Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Future of Community Management: Thoughts from 2/29/12 #cmgrchat

I've recently started participating in the weekly Twitter chat #cmgrchat, hosted by lovely ladies Jenn Pedde and Kelly Lux. Today's chat focused around the future of community management, and specifically how we (as members of the Community Manager community) would like to see it develop as an industry and profession.

Here are some of my thoughts following the chat.

The future of community management still isn't clear. There's a lot of exciting and varied discussion around the future of the Community Manager role, with some common themes:

HappLand!There's general consensus that as CMs, we'll need to continue to increase our coverage and rally more resources around ourselves. Suggestions ranged from a universal tool for updates across all social media platforms, to easier analytics, to self-cloning, to caffeine IV drips, to unicorns. (Unicorns make everything better.)

Another point of agreement was that we need to stay focused on the human element of social media. Too many brands overwork the tools and forget the people they're trying to reach. This ties right in with my last post regarding individuality in community management.

There were many points of contention as well. Heated discussions arose around the pros and cons of outsourcing community management, as well as whether or not we envision the creation of a C-level position (Chief Community Officer). The pros of keeping community management close to the ground are clear: better brand knowledge, better connection to the pulse of the community, more honest human interaction. But many companies think they cannot afford to hire dedicated CMs, or believe that outsourcing to a dedicated agency will get them better results. In my opinion, as the web becomes increasingly social, pretty soon companies won't be able to afford not to have a community manager. And I see it as our job to convince them.

I'd like to give a shout-out to everyone who contributed to today's #cmgrchat. It really is one of the highlights of my workweek. If you're a CM, or interested in community management, I highly recommend it as THE place to hangout at 2 pm ET on Wednesdays. :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Be More Than Your Brand: Individuality in Community Management

The conversation amongst online community managers often centers around brand advocacy: how we represent our products in social media; how we maintain a consistent message across multiple platforms; how we turn customer feedback into positive change; how we build lasting relationships for our companies, both with our users and with other brands. These are valuable conversations, but too often I see community managers single-mindedly interacting as their brands, where in many cases a little touch of individuality would go much farther.

I am not a robot. Believe me, I've been asked. I've also been asked for my "customer service ID number" so that the user would not have to deal with someone else... at a company of (then) 14 people. I saw both of these interactions as failures on my part -- not necessarily failure to represent the brand, but failure to be an individual within that brand.

When I came into community management in early 2008, the industry was still in its infancy. It was derived in terms of other established roles (customer service, marketing, content moderation). Today, we're [mostly] respected in our own right, with a dedicated position in the corporate hierarchy. We no longer need to fight tooth and nail to have our jobs validated as necessary, and can dedicate those resources to making ourselves -- and our brands -- more approachable. The key is humanity, but even more than that, it's individuality.

By no means am I advocating flooding your branded Twitter feed with personal updates about what you ate for breakfast. Chances are, you were hired as community manager for your brand at least in part because your temperament meshes well with the culture of the company. Trust yourself to choose appropriate moments to share, and the appropriate time and forum in which to share them. Posting pictures, videos, and written anecdotes of the office, staff, and team outings are an easy place to start. There's not too much controversy there. But I recommend going further.

Introduce and promote the [public] social media profiles of your staff. On your own personal accounts, share not only industry news and product updates, but twinklings of personality. I tweet quite a bit about HubPages and community management in general, but I also throw in links to my food blog, silly Instagram photos (as at right), the occasional FourSquare check-in, and a weekly #FlashbackFriday video highlighting the memes of years past.

I understand the instinct to completely compartmentalize, but the truth is, illustrating your humanity to your community can only help your brand image -- assuming you do it responsibly. As we're all tired of hearing, online activity is becoming increasingly social. To engage socially, you need to be more than a bloodless, faceless organization. You need to be a living, breathing organism. You have to be human.

Coming soon... "The Balancing Act: Personal vs Brand Sharing on Social Media."