Being Natural Is Not Scripted

As I have gotten older, I have grown to love food. The exploration of new dishes and combination of flavors is intoxicating. In the past because of my severe food allergy to anything and everything dairy, food has not always been my friend. Food posed a threat and survival of the fittest kept me away. Enter the Food Network. Yes, people still cook with butter and heavy cream, but curiosity is getting the best of me and I am trying to adapt four-star cuisine and have a bit of fun in a kitchen that used to be the most unused location in the house.

So naturally, as I have been watching Ina and Paula dole out their famous dishes, I have become fascinated with the Next Food Network Star. Not a huge fan of reality programming, but the drama and food have kept my interest for three seasons. Any fellow fans out there?

If you haven’t yet watched this Sunday’s episode, do not read any further….spoiler alert.

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We read (and write) a lot about being authentic in order to gain the trust and credibility with our communities. Yet people seem to want or feel that they should have a list of rules that tell them how to be authentic and show off their real personalities. If individuals are having such a hard time with this, how do we expect organizations to adapt an authentic tone and experience?

Being real is simple, yet incredibly complex. Authenticity requires showing the various layers of what makes you, well…you! Showing these layers does not equate to you wearing your heart on your sleeve and telling the world your innermost thoughts and secrets. Just seeing glimpses of your character helps others connect with you on various emotional levels and start to really tune into what you are saying and doing. You can’t plan to be natural…you just are.

The Food Network Star finalist, Jyll, found that out this week after she was cut from the competition because she was too scripted and superficial. This week’s episode captured Jyl preparing to be natural on the Rachel Ray show by scripting “realness” into her delivery. The result was a robotic, superficial disaster on camera. Jyll said her POV was to be relatable…maybe…even, she could not decide. Still at the end of the episode, Jyll tried to wrangle her emotions and plastered a smile on her face with a go get ‘em attitude still going strong.

Yes, people want to see you are in control of your own emotional well-being, but to be human is to show our strengths and weaknesses.

A playbook will prepare you and your team with how to respond and engage with your community, but this resource is a guide, not a script. Just as the camera will magnify the superficial, so will online channels. People can see it a mile away. You will not endear yourself with your community, but repel them.

Would you be able to take on the Rachel Ray challenge as the Food Network stars did this past week?

Can you infuse story, do your job and engage with your community simultaneously?

Your community needs to get a sense of who you are and what you stand for as you give them the experience they will remember. If you layer your strengths and weaknesses, you can show more of yourself without revealing too much.

It Takes A Village To Tell A Story

This morning it is a sweltering 106 with heat index….in New England! Perhaps, I did not escape the hot and humidity when I left Texas. The way to cool down is ice cream (or sorbet, in my case) and a summer blockbuster. Just this past weekend, the family and I had opening night tickets to see the final installment of Harry Potter.

Don’t turn the channel…I will NOT give you my review of Harry Potter.

What caught my attention in the theater, like most summer blockbusters, was the attention to detail in sound, music, set design and costumes. Yes, the plot and actors are key, but telling the story goes beyond the cast of characters in front of the camera.

Recently, I outlined the various hats a community manager wears. In some cases, the community manager or executives with a generous amount of face or media time become the actors or stars of the show who play out the story defined by those outside of the limelight. No matter how talented your community manager/team or how big their personal brands (or Klout) may be, they singlehandedly cannot make the story a blockbuster.

It takes a village to tell a story.

1. Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role

Exactly as the title depicts, this person or team is there to support the leading cast. Often both roles rotate and each person/team requires skills to play both positions. For example, it may be Community Managers on the front lines, but Customer Support or Training are supporting the CM, assisting them in fulfilling their role and answering the need of the community (audience).

2. Cinematography

Not all communication channels are alike. A skilled eye and team are necessary to ensure the picture we see in our minds eye actually comes to fruition. This team makes the lighting and camera choices for recording the images you see on the screen. They know the intricacies of the equipment if and when technical difficulties or creative options arise when a scene is in motion. This part of the crew is your IT department. Despite popular belief, they are not out there to road block your every move, but offer you expert advice and help you through the sticky situations for which your team lacks experience and expertise.

3. Costume Design/Makeup

Verbal communication only goes so far. We read into things and absorb stories through visual elements, as well. It is the job of this person or team to set the mood for the community (audience). Many times, this role is cast to Marketing and Web Design. Various artists are creating specific items for various different channels or scenarios. This vision, to some extent will require unification and blending for the story to resonate and make sense from scene to scene.

4. Sound Editing/Music

There are several forms of editing from creating the sonic world from scratch to making original dialogue more understandable. Sound adds a layer to the scene that stimulates our senses and helps us to process what we are seeing with our eyes. It stirs emotion and helps us connect (or not) with the actions of the actors on the screen. Similar to these teams, one has to realize that there is more to engagement than just online interaction. Offline interaction requiring verbal conversation is essential to telling a story. Make sure your organization is all on the same page for tone and direction, so when the director calls for action, white noise does not take center stage.

Even a one man play needs props and direction.

Of course we haven’t talked about the value of a film editor or writer, but we will save that for another scorcher of a day!

5 Ways Organizations Can Be A Better Friend

Who do you really friend on Facebook, follow on Twitter or add to your circles on Google+? Not organizations, you say? The people behind them? Yes, you are correct, it is the people behind the avatar that draw us in and actively participate in the communities we frequent. Yet, all too often, even with a community manager, organizations get stuck being their corporate selves both online and offline.

On a whim while standing in line at Whole Foods, I bought the August 2011 edition of Real Simple. (The Find Your New Favorite Jeans article got me.) And last night, as I flipped through the glossy pages trying to will my mind to sleep, I came across the article, 5 Ways to Be a Better Friend. Seriously? This is taking up white space? Do we need to be told how to be a better friend?

In short, the answer is yes.

Actually, we need reminders. And organizations need reminders to infuse humanity into their everyday participation. No one wants to be friends with someone that is not emotionally invested in them. After all, it is all about us.

So, what can organizations learn from this article? Here are five surefire ways to add a little Thelma and Louise into your engagement playbook:

1) Stop giving advice.

Organizations do not need to fill the role of parent or long lost best friend. People have plenty of those. And with the world available as their fingertips fly across the keyboard, they don’t want someone unsolicited giving them advice about how to run their own lives. Forget the preaching, show them examples of people that resonate to them. Let your best intentions live through your actions.

2) Show a different side of yourself.

Sometimes, it is OK to be a bit zany. People have relationships with other people, not organizations. Talk about shoes, your kids, the commute to work…emotionally connect with your community through conversation that is not all about you. Find like interests and balance the corporate side of your business with your human side.

3) Be (genuinely) happy for your friend’s success.

Pay attention to what is happening to those in your community. A little interest goes a long way. If you show you are taking interest outside of the big sale, you will more likely be top of mind for them when and if the need ever arises for them to use your services or recommend to a friend. This goes for competitors too. Together we are pushing the envelope and blazing a trail. No one wants to watch organizations battle it out for their attention. Just be attentive and pay it forward to all in your community.

4) Make small gestures.

Just as you would send your friends flowers if they were in the hospital or take them out to lunch their first week at a new job, surprise your community with something that is useful for them. This present should not be a secret gift for you, but something that benefits them and a token to show that they are on your mind. It is not all about the money or the material items. A smile (or emoticon) or simply paying it forward through introductions or sharing of content, goes a long way to staying top of mind.

5) Act like a nine year old.

Remember the times all you wanted to do was get home from school and go outside to play with your friends? As adults, we have become so caught up in work, the white picket fence dream and not giving time to others outside of our immediate circle. Release your inner kid and set aside time to get to really know and engage with the community…those people you call your friends.

How are you and your organization being a better friend in your community?

Save the Cheerleader

Last month, 24,000 people took to the streets to participate in the Boston
marathon
. For many, this was not a competition against others, but with
themselves. These people pushed themselves to extraordinary physical and mental
limits. It was a sight to be seen and felt. The energy from the runners was
inspiring and the energy from the crowd, intoxicating.

While posts here have been scattershot, I have noticed the reference to my
children in writing to be more frequent in past months than in past years. Over
time I have realized if I had put as much effort and drive into my personal life
as my professional, perhaps I would have made different choices. I relay this to
you only because I am seeing things through a bit of a different lens and trying
to learn and accept the present, the blend of both worlds. And so, I learned a
new lesson as I dragged my kidlette three blocks to watch the marathoners fly
down Beacon Street.

Of course, as we watched the various athletes I ensured I took the
opportunity to speak to my daughter about the perseverance of these people, how
much time, energy and commitment they dedicated to this race, and discuss the
difference between a sprint and a marathon. However, I fear my comments were a
monologue and did not register as deeply as I desired. My seven-year old was not
instantly transformed into a possessed spirit aspiring to become a world-class
athlete. Instead, she was fascinated by the crowds cheering on the roadside.

Let me set the scene.

Despite the characters we saw run past us in a bunny costume and glitter
gold wings, this child took more interest in the common folks cheering for
family, friends and strangers alike. We inched our way slowly to the front of
the line, so she could squeeze in between the screaming adults to see the
athletes. As she scanned her surroundings, she inquired why all the people
stayed to cheer for others they did not know. If she cheered, would that make a
difference to the marathoners? Would they hear her screams and clapping?

And this is where I had an aha moment.

Starting my career in the online world, I found it took hard work, but I
gained recognition and found my voice. I {felt} like a leader. The longer I
participated in the social web, the less leadership or voice I felt I had…the
clutter and noise seemed to drown out all else and it has become increasingly
difficult to separate from the pack.

Light bulb.

Sometimes it is not about separating from the pack, but celebrating the
throngs of people alongside, behind and ahead of you. It is giving credit where
credit is due and realizing that is is not always about you. Standing up and
being a leader is great and what many of us aspire to be, but the world would
not be able to function if all of us were leaders. There is a time and a place
for us to rise up and take leadership and ownership, while other times, we have
to be the cheerleader.

So, on that beautiful spring day, my kidlette and I cheered on complete
strangers and spurred them on to be better than they dreamed…to blaze a path for
us to follow.

Being A Star In Our Communities

My first grader attends an after-school enrichment program. The curriculum is designed around a monthly theme. This past month, the students executed their creative genius focusing on the theme, Being a Star in our Communities. Yesterday, my daughter came home quite excited, saying, “I know what you do for a job, Mommy!”

Explaining what I do for a living to my seven year old daughter has been as challenging as explaining my job responsibilities to adults. As I and several others have discussed previously, there is more to our job than working in front of our computers in our jammies posting Twitter and Facebook updates. A lot more. So, when my daughter came home announcing she knew now about my career, I asked her to tell me in her words what she thought she had discovered.

“You build things for others to make them stars in the community!”

And my daughter is spot on. This is what I strive to do each day.

Over the course of the month, my daughter and her fellow students have been busy little bees designing projects created with the intention of making the people they care about smile. Together with their teachers, they have constructed birdhouses to welcome their feathered friends back to the school trees, made thank you books and planted flowers for other teachers.

Not one of the projects the students undertook was with the focus of making them a star. It was about making those in the community feel as if they were a star. Each gift was a gift that keeps giving and not some one-size-fits-all limited time offer. The students considered what the intended recipient truly desired and needed, then without any pre-existing condition, they delivered their gifts. Asking for nothing in return and elated when they saw the smiles on the faces of the recipients.

This is MY job.

I deliver gifts each day to the communities I serve. A helping hand. A shoulder to lean on. A person to vent to or confide. A person to recognize that they are seen and heard. Not just another number in the population. The gifts the community manager and/or team delivers are gifts that keep giving and we ask nothing in return. We are here to give you the soil you need to find nourishment and space to grow. We are hear to construct a safe space for you to find shelter, ask questions and challenge the status quo.

As I have said before and will say many more times, social media is nothing new. Community management is nothing new. It is about humans relating to other humans. A most basic function, so often overlooked as an afterthought.

How are you amplifying the smiles of your community?

Community Management is the New Black

Kudos to my fellow community manager, Teresa Basich, for the title of this post. In fact, while I am saying thank you, I want to take a moment and thank the team of great community managers I work with at Radian6: Teresa Basich, Gen Coates, Trish Forant, and Melanie Thompson. All of us are extremely opinionated and these ladies inspire me to be at the top of my game and not become lost in a status quo.

Last month, around the time of Community Manager Appreciation Day, a barrage of community management posts were published. Part of me was extremely excited because the (evolved) career path I had chosen was gaining traction, but disappointed that the buzz still seemed to be superficial. The position seemed to give way to another clique. Another Millennial-created position. A mere novelty instead of a discipline.

Then today, I came across a post titled, Are Community Managers Becoming Obsolete? Really? Really? Forgive me, but the position (in the world post-social media) has not been around for that long of a time and already we are jumping ship or renaming? Then, there are those of us who do not see this position as anything new, but an evolved extension of what we were already doing in the public/community relations industry, in reflection of our (and organization’s) social media maturity.

It is not me to dictate what I think the community manager job description should be, but to define through action as I have done since I adopted the title in 2006. Since then, it has become more than a role, but a discipline to be developed within myself, team members, and integrated into the very fabric of the enterprise. Community management became more about internal education and nourishment for a stronger and more dynamic external community engagement.

Over the past five years, I have broken, built and broken again, the role of a community manager in my former Federal Government position and again, as part of a team at Radian6. 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, but don’t be mistaken…one hat does not define the species. Similar to a chameleon, a community manager does not change colors or hats to blend in, but as an act of communication.

The Nine Hats (and Counting) of Community Management 

  1. Ambassador: Stewards the issues, pain points, needs, wants, and general feedback  of the overall community of customers, prospects, fans, and vendors, inside the walls of the organization.
  2. Storyteller: Shares the most relevant and meaningful stories of community members with other community members and within company walls.
  3. Poster Child: Represents brand message, promise, tone, and experience to the core; The moving, dynamic face of the organization’s brand and everything it represents.
  4. Switchboard Operator: Fields direct comments, questions, complaints, and support issues to the right departments within the organization for response and handling.
  5. Caretaker: Pays attention to the health of the community by collecting stats and data to learn more about the successes, potential problems, growth, and movement of the community; Makes informed decisions as to where to invest energy, time, and resources next; and takes steps to directly handle any existing problems.
  6. Content Creator/Curator: Develops and aggregates content and programs to help further community education in portable, easy to digest chunks of knowledge for organization and community members to use and share.
  7. Teacher: Shares knowledge internally (i.e., training, sales, customer support) and externally through tweets, chats, blog comments, forum participation, speaking engagements, and event presence.
  8. Interpreter: Makes sense of external conversations for business use; Reads between the lines of community interactions, and hones in on community member concerns and big-picture ideas, even when they’re not spelled out clearly.
  9. Connector: Identifies strong potential connections within community and makes introductions and facilitates community relationships that are mutually beneficial to those involved.

As an organization matures, so does the community management responsibilities. We are in a constant state of evolution. Attempting to land on one definition or harbor on why organizations are not doing things like you, only leads to standard practices…where everyone is exactly the same and vanilla. No business wants that for itself. Don’t miss the bigger picture: community management is not about the person or the bodies on the team, but integrating these disciplines across the organization. Everyone in your organization has the potential to be a community manager.

So, while it is great to get together with others juggling these same hats and pat ourselves on the back, there is much more work to be done by educating the facilitation of these responsibilities within organizations. Instead of an open bar or a raffle, we need to share stories, unveil our scars, and surround ourselves with those of differing perspectives/strategies. We can become smarter together, but we can’t keep rushing off to rename or predict life span until we are practicing and living the discipline of two-way communication.