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In its fourth annual study of online community performance, member engagement and social media integration, ComBlu has delivered a stellar report that should serve as an eye-opener for brands and those advising brands on their overall social strategies heading into 2013 and beyond.

The 2012 State of Online Branded Communities report provides insights on the inner-workings of more than 200 online communities across 92 corporations and 15 industries and is a must-read for community managers, social media managers and brand managers, period!
I’ll go into a few of the key takeaways in a minute, but what stood out most to me was the acceptance of an “All-Facebook and Twitter” community ecosystem, mentioned on page 4. The authors go into detail about how this approach truncates engagement and prevents the formation of deeper affinity, on which I certainly agree.

I’ve long held the belief that Twitter and Facebook aren’t necessarily communities, and I can say this because I managed a branded “owned” community for three years and know with 100% certainty that it is an entirely different animal.

(See my post Community Manager vs. Social Media Manager from 2010 for more on my thoughts…)

In the report, the All-Facebook and Twitter” approach is referenced as a “social experience with a brand” which is a great way to explain it. It isn’t the highest level of engagement. There’s a difference.

Other key findings include:

  • Activity levels are generally healthy but fairly static across the board.
    While 43 percent of communities are enjoying high-levels of activity, that’s a mere one percent jump from last year.
  • Optimizing the member experience remains an aspirational goal.
  •  Telecommunications is the sole industry with high activity levels across all brands; pharmaceutical industry exhibited the lowest activity
  • Top performing industries include telecommunications, gaming, technology and consumer electronics, entertainment, and consumer products-beverage.
  • Brands that are “community superstars” include Verizon, SAP, Sony PlayStation, EA, AT&T, Bravo, IBM, Cisco, Kraft, Microsoft, Sprint, Xbox, Sears, T-Mobile and Whole Foods.

Too busy to read it today? Take a look at the infographic.  ComBlu is releasing the report and additional information this morning at the WOMMA Summit.
I’m sure there will be some great tweets during the announcement, so be sure to follow the twitter hashtag #WOMMASummit for updates.

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I’m in the process of finishing a short ebook called “Crafting Community Guidelines,” which I started a while back to help first-time community managers with the tall task of community governance. As I went back to make updates and prepare the layout I found a few of my old blog posts that were written when I was deeply involved in managing a community. In the post: “Guidelines are important, but interpretation is key,” I wrote a lot about not being a robot and having the ability to act on your emotions. This is not to say that you shouldn’t adhere to guidelines, but that there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. 

Here it is, as written on July 5, 2009:

It is important to have community guidelines. They are imperative for any online community. Members need to know what is expected of them and what types of behaviors are frowned upon or prohibited within the community.

I remember creating the guidelines for the community I manage. It was laborious but imperative.  I scoured the internet for guidelines from other communities and then thought a lot about what kind of community I’d like to see take shape.

Writing such guidelines can make you feel as though you’re building an environment where all will be well. You think that people will refer to these guidelines and perhaps even follow them.

But having those guidelines in place does not make every call I make as a community manager, an easy one.  In fact, I rarely go back to them when making tough decisions. Guidelines are a starting point. Interpreting those guidelines is how you become an effective community manager. The way you do that interpreting can make or break you.

This job is not about being a robot. It’s emotional and we are human.You can stare at the guidelines all day long and never get the answers you need when things get complicated. I know that many of my peers will argue the point and say that guidelines are guidelines. You follow them or you go.  But it’s not that easy with me.

Let me illustrate why I feel this way:  A few months ago a long-time member had posted several comments and even a blog or two that were directed at another member. The comments were mean and degrading. It was really out of character for her. Were those comments abusive according to the guidelines? Yes. I could have stopped right there, marked her comments and blogs as abuse and she would have lost her posting privileges, community profile, the works. In most cases, that should probably be the outcome.

BUT…I knew that her dog had just been hit by a car and died because she’d been blogging about it since the day it happened  and it looked like she was responding to someone who had been taunting her about that.  His comments, however,  had NOT been reported as abuse so it all looked very one-sided.

I sent her an email letting her know that I was not going to dock her for the comments because I knew she was in an emotional state. But I also warned her that she must take control of her emotions because I would not do it again.

She responded with great gratitude and apologized profusely for allowing herself to get sucked in by someone else and for resorting to such antics. She said that she just couldn’t take it because she was feeling guilty about letting her dog run out into the street and his comments about her negligence pushed her over the cyber-edge. She did not want to lose her privileges.

For me, that was time well spent. I know it doesn’t scale, and that’s a real issue for me as the community grows, but that’s the kind of community manager I like to be. One who can empathize and know enough about the members to make a difference.

Guidelines don’t empathize.

You can.

This post was inspired by #CmtyChat, (created by Sonny Gill and Bryan Person) a weekly meeting of the minds where community enthusiasts chat via Twitter about all that ails us and then some.

Note: You can expect to see the ebook referenced earlier: “Crafting Community Guidelines” in a few weeks.

 

Community managers are getting lazy. I think it’s because many who actually hold the title, aren’t really doing the job. On some level, it isn’t their fault. The people hiring them don’t know what they’re looking for and many are strictly numbers driven.

Success is measured in “likes” and ‘comments.” Job descriptions mention the growth of a Facebook or Twitter community, when there isn’t one in existence in the first place. Fans and followers do not constitute a community. But despite how I feel about that, which is all based on experience, the jobs are plenty and that is a good thing. But community management is an art and a craft that must be fostered and developed.

Real community managers know this. The others are simply  playing community managers on the internet.  And here’s how they operate. Here, I give you the five habits of highly ineffective community managers:

1. They are constantly asking users to help them reach specific milestones. You’ve seen it before: “Help us get to 5,000 fans,” “Like this post so we can beat our record of 90 likes on a single post,” Five more comments to reach 100, come on..post!”  Does this sound familiar? I know you’ve seen it. This is the absolute laziest way to grow a community. It’s all about numbers to the people who do this. I hate to even refer to them as community managers. They could care less about actual engagement. They’re just looking for bragging rights.

Read the rest of this entry »

This day of appreciation may not be on your radar, but it is certainly on mine. The brainchild of Jeremiah Owyang, this is a day that is near and dear to my heart and one that allows us to reflect on the hard work that goes into the craft. It is not a science, but an art and anyone who holds this role has my unwavering empathy and support.

I can’t remember a time when I felt more alone, under appreciated, but yet completely enthusiastic and exhilarated, than when I was the community  manager of GOLO, at WRAL.com.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you are quite familiar with the ups and downs I experienced launching and growing that online community from zero to more than 13,000 members and the heart ache that came along with it. If you read my book, “18 Rules of Community Engagement,” you probably know even more.

Community Management is tough and it takes real comittment to see it through. It is not a job for the faint of heart or those who lack motivation and drive.

I can go on and on about what it takes to be a successful community manager, and I’ve done so in the past in posts like these:

But that’s not what tomorrow is about. It’s about you. If you’re a community manager, pat yourself on the back. If you participate in online communities, say thank  you to the folks who put out the fires and keep it interesting. It isn’t as easy as it looks.

And if you have the time, check out the hashtag #CMAD. I’m sure it will be blowing up the twitterverse as very well it should.

Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day to those on the frontline and deep in the trenches.I support you more than you will ever know.

Make it great.

 

It’s time.

Give it up.

Your heart was in the right place, but you didn’t do anything to support your effort.You thought that building the community was enough. You never hired anyone to manage it. You mistakenly believed that your brand was so amazing and beloved, that people would flock to your community to have all of these grand conversations.

It didn’t happen, and you still don’t know why, despite the fact that it was barely promoted, if at all. You didn’t engage.

You never posted interesting content.

The content you did post was never updated. Okay, you updated it twice. Sorry about that.

You deleted comments that made your company look bad, instead of seizing the opportunities to connect.

Just quit. You’re giving community a bad name. Besides, you’re too swamped anyway. But you knew that going in.

I started off with the intention of giving you five reasons to shut down your community, but ended up with more.

You get  the point. Make a change or shut it down. I’m over it. And so is everyone else.

Stop faking it.

Now please, have a great day.

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. It’s not that I haven’t been motivated, nor that I didn’t have the time. I never have the time. I’m pretty sure that no one really has  time to blog, we all just make it happen.  And typically I do. But I haven’t lately. But a recent chain of events has compelled me to do so.

This past weekend, I experienced a tornado.

There is a lot of damage in my neighborhood, from collapsed garages and shredded gazebos to uprooted trees, toppled playground structures and roofs gone AWOL, seeming to have never existed.

My house was not damaged and my family is safe.  We were without power for a little more than 48 hours, but that’s nothing compared to the plights of others.  A friend and fellow social media enthusiast, lost his home completely.

A university has suspended classes for the remainder of the semester due to structural damage, and 22 people died.

When I saw that my neighbor’s gazebo had been obliterated and he wasn’t home, I immediately grabbed my iphone and took a few pictures for him so he’d have them to file an insurance claim. Shortly after, everyone started coming out to check on everyone else and giving the details of how they ‘took cover.’

The next day, the local grocery store had a truck filled with ice. I approached the truck prepared to pay and saw a sign that read “free ice.” I asked for two bags. They gave me 6. I tweeted that Harris Teeter had free ice for those of us without power. Someone replied asking me “which Harris Teeter.” I posted the location and told her to go get some. She did.

When I got home, my husband gave our other neighbor two of the six bags. She later came over to ask us if we wanted some hamburgers they’d just grilled. At this point, the only hot food was coming from a grill.

As I think about how everyone came together to help one another, it reminded me of the online community I used to manage. They were good about coming together, even though most were only acquainted through the web.

But that community and my real community have many similarities, and there is one thing that holds true in offline and online communities.

You get back what you put in.

Maybe you’ve loaned your neighbor a lawnmower, picked up their mail when they were on vacation, or simply spent a few minutes chatting about nothing every once in a while. Those gestures may seem like nothing at the time, but all of that good will adds up.

The same holds true for any offline community. You get back what you put in.

So many online communities are built with the intention of getting people to “buy” something, or for bragging rights on how many “friends” or “followers” were accumulated as part of a campaign. Yes, this is often important for the bottom line, but you have to put something in if you want it to last or actually become to mean something to people.

Community has become a buzzword and to me, has lost its true meaning. There are so many instances where the term shouldn’t even be used. You don’t want to build community, you want a mob of people to show up in one place and make you look good. And soon as that happens, you could care less about what happens next. Why do you think there are so many abandoned communities out there?

I’ve often asked the question: “If you build it will they come?” I believe the answer is no. But sometimes they do.

Perhaps that question should be: “If you build it and they come, will you stay once your goals are met?”

I think the answer to that one for many, is also no, and I think that’s a shame.

I am always happy to discuss the difficulty of managing an online community. I’ve written about the misconceptions, provided tips on what it takes to find success, and explained the differences between a community manager and a social media manager.

Because I don’t actively manage an online community any more, I don’t share as many examples of what it’s like to be in the trenches. So when I came across this blog I posted back in 2008, when I was DEEP in the trenches, I thought it would be appropriate to share, for those of you who did not read my blog back then. What follows are actual messages that I received from members, and comments like these were very common.

Here’s the post from October 2008:

Read the rest of this entry »

It is not easy being a community manager.

It seems that many people are content to call themselves community managers because they manage a Twitter account, post content on a Facebook fan page (with the goal of “engaging” the masses, or at least those who actually visit the page or allow posts on their newsfeeds) or run a group on LinkedIn.

I’m still not sure how anyone actually “manages a community” on Twitter beyond hosting a regularly scheduled tweetchat, but that’s a subject for another day.

The focus of this post is how community managers actually communicate with members, so I will stick to that for now.

If you spend your time posting comments like: “That’s awesome,” “Great idea,” “Tell me more,”  “So happy you shared that with us,”  “Tell us what you think,” and “Share your thoughts” you aren’t managing anything.

You’re not even thinking. You certainly aren’t going to grow much of anything. If this is how you communicate, your job is easy.

Make no mistake, there is nothing genuine about such emptiness. But once you start posting those types of comments, you will continue to do so for the long run. You will fall into a trap that allows you to believe you are engaging when you are doing anything but.

You need to invest more if you want to see a better return, and if you don’t think you can do better, you might want to reconsider your current role.

I recently discovered that I posted more than 7 thousand pieces of content on the community I managed for a little over 2.5 years. That’s a combination of comments, blogposts and images. I knew that I had to be one of the top contributors if I wanted others to do the same.

Yes, there were times when I posted short comments or told someone that their blog was awesome, but it was by no means something I did very often, and was typically followed by at least one other comment.

Because I like to lead by example, I will share with you a few samples of comments I posted to users in my next few posts, so be sure to subscribe to the blog if you want to see these samples of engagement in action and how taking a genuine interest in community participants can make a real difference.

Diving into a community head first can be intimidating for some people, even though it may be second nature to you and me.

Sometimes it’s much easier to stay in the background and lurk, enjoying the community with no real commitment.

It’s the lurkers sometimes, who contribute to that valuable “time spent” stat community managers often covet and it makes sense to consider lurkers when you’re developing features for a new online community.

I don’t believe that every action should require registration, and learned from experience that it can take a lurker up to six months to finally bite the bullet and jump on in. I specifically remember an e-mail from a member and a blog from another indicating that they’d both been hanging around for months.

By the time they did sign up, they knew which groups they wanted to join, which members they’d like to connect with and understood the community culture as well.  Lurkers are also less likely to create a new profile  and abandon it, never to return. They already view your community as a destination and that’s a beautiful thing.

By locking everything down, you don’t give people a chance to dabble, and sometimes you have to have a little taste before completely committing.

So as you think about ways to engage the community, do consider the lurkers. Include polls and other interactive features. Host live chats that allow guests to sign in, and publish snippets of your member newsletter in a blog post or forum so they can see what they’re missing.

This is an important audience, so be sure to show the lurkers a little love.

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Every tweet, Facebook update and comment posted online is a form of communication. Whether that comment is on a blog post, news article, YouTube video or Flickr photo, it counts.

So my question is this: Why isn’t this content being held to the same high standard and given the same level of thought as traditional communications?  I don’t know what your answer is to that question, but mine is this: It should be.

In 2010, an increasing number of brands began treating Facebook like the new internet. That’s because, for the most part, it is. A Facebook page today is what a website was ten or more years ago. Facebook is a destination site. Actually, it’s THE destination site, having surpassed Google as the number one site on the internet.

People spend insane amounts of time there, and this is why businesses are also setting up shop, in droves. I know you’ve seen marketing material with the Facebook icon or have heard TV commercials and radio spots urging you to follow Brand X on Facebook. If Ford can unveil the 2011 Ford Explorer on Facebook, do I really need to say more?

This time last year, Nielsen reported that the average American spent 421 minutes on Facebook, each month a number that has surely risen since then and will only continue to do so. So what you put there matters.

But this isn’t a post about Facebook, it’s about social communications as a whole. It is no longer wise to pour over the content of a press release, editing draft after draft until it reaches perfection, while giving very little if any thought at all to how you are going to represent your company across social media channels.

Communications professionals have a new job description, whether they want it or not. It is that of Digital Communicator.

As social media platforms mature, evolve and become even more mainstream, clients need a presence in this space, and the smart, savvy digital communicator will make sure they have one. But it isn’t enough to simply show up, you have to actually communicate and have a plan for harnessing the power of new media and getting messages straight to a target audience.

I believe that 2011 is the year to deliver or die. PR professionals have to think more broadly and deliver more value. In the social media space, nothing is too small to matter. We are no longer solely seeking attention of reporters and journalists affiliated with traditional media organizations. It is critical to understand the needs of the new media professional, whether journalist, blogger, power tweeter forum participant or vlogger.

We have to produce the type of content that will increase exposure  and extend reach for clients.

So what does all of this entail? New-fangled communications plans with new attitudes right alongside them.

Deliver or die!

Note: This is a cross-post from my Company Blog.


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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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