When does the online community manager’s job begin?

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START / STOP
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Many community manager positions advertised online ask for someone to help supervise and develop a newly launched community. In my opinion this is far too late to look at employing a community manager. They should be involved from an early point in the development cycle, ideally when plans for the community are still being developed.

There are a number of reasons why ensuring the online community manager is onboard from this early planning phase:

  1. They can get to know the platform the community is built on
    Knowing your platform, how to add and update content, how to moderate, how to make changes to user profiles is core to the community management job.
  2. They can be involved in the user testing
    If your community manager finds something awkward or confusing you can be certain your community members are also likely to.
  3. They can prepare engaging content
    Having time to prepare content for your community, be it forum topics, a list of future polls or a schedule of blogs will aid the smooth running of the community in the first few weeks.
  4. They can be involved in seeding the community
    Being there to seed the community with content and invite those all important first few members in allows a community manager to identify trends and get an instant feel of how the community is likely to develop.
  5. They can develop internal relationships
    Often under-rated, having the time to develop relationships with other employees who may provide content, or be able to help with questions that arise about your brand or services, provides long term benefits to the community.
  6. They will have time to develop a library of external resources
    Sourcing resources such as external blogs and relevant news articles allows you to quickly update the community and provide a talking point for community members.

When that “go live” date passes and you offer your community out to the world, having a community manager who has been given a chance to familiarise themselves with the environment and build internal relationships before the traffic arrives will only help with the long term success of the community.

Social media strategy for small businesses

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Jelly babies
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This week we have been looking at social media for small businesses. Ways in which they can use the social media tools that exist to build their brand, engage their customers and learn about their brand, market and competitors. It is as important for small businesses as it is for large brands to build a social media strategy. And there are many different ways that you can start to use social media to get these benefits.

And social media strategy should be based on what your brand is looking to achieve. Only when you have established this should you start to experiment with different social media tools and will you be able to measure the success of what you are doing. This need not be an expensive and elaborate implementation, some great tools exist for small businesses to use to help achieve their aims with social media and this week we looked at four of them:

  1. Social media monitoring and buzz tracking: Any social media strategy should start with a thorough process of social media monitoring. Listening to what is being said about your brand, competitors, market and customers. There are a range of free buzz tracking tools available and setting up some simple monitoring tools is something that any small business should do.
  2. Twitter and targeting customers: Twitter is a very flexible tool. Some people think that it is most useful when you are following and being followed by very large numbers of people. But this is not always true and it can be particularly powerful with small groups. You can build a small community of people online who are interested in the same issues and use this to engage customers or potential customers. Better to target and engage a smaller group of people than to try to appeal to everybody.
  3. Blogging and brand building: Blogging is a great tool that any and every brand should consider. For many small businesses, blogs are a tool that can help them punch above their weight. The content, themes and information that they share can lead them to be thought of as much larger or much more established than they really are. Blogging provides an easy way for organisations to share their thoughts and their content. And people will respect you for this.
  4. Foursquare and customer engagement: Foursquare is just one of a number of mobile-enabled and geo-location social media tools that are being developed. They allow people to connect and share information based on where they are. Foursquare in particular offers great and exciting opportunities to brands. You can find out who is visiting your shop, store, cafe or building and then work out ways to engage them and turn them into loyal customers

These are just four ways in which small businesses can use social media tools as part of a social media strategy. They are all free tools to start using and the posts linked to above contain more details about each of them. Using and experimenting with social media tools need not cost money. The important stages are in the thinking and planning about what you are looking to achieve and so which tools are most appropriate, and then in how you manage and grow your activity in any tool you choice.

Small businesses can benefit hugely from a social media strategy. Plan what you are looking to achieve and how you will measure success, and then experiment!

You can read all our posts on social media for small businesses here

Social media for small businesses 3: Blogging and building your brand

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Many small businesses are unsure about what to put on their website beyond their services team and contact details. They know they need a website but don’t always have the time, resources or content to add to it on a regular basis. It can be daunting for them, and the website can quickly become out of date. Too many websites for small businesses can date and look stale. And this is easy to recitfy.

Blogging is a useful tool for any business. It can help you to show your expertise on a topic. It can provide a less formal way for you to share your thoughts, experiences and ideas. And it can allow you an easy and versatile way to add up-to-date content and thoughts to any website. For any small business this can be a useful tool.

Imagine you run a small chain of hairdressing salons. You are busy, as all small business owners are, but understand the importance of your online presence to attract new customers to walk through your doors. Any organisation, however small, will have things that it is passionate about, and things that it can talk about in social media. In your role as owner of these hairdressing salons, you spend your time split between working in store and visiting suppliers, competitors and events and trade shows where you see the latest techniques and the latest products. Rather than have a simple, and soon dated, website that just states where your salon are and when they are open, you could use blogging to share these experiences and to share your passion for hairdressing.

You could blog each week about the latest trends, you could encourage a trainee in one salon to write about their experiences, you could review new products or highlight new haircuts. Writing a blog is easy for any business, it just needs structure. Our salon could include a review every Monday, highlight new trends on a Wednesday and have a trainee’s diary on a Friday. Every week. Easily and quickly you can start adding 1,000-2,000 words of relevant and interesting content being added to your site each week. Rich in keywords that will help people find your site more easily (and so lead to more people visiting your salons). And showing your thought-leadership and knowledge in the market.

For many small businesses, blogs are a tool that can help them punch above their weight. The content, themes and information that they share can lead them to be thought of as much larger or much more established than they really are. Blogging provides an easy way for organisations to share their thoughts and their content. And people will respect you for this.

You can read all our posts on social media for small businesses here

Essential reading for online community managers

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books in a stack (a stack of books)
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A good friend of mine started a new job for the new year - working in social media for a UK charity. She asked me what reading I could recommend for somebody looking to learn more about online communities and how they can be launched and grown. There are a whole range of great books out there on how social media is used and the impact this is having on society (anything by Gladwell or Shirky would be a great starting point), but she was interested specifically in things that help managing and growing communities online.

Here’s the very short list I shared with her (and a few extra ones added in). There are many great books, articles and blogs out there and we’d love you to share your favourites in the comments below. But this is a good starting point and we would consider them essential reading for online community managers.

Books

  • Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities, Amy Jo Kim (Amazon) - a great text explaining the how to grow online communities, and explaining through examples why they grow like this.
  • Managing Online Forums: Everything You Need to Know to Create and Run Successful Community Discussion Boards, Patrick O’Keefe (Amazon) - another great textbook of how to set-up and manage online forums and discussion boards.
  • 18 Rules of Community Engagement: A Guide for Building Relationships and Connecting With Customers Online, Angela Connor (Amazon) - a pragmatic approach to planning and building online communities, you can read our review of this book here.

Blogs

  • FeverBee - a great blog from practical community-builder Rich Millington.
  • Community Spark - a community-building blog from Martin Reed.

Articles

  • Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities (2005) - a look at how to combat under-contribution to your online community, examining how social psychology impact when and how people will contribute online.
  • Understanding Community: A review of networks, ties and contacts’, Working Paper, Real Life Methods (2007) - an interesting perspective on and review of the different ways communities form and bond online

This is purposefully a short list - what would you add to it? Let us know your essential reading in the comments below.

Social Media Pragmatists beat Purists

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image via shutterstock

image via shutterstock

For a while I have found myself extolling the virtues of being a Social Media Pragmatist, rather than a Social Media Purist.

There are many “social media rules” to follow. But as an entrepreneur, and an engineer at heart, I’ve always felt the purtianical dictats must not fall foul of a basic rule of business:

Time and resources are limited. Focus them only on the things that will bring you the greatest return

So I was delighted to read this excellent post by Jason Fells today: Why Social Media Purists Won’t Last. And I enjoyed his calls to action:

“Make your company blog drive search results to the keywords you want to win. Present calls to action that lead your Facebook fans to buy your product. Entice Twitter followers to subscribe to your e-mail newsletter where you can present similar calls to action for purchase.”

Taking his conclusion one step further, I suspect there will be a backlash in 2010 against the Social Media Purists. Sadly the backlash will probably tar Social Media in general. And that’s why I say:

Long live the Social Media Pragmatist.