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I am dedicating an entire blog post to rave about the use of Twitter as an excellent tool for customer relations. The company I’d like to rave about is Orbitz.
You see, I booked a vacation via Orbitz because of a great deal they were offering at a specific hotel. The deal was ‘kids eat free.’ I have two children and it included breakfast, lunch and dinner during the entire stay, which was a pretty attractive offer, so I booked it and sealed the deal.

The problems started when the hotel staff seemed to be unaware of this great offer and pretty much hassled me about the free meals. They gave me this song and dance about Orbitz being a ‘third party’ and how they had not been informed of any such deal.

I happened to print several copies so they did in fact honor the deal since it was there in black and white. But, that did not minimize the hassle and confusion on the faces of the restaurant staff and even the front desk manager since it took all of them to talk to me about this, rather loudly I must say, as if I was trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
As time went on, I got angry.
I decided to look for Orbitz on Twitter when I got home yesterday and saw that they were pretty active. So, I posted the following on Twitter, hoping to receive a response.

Hello @orbitz. Marriott Carolina Beach was totally unaware of your deal and it was not pleasant for me. Will be writing.

Now, in most cases one would expect a DM or @reply from the company if they are indeed serious about reaching thier customers via Twitter.

I received neither. What I did receive was a PHONE CALL.  A nice woman named Sarah left a message for me on my cell indicating that she saw my message on twitter and wanted to talk to me about what happened. She left her number and urged me to return her call.

I was quite impressed and called her back immediately. She listened to me recount the experience and even empathized. She did not go out of her way to blame the hotel even though I know now the fault lies with the hotel alone. She went on to tell me how the process works and then gave me a $50 voucher to use the next time I book travel through Orbitz.

That phone call was unexpected, and they have surpassed my idea of good customer service. I go by “communitygirl” on Twitter, so they clicked through to my profile to get my real name, looked me up in their system, then contacted me on my cell.

Not too shabby.

We hear so much about Comcast, JetBlue, Dell, BestBuy and others that are serious about transparency and customer service on Twitter. I would like to add Orbitz to the mix. They didn’t care about the world seeing a DM and recognizing them based on that. They only cared about me and made a direct connection. I was impressed and I find that to be huge.

So, here’s to Orbitz, and the customer service representative named Sarah.
Sarah, you had me at ‘hello.’
Keep up the good work!

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I’m very big on the power of online communities, mostly because I’ve seen some of the amazing things that can happen when strangers unite online and come together for a common cause or to help “one of their own,” even if they only know them through the community.

It is always nice to read about companies developing online communities because for me, it validates the power they possess and the importance I just mentioned.

I firmly believe that we have yet to tap into the potential of online communities and see the results that a well-nurtured community with a purpose can provide.

Apparently, Pfizer agrees. The pharmaceutical company is hoping to ” unlock the power of online communities to help it recruit more people for clinical trials,’ according to this press release.

Here’s an excerpt:

Pfizer has teamed up with specialist company Private Access to develop a site which allows users to grant online access to their medical records to doctors and healthcare professionals, but otherwise keep them secure and confidential.

The US pharma company is the first to pioneer the system, which could help address the industry-wide problem of recruiting the right patients for clinical trials.

Pfizer’s portal will also encourage social networking and allow patients to share their experience of taking part in clinical trials, which the company clearly hopes will encourage more to take part. The new platform and online community will be rolled out in phases, with the initial launch planned for late 2009.

Finding and recruiting patients who are eligible to take part in trials is apparently a very costly measure. This will help curb some of those cost and I am hoping that it will spread the word about these opportunities due to the large percentage (nearly 85% according to Pfizer)  unaware that clinical trials are even a possible treatment option.

Kudos to Pfizer. Looks like there might be an interesting, rewarding community manager position on the horizon.

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This is a cross post from the cool and very interesting social web meets tech innovation blog SiliconANGLE. I asked to be a contributor over there and they said yes. SO, I am going to be posting over there a bit and thought you might like to know. Enjoy….

The migration frenzy to Facebook by every company in America and beyond is something I absolutely understand and appreciate. Who doesn’t want their message in front of that many eyeballs? Just the idea of possibly capturing even a smidgen of a fraction of the Facebook audience is enough to make a room full of top executives salivate for a week straight.

I’m sure the conversations go something like this: “Just think, if someone posts something about our brand and it goes on their wall and the walls of their friends and then they see our logo and get curious and click on a link and the fact that they clicked on a link to our brand shows up on the walls of all of that person’s friends, we could be all over the place!” (Hear the exhaustive panting? See the sweat on the brow?)

…Okay, they may not go exactly that way but I know I’m close because I’ve been involved in such conversations. It’s insane not to give it a try. I get that. Facebook Connect is a wonderful thing.

But, let’s just take a deep breath for a second and remember that there are other online communities out there with huge memberships that might be worth your time as well. If you have a product of services that would be of interest to moms, it might be a good idea to consider shifting some of your online marketing efforts over to sites like CafeMom, or Momtourage. The pool may not be as big, but the water could be just as nice.

If you want to reach car enthusiasts, consider specific niche communities that cater to the audience you are trying to reach….

You can read the full post, Facebook may be the big Kahuna, but there are other fish in the sea..here.

And be sure to read some of the other great content over at SiliconANGLE, while you’re there. Tell them Angela sent you!

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How does one guy come up with an idea to help others and turn that into an insane empire that continues to grow exponentially and receives rave reviews and word of mouth that most of us would die for?

Don’t ask me, ask Peter Shankman. He’s the one who has taken his passion for helping others, and keen understanding of building relationships and PR and turned it into something pretty amazing in ‘Help a Reporter Out,’ affectionately known as HARO.

The man who told me and others 9 short months ago, that the press release would be dead in 36-months has issued a press release with some amazing figures and that simply cannot be ignored. The man builds community every time he sends an email. Now how many people can lay claim to that? I wish I could, but I can’t…and community building is my thing!

Here’s an excerpt from Shankman’s site, detailing this monster growth:

In August 2008, there were 1500 journalists using HARO, sending out 650 queries per month to about 20,000 sources.

Today, there are 30,000 journalists who have used HARO, sending out more than 3000 queries per month to over 80,000 members.

And here’s an excerpt from the official press release:

The number of advertisers for HARO’s free-for-both-subscribers-and-journalists service skyrocketed 3900% from August 2008 to August 2009. The HARO staff rose 400 percent in the past year. (in Non-PR-speak, that means we hired four people.) Revenues over the past year have leaped from $15,000 as of August 2008 to just over $1MM as of August 2009 with advertising inventory on HAROs already sold out for 2009.

Congrats to Peter and HARO. Peter is a very down to earth, fun guy. He wrote the foreword for my book, in the midst of all that he has going on with HARO AND he answers my e-mails.

It doesn’t get any better than Peter.  I look forward to seeing what you do with HARO next.

BTW, you can see the full release on Peter’s site Shankman.com.

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There are a lot of folks out there who understand how social media can help businesses and organizations thrive. There’s also a lot people out there acting as if they do, and don’t have the real experience to back it up.

As someone who manages an online community that I also launched two years ago, I am in the trenches daily. If you are a regular reader here, you know that I share my ups and downs and hard-earned advice. It is no walk in the park by any means.

My book, “18 Rules of Community Engagement” essentially details all that I learned while in the trenches and is a play book for anyone new to community management.I share details about what worked for me and even some of what didn’t.(You can read reviews of the book, here.)

My blog is a continuation of those rich details and advice. There are many bloggers who do the same. I read them faithfully and learn from them. I value their input, insight and the work they do and have done in this space. There are some though who simply repeat information from other bloggers and I am slowly but surely weeding them out of my RSS feed.

One issue I have is this unfounded idea that growing your own community through various social media platforms somehow automatically provides the ability and know how to run, grow and manage an online community as a full-time job.

It does not. I read at least five press releases each day about new company X advising on community building or Big Brand Y building a slew of online communities and what I hardly ever see in these release is information about who will manage them and take on responsibility for their growth. It’s almost like it’s an afterthought, and it should be the first thought.

This is serious work. Why do you think most online communities fail? It’s because there is no real ownership and the “if you build it they will come” mentality. It’s because many of the big-wigs think their products are so unbelievably exciting and interesting that consumers will bang down the doors to  interact with their brand, in their space and on their terms.

This is not true. It may be true for some exciting brands but it won’t last if there is no ‘resident nuturer’ charged with making it a success.

As you are seeking people to help you with this kind of work, look for experience. Sure,  big names are nice, but a big name may not always be able to deliver what you need.

Am I that person? If you are all about engagement tactics, I will go out on a limb and tell you that I am, because engagement is my thing. It is what I do and love. I have also created social media guidelines for my company, something that I rarely talk about in my blog and I’ve worked with a huge restaurant chain to do the same. Again, things I don’t readily talk about. I want people to contact me because of my work and not necessarily the people I’ve done it for.

That might be backwards and a little naive and I may change that at some point, who knows…but it’s important to understand that there are people out there doing the work you need who just arent’ selling it on every corner.

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In most online communities, there are those who’ve been there from the very beginning. They were the first to blog, visit daily and pretty much confirmed for you the fact that you built something valuable and worthy of their time. That lead you to believe others would follow suit, and they did. You are grateful for this bunch.

Because of their valiant initial efforts, the community is flourishing and these people are like the elders of the community, even if it’s only a few years old. They remember the old days, (yes, 20 months ago constitutes ‘the old days’ in community-speak) discuss them often, and may have even broken off into their own old-timers group, with an “us against them” attitude to boot.

They have a lot of influence (good and bad) and pretty much treat your community like it belongs to them. This is a good thing, right? Yes it is… on some level.  But it can go very wrong if you’re not careful.  And you have to be mindful of this bunch.

They will go against you if they don’t like your decisions. I’m not talking about sending emails or nasty-grams detailing their thought process, or giving you a piece of their minds, but going to your boss.  In many cases the boss of the community manager doesn’t really understand the day-to-day experiences and issues faced by the community manager, so  explaining exactly what the deal is might get you a blank stare.

Be ready for that. There are some people in your community who think they own it, and you. Watch what you say and how you say it. Be mindful of how you communicate and know that they could be watching your every move.

In other words, don’t be so grateful that you’re blind. Be ready to go against those long-time members.  They cannot run you. They are not in charge of the community nor are they privy to your short or long-term goals, unless you’ve disclosed them.

You can  often feel indebted to them, especially if (like me) you launched the community and have a deep appreciation for the way they helped it grow.  Don’t be jaded by that. This may be their leisure, but it is your job.

Be careful, and most of all…be smart. You know I wouldn’t blog about this if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

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Gift to Community Manager, Angela Connor Never underestimate the benefits that being a member of your community provides others.

As community managers we focus so much on our daily, monthly, weekly and even annual goals. We want to engage the masses,  get new members, increase the amount of content the community is producing and posting…you name it.

Our job is tough and never-ending and we feel that we can always do better.

That may be true. Perhaps we can do better, but we can also celebrate the things we do right. What we don’t take enough time to do, is reflect on the experiences of our individual members and how being a member of the community can and often does have a profound effect on their lives.

I am sharing this photo with you today so that you will take time time to think about all that your community provides to those it serves. Think about the thank-you’s you’ve received and the emails encouraging you to keep up the good work. Consider  the members who depend on your community for friendship and camraderie. Maybe they don’t have many close friends due to an illness or inability to leave the house and have found great refuge in your community.

I received this clock on the second anniversary of the launch of the online community I currently manage. It was a total surprise and I had no idea who left it for me downstairs in the lobby.  I learned just today through an email that it was a joint effort by a great group of members. Not  everyone could afford to contribute so he didn’t mention names, but here is what he said the email:

A lot of GOLO’ers wanted you to have the thank you gift. I hope you are enjoying it. You have thanked me (and hundreds of others) many many times already for your dedication to making us the cleanest and happiest group of members on the net.

Now do me a favor, and celebrate the successes of your community as well.

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This is a guest post from Heidi Cool, a web strategist and designer based in the Cleveland area. Heidi and I met on LinkedIn and discovered a Cleveland connection and shared habit of taking deep breaths and walking away from negative comments then coming back with a clear head in an effort to respond with dignity and grace. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. Here’s more from Heidi on how she deals with negative comments:

The first thing I do is take a deep breath and walk away from the keyboard until I stop grumbling under my breath about the comment. Then I’ll re-read to see which points have merit, which do not, and which may be the result of a misunderstanding. I blog about Web development and don’t tend to stir up much in the way of controversy, but sometimes people will disagree.

I do not censor opposing opinions, I think they can sometimes make interesting discussions. What I do censor is spam. If I received a particularly offensive comment I might censor it for language or edit it–but leave a note in the comment that I had done so. I’ve not had to do that yet, but I think it’s the tactic I would take. In most cases I find it is helpful to leave a tactful response to the comment, so as to clear up any issues that may confuse other readers. The exception would be for someone that is deliberately trying to provoke a reaction.

As the saying goes, “Don’t feed the trolls.” If it looks as though someone is trying to start a flame war I will leave the comment there but ignore it. I recently had a particularly negative comment on a blog entry I wrote, “Is Flash evil? No, but Flash-based sites can be a marketing nightmare. ” I knew this would be a controversial topic, especially for the Flash designers, but I was also trying to point out the potential pitfalls that many designers don’t realize. One fellow referred to the entry as garbage and called it blatantly misleading. However he didn’t state which points he disagreed with, nor did he offer any examples. In this case there was a risk that he may have been just trying to stir up a fight, but I responded by clarifying what my intentions were with the post (which discusses SEO problems I regularly see on Flash-based sites) and asked if he had examples he could share which would demonstrate how these problems could be solved. He didn’t respond, so no flame-war ensued.

Another fellow pointed out a solution to one of the problems. That was a helpful response because it let’s Flash designers know that there is a good work-around for that issue. Overall though most responses, including emails and Twitter feedback, were positive and the entry received many reTweets. This was reassuring because while I knew I had done the proper research it’s always nice to know that others agree.

Sounds like Heidi is a class act. What about you? How do you deal with negative comments on your blog or elsewhere? Do tell.

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Don’t you think for a New York minute that the new crackdown on social networking by ESPN is all about control. It may have something to do with it, but it likely has more to do with fear.

Don’t we often look to control that which we fear? Think about an obsessive or abusive boyfriend or jealous spouse who won’t allow their significant other to hang out with their friends. It may not be that they don’t want them to have a good time. They just don’t want others to see what a gem they are and possibly try to steal them away. They don’t have enough confidence in what they bring to the relationship to believe that this person won’t look elsewhere to have their needs met in a better fashion. They are afraid so they block the action that could lead them down this road.

I didn’t plan on blogging about this, (only commenting elsewhere) but after posting a comment on Mashable’s  ESPN responds to Criticism and Publishes Social Media Policy, I realized that I had an opinion worth sharing with those who read my blog. So here it is, my post on that story with a few words added for clarity: 

“On-air talent already have a personal brand. It is actually what serves news organizations in the social media space and why many are exploiting it in the first place. They are already well known and people will follow them.

I don’t like what this means for writers and those who are not on-air talent and their ability to build their own personal brands and express their interests outside of the corporate walls. There are lots of opportunities that they will likely miss and that’s too bad.

As journalists, we all sign some sort of code of ethics agreement. It comes with the territory. I’ve signed one at every TV station and newspaper I’ve worked. It just needs to be applied to social media efforts as well. I have written social media guidelines for my news organization, and the key is to embrace social networking and the myriad possibilities and potential it brings and most importantly to state your expectations.

Don’t just say what *not* to do. Tell the staff what they CAN do, and encourage that.”

Those are my thoughts.  Well, some of them. We must remember that there are other news organization embracing social networking and encouraging staff to try new things. There may be a bit of risk, but someone has to figure it out and that’s exactly what’s happening.  They’re trying to figure it out… just like the rest of us.

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Despite the fact that he has just launched a new company and is working harder than ever consulting media and internet companies, the formidable, self-proclaimed Recovering Journalist, Mark Potts (someone I’ve long admired and respected) found time in his busy schedule to talk with me about his new endeavor. GrowthSpur, is a company that provides tools and ad networks to help local Web sites succeed.

What is the barrier to entry for launching a a successful local news site with a hyperlocal focus, that actually makes money?

There’s almost no barrier to entry of launching a local news site; with blog software, it’s very easy and cheap. But making it successful require a solid business model and a vigorous ad sales effort, including considered several different kinds of advertising revenue (banner, directories, pay-per-click, search, e-commerce, etc.)

Can one person, or a group of people who are passionate about a local community and committed to showcasing news and information from the area, compete with journalists and create a successful local news site?

Sure–just start small. You can’t cover an entire metropolitan area with just one or two people–but you can cover a specific niche, such as a particular town or a specific topic like health, education or crime.

Let’s talk a bit about the dynamics of traditional news organizations which can be counterproductive for a community effort. What is the mindset that needs to go away to see real success.

You have to be entrepreneurial, you have to be flexible and open to new things, and you have to think about ways to do things efficiently and cheaply. Embrace the audience–even let them contribute–rather than holding them at arm’s length, and be more open about ways that advertisers can participate.

With your new venture, GrowthSpur you indicate that you don’t get paid until your clients get paid. You are either one risky guy or extremely  confident in the suite of tools you’ve developed. Which is it?

This isn’t a charity–our model is that we take a percentage of revenue you make by using our services. We expect that that a site will make a considerable amount—six figures in revenue a year—using our tools, training and networks, and we take a percentage of that.

As a pioneer in the hyperlocal space, with Backfence.com, tell us what you know you did right.

We created opportunities for the residents of the towns we served to share their local knowledge and opinions with each others. And we brought advertisers together to pay to reach those residents, who are their best customers.

And what if anything wasn’t right at the time? Were there forces beyond your control?

We made mistakes, as every startup does, but Backfence failed primarily for internal reasons that I’m not at liberty to discuss. But the model we followed of hyperlocal news and advertising was correct, and we were on the right track–we just ran out of track.

Are you seeking out existing entities like West Seattle Blog and others, or are you waiting for them to express interest on their own?

Both. We’ve reached out to several sites, and we’ve had inquiries from dozens of others.

I’m intrigued by the concept of “citizen-ad sales.” How did you come up with this particular model and why does it work?

We expect to empower local entrepreneurs and companies already dealing with small businesses (Realtors, insurance agents, Web design firms, etc.) to sell ads into the local networks we create. It’s a model several companies are looking at, and we hope to prove that it’s effective to add revenue through such citizen ad sales.

You wrote on your blog, Recovering Journalist, that a well-run, sophisticated local site can bring in more than $100,000 a year in revenue from advertising, e-commerce and other sources. What are some of those “other sources?”

The primary revenue source will be advertising, but we want to get way beyond banner ads into search, directories and other forms of advertising. We also want to help sites understand how to make money by offering local businesses e-commerce, mobile services, coupons, etc.

Describe the ideal candidate who will run with the idea and have wild success. What attributes must they possess in your opinion?

Great local contacts and high energy. They should want to be the 21st century version of the classic local editor and publisher.

I love your title of CEO and chief instigator. Do you expect to be involved with all aspects once your clientele soars, as I’m sure it will?

My title is actually just CEO, but I did pull together the group that came up with the company, hence the crack about being chief instigator. Like any startup CEO, I’m involved in every aspect of the company, from answering the mail to raising money–it’s part of the job description.

One selfish question here: Are you going to stop blogging? (Please say no, please say no…)

The RecoveringJournalist blog will continue, though maybe not quite as regularly–I’m very busy! But I expect to keep blogging about the enormous changes affecting media.

So let’s say I own a domain “Citynews.com” because the news orgs in my city didn’t seem to want it, and I want to become a destination source for all things in my city. What kind of staff do I need, and where do I start?

You can start with a blog and cover the city yourself, then add contributors, community elements, videos, etc.–always paying attention to getting word out about the site and pursuing revenue to support what you do. It takes time to build a successful local site, so you need patience and determination.

And finally, as one who lives and breathes community, what role does community interaction play in the success of a hyperlocal news effort?

As Dan Gillmor says, the audience–aka the community–knows more than you do. Bring them into the conversation, give them ways to share and contribute, and you’ll have a far richer site than if it’s a one-way lecture by you.

If you’d like to learn more about GrowthSpur, check out the website. And on a personal note, I’d encourage you to start reading Mark’s blog, “Recovering Journalist.” He can rant with the best of them, but every rant is backed up with experience, facts major insight.

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