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Read this out loud, print it, tape it to the cork board in the cafeteria, post it on the intranet, e-mail it or send it via direct mail:

“In 2011, we will decide if we really want an online community, which requires commitment and true engagement, or just a bunch of fans and likes. And we will stop acting as though they are one and the same. “

If you need help with this, I am more than willing to chat.


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You probably know by now that Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch are teaming up to create a newspaper for the ipad. Given the projected growth of the ipad, this seems like a smart business move.  And since they’re both millionaire or maybe billionaire businessmen, it is  likely to succeed.

As a journalist, I want nothing more than for people to consume news. And as one who has seen so many of my friends and co-workers lose their jobs over the last three years, I know how important it is for people to pay for the news they consume, even though that practice is pretty much extinct, at least for general-interest mainstream news.

Because of that, I find this idea very intriguing. It’s a new revenue source by which to pay the journalists doing the reporting, writing and editing with none of the expensive overhead that comes with printing presses and the like.

And with no print or web edition, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. The lack of a print edition doesn’t surprise me at all,  since so many newspapers have nixed their print editions. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been web-only for over a year now, and  so has the Christian Science Monitor and both are claiming success.

But there’s something about the lack of an online edition that doesn’t sit right with me. It just seems a bit odd. And I also wonder if people will pay .99 for something they can get free online.

According to reports, Murdoch has hired 100 journalists and has top-notch editors on board. So with that being the case, maybe there will be some content that you can’t get elsewhere online.

I think there would have  to be for this to work.

But that’s how I feel today and that could change. If it does. you’ll be the first to know. This is definitely a big story I will follow very closely, because if it works, I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of it.

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I find it utterly ridiculous how upset people get over the fact that someone calls themselves an expert. Particularly when it comes to social media. If a person sees themselves as a guru or a maven or even a goddess, what business is it of yours, or mine for that matter?

Seriously. Unless you’ve hired them and they failed to deliver or you know someone getting completely brainwashed by their shenanigans, maybe you should pump the brakes a bit and focus on doing what you do. I used to care about this but now it isn’t even a blip on my radar.

So much about social media is evolving. There’s something new to absorb every day. People and organizations are all at different levels and what works for company A doesn’t necessarily work for company B. So much of it is trial and error and some of those gurus may have decided to claim the moniker because they’ve failed so many times and are finally seeing some success. That may not be the definition of a guru, but maybe it is where they work.

We get so excited about the success of a single campaign (most often from a really big brand)  and before you know it, here come the “best practices” posts “Five things that ____ did right;” and odes to the greatness of Brand X. Yes, sometimes those campaigns are awesome and they teach us all a lot of lessons.

But to some working in the industry they mean nothing at all. The social media strategists, managers, gurus, maven’s and experts in certain industries have very different struggles and areas of concern and the Old Spice viral videos don’t sidetrack them into thinking that’s their solution.

People talk a lot about snake oil salesman, and I’m not saying they don’t exist because they do. But doesn’t every industry have its share?

Someone told me last week that they don’t refer to themselves as an expert, “guru” or anything else. He said he simply tries everything  before everyone else does. It’s almost like a badge of honor to “not” be called an expert.

Well, here’s the definition of “expert” from Dictionary.com:

“a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority: a language expert.”

 

Do you think that a good portion of the the aforementioned “experts”  have special skill or knowledge in some particular field? I know, I know maybe not all of them but at least a few, right?
After launching and managing an  online community for three years I will say with conviction that I am an expert at dealing with trolls, crafting messages that don’t offend, and creating and enforcing moderation policies. Were my policies always followed? Nope, but I do have that special knowledge having dealt with different situations and constantly making adjustments to get it right.
There’s a lot to be said about constant trial and error, especially when you learn from your mistakes, and any good guru, expert or maven has had her share.
Of course there are people out there claiming to be something they’re not. But it’s not something that you or I can fix.
And quite honestly, who cares?
So I say, take the focus off of those types. Take back your power, and keep doing you.
As your fellow expert, I expect nothing less.

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I wanted to write a great blog post to go along with the release of this study by ComBlu on the state of online branded communities but given my current workload, it isn’t going to happen today.

HOWEVER,  I really want you to know about it and more importantly, download it so you can dig deep for insights that can really make a difference for you or your clients.

I don’t normally do this but today I am simply posting the press release. I’ll come back in a day or so with my own thoughts. Hats off to ComBlu for caring about online communities and embarking on such an important endeavor.

Thanks to Peter over at ComBlu for giving me an opportunity to review the report a week before its release. I assure you there is more to come.

And here’s the release:

New Report On Online Communities Shows Brands Are Getting Serious About Integrating Social Assets

ComBlu’s study of 241 communities from 78 corporations finds more cohesive strategies and consistent use of social engagement best practices

Chicago, Ill., November 10, 2010—A new study of 241 online communities from 78 major corporations found that 33 percent of the brands are using a cohesive approach to social engagement compared to only 20 percent in 2009. It also shows much tighter integration between a brand’s sponsored community site and its other social assets such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

This research is the second annual “State of Online Branded Communities” analysis conducted by ComBlu, a Chicago-based marketing organization specializing in social engagement initiatives. The study’s purpose is to closely examine and quantify the effectiveness of these communities in providing meaningful customer experiences, integrating brand strategies across multiple social media channels, and applying best practices to strengthen customer engagement.

“The good news is that social marketing is growing up and more brands are adopting best practices in social engagement,” said Kathy Baughman, a principal at ComBlu. “While community activity levels increased significantly, especially among the high performers, most brands are still missing big opportunities to deliver more engaging customer experiences.”

For example, the study found that only 20 percent of the communities have an advocate or experts group, which represents the “voice of the customer,” contributes content and helps recruitment. Nearly half of the communities do not have a visible, active community manager who is the “face” of the brand and makes interaction more personal.

Other key insights and findings from the ComBlu study include:

     

  • Brands have varying ideas about what “community” means; different types of models include the “Community Without Walls,” the “Opportunistic Community” and the “Facebook Community.”
  • Fewer than 40 percent of the communities that ComBlu joined have any rewards or recognition programs, which are key drivers for sustaining participation.
  • As in 2009, nearly half of the brands are still in the experimental phase.
  • Brands are doing a better job delivering diverse engagement experiences; 76 percent use strategically-aligned engagement tools compared to 28 percent in 2009.
  • The Top 10 performing brands are American Express (48 points), EA (47), Discovery Channel (45), Hewlett-Packard (45), Sears (44), Verizon (44), Activision (44), Kimberly-Clark (44), AT&T (44) and Sony (43).
  • Of the 12 industries in the study, the highest scoring are Gaming, Entertainment, Technology and Telecommunications.
  •  

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I’m sure we can all agree that there are major benefits to patients who communicate about their health online, particularly among others with similar conditions. This is a major component of the conversation surrounding “Health 2.0.”

What some people find in these communities is empathy, understanding, different points-of-view and perspectives, compassion and the freedom to participate in open discussions with people who truly understand what they’re going through.

But what they’re also getting in some cases, which is a big concern among the health care community — is misinformation.

That leads me to the results of a new study which involved an analysis of  the 15 largest Facebook communities dedicated to diabetes.  The research team analyzed 690 comments across those 15 communities which had a total of 9,289 participants. Throughout the research, they found evidence of some of what I just mentioned: emotional support and valuable insights. But a closer look at the comments revealed that one in four were promotional in nature, generally for non-FDA approved products, which they say raises important concerns about the authenticity of participants in Facebook communities dedicated to diabetes.

I don’t know about you, but I find that cause for concern.

The researchers also found surveys, marketing pitches and efforts to recruit patients for clinical trials where the true identity of the poster could not be confirmed. I placed emphasis on that sentence because I personally find it inexcusable. Marketers communicating in this space should be completely transparent, even if that means the participants in the community don’t want them there.

Here are a few other findings from the study, which was sponsored by CVS Caremark:

  • A majority of posts (66 percent) are individuals describing their personal experiences with managing diabetes;
  • Nearly one-quarter of the posts (24 percent) represent sharing of personal information that is unlikely to be shared between patient and doctors, such as individuals discussing carbohydrate management in the setting of alcohol consumption;
  • Twenty nine percent of the posts are by diabetic patients providing emotional support to others grappling with aspects of that disease;
  • Thirteen percent of the posts are providing specific feedback to information requests by others in the diabetic community;
  • Twenty seven percent of the posts feature promotional activity and first person testimonials around non-FDA approved products and services.

In my opinion, the findings illustrate the importance of these types of communities for people in need of support. But they also raise a serious red flag, as mentioned in this conclusion from the researchers:

“Clinicians should be aware of these strengths and limitations when discussing sources of information about chronic disease with patients. Policy makers should consider how to assure transparency in promotional activities, and patients may seek social networking sites developed and patrolled by health professionals to promote accurate and unbiased information exchange.”

I find this topic intriguing, and I was happy to come across this kind of research. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens next as more of this kind of information is revealed based on these types of analyses.

Complete findings of this study can be found in the Journal of Internal Medicine.


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Before I begin to answer that question, I will share a snippet from a post over on the Harvard Business Review:

Firms that lack leaders with social media skills are often tempted to outsource community management to outsiders, such as web development firms or advertising agencies. Unfortunately, this increases the risk of failure. The problem is that when community development is outsourced, the organization doesn’t learn and people inside communicate like they always did, even though the use of social media might have speeded up internal communication and flattened the hierarchies. As a result, the company is often very different from the face it portrays online, which almost always gets discovered.

I’m not completely sure what my opinion is on this even as I type, because whatever it is, I know it’s not firm.  I do agree, however, that when community management is outsourced, organizations do not learn. But I also know based on the work I do that there are many out there who don’t want to learn, so they probably don’t see that as an issue.Is there anything wrong with not wanting to learn anything about managing a community? Maybe. Maybe not.

Someone posed the question on twitter early last week about outsourcing moderation and I tweeted my disagreement, but then thought about it a little further as the conversation ensued. Actually, it really depends on what type of content is being moderated. If it’s a forum that has clear guidelines and very little controversy, it’s probably not that big of a deal.  My moderation experience is rooted in news, so that is why I was so quick to disagree.

When I hired and managed a team of moderators for WRAL.com, it was very important to me that they understood the news, the content associated with the comments they were moderating and general familiarity with the regular posters, as well as the related stories. Now, that may not be required for other websites.

I did some contract  work moderating a forum associated with a popular children’s book series over the summer and knowledge of that series was not required because the guidelines were clear. So for them, it works.It’s also important to note that their outsourcing is with a very reputable company that has experience in the space and contracts with the right people to do the job. So, they did their due diligence in selecting this company for outsourcing.

But I think there is a distinction to be made for overall community management, and it makes sense for someone internally to own it . I don’t think that  failure is imminent if this isn’t the case, but an internal advocate is important.

I do think that agencies can handle community management if they have someone on staff with that kind of experience. But given the fact that it is a full-time job in most cases, this could be a costly endeavor for the companies doing the outsourcing.

The issue that must be revisited, is whether or not the company really wants a community. Many say they do, but their idea of community can range from a group of brand advocates who spread good cheer about them all over the web to a forum where visitors can ask questions and wait for them to respond. We can debate all day on whether either qualifies as a community.

At any rate, the post that sparked the idea for this one  is a good one. I only shared one part of it. So go on over to the Harvard Business Review and read it.

…and I’d love to hear your thoughts on outsourcing.

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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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