Archive for December 2009

The top FreshNetworks Blog posts in 2009


hbw | happy (custom) bokeh wednesday
Image by Adam Foster | Codefor via Flickr

Each month we look at the most popular posts on the FreshNetworks blog. We aim to bring you the best posts in social media, online communities and customer engagement online. Here are the most popular posts from 2009.

1. Google Wave vs Twitter at conferences

There has been a lot of talk and discussion of Google Wave throughout the year as it has spread though invites. For many people the immediate response is: “I’m here; what now?”. In our most popular post in 2009, Charlie looked at one example of how Google Wave can be used to add real value: as a conference back-channel. We show how at the Ecomm conference delegates were provided with Google Wave accounts. What resulted was a fantastic showcase of collaboration and crowd-sourcing.

2. Dannii, Danyl and instant X-Factor feedback

Dannii Minogue, a judge on UK reality TV show X-Factor, lost her mind for a minute live on air. She brought up a contestant’s sexuality when she was meant to be commenting on his performance. Twitter and the social web went wild. The speed of discussion and debate on Twitter, in forums and online communities was striking. This can be beneficial for brands when they are dealing with a potential reputation management issue. Good buzz tracking allows them to monitor social media, identify issues when they arise, understand the sentiment and where people are discussing it. Information is power, it helps brands make decisions about what to do and to do it quickly.

3. Gordon Brown’s YouTube trauma

It seems like a long time ago now, but at the end of April Gordon Brown made a major announcement on expenses for MPs in the UK. And he made it on YouTube first. Here Charlie Osmond looks at why this wasn’t the best idea and why social media isn’t always the right medium for your message.

4. Russian social network plans global roll-out

Russian social network VKontakte (В контакте) serves 1.4 billion page views each day to its 42 million users, and attracts 14 million unique visitors each month. In one of the most engaged and fastest-growing social networking markets in the world, it is a force to be reckoned with. At the start of September, Vedomosti (Ведомости), the Russian business newspaper, reported that VKontakte had registered the domain and plans to begin marketing the social network in twelve new markets globally before the end of 2010. One to watch.

5. Examples of online communities in the retail industry

As part of our series of online community examples,  we looked at examples from the retail industry. Case studies from Wal-Mart, Sainsbury’s and Starbucks.

Social media as a travel tool during the great Christmas getaway


Snowy Rukajärventie road (local road 18884) in...
Image via Wikipedia

Like many people I will be travelling later today. Taking one of the last trains on Christmas Eve from London to the north of England. And like many people I have spent the last few days checking the weather and the news, hoping that my train will run and I will make it on time.

Christmas is a time when lots of people travel, and a time when lots of travel gets delayed, cancelled or goes wrong. That perfect storm of high volume of travellers and some of the worst weather of the year. In the UK we’ve seen a lot of travel-related issues recently: the story of the Eurostar cancellations is well documented online, flights, trains and the road is also disrupted .

We’ve posted already this week about what this means for the travel industry and in particular how to use social media as a crisis management tool. But there is another role that social media can play - as a useful, up-to-date and real-time information source for the people travelling. Official information sources can be useful for things like departure times or changes to routes, but they don’t necessarily tell you the full story and, critically, rarely give you advice on what to do.

So here are five ways you can use social media to stay on top of your travel plans this Christmas:

  1. Use Twitter to find out what’s happening, now. Twitter is as much a search engine as a social media tool - one of the benefit of people sending updates and telling us what they are experiencing is that it provides a great real-time resource to find out what is happening from people who are on the ground. When your plane is not leaving and you’re not sure why, you will often find more use from a search of Twitter than the departure boards in airports. I personally find it most useful for finding out about travel around London. Whilst the Transport for London site might tell me there are ‘Minor Delays’ on the Piccadilly Line I get into work, a search of Twitter for ‘Piccadilly Line’ will tell me exactly what is happening from people at stations or on trains.
  2. Use Twitter Lists to follow official updates. Sometimes you want to know the story from people on the ground, and sometimes you want to know official updates. This is where Twitter Lists come in useful - before you go on a journey, put your airline or train company, breakdown service or road agency into a Twitter List - you then have one place to go for official updates rather than many. And you can separate the official advice from the human stories from people on the ground.
  3. Share and search for photo updates. Weather and travel are often very photographic - photos of people trapped queuing at St Pancras station this week waiting to board a Eurostar service convey much better than words ever could the real scale of the delays to the service. As well as updates, share photos of what is happening, show people where you are and what you are doing. Also use photos to educate yourself. Find out how busy that airport really is by looking for photos people have taken of the queues at check in.
  4. Update your friends on where you are with Facebook or Twitter. Status updates have many uses but they are particularly useful when you want to tell a large group of people the same thing. If you’re delayed, trapped in snow on a road or at a station waiting for a delayed train, you want people to know you are okay or that you need help. Rather than having to contact lots of people separately, use your status on Facebook, Twitter or another service to keep people up to date on where you are, how you are and also to ask for help when you need it. Mobile internet access makes this possible and is a significant benefit for anybody needing help.
  5. Use user-generated weather updates. As with updates on travel, user-generated weather updates are a great source of information of what is really happening, right now, on the ground. Perhaps the best example of this in the UK is a Twitter mash-up: #uksnow map. This uses status updates from people on Twitter who send their postcode area and a rating for how much snow their is out of ten. This data is then used to produce a map of snowfall across the UK. In real-time. From users on the ground.

Social media has changed many things about the way we can live our lives and will continue to do so. Travel and weather are two cases where users can get real benefit from using social media to do old things in new ways and to do completely new things. Whether you want to get real-time information, information from people on the ground or share your own experiences or updates to let people know what is happening. Social media can help make you better informed and better connected when travelling.

I for one know that I am monitoring activity at St Pancras station and on East Midlands Trains. Things look okay so far…

What’s the biggest mistake a community manager can make?


image coutesy of shutterstock

image coutesy of shutterstock

We’ve put the question to leading community managers across the world, and they have outlined the classic community clangers that we should all avoid.

Lack of engagement

Toby Metcalfe, Community Manager and Social Networker, is straight to the point on this: “The big mistake is to not be engaged - to have a forum and not be interacting with those in the community. Not listening to the community: building in features for your product, service, site, or forum. Not being honest.”

Game producer, Frank van Gemeren, agrees: “Having a CM who doesn’t post anything. When I asked the Forum Manager for a reason, it was ‘She’s reading and knows everything, she’s just too busy to post’. My reply was: ‘Why have her name listed as CM then anyway?’”.

Christoph Geissler, Podcast Author and Senior Forum Moderator agrees: “No communication = worst communication possible.

“I always had the impression that a community manager [or] moderator is meant to communicate with the people - I mean it’s probably the most important part of their duty.

“Saying ‘I’m currently busy, but I’ll get back to you later’ is, in my opinion, better than just saying ‘I’m busy so I won’t reply’.”

Lack of discipline and communication

Antonio King, Virtual World Community Manager agrees with Toby and adds “Inconsistency in discipline (can sort of fall under impartiality)” and “obliviousness to subtle community signs”.

By far the most cited error, was a lack of communication. Communication, explains Senior Moderator Christoph Geissler, is absolutely vital.

“As soon as the community get’s the impression that you’re just a press release-posting bot with no personality whatsoever, your reputation (which also means your success in maintaining and expanding your community) is doomed.

“In other words: Communities want to talk with persons, instead of bots.”

Not supporting moderators

Sue John, Online Community Manager at cautions that moderators must be supported.

“A community needs to know that its CM is behind the moderators and supports them. On occasion I’ve had a mod make a decision that I didn’t agree with but I’ve supported them publicly and then we’ve discussed the issue behind the scenes.

“I’ve haven’t had one make a really bad error in judgment yet, but as with most things in life we don’t always see eye to eye. However, I always listened to their comments, suggestions and feedback, because they are on the front lines and happy mods help make a happy community.”

Making unexpected changes

Betty Ray, Community Manager at Edutopia - The George Lucas Educational Foundation comes back to the message of communication: “One of the worst ones in my experience is rolling out a giant change in your product without warning the community first. (Nowadays, we don’t just warm people, but get their feedback on the decision in the first place!)”

“Would very much echo what Betty Ray said,” says Chris Deary, Community Manager at

“Not communicating upcoming changes is disastrous. There’s a common assumption that communities will love new tools and platforms just because they’re more up to date (which usually means trying to mimic Facebook), but most users are stuck in their ways and hate change. One of the things I’ve learnt is to make sure users have at least some involvement in the process of change, and ideally your most loyal users should be heavily involved. “


“Inattention to building the vision/purpose of the community. Inattention to building relationships amongst the members. Inattention to enabling the free flow of information amongst the members and from outside membership.

“Every problem of a community can be traced back to these three simple community management principles,” believes Lisa Belsito from Austin.

Do you agree? What have we missed from our list?

Why every online community needs a suicide policy


by net_efekt

by net_efekt

My husband’s been reading John T Cacioppo’s Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection and as usual when he’s enthralled by something, I’ve heard about it at great length.

While I have yet to read it (I’m too cheap to buy a second copy instead of waiting for his) it has made me think a lot about loneliness and online communities at Christmas.

For some people, through physical and perceived isolation, online communities and social networks are a main or even sole route of social interaction.

Detailed 2004 research by Dr Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, at the University of Zurich found that suicide rates actually decline dramatically in the run up to Christmas Day - Christmas Eve has the lowest suicide rate for the whole year.

The trouble starts after Christmas, suicide rates increase dramatically, with a peak in early January.

So it’s important to know what the realistic risks are, and when, before putting any plans in place.

Any seasonal suicide sensitivity needs to continue into the New Year, and your process for dealing with a suicide threat needs to be written and ready all year round.

No-one wants to write a will and it’s no different as a community, no-one relishes writing a suicide policy. But every community needs one, even the happiest, most sunny side up communities.


  1. Every community needs to be supportive, not just support communities.
  2. Every community contains people. Where there are people, there is unpredictable behaviour.

Several professions are at particularly heightened risk of depression and suicide, and consequently even a professional community aimed at sharing knowledge and best practise could be a platform for lonely, isolated people.

On one of our communities, which is mainly a place to discuss health and beauty, sometimes life gets in the way. During a product trial, a happy-go-lucky community member experienced an unexpected and upsetting event in her life. She came to the community, to a place she felt safe, surrounded by friends and she shared her news.

It wasn’t health and beauty news, it was real, personal news and she found comfort and support amongst online friends.

How could we ever assume that someone in their darkest moments, considering something terrible, wouldn’t come to a place they regularly spent time and felt safe? We couldn’t assume that. That’s why every community we run has a suicide policy, regardless of their membership or topics.

Writing a suicide policy

There are several factors to consider, and you must consider them properly:

  • Could there be minors using the community?
  • Do you have means of contacting community members?
  • Do you have real names and locations for community members?
  • You will need a templated (but customisable) message containing links to supportive organisations such as the Samaritans and any specifically relevant organisations (such as a professional benevolent society with counsellors available).
  • Do you have functions within your community that could be used to post images or videos of an attempted suicide? It is incredibly rare, but it happens.
  • Do you have an in-house legal team to discuss this with?
  • Is there a reporting function for other members to flag content they’re concerned about? Do members know this is not just for spam or offensiveness?

It’s a tragic subject, but as community managers we have a responsibility to try and keep our members as safe as possible.

Having a plan in place won’t cause any problems if it’s never needed, but not having a plan in place could leave a community manager with a scenario that haunts them for a very long time.

The unnatural lingo of the online world


The composition of two point reflections is a ...
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As online professionals, like any profession, we have a set of words and terms relating to our job. We talk about moderation and trolls and forums.

We talk about features and modules and fields. But unlike many other professions, we also expect the lay people using all those things to recognise what they mean.

We use a very unnatural language, and I’m concerned that it puts up false barriers between users and the platforms they’re engaging with.

Why do we use these funny, clunky words?I think it’s two-fold. The first adopters of online communities were tech-enthusiasts, of course. They were – and I use this term fondly – geeks. And as a geek I can attest that geek-language is not Joe Bloggs’ language. But the early lingo got stuck, and when the Joe and Joanna Bloggs’ of the world started to find their way to email discussion lists, instant messenger, and ultimately online communities, the lingo was set.

Early community managers tended to be the person that had been their longest or showed most interest (again, likely to be a geek), and naturally, the lingo would remain and be dished out top-down. Let’s start with ‘community manager’.

On our recent blog, What does a community manager do? I included a word cloud of all the one-word suggestions we’d had in answer to that question.Not one of them was ‘manage’.

So are we really community managers? Am I really Head of Community Management? Do we manage communities, or do we do something else? By far the most popular words were ‘facilitate’, ‘enables’ and ‘connects’.

None of those are really anything like management.

What would be a better job title? What do we really do?

Community Connector?
Community Enabler?
Communication Facilitator?

All rather ugly… what do you think?And then we have ‘Trolls’, as @SueOnTheWeb suggests. Yes, offline we have insults of course, but these don’t normally become professional parlance. I’m sure the police don’t have handbooks about dealing with ‘crims’, even if they say far worse than that in the locker room.

Trolling apparently dates back to early 90s Usenet group, alt.folklore.urban, but its meaning has been adapted and is standard community/moderation speak. It doesn’t – and shouldn’t – mean anything to a happy community member though, perhaps time to give up the geek-speak?

Moderation, of course, is the backbone of a healthy community. Whether it’s reactive-moderation, post-moderation or simply a culture of self-censorship amongst users, such as with many mature email communities, it’s vital.

But does the word ‘moderation’ really mean anything to most people? When we write our disclaimers and use the word, does it mean what we think it does to community users or is it just another word to gloss over?

Do we not need something a bit better, a bit more ‘human’?

Of course we have the abbreviations, the ROTFLMAOs and the LOLs and the IYKWIMs… and that’s fine, that’s a snowball that’s melted across all social media and even seeped into emails and txtspk so that non-community connected people (like my mother-in-law and mum) will use it.

And for many people that’s part of the fun of using social platforms. But it can also be very exclusive to people new to the experience. We probably can’t do anything to prevent the spread, in fact, embracing it is part of the community management experience at many communities, but if we run abbreviation-heavy communities, the least we can do is slap up a dictionary, like iVillage do on their message boards.

So again, what’s missing? What lingo remains solely to divide people? What should be replaced with more human words and what can community managers do to ensure language-use doesn’t create unhealthy cliques?