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!

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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.

How to: Humanize your customer service on social media

It sounds simple – to be human on social media. But it isn’t that easy for everyone. I’ve learned this first hand when it comes to dealing with working with the customer service department at my company.

It isn’t their fault, though. While I was in college learning this brand spanking new technology (including using it incorrectly) they were stuck in the “traditional” customer service channels – scripted, two-way communication.

But flash to today: hundreds of thousands of fans all in one place airing every single grievance about your company/product/charities/whoknowswhatelsethesepeoplearemadat for the whole world to see. It can be a lot for anyone.

But the main key to good customer service is simple: be human. And here is how to make sure your copy still has a pulse before you click “Share:”

– Read aloud. A tried and true favorite of mine. I can’t tell you how many times I have read my writing out loud and said, “WTF is wrong with me?” (This includes the first two paragraphs of this post. What can I say? It’s Monday). Read every response before you post it to a consumer and make sure it sounds like how you would speak if you were talking in person – not too formal, not too casual and void of fluff.

– Give that advice to yourself. Ask yourself, “If I had this problem, is this the response I would want to read?” This can get daunting when you’re sorting through 40+ consumers who can’t download a coupon for a $1 off your product. But imagine if you were that frustrated – would you want to hear the advice you’re about to give them?

And yes, I realize you probably would just decide that the coupon wasn’t worth it. But consumers think it is. So don’t ignore them (no matter how far their complaint has already been pushed down your Wall).

– See it through. Sometimes consumers don’t respond to you right away. Other times they don’t understand what you said and keep freaking out. And even other times they completely ignore your well thought out, read aloud and asked to yourself advice. But keep following through. All of your fans will notice your dedication and will appreciate your help in the end.

Remember – when things start to get out of hand, take the consumer off your wall with a direct message. Wouldn’t you expect a little more attention when you just threatened to hurl your computer across the room? I would. But please do not threaten that on any of my brand pages…

– Serenity now. But not to the point where you break all of the computers George is storing in Kramer’s apartment since he lied about selling them to beat Lloyd Braun. Stay calm. Tell yourself you’re doing the best you can to help this person and always come from a place of good. And always, always save your successful responses for later use. Because serenity is time-saving shortcuts.

How to: Re-purpose your content for Twitter

I came across a great article this week from oneforty, one of my favorite social media resources. Such a favorite that I’m a little hesitant to share it with others in the hopes I’m one of the few who use it (which I realize is unlikely). The article discussed how to create quality content on Twitter, which has been a bit of a struggle for myself and my team.

I can say with confidence that I have Facebook mostly figured out. At least figured out enough to be able to tell what works, what doesn’t and why. Well, sort of why. And I’m not sure if I’m measuring it correctly… But anyways! Twitter is a whole other animal. Especially when it comes to content that resonates with your audience of super finicky followers.

And the eternal question for me lately has been, “How do I take my kick ass content and get it to work on Twitter?” Because re-purposing is the greatest and most time-saving shortcut ever invented when it comes to writing.

So I’m going to break out some of my content buckets and show you how to take your copy to Twitter:

1. Fill in the blank questions become polls. Fans of my brands absolutely love fill in the blank questions. They fit the bill perfectly – short, easy to answer and flexible. But if you ask someone to fill in the blank on Twitter? Crickets.

Instead, try out my new favorite tool Twtpoll. You can give that “fill in the blank” options for your followers to choose from. Make sure to do a follow-up tweet later with the results to show your followers you’re listening!

2. Open ended questions become daily tips. I ask a boatload of questions on Facebook. Most of the time, they are open ended and just ask for consumers opinions. Take the results and insights your users provided and turn them into a daily tip for Twitter. Content with almost zero work? Oh hells yes.

3. Open ended questions become live Twitter chats. Aggregate some of your previously asked questions on Facebook into a series. Preferably a series that relates. Let your community know you’ll be asking the questions live at a certain time. Then you facilitate the conversation by retweeting and participating yourself.

4. Caption contests become jokes or riddles. In one of my communities, we post photos of cats (LINK) and ask users to come up with captions (Yes, I realize I Can Haz Cheezburger does this. No, I don’t consider it “content mining”). And some of them are actually hilarious. So put your comedian cap on and turn those funny captions into jokes or riddles that could garner retweets on Twitter.

And then there are the content buckets you use on Facebook that can be used on Twitter with almost no translated. But remember, never post the exact same content on both mediums on the same day at the same time down to the same exact second. Still re-purpose! Spread the goods out.

5. Blog posts become blog posts. I like to change the type of post I use on Facebook and Twitter when it comes to blogs. With Facebook, I try to solicit feedback and get fans to click the link. On Twitter I just want click, clicks and more clicks.

So frame your blog post like you would an interesting news article. Or, it it contains tips and tricks, use one of them as a teaser. Clicking the link will lead to more. So do it!

6. YouTube videos become YouTube videos. See #5.

7. Contests become contests. Disclaimer here: Facebook contest rules are super strict. You can get away with…I mean, run a legitimate contest on Twitter without all the red tape. I’m particularly fond of giveaways. And it can be anything, big or small. It’s amazing how many Twitter users love a good sticker.

The possibilities are endless! Except that’s all I got. What Twitter content has been successful for you or your brand?

How to: handle bad content

A funny thing happens when you’re a community manager – you become oddly possessive of your community. It isn’t just a kitty litter Facebook page. It’s my kitty litter Facebook page. So step off!

Okay, I don’t say “step off” when someone sends me content to post. But I have been put in situations where a coworker or someone from our PR agency sends me content to post that I’m not happy with. It isn’t that it’s off voice or off topic – it’s bad. Just…bad.

The even funnier thing, though, is usually the content is coming from someone who is my superior. Even though community managers spend their days in the trenches – on the walls, fielding customer service questions and getting called out for not responding to issues – we actually rank low in most companies in terms of organizational hierarchy.

So what do you do when you get a bad status update from the VP of brand management? Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Breathe. When I first read bad content, I tend to jump straight to the freak out phase. But instead of running into your manager’s office and yelling that the PR agency is a full of $*!%ing idiots (hypothetical situation, of course), stop and take a deeeeeep breathe.

Step 2: Dissect the content. Read the content again. And again. And again. Pull out what the goal of the copy is, especially the main idea. This may take a lot of dissection if the copy is riddled with fluff and length, but make sure you come away with an understanding of what the person was aiming for.

Step 3: Edit, edit, edit. Want to email whoever sent you the content back and tell them you can do better? Prove it first. Re-write the copy (main idea included!) and make sure it is actually better.

Step 4: Write back (with caution). Now is the time when you ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” If it is, write an email back in a positive way (i.e. Avoid dropping any F bombs). Start out thanking them for the content and telling them the idea is great. Then outline your suggested edits. Make sure to clearly explain why you made changes and how you feel it will increase engagement and work better on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Step 5: Accept the result. In my experience, people are more likely to accept your changes without any complaint when they trust you. Once you prove yourself on your social network they will start realizing that you know better than them. Because you probably do. I mean, I know I do…

But if, for whatever reason, the person comes back saying they prefer their original copy, repeat Step 1. Then accept that this one status update or blog post won’t ruin your community and you’ll personally be able to recover (And make sure to mention in your metrics presentation that you did not write that post).

And no matter how many times they shoot you down, keep fighting for the content you believe in. That’s part of being a good community manager – advocating for and recommending best practices based on your experience.

How to: Be passionate about your community when you’re allergic to it

I read articles and blog posts almost daily telling me community managers who are passionate about their brand run the most successful pages in social media.

But what happens when you’re 24 and finally landed a great job in social media, only to discover you’re allergic to brand you’ll be managing?

Ok, not the brand. But the key “consumer” of your brand. In this case – cats. One of the communities I am in charge of targets cat lovers and markets a product for those standoffish, rude, scratch-distributing mongrels (Can you tell I’m a dog person?).

Many community managers my age run into the same problem. We aren’t lucky enough to promote the newest hot car or most popular energy drink. And it’s hard to be passionate about kitty litter (Or some consumer product equivalent to kitty litter). So what to do?

Well, as it turns out, my kitty community is my favorite community. Because even though I’m not passionate about those devil animals…er, cats, I am incredibly passionate about my community. And here is why:

– The users have passion. Sure, I don’t get why a photo of a cat inside a box makes people go nuts. But I absolutely love to listen and respond to their comments. Their love for the brand makes me love them. And I respect them for that.

– Every consumer is a consumer. They may not be here about the latest Harry Potter movie, but they still appreciate the same attention that Potter lovers do. Prompt customer service, great content and attention (All easy to achieve, right?).

– They appreciate me. So why wouldn’t I give them the same appreciation back? Whenever I help someone on my wall they are incredibly thankful. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “A company never responds to me! Thank you so much!”

I don’t think that a community manager has to panic if they aren’t as passionate as the Zappos guy. Because dang that guy is good. All in all, you get what you put in. Whether it’s for kitty litter or Alexander Skarsgard (a personal passion of mine) – be passionate about your community and they will love you right back.