When does the online community manager’s job begin?

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START / STOP
Image by Compound Eye via Flickr

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.

Fixing the broken windows in your online community

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Banksy Broken Window Theory
Image by IkaInk via Flickr

While sitting on my morning commute to work, re-reading my battered copy of Freakonomics, I came to the chapter dealing with crime rates in New York. It mentioned the broken window theory, a concept I’ve recently looked into a bit more closely as it seems to match my experiences with online communities.

To summarise the theory:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

Source: James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. “BROKEN WINDOWS: The police and neighborhood safety” (PDF)

The relevance of this approach to online communities seems clear. As you become lenient to the minor misdemeanours such as repetitive posts and off topic comments, you find the community taking this as a sign to slowly breach the terms more frequently and to a more serious degree. More time is spent dealing with the inappropriate content and you sit back thinking “if only I’d cleared out the comments that started all this.”

It’s tempting to let some of the smaller things go, especially if you have tight schedules for producing content, are managing multiple communities or find yourself buried deep into your engagement processes. However, this is a really fundamental part of the community manager role.

Making sure you remain consistent and respond quickly are key attributes for a community manager and I think this comparison sums it up nicely. So, in order to prevent the squatters lighting fires in your building, repair those broken windows quickly and keep the place looking tidy.

Social media strategy for small businesses

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Jelly babies
Image by uncle_fungus via Flickr

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

Think local, very local

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Day 6 - Night hunting by Mourner via Flickr

On a LinkedIn discussion about community management, a great comment was made about the importance of understanding foreign cultures when moderating international communities, such as those around football tournaments.

Very true. But I would expand it. As a good community manager, and especially as someone with a moderation role, you must think regional. Very regional.

When I was at school, I had a headmaster that was very proud of his Liverpool roots. One day, when talking to us about linguistics and on one of his lengthy preambles, he mentioned a ‘jiggerrabbit’.

Being a class of Devonshire teenagers, we stared at him blankly.

A ‘jigger’ is Liverpool slang for ‘alleyway’. A ‘jigger-rabbit’ is slang, therefore, for a cat.

It’s a great word, and a great example of how a word can simply not exist outside of a very tight radius on a map.

Now if I saw ‘jigger-rabbit’ in certain contexts, as a moderator who has been to Liverpool maybe two, three times in my life, I may well have thought it to be an insult.

Imagine seeing the phrase ‘black jigger-rabbit’. How does that sound to you? It means ‘black cat’, of course, but if you didn’t know the meaning, you could jump to entirely the wrong conclusion.

A good community manager gets to know their community inside out – and let’s not forget that communities themselves have their own little cultures and phrases too – and that includes letting yourself pick up on these nuances.

It’s impossible to learn every slang phrase across the world, of course, but you can pick things up, you can check unfamiliar words that don’t sit right.

The brilliant Urban Dictionary is one to add to your toolkit, as is www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk.

As a community manager, you need to develop a keen eye for these dialectical delights, otherwise they could turn around and bite you on the Queen Mum.

Michael Jackson Flash Mobs

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crowdI’ve been fascinated by the flash mobs celebrating the life of Michael Jackson. Clearly there’s no surprise people are reacting to his death, but that flash mobs have become a de-facto public response is intriguing.

Wikipedia informs me the first flash mob was created in 2003. I am sure there are many earlier examples - the U2 video Where The Streets Have No Name, seems a possible contender. Whatever the case, they’ve really only hit the popular psyche in the last two or three years (in Britain at least).

Is it a need to feel part of something that draws people in? A sense of community? of belonging? I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s a trend that’s going to stay. And I’d love to hear your pet theories.

Three recent flash mobs:

Last month I saw a great example. The Sasquatch Dance Guy. It’s an extraordinary video of how one man can build a crowd and start a craze in no time at all. It’s not an organised flash mob, but it’s a fascinating insight into instant community building.

Here’s this evening’s Michael Jackson flash mob in London:

And this appears to be a gather by bicycle flash mob for Michael Jackson in San Fran:

A few of the best flash mobs
While I am on the subject I thought it only fair to share a few of the best flash mobs ever:

The big freeze flash mob in Grand Central Station:

The T-mobile dance flash mob at Liverpool street

The Ninja flash mob

The MC Hammer flash mob