Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Importance of Community Monitoring

Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb sent me a copy of his recent Guide to Online Community Management. It’s a comprehensive, well-done guide that is recommended for anyone serious about the new position of community manager—either hiring one or being one.

I was on their distribution list because they picked up on a post of several months ago about monitoring community. In it I said that even with the help of a consultant it would take 3 to 6 months of serious effort to build a meaningful community. The report says that’s actually a short time, even with help, and in retrospect I couldn’t agree more. I also find interesting the comment that the more cost-effective long-term solution is an internal community manager.

It’s a 75-page guide, and I can’t cover all the issues they discuss, but I’d like to hit a few high points. Social media is not advertising, is it even marketing? Maybe. Is it more public relations and customer service? Quite possibly.

They do touch on the universal questions, “Should we have/do. . .?” In terms of corporate blogs, they see them as valuable for all except the businesses that refuse to devote sufficient time to them, especially in the midst of a crisis. I think that’s right on. Twitter they also see as invaluable. I’m a Twitter convert and absolutely see its uses. I follow a number of marketers who consistently provide good info in their Tweets and I greatly appreciate them. I also brutally unfollow people who are self-serving or fatuous (that’s a nice old-fashioned word that fits a lot of what I see). I don’t see Twitter as very useful for personal communication, but it’s a great professional asset and “value” is the point. The guide suggests being cautious about spending a lot of time on a corporate Facebook page because returns are hard to achieve. I’d also agree with that.

There’s a lot of focus on the importance of community managers in start-ups. They argue that a CM can be one of the early hires and one of the most cost effective. If you believe in the power of community , that makes sense. The alternative is traditional marketing with a sizeable budget. Community may make more sense for the start-up, but what about the established business? Deborah Ng provides a perspective from an established web business:

Do all businesses need a CM? I’m not sure. I think any company with a heavy Web presence would do well to have someone to spread the word and find out what makes its audience or client base happy. CM’s establish personal relationships and are more invested in the product or service than your usual publicist for hire. Plus, we know the social networks, we know the Web, and we know the bloggers. BlogTalkRadio wouldn’t have hired me if I was just Joe off the street. Being a pro blogger and being able to speak with other bloggers put me ahead of the other candidates. p. 21

What does it take to make a community successful? In a nutshell, a lot of hard work! But it has to be hard work that understands the nature of community. According to Justin Thorp from ClearSpring:

Your users are the lifeblood of your community. You want to treat them like you’d treat guests in your house. Otherwise, like me, they’re going to make their way to the exits and not come back. One of the benefits of the Web 2.0 era we live in is that there are lots of places I could spend my time.” That’s the kind of plain-spoken, utility-based approach that all parties could probably agree with. That’s language that other people in a company could likely hear from a community manager and agree with (emphasis mine). p. 43

It’s an important part of the job of community manager to do the internal marketing that supports the community effort. That includes, but is not limited to, the importance of good metrics. Isn’t it interesting that efforts like lead generation are easily measured in social media and others like brand development are hard to track—just like in traditional marketing media! They also point to the 90/9/1 rule—it can be hard for a new community manager to remember that only 1% are likely to become “hardcore contributors.”

There’s a lot more, but I’d like to end with Heidi Miller’s tounge-in-cheek warings about using social media:

Treat people in your new social networks as prospects, not friends. Make sure that you constantly bombard them with one-way messages about how great your product is.

Be in a hurry to show “results.” Forget that “Connections over time equal trust” (--Tara Hunt); insist on showing immediate sales, hits, and click-throughs from your blog, podcast, Twitter, or Facebook page with no concern for building relationships with your friends and participants.

Keep it impersonal; sounds like a corporation. Avoid speaking in a human voice; always “regret any inconvenience we may have caused you,” instead of saying “sorry we messed up.” People love to interact with stale, sterile impersonal corporations, right?

Be the same. Never change. Keep on doing what you’re doing. Don’t bother to differentiate yourself from your competition; just stick with what you know. Never reach out.

Be afraid. Let your fear of loss of control of the conversation cause you to treat social media like traditional media. p. 45

As I said, there’s a lot more. The report is probably a bit pricey for a casual read, but for community managers—or those who need to have one—it’s must reading!


Marshall Kirkpatrick said...

Mary Lou, I just saw this review and really appreciate it!

MaryLou Roberts said...

It's a great publication--good luck with it!