Customer Strategy

How do community managers build community?

courtesy of  https://www.flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04/4936872846
courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04/4936872846

Talking to customers. Understanding their needs. Brokering disputes. Learning what’s best for the community as stated by the members of the community. And communicating that to others. These are some of the things that the best community managers do (online and offline) to build a great community. But what do they do, really? Community is a messy thing and not well understood – primarily because participants in a community perceive that community differently based on their life experience and their goals for participating in community.

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Customer Development, Customer Experience, Startup

How to Hire an Awesome Community Manager for your Startup

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photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/3152173431

Who will be successful as a community manager?

I love coming across new community managers who say, “I guess I’ve been doing this my whole life.” It’s a light bulb that goes off in them and they’re excited for the rest of their career to get started. -Jenn P.

Many brands are searching right now for a community manager and it’s hard to know what sort of person will be successful in the community role at your company. Job descriptions (and the environment and the customers) vary wildly, so it helps to know what’s involved in the role, what kinds of behaviors mark someone as a good candidate, and how to “know a great community manager when you see them.” Everyone wants a great community manager even though they are not quite sure what that role should be. Because interviewing people for the role of a community manager can be difficult, we decided to ask some of the smartest community types we knew for their opinions.

Why should you pay attention to us and to our opinions?

Both Thomas (@thomasknoll) and Greg (@grmeyer) have been hired in to community roles and hired others into community roles, so we wanted to share two different perspectives fromboth sides of the desk. We’ve thought a lot about this challenge and wanted to get your opinions too.

Here are some of the other people we asked:

This is not an exhaustive list, and any of the folks in this group have great perspectives on building and maintaining communities – you should talk to them to get even more nuanced feedback on these questions.

When is it time to hire someone to focus on community full-time?

The first question we wanted to ask was an obvious one: when it is it time to hire someone to focus on “community” and to do it full time? Many companies and startups by their nature ask a founder or an early employee to do this, and works! (For a while.) At some point the value of the community or the time demands on that employee make it pretty obvious that you either need to ask that person or someone else to run the community show all the time.
Here are some perspectives from the group:

Before you think you need a community manager, you’re going to need to find some awesome people to share your brand with the world. Think about what you want to present if you were able to “talk to the customer” without actually being there. If you have something to say, you need an amazing community advocate.” -Greg M.

Early on, the founding team should be involved in the process of building the community before hiring someone to take primary ownership. And, whenever possible, recruit from the community itself.” -Thomas K.

“Ligaya Tichy would say it should be the 5th hire. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here but all I know is once you have customers, you have an opportunity to start building a community that will improve their experience with your brand and product. You can be learning from your community from day 1 in order to improve your product. If you don’t have a community minded founder on the team already, finding someone to focus on your customers should be a priority.” -David S

What’s your favorite community question or hack?

Sometimes the most obvious and simple answer is the best one – that attitude and technique matter to the community manager.

It sounds completely like a no-brainer given the career path, but enthusiasm is one of the greatest things a person can present when going for a community manager role. -James M

Who do you think our audience is, and what do you think is important to them? (Follow up: Assuming you got the job, how would you go about discovering these answers, and how would they factor into or drive your overall strategy? -Rachael K.

What’s the difference between customer engagment, customer success, support and community management? Which one are you? -T.A. M.

Determine the last time they helped someone independent from work – are they naturally empathetic and action-oriented? -Laura G.

How does a great community manager behave?

When I say ‘Enthusiasm’ – I’m not just talking, walk into the job interview smiling, laughing and using the words ‘I’m really passionate’ an excessive number of times. I’m talking SHOW the interview you’re enthusiastic about the role. An relativity easy task is to take a look at the companies website. From your point of view, does it harbour community as it stands? If not. Print off a screenshot and DRAW all over the damned thing! Don’t just “Tell” the interviewer how you’d help develop their platforms, physically SHOW them. A good CM would look around their competitors and other community eco-systems, pick up on where the company is lacking a little ‘something’ extra, and show the interviewers your plans and YOUR ideas. I did just that and fought off people with tons more experience than myself to land here at Sumo today :) -James M.

Community management is one of those skills that’s difficult to teach. Given the right attitude and checklists, almost anyone who engages socially can be a *good* community manager. Great community managers – like unicorns – are remarkable because they do things that good community managers don’t do in their position. What behaviors do these great community managers demonstrate? The ability to think big, think small, and to make every customer feel like a rock star.

These community managers also know how to deliver negative news in the best way possible.

Here are some more thoughts from the group:
Find people who are already engaging as community managers and talk to them (online or offline). Learn more about what makes them tick. Imagine the person in the role and see if you can imagine trusting them with the responsibility to communicate your vision and mission to the world. Every day.

It helps if they’ve done the job before. If they haven’t done the job before, look for evidence that they know how to write, how to express their ideas, how to speak in front of people without freaking out, and that they have *fun*.

Also, look for a person who exhibits “lazy programmer” characteristics – meaning that they go out of their way to automate a problem that annoys them so that they can spend more time being “lazy” and thinking about the next problem to solve. -Greg M

There is certainly a significant level of strategic knowledge that only comes through experince. But most community building tactics can be taught. What is nearly impossible to teach is empathy and supurb communication skills. So, I make that a primary filter for the process.One of my favorite interview questions is to explain the interest in throwing a party and what the group will be like, and have the candidate talk through the process of determining the best venue, music, food, activities, invites, and how they would manage and host the party during the event itself. There isn’t really a right answer, but the types of questions they ask, and the way that describe their decision process will give a lot of insight into how they would think through gathering the members of your community, making them feel welcome, and “managing” the experience. -Thomas K.

Where do you find your next community manager?

We’ve talked about how to know that you might need a community manager and how to identify them by the behaviors they demonstrate. But where do you find the real people? An obvious answer might be: “engage in a community and you’ll find the community manager.” And it’s a bit more than that. You need to find people who are already doing community work – and they might not be in the tech field – and to engage with the people who best match the style of your brand and your customers.

Look in the most unexpected places. Look for people who don’t know they’ve been a community manager all along. Someone who’s a natural event planner, someone with a personality that people flock to, and someone that’s entrepreneurial and starts groups based on hobbies or interests. -Jenn P.

If you find one good community advocate, you’ll find more. Look for the places where they talk to each other – this could be a local meetup, a conversation on Twitter, or in a piece that they publish online. Finding a great community type is a bit like a unicorn – you might not know where to look immediately, and you know one when you see them (or talk to them) – so it might require a bit of unconventional thinking. Or you might find them in the usual places – engaging with customers. – Greg M.
Even though the number of community professionals continues to grow, there are not many people who have been doing this job for 15 or even 5 years. But, there are a lot of great professions to recruit people from. Teachers, social workers, therapists, event planners, and people from top-tier-service organizations tend to be amazing at transitioning into community management. -Thomas K.

This may be counter-intuitive, and these are definitely generalizations, but there are several roles that tend to be very difficult to transition from. People from support can jump too quickly to solving everyone’s problems, rather than helping the community support each other. People from marketing can treat the conversations and relationships a little too transactionally. Social Media Rock Stars and Social Media Ninjas can have a little too much trouble stepping out of the spotlight, to let the community and its members shine themselves. -Thomas K.
Depends if you need them to create the strategy, or just execute the strategy. You’ll need someone with experience to really put together a thorough strategy. You can either hire them full time or bring them in as a consultant to put the pieces in place. The day to day execution can be done by someone entry level. A great first place to look for this is in your own community. Who has naturally established themselves as a leader? Hire them. -David S.

What questions should you ask to evaluate a Community Manager?

Community management positions are hard to hire. Behavioral questions that help the CM to tell a story are a great place to start. When you ask the candidate to convince you as if you are a member of their community, you’re seeing them do similar things as they would when actually in the job. So be skeptical – to a point – and let them charm you. The best ones will.
Some great questions to consider asking:
  1. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever facilitated?
  2. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever see someone else deliver?
  3. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you fixed it anyway.
  4. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you couldn’t fix it.
  5. What do you like to read or do when you’re not talking to customers?h
  6. What are some of the best communities you participated in?
  7. Which artist do you think has the best community?
  8. How would you plan a party for 60 of our cusotmers who have ________? (see above)
  9. Ugh, users are so dumb… am I right?!

How is community management different in a B2B or B2C world?

When you’re looking for a great community manager, you’ll want to make sure that the person has experience driving a community that uses a similar business model as the one you’re engaging in. Many community managers can handle both the “business to business” mindset and the “business to consumer” mindset, and some have a preference for one model over another. The basics of community management are the same in both worlds, and the implementation can be different by night and day.
b2b = businesses who want you to be able to hit their problems with an “Easy Stick”. They want you to give them solutions they can use over and over again and implement with little effort. They may place less importance on building an emotional relationship and more emphasis on building a pragmatic, business driven solution.
b2c = wants you to save the day. The customer would also like you to make the process as easy as possible and is not crazy typically about doing work to get you there – though many customers will help. The b2c customer would love to trumpet you to the skies when you deliver a WOW experience to them. -Greg M.
at their core all communities are exactly the same. Yes, they are going to play out differently for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely have different goals and KPIs and metrics for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely want to adopt different strategies for b2b vs b2c. But, ultimately all businesses are h2h: human to human. And the characteristics of community are the same: shared purpose, sense of belonging, an appreciation for dialog and the pursuit of shared truth. -Thomas K.

What now?

Now that you’ve learned a little more about our perspective, you should go ask the people on this list for the best community types that they know. You should engage online with the communities most similar to yours. And you should pay attention to the people who respond to you online – they just might be your next community manager.
Life Hacks, Marketing Strategy, Startup

You need a better content calendar

We have a content publishing problem

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/robellisphotography/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/robellisphotography/

Hey you there.  The one with the combination of WordPress, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Twitter, Buffer, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Slideshare, Excel, Word, and a Google Docs mishmash of information ending in Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Apptentive and others. You and I have the same problem. We want to be better at what we love – publishing valuable content for audiences that appreciate it – and we want to measure it. We also want to know which content published by which person at which time was effective. And we need to do this without the compendium of technical knowledge and project management skill that it takes today to get this done.

Consider this exchange and you’ll get the idea of why this is difficult.

a conversation among community manager types on Facebook
a conversation among community manager types on Facebook

There has to be a better way

You need a better content calendar (and so do I.) You’d like to have the ability to make a campaign, syndicate information to multiple channels and to track analytics in the same place. You need to schedule this content for days or weeks or months in advance. You’ll need to do this for multiple authors and also have a big red STOP button to make this information cease when bad things happen in the world.

I send apologies in advance to those people think that content calendars and scheduled publishing is bad. I think that it’s better to publish live than schedule, and I also feel that it’s better to set ideas in advance and follow through on those ideas when you are trying to drive sustained, measurable success. So perhaps these two goals are at odds, and perhaps not. In the meanwhile, we all need a better content calendar than just dumping everything in a Google Spreadsheet.

There are good signs – when I asked this question on Twitter – I heard from Meshfire, Relaborate and Brightpod. I also asked a group of about 5400 community manager types and got some great answers. And I also got the feeling that there are few people out there who are managing the publishing of multiple content authors in multiple channels in multiple campaigns having a simple workflow for approval with the precision and information that they are using to manage their email marketing campaigns.

What does this mean overall? Two words: Market Opportunity. Someone needs to build a content calendar and management service for normal people that is as easy as managing your blog posts in WordPress. That service needs to handle scheduling, analytics, and content funnel management for multiple people and campaigns across multiple channels. If this service already exists, I’d love to know about it so that I can use it.

Customer Development, Life Hacks, Social Networking

As a community manager, how should you be using Twitter?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/2761252333/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/

Imagine you are a community manager and today is your first day promoting the brand. How should you use Twitter? You might be overwhelmed with the river of information and wonder what are the “right” answers to questions like these:

  • How often should you tweet? And should you retweet?
  • How do you decide to follow people on Twitter? And should you unfollow?
  • Should you care about your follower to following ratio?
  • Will people share and discuss your content?

The Best Twitter Strategy (doesn’t exist)

I think the best Twitter strategy (and really, the best content strategy overall) for a community uses metrics like these and doesn’t live by them either. It’s important to measure your activity, and you should explain why you are participating in a channel.

Here are three core beliefs I think are important to build community on any channel:

  1. That you should share relevant, interesting content with your community and your industry;
  2. That the best content is sharable by nature because it teaches and informs;
  3. And that you build an ongoing community by writing and sharing that content.

Community=Actions + Beliefs

You can’t build a community on beliefs alone, so here are some tactics that are useful to consider when you are engaging on Twitter and elsewhere. The act of engaging in conversation means that you should do more than just share your own posts or your own news. You should ask questions. You should always respond to conversations, even when they feel difficult to start or to continue. And you should understand that Twitter is a fluid, changing medium.

The “rules” for engagement are changing constantly as well. Here are some ideas to consider to help you build the kind of community you want. Post as much as you want to – and understand that this may drive some people away. Follow as much as you want to do – and understand that the dynamics of Twitter favor a high follower to following ratio. For your next 10 posts, tweet 1 about yourself, 2 about your firm, 4 about your industry, and 1 just for fun.

Be A Human.

When you reinforce your brand message in the style and tone of the communication channel, people come back. And they talk to you. You should talk back to them and engage in real conversation.

So are all of those metrics up top important? Yes, and they are not the only thing you should consider. You should build real relationships offline with people whom you meet online when you building a community on Twitter or elsewhere. That interaction at a conference or an event brings a community to life. In the meantime, share great content and make sure you talk to the people around you (offline and online.)

Agile Marketing, Customer Development, Customer Service, Productivity

What’s a Community Manager’s Secret Weapon?

conversation_community

About 18 months ago I wrote a post on generosity, the secret weapon of a community manager. And since that time one of the best places that has emerged for conversation about Community has been the Facebook Community Manager’s Group.

The conversation above is a great reminder of the power of community, of the obvious (and not-so-obvious) tricks of the trade that allow community-minded people to provide great service to their customers and to maintain their professionalism at the same time.

The suggestions from community managers (and like-minded folks) fall into two main camps:

  • Understanding and communicating with the people involved in a conversation;
  • And having a plan that extends beyond the hair-trigger time of clicking “send” or “post.”

Communication doesn’t involve just making sure the right words are in place; it also includes “listening”, “patience”, and “assuming good intentions.” I’d add to this list “placing yourself in the customer’s shoes” and “trying to look for the solution, not the problem.”

And tactics need to include something beyond what you’re doing at the moment. This group suggested “Planning”, “Work-from-home”, and “Strategy” as important tools in the Community Manager’s toolbelt.

So what’s the secret weapon for a Community Manager, really? The willingness of the community of other community managers to provide advice, friendship, and suggestions.

Marketing Strategy, Product Thoughts, Social Networking

Be More Timely with Your Twitter Updates

Dear Twitter Friends (Tweeps):

We’ve all done it – thought of a clever idea, jotted down 140 120 characters and then clicked “send.” Yet, as Dan Zarrella and others have noted, now is not always the best time to publish content. There are a million (or at least, as many as you can think of) ways to publish content (to Twitter or another channel) at a time of your choosing, and I don’t use any of them.  Why?

I’m Lazy

Enter #lazyweb. I love to have conversations and to share content with people. I don’t love having to schedule when the updates appear, what time they should show up, and from what Twitter handle they should originate. I manage 5-6 handles – so this might be a problem specific to the very socially active – but I think it’s a challenge (and a response to that challenge) that more software companies should address.

Enter Timely

I’ve been using Timely by the folks at Flowtown for several months now, and I can honestly say it’s changed my life. For the better.

Timely gives me three things I can’t seem to find anywhere else:

  • The ability to schedule content updates from the browser and not have to specify which time they are published;
  • Publishing content to multiple twitter handles and scheduling the frequency and publication of that content automatically;
  • And (this is most important) the outstanding product UI/UXeasy editing of that content and good-enough analytics that let me know when I have shared or written content that others care about.
Ok, cool! It’s easy to use and provides some utility. So how do I use Timely?

Sharing Relevant Content to Different Audiences and Segments

Timely helps me to publish content at a time in the week when I’m more productive (Thursday Mornings, Saturday Mornings) and to spread out that publishing activity for an entire week. That way, I can spend less time gathering content I think my different audiences might want to read or share (whether that’s for a personal blog, a professional feed, or #justbecause) and more time engaging in conversations with my friends (and future connections I don’t know yet.)

Timely is also excellent at allowing me to schedule content I find from a discreet audience segment. I find great content sources from Email newsletters, from @Gist, from Google Alerts, and other sources, and it’s a quick bookmark action to schedule something in Timely (and then to get right back to what I was doing.)

There are some cool updates dropping soon for Timely, chief among these the improvements you see in the screenshot for this post:

  • See the entire conversation around the post, without having to go to Twitter;
  • Enhanced analytics to tell you more interesting things about your content.
If I had one thing to ask from the Timely team, it would be to allow me to save my favorite posts into a bucket in my account so that I could post them later. If I had one thing to ask from you, it would be that you give Timely a try if you’ve ever scheduled or thought about scheduling Twitter updates. And if you don’t like it (or if you do), let the team know! They are responsive and provide great feedback.