Who’s In Charge Here?

This question has been coming up for me lately: who’s in charge of my communities?

Some days, I think it is me. I write content. I engage fans. I help them when they ask. And sometimes when they don’t. I listen. I learn. I’m the head honcho here, people.

But then there are other days. Days when I get sent a post idea from one of my colleagues that isn’t bad, but I know think won’t resonate well with my fans. Or – even worse – when someone sends me an email asking me to do something that violates the terms of use of a social media channel. Or is straight up illegal. (host a giveaway on my Facebook wall, anyone?)

Who’s in charge then?

In my current organization, all social media properties are “owned” by our PR team. Almost everything I post to a social media channel is seen and approved by my PR manager. So, technically, he or she is in charge. If I have something I am questioning, I can easily go to them, plead my case my case and argue for my community.

But there I go again. Calling it my community. The fact of it is that if my PR manager says I have to post something then I have to post it. They own the channel. I report to them. And they get final say. No matter how much I argue, if they want me to post something – or don’t – I have to listen.

There have been many times when I have had to take the hit. Post something I didn’t want to or not respond to a fan when I did want to. On those days I land on the decision: I am definitely not in charge here.

The plight of a community manager is this: we spend our entire day in the weeds, work on weekends, and deal with crazy cat ladies, but we aren’t really in charge of anything.

There are those beautiful times, though, when not being in charge is about as good as it gets. That post that the VP of Marketing saw on his daughter’s Twitter and didn’t like? Wasn’t me! PR approved it. I happen to be one of those lucky community managers who works with a PR team who will take the heat. And man oh man do I love them for that.

I have built trust with my PR managers through increased engagement and overall performance on social media. They believe I will do the right thing and don’t breathe down my neck.

But I can’t stop one thing from nagging me, though: if I was in charge, would my communities be better? Or (even more nagging) would they be worse?

Tell me: who is in charge of your communities? Does it work for you?

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How to: Tap Into Your Social Audience

I’m always trying to think of ways to engage my audience. What do they want from me? How can I best get them to interact? How do I make them like me?! But I don’t always think about how my audience can help me.

Many companies are starting to not only listen to their audience, but tap into them for help. I have briefly mentioned the idea of using your community as a focus group. But you can also use your audience as a source.

This is an obvious step for news outlets, like NPR, who often asks their fans to contribute to stories that they are working on. They ask for volunteers to come forward and tell their story. Those fans are then featured in radio interviews. This is an invaluable resource for a company like NPR. It saves them money (less time paying reporters to track down the perfect person for a story) and makes their listeners feel important. Which they are!

But how can this work for brands? We use our audience as a source every day. We just don’t realize it. Community Managers need to take it one step further by listening to their fans and outright mining for content.

How? Here are a couple of examples:

 
1. Straight up ask them. Want to know what magazines your audience is reading? If they are using a certain product? If they like a topic you are thinking about writing about? Ask them! Use their responses to (or to not) drive and create content.

2. Fan interviews. A sure fire way to get more readership to your blog is to interview the people you want to read it. Pay attention to what your fans are saying, who is commenting most on posts and retweeting your content. Then ask that fan if they want to be interviewed by the brand. And bada-bing – you’ve got yourself a blog post! Not to mention all the friends and family who come along with that fan to read it.

3. Polls. One of the brands I work on recently created a promotion that would highlight some of our best Facebook fans. But what to call the contest? People were throwing around lots of ideas, and all of them were great. Who gets to decide which is best, though? The head of the brand team? No. The people you want to enter and participate – the fans! We asked our fans which title they liked best and chose which received the most votes.

4. In their own words. Another easy way to mine content? Use your fans’ own words. We all have those amazing fans who say exactly what we want to be saying about our brand, but better than we ever could. Quote the fan in a post and ask others if they feel the same. Or use them as inspiration to create your own new content.

But these are just a start. What other ideas do you have for tapping into your social audience? What has worked in the past? What hasn’t? Share in the comments!

Social Media New Year’s Resolutions

A new year is upon us! And with it comes my one year anniversary as a Community Manager. Hoorah! So even though I’m not usually a fan of new year’s resolutions, I’m going to make a few for myself.

It’s strange to think that I’ve been doing this for a year. There was a time when I thought I would never find a job I enjoyed and that anyone who said they actually enjoyed their job was a bold faced liar. But things changed.

Two colleagues were nice enough to show me the social media ropes and set me up with some great contacts (thanks DB and Josh!) Now I’m starting the new year with a job I enjoy (not lying).

But things can get hairy out here in the social media world. Sometimes I am the person who hates my job. So my new year’s resolutions aren’t just goals – they’re tips to help me avoid burnout and remember why I enjoy working in this ever changing industry.

– Let creativity in. Between my Instapaper, Google Reader, Amazon reading list and job in general, I sometimes feel like everything in my day has to do with social media. Staying on this one topic can actually stifle creativity – both inside and outside my job. My resolution is to read one non-social media book a month. Oh, and more cooking blogs everyday! Lots and lots of cooking blogs.

– Laugh at myself and my job. Remember that mention of hating my job? Well, it generally happens when someone says something outrageous or ridiculous to me on a social network. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, I’m going to laugh. Laugh, damnit. Because if I can’t derive some humor out of people getting angry at me for my grammar, what can I laugh at? Dont answer that…

– Take more risks. Many community managers have a tendency to find something that works and stick with it (Facebook polls, anyone?). I want to take more risks with my content. Try something that I never have before and step outside of the realm of “what works.”

– Enjoy it. When people see me browsing cat videos and photos, looking for interesting things to post, they say, “That’s your job?!” My first reaction is to get defensive and explain that it is a lot more than browsing for fun content. But they aren’t being rude. They’re jealous. And they’re right to be. My job kicks ass. Not just because of the cat videos (big bonus), but because of all the other every-changing things I get to do. And this year I am going to enjoy it while I still can.

Happy 2012, everyone! Share your new year’s resolutions – social media or otherwise – in the comments!

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.