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Before you balk at the title of this post, hear me out. I have written in the past about the cloak of anonymity worn by trolls and how it allows them to run rampant on the internet with no real accountability or repercussions for their actions. I know firsthand the issues that can and often do arise as a result. Believe me.

I’ve  been dealing with this for some time working for traditional news organizations and being directly involved with user comments. User comments on news stories can be vicious and vile.  We happen to have moderators at my current company so our comments are a bit more tame. I oversee the team of moderators charged with approving and disapproving comments in real time and they do a great job.

There is some benefit to allowing screen names. Actually there is a need for anonymity in journalism. We need people to provide tips and leak information so corruption can be exposed.

We want the person who knows the bank robber or who saw the hit and run to step forward. Anonymity has often led to justice. It has brought down corporations, resulted in putting criminals behind bars and would-be serial rapists where they belong. Whistle blowers are very important in our society and anonymity allows a certain safety needed for many people to come forward.

The university or state employee  that can post an internal document on a news  site anonymously can make a big difference and be a great service to a community.

So as much as I hate what anonymity can produce online , let’s not forget about why it is still important. You can’t always put your face behind your message and that’s okay.

Transparency is the buzzword of the moment, but not everything belongs out in the open.

Remember, Deep Throat?

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If you follow me on Twitter you know that I spent most of the day at the Social Media Business Forum. Actually I am still here. I am sitting in the second to last row at the Blogger Relations panel with Lucretia Pruitt, Ilina Ewen and Kelby Carr. It has been a really good conference so far.

I attended a session earlier today on Building and Managing an Online Community with panelists Patrick OKeefe, author of Managing Online Forums Laurie Smithwick of Kirtsy and Ryan Boyles.

During that session I commented during a question I asked that you are not a community manager until you have dealt with trolls who threaten to bomb your car. That was re-tweeted quite a bit and even called the tweet of the day, by Gregory Ng.

But the thing is, I am dead serious. My issue is the casual use of the title “community manager” that now somehow encompasses  customer service reps and anyone who monitors a brand on twitter or creates and manages a Facebook fan page. Yes, you are reaching out and even communicating with the community but that is not enough.

Until you have been in the depths of this craft by nurturing and growing the community, reaching out to influencers, contributing massive amounts of content, dealing with relentless trolls and working hard to be an advocate of the community to bosses who may not necessarily understand what your work entails, I am not going to acknowledge you as a community manager.

There are many of us who take this work seriously and are put to task on a daily basis dealing with all that comes our way. And it is not pretty.

Laurie Smithwick answered my question saying that people like us need to hunker down and just do what we do and it will all  be clear in the end.

We are still in the very early days of social media and this is going to happen so I really need to just get over it. But right now, I find it annoying. I will hunker down next month.

For complete coverage of the Social Media Business Forum, search the hashtag #smbf. I also have a few photos on Flickr.

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You may recall the first time I experienced the death of community member.  It was a lot tougher than I’d ever imagined. Actually, I’d never given it much thought, and when it happened it was pretty tough. This member was young, vibrant and very well-liked in the community and believe me…the mourning was real.

Not too long after we had another member die as well. He was on vacation at the time and the news came as a shock. He’d recently blogged about his back surgery but there were no indications that he’d been sick.

When his partner announced in a blog post that he’d died, the community was mourning once again.

But what I want to share with you is his obituary. The online community was so important to him that his loved ones felt the need to mention it in his obituary. That last piece of information characterizing his life for all to remember including his involvement in an online community.

Here are the two excerpts that mention the community specifically:

John (GoPanthers) could frequently be found in the WRAL Community Forum GOLO until sidelined by his back surgery in March 2008. John loved animals both in nature and house pets. He was the proud father of Madison, a miniature Schnauzer and two Persian cats Sophie and Zoey.

…Brenda and Wayne Griffin, Vickie Abate, Peggy Holder and the many friends of John’s (GoPanthers) at WRAL’s GOLO Community Forum, including Juli, Lolly, and Mary.

I find it amazing that three of his best friends, who were important enough to mention in his obituary were found online, in the community I launched and continue to nurture.  That speaks volumes to what communities mean to the people in them.  The next time someone asks you why communities matter, tell them this story.


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I’ve heard that it’s lonely at the top. I know that it can also be very lonely as a community manager. We face a lot of obstacles. From serving as the lone advocate for the community, to feverishly fighting trolls in a battle that no one sees but us, this work can take you to task.

For some, the support system simply isn’t there. Managers may pay lip service to community initiatives and mention it’s importance from time-to-time, but the larger percentage don’t understand the work, what it entails and for that matter, HOW to support you.

If this is something you allow yourself to think about day in and day out, it can consume you. And depending on how well the community is delivering the results you need it to deliver, you could become apathetic, begin to hate what you do, or simply become so completely overworked that no one recognizes you. And these can all happen in the same day, in a matter of hours.

So if this is you, allow me to offer some encouragement.

Keep Caring. You have a job to do and you are passionate about the community.  The  level of care and concern you have for the community is what makes it great and will move it forward.

Spread the Word. Talk up the community to others in the company every chance you get. Share stories about what’s happening within the community. Forward comments and links to blog posts and photo galleries. Heck, go all out and create a daily round up of what’s going on and send it to key players in your organization.

Talk to other community managers. This, I can’t stress enough. We have to share these experiences and find people who understand and can relate to our issues.  Talk to me, I am always up for a quick email or chat.

Know when to walk away. When you are working around the clock 24/7, you have to check yourself.  I know this because I have been there and quite honestly, I’m not sure that I’m not still there.  You have to find a balance.  I know it’s hard when you’re doing everything on your own, but at some point you have to hang up the cape, and take that S off your chest.

I hope my words have been helpful to you. There’s definitely more where that came from. If you have any words of encouragement you’d like to share, please post them in the comments. We could all use a little help from time-to-time.

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I am noticing a pattern among those who consider themselves “social media savvy,” “early-adopters” and “jedi ninjas” or whatever the new term of the week may happen to be.

On one hand, they say there are no rules with social media. They call it the wild, wild, west and offer advice that pretty much says “go out there, try some stuff and see if it sticks.” I like that, and I think it’s important to convey a message of experimentation.

But then they go off on a tangent about what people shouldn’t do, act as if their way for managing Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts and fan pages, blogs and a slew of other platforms is the only way and anyone doing it differently is breaking the code.

So, there are no rules, but there is a code? WTH?

I am the first person to silently grumble about those who use their Facebook accounts as an outlet for their twitter streams and not much else, but who am I to tell them that it isn’t effective? I can simply hide them from my feed or un-friend them, right?

No, I don’t want to join a Mafia family and I don’t choose to learn which car best describes me or which game from the 80’s I am still able to play. But that’s me.  Some people enjoy that and it’s their prerogative.  And they could be reaching thier goals with those tactics.

I do wholeheartedly believe that communities develop a culture somewhat inorganically and that newcomers who don’t understand the culture can have a hard time, but that is pretty much how it works in branded communities. You can’t expect 300 million users to subscribe to the same culture.

I was a panelist at Meet the New Media, at NC State last week when a member of the audience expressed concern over stalkers following her. One of the panelists gave her a very detailed method of determining whether or not someone is worth following.

It included a series of events and involved a formula of comparing the number of followers against the number of people the suspected stalker is following, dividing that by pi, and multiplying it by Avogadro’s Number.  The results would then determine whether or not this person would show up on her doorstep wielding a knife in the wee hours of the night.

Okay, I’m being facetious and I hope my fellow panelist sees the humor if he is indeed reading this post.

But, I felt compelled to grab the mic after him and my advice to her was to not worry about it or over-think it.  I told her to look at their profile and if there is something that seems suspect, block them, especially the porn-types. But if the point is to grow your community, broaden your reach and learn from the masses, you can’t sweat the stalkers, and you certainly can’t worry about every new follower.

Because we all know that if a stalker wants you, they’ll find you. They can just head on over to LinkedIn, find out where you work, and get you in the parking lot. With all the information we are readily providing across social media, stalkers no longer need mad investigative skills to be effective.

So, if you’ve told anyone that they are failing at social media, find a new message. Failure is subjective and it really has no place in the Wild, Wild West. Enlighten them, don’t put them down. Offer new suggestions. And remember: Failing to see the point is not an indication of failure. Perhaps they’ve never been told about the benefits. So tell them.

After all, you are a jedi-ninja, so do your thing and welcome them to the wild, wild west.

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It’s one thing to be late to the party.
But when you finally do show up, and act as though you’re the first one to arrive, well…that may not go over so well.
As an advocate for user comments on news sites I was pleased to read that the Cleveland Plain Dealer is getting proactive and plans to engage with the people who take the time to comment on their news stories.

But the tone in which it was delivered in this post on Cleveland.com made me want to laugh.
The newspaper is acting as though it is doing users a huge favor. To paraphrase, it sounds to me like: “Yeah, we’ve ignored you long enough mostly because we found your input lacking and unworthy so guess what? We are now going to grace you with our presence and actually let our reporters talk to you. Did you hear that, peasant?”

Here is the actual verbiage:

But we’re also doing something we should have done earlier: We’re joining the online conversation. For too long, we at The Plain Dealer posted stories on cleveland.com and then turned away to focus on the next day’s news. Now, we’re encouraging our reporters and editors to pay attention to what you’re saying, to answer your questions and respond to your complaints.

Well, isn’t that nice? You’re going to provide customer service to your customers.

Why am I being hard on them about this? Because I know firsthand how difficult it is to deal with comments on news stories, particularly those that are anonymous and there is no real accountability for actions. I hire, train and supervise a team of moderators for the top local news website in a large market with an insane amount of traffic and user comments.
And we answer their questions and respond to their complaints.

We are in the conversation age and this is what it takes. Period.
I worked at a newspaper for six years and I know all too well the attitudes toward the consumer and their opinions that were once edited but are now everywhere. The loss of control and more importantly, the role of gatekeeper has been paralyzing for many news organizations. (If you want to read some great posts about this phenomenon, read Mark Potts’ Recovering Journalist and Jeff Jarvis’ Buzzmachine.)

You’re not fabulous because you finally decide to talk to your customers online in the year 2009. You’re simply doing the right thing.

The paper has also indicated in the post that this engagement is an experiment. If it goes well, they will continue. I hope they put the resources needed behind it to help it along the way. And though the tone of this post is sarcastic, I do wish them luck.

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This is another rant from the trenches. If you’re not in the mood, perhaps you should come back to this one later. I probably received 25 emails last week from members of my community about the most petty issues.

There are times when I feel like a real babysitter and I have to tell you that before I took my vacation back in August, I was at risk of completely losing it. I found myself so caught up in what I felt at the time was my inability to reign in trolls and the sheer nonsense that was taking place within the community that I could scream. Actually I think I did scream something like “I hate these people.” I certainly don’t hate the community, but I am beginning to wonder if there is some kind of breaking point or designated period of time when it just burns you out and you need to do something else.

I’ve said many times that this is no job for the weary, and weary I am not. But tired, I am becoming. I know that not every community manager will experience this because no two communities are the same. And depending on the makeup of your community, you may never feel this way. Many members of the community I manage have no idea how bad it can really be on the internet. Some are hyper-sensitive and believe that any comment that isn’t in line with their beliefs should be marked as abuse. They meet one another offline and bring innuendo back into the community based on these meetings and expect me to intervene as if I have knowledge of what happens outside of the community.

I’ve made it very clear that I don’t want the back story and will manage the content based on what I see on the surface.

One woman told me that another member has threatened to call her job and inform them of how much time she spends interacting in the community during the day. I feel bad for her, but she’s the one who told her where she works. That is not my problem. And in all fairness it is not a reason for me to ban her because she hasn’t violated our TOS, at least not on the site. Another user is up in arms about someone implying that he is a communist and wants me to deal with it right away.

Someone else says an online foe is stalking their comments and following them around commenting on every blog they comment on. I’m also dealing with claims of what is supposedly a rogue group that targets specific members. It has gotten so bad that I had to address the issue in a blog post last week that made me feel like a middle school teacher.  I swear it gets so very childish and last week really took its toll. If you ever want to see some of this for yourself, read the comments on my profile page.  There are some nice comments there, but also some real doozies. Okay, I feel better already. Next week has to be better.

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It is no secret how much I value the role of community manager. I am pleased to see so many newly created community manager positions each week and I often share links to some of the more interesting job openings on Twitter.

Two of the most recent that I shared just this week were at eHarmony and Land’s End. (Check my twitter feed if you want to see more.)
I know I’m not alone in this because those are some of my most popular tweets. They are shared by many and that says a lot about this work. It has been deemed crucial and these new positions are calls for action.

I also get a great deal of emails from other community managers asking me a multitude of questions from dealing with irrational troublemakers to methods for recruiting new members and luring lurkers into becoming active participants. I answer them all. The private exchanges are great, but those answers could be helpful to so many more.

I’ve been thinking and I feel that it is time for me to kick this thing up a notch. I have something in the works that I believe will be an excellent resource for active community managers and those who are new to the craft. Yes, I call this a craft.
What I’d like to ask of you is 10 minutes of your time to complete a survey that will aid this effort.
I know that 10 minutes can feel like an hour, and if you don’t have the time now, do come back when you have more time to spare.

I’ve grown an online community from zero, to nearly 14 thousand members and we are just beyond the two year mark. It is extremely difficult, all encompassing and can make you feel isolated if no one in your organization really understand what you’re charged with or actually up against.

I think I can help us all, with your help. So please fill out the survey. If you know any other community managers, forward them the link as well.
I will provide a free autographed copy of my book, 18 Rules of Community Engagement to the first person to complete the survey and will randomly pick two more in the next few weeks.

Thank you so much for supporting me by reading Online Community Strategist. And please let me know if I can do anything for you in return.

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I launched a new feature in my online community today.

It’s nothing more than a recorded interview with a member, but the feedback was amazing. People LOVED it. I typically do these interviews over the phone and transcribe them on my editor’s blog but decided to do something new and see if there was any interest.

All I did was record the interview using Blog Talk Radio, downloaded it…imported it into our CMS, and posted it on the site.

Never underestimate the little things. Remember, you have to take risks because you never know what might stick.

If you’re interested, here is the 15 minute interview with a longtime member.

Community member interview

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Remember that cool new feature you launched in your online community six months ago? What about the one you launched 18 months ago?
How much do you want to bet that the members who joined the community in the last month or so may have no idea that those features exist?
It’s true.

As the community manager who is always looking for ways to enhance your offerings, attract new members and keep your community interesting it’s easy to lose sight of the revolving door. New members need some of that nurturing you provided to the very first members when you launched.

Sure, they could have been a lurker for 6 months who finally decided to join and already knows the ins and outs of the community, but what if they weren’t?

I had a newer member ask me just today if there was a way to upload multiple photos to her image gallery because uploading them one-by-one was a bit tedious. I was so glad she asked and I steered her to a blog post I’d written when we started accepting zipped files, back from September of 2007. That was just two months after our launch and I thought most people knew how to do that.

I’ve been thinking about this for about a month now and just got around to blogging it. Another thing I did recently was remind members that we offer RSS feeds on the blogs. With many of them spending time on other social networks I figured that they may not have known they could feed their GOLO blogs there, and many commented that they did not.

Actually it’s an easy way to get our brand onto the other social networks so if they use the RSS feature it’s a win-win for us.

What features have you launched that some of your community members may not be aware of? Give it some thought, and remind them. What’s old to you could be new to them.
Breathe new life into those old features. And come back and let me know how it goes.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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