Debate: Do All Community Managers Need Social Media?

October 27, 2010

Photo cred: Rishi Bandopadhay

Seems that a lot of people are under the impression that all community managers have to use social media.

Social media is one tool.  It’s one of the many tools available to marketers, community managers, PR professionals etc.  It is not a requirement for all roles that a community manager could possibly take on.

On twitter, I had a long debate with Alana Joy on this topic.  This discussion led to this post on the ever insightful social media explorer.  This is my response to the twitter debate and that blog post.

We’ve cast this term “community management” over an entire range of roles and responsibilities.  Honestly, most of this debate could probably be settled with better defined roles within the “community manager spectrum”.

There’s so much more to it just than social media outreach and engagement.  Today’s community manager might be responsible for anything ranging from customer service to marketing to event management and the list goes on.

Can social media help all of these potential roles? I don’t know…maybe it can.  Is it required in order to be successful in each of these roles? Nope…

Debate the semantics of social media all you want but for the purpose of this discussion, we’re talking about the twitter and facebook type sites…not email, forums etc…

To give you an example, I spoke with my friend Justin, who has several years of community manager experience and is currently the community manager for Change.org. Here’s Justin’s take:

“I focus primarily on internal communities. Turning “owned communities” (an ugly term for “on my site”) into rabid evangelists who love the people who are there as much as where “there” is, will defend it, contribute to it, and go out on a limb for it. Managing, engaging and leveraging “owned” communities vs. external communities are two distinct skill sets. Both are needed, just like you have “PR” and “Advertising” as two separate but related industries. Internal communities and external communities are two different beasts, meet different business needs and have different tool sets.

One of the communities I managed was a casual gaming site.  My goal was to take the community that we had (~400 people when I was hired) and turn it into an asset. The community produced content, moderated our forums, ran tournaments, produced plugins and dealt with cheating, abuse and customer support issues. My job was to manage the community we had and to leverage the shit out of it. It was someone else’s job to do user acquisition, but once they were on the site, they were mine.

Am I a social media expert? Far from it, and I’m ok with that. I don’t use it in my day to day job because it’s not my primary value driver at this point. Is it incredibly valuable to many many organizations – most definitely. Will I ever need it? Maybe. Will I definitely need it? Probably not.”

Justin’s full response can be found here.

Justin doesn’t use social media in his community management role because it doesn’t make sense for his objectives.

When looking for the community manager that I’d like to achieve these kinds of goals I’d look for someone who:

  • Understands the userbase and the content related to the userbase.
  • Can create a platform where members of the userbase can interact and connect effectively.
  • Can effectively engage with users.
  • Understands the advantage to the company of turning a userbase into a community.
  • Can organize events and projects to strengthen the community.

…none of which require the use of social media.

It’s easy to think that social media is ubiquitous to those of us who spend hours and hours on these platforms every day.  In reality though, even with their enormous stats, not everyone is using social media and those who do aren’t using it as religiously as one might assume.

It’s definitely popular and it’s definitely a growing trend, but to call it a ubiquitous form of communication is ridiculous.

So before you blindly slap on “social media expert” on your next community manager job description, take a serious look at what you’re really trying to build.

Have at it.


An Evolving PR Industry Gathers at the PRSA International Conference

October 20, 2010

As you might have seen on twitter, I spent the last few days in Washington D.C. at the PRSA International Conference.  You might remember another PRSA conference that I covered in NYC.  Well for some reason, they actually enjoyed my writing and invited me to cover another conference.

It hasn’t even been a year since the last PRSA conference that I attended, and it quickly became apparent here in D.C. that the PR world is evolving.  It’s growing and it’s learning.  While many of the speakers seem to be at the same point they were a year ago, the attendees are clearly more knowledgeable, asking better, harder questions, and seem to have begun to grasp how this whole social media thing plays into PR and communications.

Overall the speakers ranged from really insightful to the bare bones basics to pretty useless.  Keep in mind that, as is the issue in any conference, the range of experience amongst the attendees makes it difficult for speakers to please everyone.  I’ll give you a quick summary of the panels that I attended.

Keynote by Jim VandeHei – POLITICO

I really enjoyed Jim’s talk.  He’s someone who’s personally experienced the changing world of online media.

His best points:

  • People are going to 25-30 different news sites on a given work day.
  • People start their web consumption when they get into work and stop when they get home.
  • It’s the “age of niche”.

Jim has experienced first hand the massive destruction of the news industry.  He explained that today is the “age of niche” where people are looking for specific expertise.  They’re looking for what they really need to know, not the clutter.

It’s because of this that we’re seeing niche publications filling in the gaps and big overall media sources are losing traction. You can now deliver a message or ad to a niche audience with direct precision.

Jim then touched on people’s changing reading habits.  People are fickle, constantly changing their resources for information, their mobile devices, and their expectations.  What someone expected 3 months ago might not be what they expect today.

Companies and information sources have to be in a constant state of evolution to survive. Smaller, agile companies and minds will thrive.

Shake and stir: Combining Social Media and Traditional PR Techniques for High-Impact Results

Speakers: Michael L. McDougall, Catherine Dunkin, Nicole Ravlin

This was a panel that I have to say, I was pretty disappointed with.  They did have a unique method of selecting content, by having the audience vote on which case studies they wanted to see.  While the panel was somewhat entertaining, it wasn’t very useful in the end.

They only gave 2 minutes per case study and pretty much just explained what happened without providing a lot of information around the case studies which is really what people need to know.  I can look up the videos on youtube.

They discussed some obstacles that they faced in bringing in employees and CEO’s to participate spoke about everything from the southwest rapping flight attendant to the old spice campaign.

Lethal Generosity: How to Do Big Business by Doing Good

Speaker: Kami Huyse @Kamichat

I’ve heard Kami speak before and so I knew this would be a good session.  She broke down different types of cause marketing based on a number of criteria.

Cause marketing can be linked. When brands just choose a cause to support because it’s convenient or popular, without it actually being aligned with the company’s mission and brand, it is the least effective.

A brand can contribute resources to help a cause.  For example, Ford donated a car to Mark at Invisible People (who does some amazing stuff…you have to watch his videos)

A brand can be connected to a cause.  Take up a cause that’s aligned with your goals and also shows a positive ROI at the end.  Yahoo used the “You in?” campaign to encourage people to post status updates to report acts of kindness in social networks.  It also drove users to their new status update tool.

A campaign can also be synergized when it is aligned with your business goal but resides in your CSR program.  Kami gave Pepsico’s Pepsi Refresh Project as an example.

Advance Your SEO skills

Speaker – Lee Odden

I was able to catch the last half of Lee’s talk, which I didn’t want to miss because Lee and his SEO blog is THE resource when it comes to SEO in my mind.  I’ve been following Lee’s work for as long as I’ve tweeted…and he promised me he’d add me to his marketers with beards facebook group if I went to his session.

Here are some key takeaways.

Blogs are search magnets.

Basic SEO tips:
– Optimize readers first
– When you create a blog post, use keywords in the url.
– The title might be 15 words long but shorten up the url to the essence of the keywords.
– Use synonyms in your posts…but don’t focus on this too much as it often occurs naturally.
– Link to older blog posts using keywords.
– Encourage inbound links wherever possible.
– When you can access the same content from two different links, it’s possible that both won’t be ranked so only have the content on one page within your site.

Facebook SEO:
– It’s all about the number of “likes”
– Name of your fan page can include keywords

Twitter SEO:

– Name bio and url are really the only things you can optimize. The links are no-follow.

Become a PR Influencer to Drive Business Value

Speakers: Deirdre Breakenridge, Geoff Livingston, Sarah Evans, Mark Drapeau

This was an interesting panel, action packed with some of my favorite PR leaders.  Usually, people complain when speakers comment on their own “influence”, as it can come off as bragging.  On this panel however, it was the topic of discussion.

Can personal influence be used to drive business results for your company?  How can you become more “influential”?  These are the types of questions that the panel set off to answer.

It was a long panel and lots of information, but I’m just going to quote each one of the panelists with their best insight:

  • “Your role [in building community] isn’t to dominate the conversation, it’s to inspire it.” – Geoff Livingston
  • “When the person becomes too big for their own community, you lose touch and you’re not longer able to help them.” – Mark Cheeky_Geeky
  • “Make sure you’re thinking about what you can give to the community before what you can get out of it.” – Sarah Evans
  • “There are influential people who are brilliant, who don’t have thousands of followers.  They’re brilliant because they’re still listening and providing value.  They’re staying close knit with their community.” – Deidre Breakenridge

Overall it was a really interesting discussion and the audience asked a lot of great questions.  So is influence something you should seek out in your career?  It sure seems to be playing a bigger role in where opportunities arise.

The Re-Emerging Trend for Integrated Communications

Speaker: Kyle Strance

I watched Kyle of Vocus speak about a lot of really basic social media stuff.  Most of it was pretty dry and lacked any real focus.  He went through random areas of social media from ranking high on Google to pitching journalists to keyword clouds and sentiment analysis.

The content didn’t have much meat to it and there really wasn’t much you could take away.

Here are some of the main points from the talk:

  • You no longer have control over your brand.
  • Social Media hasn’t replaced Google search.  If you make someone scroll down on google, they won’t find you.
  • Journalists aren’t reading your emails anymore.  They’re getting around 300 press releases a day.  They’re finding their next stories by searching Google and reading twitter.
  • Your news release can also help consumers make a decision.
  • Sentiment technology is 80% accurate

I actually disagree with a lot of what he said.  Things like, “all journalists aren’t reading your emails and that they’re finding their stories on Google and twitter” just aren’t true…as you’ll learn in the next speaker review.

He made a big case for the accuracy of sentiment analysis, which to me is still way too inaccurate to be considered a worthwhile business tool.  It’s definitely interesting and has a lot of potential.  To say it’s something that you have to be using today just doesn’t seem on point.

I’d like to see more actual applications with these concepts and ideas next time.  The talk was very based on his personal observations.  As someone representing a media outreach platform, it would have been great to hear about the new media space and how to adapt your integrated communications strategy.

The New Rules of Media Relations

Speaker – Michael Smart

I finished my conference with a talk from Michael Smart and I have to say, it was the best presentation I’ve seen in a while.  If I wrote down all the gold that he was spitting out, this would be a blog post in its own.  I’ll try to summarize as best I can.

Michael was a great presenter with entertaining content, a smooth flow, and really smart ideas that were easy to grasp and apply to your own situations.

The talk was pretty much all about pitching media.  I would have liked to see more on the blogger end of things, but he ran out of time and didn’t get to dig into blogger outreach too heavily.

Either way, his insights into how to effectively get coverage for your company was truly helpful.  He constantly supported his ideas with examples, and even specific subject lines that we could try ourselves.

Here were the key takeaways:

  • It’s not always possible to build relationships with journalists, as you’ll often be advised.  So you’ll usually have to rely on the quality of your stories.
  • What is a journalists’ favorite topic?  Themselves (same with bloggers)
  • It’s all about personalization.  The message has to show that it was written for that specific journalist and no one else.
  • If you do you’re job right, you’ll be a regular asset to them.
  • The most important thing that an email must show is the end. Keep it to 304 paragraphs tops so when the journalist previews it, they can see the bottom.

The only purpose of a subject line is to get them to open the email

  • When writing subject lines, you should still be honest and consistent.
  • Think about magazine covers.  They use numbers lists, tell stories, and ask questions to draw readers in.
  • Create curiosity.

Tie your story to a trend.  To journalists, three examples make a trend.

How have journalists professional lives changes over the last five years?

  • Fewer reporters covering more beats that they’re not familiar with.
  • Have to write stories in new and more formats.
  • Overworked and too busy.
  • Hard to get a hold of them but more receptive to new materials.
  • Barrier to entry it higher but it’s easier to get coverage.

DIFT – Do It For Them

Gather for them everything they’ll have to end up getting themselves.

  • Videos
  • Pictures
  • Quotes

How to reach bloggers

  • They’re all about the conversation
  • They want to be the last word
  • Comment on their blog but disclose that you’re a PR rep
  • RT their tweets
  • After a while, email a more pointed thought or question directly to blogger
  • Casually and comfortably propose an idea.  Less formally then mainstream media.
  • They’re not really as interested in what’s in it for their readers…it’s all about them.
  • Prove you’ve read the blog.

So that is my full recap of the PRSA International Conference.  As far as the content goes, it was actually really useful.  As far as the networking goes, I would like to see more focus put on this in the future.  They did one mixer in the exhibit hall that was great.  More things like that to bring the attendees together would really be valuable.

Did you go to PRSA?  What did you think?

View all the photos in this post and more on flickr.


Social Media is for Fakers

September 13, 2010

Photo cred: Ben Fredericson

Sitting in the subway at 12:00am, reading the chapter titled “The Cost of Social Norms” in Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, I realized what it is that bothers me so much about businesses in social media.

Businesses cannot honestly exist in the “social” realm.

I’ve touched on issues I’ve had with the “I’m here to be your friend” mentality that professionals and businesses take in social media communities.  I just can’t agree with the idea that everyone is really that close with each other, and that everyone gets along so well based on sincere feelings…  not when there’s money involved.

While Dan wasn’t discussing the issues I bring up here, the concepts that he studied and shared in his book are highly relevant.  The subtitle of the chapter that I read was “Why we are happy to do things, but not when we are paid to do them“.

Ariely goes on to explain that people simultaneously live in two worlds:

The Social World

The interactions we have in the social world are founded in emotions and relationships.  It’s why we’ll cook a full feast for our family on Thanksgiving without expecting anything in return.  It’s why we hold the door open for others.  We do these things because it makes us feel good and there is no immediate reciprocation required.

The Market World

The interactions we have the market world are different.  In the market world, we do things based on the financial returns that we get.  The exchanges we make in the market world are based on a cost-benefit analysis.

So what does this have to do with social media?

Well as Ariely explains, “When social and market norms collide, trouble sets in.”

Many interactions that are considered “best practices” for businesses using social media, are made to look like “social” interactions, but they’re really not.

Look at the common advice you hear about joining the conversation, building trust, engaging in communities… it all sounds like it’s in the “social world” when in reality they are in the “market world”.

The very fact that businesses are concerned with the returns that they get from their time spent on social media, makes it a purely market based interaction.

Ariely uses the example of a guy who takes a girl out on several dates and pays for dinner each time. He grows impatient because he’s spent a lot of money and hasn’t gotten laid.  A situation that seemed to be purely social, was really founded in market values, and all came crashing down then the true motivations came to light.

Making exchanges in the “market world” isn’t a bad thing.  Making them out to be purely “social” interactions? That’s wrong and can cause trouble.

And so I ask…Is social media for fakers?

Is it for those who can pretend to be your friend?  Is it for those who can paint the image that they care when really their actions are motivated by market forces?

The very nature of business makes it impossible to have truly sincere social interactions…maybe we should start treating it that way.


The Stupidly Obvious Secret Ingredient to Social Media Success

September 8, 2010

Your success in social media is determined by this highly scientific equation:

Effort + How Funny You Are + (Luck/100000) = Social Media Success

You can’t control luck. You definitely can’t control how funny you are. So what do you need improve to find success with social media?

Effort.

Photo cred: Ferdinando del Drago

The more effort you put into blog posts, into helping customers, into building relationships with bloggers, into participating in conversations etc…the more you’ll start to see returns.

No one said it was going to be easy.  Setting up a twitter account, a facebook page and a blog doesn’t take much effort.  Keeping these things updated and getting returns will take a great deal of effort.

Get your hands dirty, go above and beyond for your community, struggle for the of benefit others, and rack your brain for new ways to help people.

And yes, as hard as you work, you’ll still have to be patient.  It will take time and you will make some mistakes… but if you’re willing to contribute a great deal of effort into social media, then you will see returns over time. I guarantee you will.

The tools, the tricks, the tips…that’s all easy to pick up with a little practice.

Effort won’t always work in other areas of business.  Certainly, you can put a great deal of effort into marketing, and still see no results.  Same with advertising and traditional PR.

The good part?  Once you start to see returns, it gets much easier.  It starts to flow.

Take a look at some of the most “successful” people and companies in social media.  Look at Chris Brogan, Amber Naslund, Gary V, Scott Stratten, Scott Monty and the list goes on.  They’re bringing success to themselves and their brands because they’re hustling their asses off day in and day out.

So, stop acting confused when your blog post that you threw together in 10 minutes didn’t go viral.

Stop questioning the value of social media when you can’t get any twitter followers in the first few months.

Stop dipping your toes in, and wondering why the rivers of cash haven’t started flowing.

It’s frustrating.  It takes time, it takes practice…it takes serious effort.

But trust me…it’s worth it.


11 iPhone Apps for the Expert Content Aggregator

September 1, 2010

Photo cred: Tony Eccles

Sharing news and interesting stories related to social media is a big part of how I use social media.

By making a commitment to aggregating content for my followers, it keeps me up to date with any new developments in the industry.  Every morning I pick up my phone and scroll through a bunch of different news apps.  I’ve never been a huge “news” reader, but something about having it right on my phone has made it into a habit that I’m glad to have.

So, I wanted to share with you the apps that I use to stay on top of everything going in in my industry.

Here are the news apps I check regularly:

1. Huffington Post:  This app is awesome.  Not only is it constantly updated with new articles, but it’s sharing function also works with some of the most popular twitter apps (except hootsuite for some reason).  So when you click “tweet”, it takes you to your iphone app to share…which could also be considered annoying.  I like it.

2. Mashable:  I check Mashable daily.  Sure, not all the articles are interesting to me, but it’s easy enough to scroll to the good stuff.  I can be sure that I’m on top of any notable developments in the social media space.

3. New York Times:  I use the New York Times to start up to date with news in general, as well as tech news.  I can almost always find a good read to get my brain warmed up in the morning here.

4. Fluent News: Basically, a big mix of all the most mainstream news resource from CNN to ESPN to BBC.

5. ReadWriteWeb:  I don’t check this app too often to be honest. When I do, I’m usually looking through the ReadWriteStart section for startup tips.

6. Marketing Profs:  Sometimes I have to get my fix of marketing articles.

7. The Onion App:  Because what’s fun about only reading real news?

8. Regator: The best app to find high quality blog posts on different popular topics.

9. NetNewsWire:  My google reader…on my iphone.  I don’t use this as much as I’d like to these days but I’ll check up once in a while.

10. Techcrunch:  Much like the Mashable app, I don’t find every story interesting.  I love to read about the new startups that are sprouting up and how they’re developing.  Unfortunately, the share on twitter function on this app gives you a link and says “Check out this post” instead of inputting the title of the post.

11. Hootsuite: After I read an article, I can click ‘share’, copy the tweet into hootsuite and schedule them throughout the day.  By scheduling some of the tweets, I’m not overloading people with links in the morning.  If it’s a really great article, I may even schedule it to be shared again later in the day. It allows me to send it out from any of my twitter or facebook accounts.  Beyond that, hootsuite is my go to iphone app to follow twitter, where I always find loads of new articles to read and share.

That’s what I use.  What apps are you using to stay on top of the news in your industry?


The Most Hated Man on Twitter

August 24, 2010

Tim JamesHonestly, I’m surprised this didn’t get more buzz.

We’ve seen celebrities utilize their twitter popularity for good causes. Drew Carey and Drew Olanoff combined forces to raise money for Livestrong. Ashton, CNN and Oprah had their exciting fly net twitter race thing.

Daniel Tosh used twitter a little differently. On his show Tosh.o, he did a segment he called “Is it racist?” in which he showed this video from Tim James’ campaign for Governor of Alabama.  After reassuring us that it was in fact, very racist, he then tells the audience to tweet their thoughts to James on his twitter account: @TimJames2010.

Don’t bother looking up the account…it’s already been taken down.  I don’t think any amount of PR could weather that shit storm.

Luckily, twitter doesn’t forget, and a quick search for his twitter name will show you that people are STILL sharing their thoughts with James (the episode aired over a month ago on June 17, 2010).

You can watch the whole video it here.

Within seconds, James’ reply stream was flooded with messages of hatred and anger.  Tosh even responded hilariously to some of the tweets on the blog.

James abruptly became the first individual (using twitter) I’ve seen get ridiculed on such a large scale on twitter.  In a flash, he became the most hated man on twitter.

Of course the fact that he had a twitter account is what opened him up to this attack.  Because people could @reply him, they felt like they were talking to him, not just about him.

Think about this power.  The power to immediately drown someone’s reputation using the web.  You can’t search James’ name on twitter without some ruthless attacks coming up.

Makes you think about the power individuals have on the web today…and the importance of using that influence responsibly. [insert spider man quote]

It’s also a reminder that by creating an account on twitter, you are opening up a new communication line directly to you.  If you make a mistake, whether you want to use twitter to listen or not doesn’t matter.  People will tell you what they think if they want to…

…or if comedy central tells them to.


Book Review: 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

August 23, 2010

I’m trying out viddler for the first time. I loved how simple it was. The only hiccup was the flash player crashing after I recorded this whole video the first time. Are you guys using viddler? Is youtube or something else better?

This week I reviewed the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout. It’s a book that I think every marketer should read. A lot of the stuff they talk about, we already kind of know. The way they present it though, allows you to understand how marketing works, at it’s core.

The big takeaway I got from this book is that much, if not all of marketing is about perception. In business, perception is everything. There are a number of factors, or “laws” that explain why consumers, perceive businesses the way they do.

Each one of these laws are carefully, but clearly laid out in this book. I’ve read books where authors dance hypothetically around obscure ideas. Reis and Trout sound like they know their shit, and make it very easy for you to grasp their message. No bullshit.

Published in 1993, many of the examples they use are something a millennial may have to rack their brains to remember (if they’re like me). The lessons behind the examples however, are as relevant today as they were then.

Give it a read. If you already have, what did you think?

Learn more:  The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk! [Amazon Affil]


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