife of a community manager? These questions have been rolling around in my mind for several years as I have assisted with building community teams from scratch. My job never felt complete and yet while developing personal stretch goals, I continuously asked myself the question, “Where do I go from here?

Whether you view community management as a lone wolf role, team effort, or mindset of many in the organization, there are numerous areas of responsibility. There will always be the opportunity and advantage of having a Jack-of-All-Trades available, but more often than not, as you build your community team or wrangle those with the mindset, one size management or community work does not fit all.

What makes the team (whether a defined team of community managers or those with the mindset) really rock and roll is the understanding and willingness to expose strengths and weaknesses. This is where process meets strategy and leadership. Seriously, who wants to tackle personal demons and customer issues all day? A functional community team must do this all the time. This is where tiers or engagement responsibility and niche content focus areas come into play.

Tiers of Responsibility

Many organizations are so eager to jump into social media, they dismiss the value of a sound structure. Such a foundation is built with a listening strategy in place. After determining the areas of conversation your organization is choosing to listen and engage, consider dividing and conquering the response among three tiers of response:

  • Tier 1: This is a role operates the main monitoring post for the organization or brand, and ensures the posts get to the right members of the team or organization for response. This person’s job is to filter the posts as they come in and workflow, properly tag, classify, and assign them according to our engagement processes. This role also includes analysis of activity in the form of reports on team activities and trends.
  • Tier 2: The community managers answers questions, contributes to the larger dialogue through blog comments, and participate in the organization’s outpost communities (to include, but not exclusive to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and LinkedIn). This tier is second level response/support after the community or conversation operator.
  • Tier 3: This tier is third level response/support after Tier I. Response and engagement is still within scope of work, but focus of daily work is content development and industry engagement.

Just as you would not hand over the keys to your Porsche to a kid who has yet to have some driving time under his/her belt, you would not hand over the keys to engagement on behalf of your brand to someone without the depth of experience and knowledge that comes with maturity. This maturation process does not have a set time period, but if the team management and leadership work with members to grow their strengths, and recognize and develop areas of weakness, the external communication process will be smoother.

Niche Areas of Expertise

Community managers wear a plethora of hats these days, from community ambassador to storyteller and back again. There is no one job responsibility or hat. Each organization has to find the right mix and balance of hats a community manager must wear. Consider adding verticals or niche areas of expertise to your team. For example, divide your team into four sections (slotted using tiers explained above):

  • Brand Engagement: These community managers are responsible for engagement on behalf of the organization or brand. Such engagement occurs on the organization’s outposts and nurtured in the areas of conversations outside of organization management.
  • Content Creation/Curation: This position stewards any content that’s thought-leadership and social media industry related and oversees organization’s outposts, includes, but not exclusive to blogs, webinars, podcasts, ebooks, whitepapers, case studies – anything that helps contribute valuable, educational content to the community (with focus in the social media space).
  • Industry Engagement: Those tapped for this responsibility cultivate conversations external to brand engagement and hone in on understanding and authentically engaging in conversations of interest to the industry.
  • Internal Communications: The focus seems to be on external community management responsibilities, but just like an iceberg, the hard work and socialization of ideas, content and the closing of feedback loops comes down to internal communication – and this is not to be obvious by the community. While all community managers need to master social skills to work within organizations, it is wise to explore the addition of a person or responsibility with sole focus on the needs of your true first responders and evangelists.

Big Picture Realization

Just as you would diversify any other group or department within your business, consider doing so with your community team. Give them a place to grow and a desire to push themselves. Help them understand their role in the larger organization’s communication strategy and business goals. Helping these team members to stay relevant and push the envelope will assist in increasing the positive perception of your company and form a deeper bond with your community as both sides mature.

Give your community managers stretch goals. Give them a place to learn and grow that not just helps them, but your organization. How have you developed community teams?

Stop Playing the Victim

When I first began my career, I remember working with a woman at a PR agency. She was someone I looked up to. Savvy. Beautiful. Confident. She took charge of the project and her team with such ease. I wanted to be her. I recall one of my co-workers describing her as someone who “spoke softly and carried a big stick.” Not me. You could hear me coming a mile away.

Despite my brash ways, I was quick to apologize. To everyone about everything. I’d start out by saying “I’m sorry to bother you, but…” – issuing a steady stream of regrets I did not necessarily feel, but felt necessary due to a lack of confidence. I did not recognize this bad habit until I became responsible for being the public voice of a company and being the one to issue apologizes. Real heartfelt apologies. In this instance, you cannot fake it until you make it. Apologies are not sweet nothings that can be ignored. Apologies, in general, are not easy to accept.

Think about it. When you are truly upset with your significant other and he/or she gives you a gift (like flowers) in lieu of an apology or just attaches a simple ‘sorry’ note, what do you think? C’mon, what do you really think?

What are you apologizing for?

Do you recognize and take accountability for what I perceived you did incorrectly?

  1. “I am sorry” is not a conversation filler.
  2. If an apology is not warranted, perhaps it is a misunderstanding. Respond to fix facts or understand more about how the other person is thinking and feeling.
  3. Discover why you are motivated to apologize. Knowing why and how you say sorry is half the battle. Once you figure this out, you will be able to apologize and have the words mean something.
  4. An apology is not about you, it is about the recipient of the perceived damage. Don’t make excuses or talk about issues not directly relating to the situation for which you are apologizing. Be detailed. Why are you apologizing?
  5. Timing is everything. Just like the boy who called ‘wolf’ too often, your apology will not be believed if it follows a multitude before it.

Whether in a personal or professional situation, measure the meaning an apology. Be confident in who you are and the organization you represent.  Stop pretending to be something you are not. If and when you are truly apologetic, step-up and accept accountability.

Until then, stop apologizing. You are not the victim or the recipient of the supposed apology, remember? This story…this “I’m sorry” is not for you.

Add a Dash of Romance to Your Community

Now there are several people (including me) who have suggested of thinking of social networks as a cocktail party. You have to mingle, make courteous introductions and be welcoming. And this advice is great, but now that you have been investing more time and resources into your social media initiatives, perhaps it is time to raise the bar.

Add a dash of romance.

You heard me.

Now for some, romance equates to sweaty palms and feeling at a complete loss. Believe me, I am one of those folks. My husband, however, is a hopeless romantic. Many of you that have known me for awhile may know my husband and I met on Twitter. Here is the back story (my version and his version). My husband had some work to do to convince me that he was not a stalker or a serial killer from Brazil luring me somewhere…fears of being sent back to my family and friends in chopped up pieces danced in my head.

What kept me wanting more then and today is that he was emotionally invested in me. He actively listened to me. It was the small things like love songs translated from Portuguese to English, sending me a Wired Magazine filled with post-its of his thoughts…and, OK, dinners in Paris, that really sent me over the edge. On Sunday, we celebrated our second wedding anniversary.

More and more people are showing up at the party. You have to do more than just turn up the charm. You have to woo your community. You have to go beyond one-off contests. You have to show them that you recognize the little things and that they are a big deal to your organization.

It is time to turn up the heat.