Let’s hang!

Aloha, friends! I’m back from a wonderful 10 days in sunny Hawaii and ready to get back to blogging. I was suffering from extreme social media burnout before I left for vacation and was providing absolutely no insight on this blog. So I just stopped writing it.

But I’m feeling refreshed! And opinionated.

So let’s start the week off with the talk of the town this week – Google+. TNW posted about G+’s “secret weapon” earlier today: its tools. From hangouts to easy interaction with photos and videos, Google definitely has some tricks up its sleeve. TNW profiled a musician who is using these tools to expand her career – but can brands utilize them the same way?

I’m going to give that a big resounding yes. And here are a couple reasons why:

One thing I always want to do on Facebook and Twitter is host a live chat. I see tons of other brands trying to attempt this as well. But it ain’t easy.

You need someone for your fans to chat with, and that person has to be (somewhat) social media savvy so they don’t become overwhelmed and completely blow-up everything you’ve worked so hard for as a community manager. You also need questions from fans. And they will only ask questions about topics they are interested in. So you need to be, above all, interesting. And lastly, the hour you spend chatting and answering questions need to be entertaining. A bajillion other status updates, videos and photos are calling out for your fans attention. You need to get it.

Unfortunately, these “live” chats are usually boring. Really boring. Facebook and Twitter are interactive technologies, but they still face the challenge of asynchronous communication. This means that consumers aren’t guaranteed an instant response. Community managers and experts can wait and formulate answers on their own timetable. Yes, it should be sooner rather than later. But it doesn’t have to be.

Google+ hangouts fix that problem! Consumers can come online and participate in an expert conversations, a focus group, a brainstorm, whatever, and communicate instantly with the brand and their fellow consumers. It’s incredibly personal and forces a brand to be incredibly human.

I personally think that’s awesome. Often times when I am responding to consumers, I wish I could just talk to them in person so they could see how sincere I am. A hangout would help me do just that.

And talk about humanization! We could show consumers the people behind our brand. The marketers, the customer service reps and the people in production of products. The possibilities are endless.

So let’s get out there and hang!


The Scary Side of Social

Happy Halloween, folks! Not many things scare me around this time of year. Mostly because I avoid scary movies like the plague and prefer to immerse myself in photos of dogs dressed as iPhones.But one thing really scared the bageezus out of me this year. It was this study from Socialbakers that said 95% of Facebook wall posts are not answered by brands.

Say what now?

This freaks me out for multiple reasons. Number one being that I’m required to respond to all of the posts we receive on our brand pages (or the majority I can tolerate before losing my mind). So what community managers are getting paid and not responding? That seems too easy…

But the main reason is because it means the majority of companies are doing social wrong. I read blog after blog every day about how important engagement is. How building loyalty is key. How you have to give your fans a reason to come and a reason to stay.

Social media is like a relationship. And most brands are being the unresponsive boyfriends (no, I’m not calling consumers “needy chicks”). Sure, he is hot and probably a great kisser. But he doesn’t call you back. Or calls you back  5 days later pretending like nothing is wrong. You see him out in the social media universe – posting to other consumers even – but they aren’t giving you need the attention you need.

Brian Solis put it best in a recent post where he cited a study by ExactTarget and CoTweet called “The Social Breakup.” Consumers are taking some time apart from brands because they aren’t getting what they need. Sure, they love a good deal or promotion. But beyond that, why should they stay in this relationship?

Consumers want a boyfriend who calls them back, is there for them when they need to vent and answers their questions (don’t we all). They want to feel like you care. Really care.

So this Halloween I employ all my fellow community managers to put on the costume of caring boyfriend. Go through all the posts you received on your social channels (yes, all of them) and respond. And don’t you dare auto DM anyone! That’s just evil.

How to separate work and personal social media

All community managers have heard the horror stories about their fellow CMs being fired after sending off a personal Tweet or Facebook on their brand accounts. Every story is the same – with varying degrees of “OMG they did what?!”

I am actually guilty of this. Well, minus the whole firing part. But I have sent off a personal Tweet to a brand account. Lucky for me, it wasn’t offensive and it was on an account that wasn’t very prominent. So my manager let it slide (although I’m sure he was freaking).

I have always made a point to keep my personal social channels separate from my work social channels. And I don’t just mean copy. I mean voice, tone and overall attitude. But how do you not let your personal self shine through on your brand self?

Here are some tips:

– Use separate apps for work and personal. The most important of the tips: use an app like HootSuite or TweetDeck for your work accounts. Then use an entirely different app (if you want) for your personal account. Attaching your personal account to the same app as your work app always leads to trouble.

– Create a doc with on voice posts to review. Before you star writing your editorial calendar for a specific brand, review this doc to get in voice. It’s almost like getting into character – the character that is your brand.

– Make time for your personal social and work social. I like to set aside a certain amount of time each day to focus only on my personal social networks. Write my blog posts, update my Twitter and be on my own Facebook (a rarity for a CM). Then I give myself time to just be me and get creative.

– Match your brand to a celebrity or character. I like to think of a celebrity or character who has a style of speaking or sense of humor that matches up with my brand. Watch a few clips of him or her acting if you are finding yourself very off-voice or tone

These quick tips will help you be your brand when your need to be and yourself when you want to be.

The Misplaced Apostrophe

You may have noticed I’ve been a little absent from my blog the past week or so. I needed some time to regain my sanity after an incident with a misplaced apostrophe.

A few weeks ago, I committed the cardinal sin of community managers: a grammar mistake. Bad grammar may not seem as terrible as, say, a broken link (which also happened to me during the ‘apostrophe week’ as I’m affectionately calling it). But it is. Oh, it is.

The reason it’s worse is because it makes you hate your job. At least mine did. Let’s back track a bit and explain the situation. I had scheduled a post for a holiday on a Friday before the holiday weekend. In my haste, I probably wasn’t being as thorough as I should have with my copy. I was feeling burnt out and tired and just wanted to disconnect.

After a refreshing weekend, I came back on Tuesday to something along these lines:

“Please have someone literate check your copy before post. No apostrophe – it’s a simple plural. This is 4th grade English and a major company just ought to know better. Time to go buy another brand…”

Really, dude? My first reaction was to bitch this lady out for all her grammar mistakes (which I didn’t include for privacy reasons). The fact that I couldn’t do that just made things worse. I had to swallow my pride and apologize for the mistake. And actually thank her for pointing it out.

For the rest of the day I completely despised my job. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to pull analytics. I didn’t want to moderate. I wanted to flip every single one of our fans the bird and call it a day.

Unfortunately, I can’t do that if I want to keep my job and reputation. So I had to address a question many community managers face too often: how do you deal with community backlash on a personal level?

First off, give yourself a break. Step away from the community and the situation and take some time for yourself. Spend time writing something personal – a blog, part of your soon to be released romance novel, whatever – to get your mind off how much people can suck.

Second, tell a friend who is not a community manager about the situation. They will ( if they are a rational, normal person) laugh hysterically at the situation and give you some perspective on just how ridiculous the user who gave you crap about an apostrophe is. This will remind you that there is a world outside of social media and you shouldn’t let it bring you down.

Lastly, remember: it’s just a job. As CM’s we tend to become freaskishly attached and invested to our community. It’s necessary to be a good CM. But it’s just as necessary to know that this is only a job, not who you are. And users’ responses to your CM identity is not a response to you as a person. Because if the real me had responded that apostrophe bitch this would be an entirely different blog post about my epic firing.

Now go crack open a bottle of two-buck Chuck, turn on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and and enjoy the real you, who no user can get to.

How do you deal with community backlash? Share your advice and save me from future personal breakdowns in the comments.

What if your life isn’t as perfect as that dude’s in the Timeline video?

Disclaimer: This is a knee-jerk reaction to a feature I will probably come to love and/or find extremely awesome in the next few months.

Facebook introduced a boat load of new features at f8 today, including Timeline, which the Zuck is calling a virtual scrapbook that will show off who you are, what you do and where you’ve been. Along with this announcement came this nifty little video of who I am now referring to as “Timeline dude.”

“Timeline dude” not only has a well populated Facebook page, but he has a kickass life. He was born to a loving family who spent summers in the valley. He graduated from high school and went on to meet pretty lady #1. After a few more years, Timeline dude married pretty lady #1, honeymooned, got her preggers, had a healthy baby and lived happily ever after. Oh, and he documented this all clearly and succinctly on his favorite social network (and probably where he gets his paycheck from) Facebook.

So my question is – what if you don’t have a life like Timeline dude? What if you don’t meet pretty lady #1 or it doesn’t work out and you end up miserable while Facebook stalking her with her new husband and kids until you’re a crotchety old man with lots of birds?

Or what if you don’t want everyone to remember everything you did in your life? It’s pretty clear to me that Timeline dude has never got “naked wasted” (not that I have…) or had his friends take a photo of him breaking into the Rec Pool at 2am wearing a ninja mask (haven’t done that either, I swear). He also probably didn’t live at home for 6 months after graduating from college while trying to find himself. And I’ll admit, I did that one.

I don’t want everyone to know every thing about my past. And I don’t want to have to worry about what people think of every thing that I do in my life. I don’t want to feel pressure to make my Facebook Timeline perfect.

Facebook may have plans to make the Timeline manageable for users in terms of choosing what does and what does not appear. We could have the ability to curate what people see. But who wants to or has the time to spend doing that? I don’t. I love the simplicity of using Facebook. Logging in, seeing what my friends and favorite brands are up to and moving on. I’m worried nothing about Facebook will be simple anymore.

Along with this loss of simplicity may come a loss of users. One of the craziest things to me about Facebook users is that they aren’t all young, early tech adopters. They are moms, dads and grandparents. They’re middle class, working class and every other class in between. Are these users going to feel overwhelmed by these changes and leave? Google+ is open to everyone now…

So will I stand by my annoyance and only migrate over to the new Facebook kicking and screaming? No. I’ll sign-up early, edit my Timeline and upload my damn baby pictures. Why? Because Mark Zuckerberg is smarter than me. And I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. But add me to your circles on Google+, just in case.

Why recent changes won’t help Facebook

I can’t believe I am actually posting about the changes being made to Facebook. And, more importantly, that I’m going to complain about them. I’m usually of the mindset that the bitching is unnecessary because in two months you will still be checking Facebook freakishly often.I felt the need to write this post because of an interesting article I read yesterday on The Next Web. It’s a short article about what Facebook needs to do in order to start getting users to flock to their new “Subscribe” feature, which, at the time, I knew very little about. I wanted to write a blog discussing some of the key points.

But instead of writing last night, I decided to watch my DVR recording of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It seemed like the best decision at the time!

Fast forward to this morning: I get online this to start writing and what do I find? The entire Facebook landscape has changed overnight. And people are freaking out (duh). And “Subscribes” are the least of their worries.

So after some more thinking (but only 4 hours because I don’t want this post to become completely irrelevant) I’m standing by the opinion I would have given you last night if not for my addiction to trashy reality TV with a few minor tweaks. Facebook’s subscriptions new updates won’t help them beat Google+. And here’s why:

– My main qualm with the latest updates is that they are doing too much, too fast. And they are just trying to become G+, instead of trying to be themselves, but better.

Facebook isn’t focusing on what has made them great – creating personal connections. A Facebook profile is a look into who someone is. Or, at the very least, who they want to be. It’s transparent and honest. And you can find out a whole lot of info from it (have you ever heard of Twitter stalking? I thought not).- Another big issue I have is why? I don’t think G+ is a huge competitor with Facebook – at least not in the form it is now. I personally think G+ is more like Twitter. I find myself spending the time I would usually be on Twitter on G+. I’m still on Facebook just as much.

I don’t want to figure out who subscribe to. I’ve already spent time figuring out who to “follow” on Twitter. And who to “add to circles” on G+. Friending someone or “Liking” a brand has been enough for me. And I don’t want to rate the importance of my friends’ updates, either (Gmail “important” filter much?). Social media has already become overwhelming to people. These changes are just adding to the clutter. And now Facebook is more like Twitter. Is that what anyone wanted? It’s not what I had in mind.

– And lastly, the changes don’t focus on what their users wanted.

I wanted was a way to organize my friends more into groups that I could consume information from quickly and easily. In this day in age, I have actual friends, frenemies, coworkers, parents, grandparents, cousins, bosses and crazy ex-boyfriend stalkers all on Facebook. I don’t want all those groups to see everything I post.

Facebook did address this with the creation of “Lists.” I would have liked to have seen this rolled out first. And alone. Now I can look at my top friends, favorite brands, fashion blogs, and social media experts without getting lost in a bunch of cruddy other content.

Everything else is just “meh” to me. But check back in two months. I’m sure I’ll be singing Facebook’s praises.

Outsourcing: Customer service edition

There has been a lot of talk lately about the idea of outsourcing community management activities (see this study by Jerimiah Owyang at Altimeter and a recent @cmgrchat). Outsourcing is generally a scary word for most people. It means fewer jobs and responsibilities and less control.

But that isn’t what outsourcing is to a community manager. For us overloaded, bandwidth exceeded, in the weeds every day CMs, outsourcing can be a lifesaver. At my company we don’t outsource many activities (partly because I’m a control freak), but we do outsource one big one: customer service.

We didn’t always do this. When I first started at my job and we were still ramping up our social strategy (this was only about 9 months ago, mind you) all responsibilities fell on the community manager. Who just happened to me. How lucky.

One of those responsibilities was handling customer service requests that came in through our social media channels. And here is how it went:

  1. Sees customer service issue on wall or Twitter feed.
  2. Doesn’t know the answer to question or can’t solve the problem without help from someone else, like a member of our product safety and usage team.
  3. Emails our main customer service contact in-house and asks them to forward on to the “right person” who may or may not exist.
  4. Waits….
  5. Starts freaking that complaint/issue/question will catch on and spread like a flesh eating virus to other users.
  6. Waits…
  7. Hears back that email has been forwarded to XX in YY department. “Should hear back soon.”
  8. Waits…

You get the picture. Now times that by three Facebook walls and two Twitter accounts. I had no control.

And you know what outsourcing our customer service gives me? Control.

We have a pretty straightforward process when it comes to how we structure the work of our customer service reps. One company handles all customer service for our company – traditional channels (like phone calls) and non-traditional channels (like social media). Each of our company’s pages is assigned a single representative who is in charge of answering all questions.

Confession: When we first started this process, we relinquished a little too much control. We asked all our reps to actively monitor the wall and answer questions as they arose. We did this thinking they had the same investment in the success of social media as we did. Well, that was wrong. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say I was repeating step five above. A lot.

So we switched things up a bit and had the community manager serves as the traffic cop. We actively monitor the walls and Twitter feeds, which we’d be doing anyway, and flag any issues that come up directly to our customer service reps. We include notes and directions that may or may not include the words “ASAP” and “Please answer this immediately before it brings down the entire company.”

Then (my favorite part) our customer service rep answers the question on their own. We give admin rights or login information to each rep so they can access our pages and feeds and post as the brand. This point took some time to get to, though. We couldn’t just send our reps into the trenches without any training. We trained them on everything from voice and tone to acting like a human.

There you have it: outsourcing customer service. The process still isn’t perfect though. And has taken a lot of patience and adjustment. We have had to train our reps from start to finish on how to act on social media – and explain why every step of the way. We’ve also had to give up some control, which CMs know can feel like the end of the world.

We also haven’t identified the perfect SMMS for this. Ideally, I’d like a system that would allow me to flag issues by sending a notification to my customer service rep that they could then “check-off” once they completed. If you know of a system that can do this, please let me know. Or if you have a big chunk of change you’re looking to get rid of and invest in developing said system, definitely let me know.

Overall, it’s been beneficial. It’s freed up a big chunk of my time, which allows me to spend more time listening to and engaging with my community. And that’s what being a community manager is all about.