Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rules of Blogging You Should Ignore (At Least At First)

 A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

When contemplating a project of any kind, it's smart to do research. Research now will contain at least a portion of "asking around on social media platforms." These networks exist, after all, to be places where we can get and share advice with our friends and peers.

Wherever you ask around, some of the advice you're bound to get will be well-intentioned, but will start to make you feel claustrophobic. Will picking the wrong name for your blog kill it before it even gets out of the starting block? Will choosing the wrong platform make you the laughingstock of your industry?

To some extent even ignorable advice is good advice. You may not choose to follow it for reasons of your own, but understand *why* people suggest it and know what sacrifices you're making, so you know what next steps to take as you move forward with your blog.

Pick a Name that's Easy to Type and Remember

This rule is clearly a no-brainer. Of course you want your blog to be easy to remember and type! This way, when people are looking for it on a Search Engine, they can find it simply.

When You Can Ignore This: Think about your audience - how are they going to be finding out about your blog? Will they be standing in your store, and you'll be telling them about it? Or will they be on your website, looking for your keywords on a Search Engine or checking out another social profile of yours?

When your *primary* means of getting word out to your audience is online, a more complex, obscure name is not the barrier it might be if your primary means of communicating with the potential market is print or by word of mouth. Online audiences will be clicking links to your blog from the spaces where you mention it.  Keeping the name short will make it easier for people to type in the name, but having a strange acronym or odd name will not make or break you.

Pick Your Platform for SEO

Is WordPress better than Blogger or TypePad for SEO? This question comes up very often on professional social networks. There are some people that insist that only one platform is appropriate for professional blogs and to some extent advance capabilities are going to be important to you down the road, when you've built up a following.

When You Can Ignore This: Right now, before you even have a solid blogging strategy, *where* you blog is, is much less important than *what* you are blogging and *why.* SEO comes from having strong keyword- and  key phrase- rich content, it comes from building up your reading audience with strong promotional strategies and writing unique, compelling content. The amount of SEO you can get from choosing one platform over another is incremental, and completely unimportant as compared with the content itself.

Here's one rule that cannot be ignored:

Formatting is Everything

Some people think in text, some people think in images. Others love video,  and for others, audio tracks pass the time during a long commute. A really good blog will be able to capture audiences from all these areas. But even if you're not jumping into the blogging world with podcasts or videos, it's important to remember that confusing format and navigation can really kill a blog.

Before you decide on a blog design, hand it off to someone who is not you. Can they find their way around it? Is there too *much* going on? Are you trying to do too many things at once? Is there consistent navigation across the blog, or are you bouncing from one format to another?

Find a designer you trust and go with your gut - if the first thing is absolutely not working for you, feel free to move to a different template. Don't get locked into something you hate. And if your readers say it's confusing, then trust them, it's confusing! Even if you love it, it might need to change.

Don't get caught up in what you shouldn't do. Start simple with your blogging. Don't try to do too much, have a clear idea of what you want to say - and to whom - then go, start blogging. You can always change the look, the name, the platform, but all of those take second place to the content.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Online Communities 103: Problem Users and the Problems They Cause

Every Community Manager knows that a few bad apples can spoil the bunch. One difficult user can make managing a community so incredibly exhausting that there is little energy left for posting or engaging.

Conversations on communities are much like little creeks running through a forest. They run small, but clearly on their own, unless someone dumps a shopping cart load full of garbage into them and blocks up the flow.

Here are a few of the most common problems caused by problem users on any community:

1) Never Been on a Community Before - This person has also, apparently lived in a cave and never developed any social skills in the normal range. They type in all caps, post hot pink letters on black backgrounds and resist all attempts at training. Of the kinds I have had to remove from communities, these are some of the saddest, because they really don't understand why they need to turn off the caps lock, even after they've been told that they are "screaming" at the community.

1a) Never Been On-Topic - A common offshoot of the above is the person who is so EXCITED to have someone to talk to, that they talk about EVERYTHING. These people pay no attention to on-topic/off-topic. They'll post Internet memes from 1996, (cookie recipe, anyone?) and political outrage and will not stop until you moderate or suspend them. It's all so exciting and new! This fills the community with spammy, off-topic stuff which chokes out good conversation.

2) What Post, What Sentence, What Word - These people are not going to admit they are wrong or rude until you can post the exact word that offended and then they will say "There's a smile emoticon" and tell you that people need to be less uptight. In the meantime, they snark and snap their way around the conversations on the community until their presence on a thread guarantees its death. I used to get this very often when I moderated a Martial Arts ML. Many of the posters did not "see" that they were just being jerks. They insisted on knowing which word made them a jerk. The behavior was jerky in and of itself and became grounds for being banned from the list. When one person is a jerk, the women stop posting at all, because every comment becomes a petty little battle that is just-not-worth-the-agita. Good conversation gets choked, good posters start talking somewhere else.

3) You Didn't Do Your Research - This person needs to "win" every conversation, because all conversations are arguments. If you disagree with them, they will declare that you didn't do your research because (fill in obscure fact that was not relevant to argument but makes them look/feel important.) This is exhausting, but rarely grounds for removal unless it kills so many conversations that the community is dying.

4) Trolls - We all know and love trolls, but trolling is a complicated thing. It may be as simple as asking pointed questions with words seeded like mines. It may be a post with massive assumptions that could take a year to parse then refute or it maybe the subtle art of conversation drift, when they focus on a word or phrase out of context, then make assumptions based on the "real" meaning. Trolling is often simply just being negative all the time. I recently had to escort a person off-list because they simply never contributed anything, ever, of positive value to the group. The only posts they ever made were negative, nasty or exhausting. To counter this, I have begun adding "Nurture the conversation or Add Value" in to my community guidelines.

5) I Disagree With What You Didn't Say - Cognitive dissonance is related to trolling, but they are not the same. With cognitive dissonance, repliers are responding to something that they imagine was meant.This will often start fights within the community about what things were said or not becomes "that thread" that will eventually be closed by moderators.

6) Punish the Popular - There are a number of people on the Internet who prefer to spend time and energy trying to shoot people off pedestals, rather than contributing value of their own. When people get to a certain level of expertise, or become a nexus of other words, they become popular, these people cluster around waiting for their chance to shoot these people down. The desired effect is to make popular posters feel sad and possibly drive them away. Sometimes, the dissatisfied go to other forums and set up "why we hate soandso" threads in hopes that the word gets back to them. When this gets too common on a community, the harassers can hurt the community by driving away good posters with their tactics.

Ideally, everyone on a community wants to promote, nurture and grow the community. Baking that into community standards right from the beginning will help, but it won't stop conversation being choked by a few people with or without an agenda.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Maximizing LinkedIn for Your Company: Three Questions Answered

Last year, it was my pleasure to be invited to write a post on Good Practices for Maximizing Linkedin as a personal Professional Development platform on Shelly Kramer's V3 blog.

This year, I have been asked to consider how a Company can use LinkedIn for development, beyond HR using it to look at candidates.  Here are the answers to the top three questions I've received.

1) Why Should My Company Be on LinkedIn? 

LinkedIn was designed with individual Professional Development in mind, but there are a number of reasons why you want your company there:

Search Engine Visibility is considerably increased when you and your employees are on LinkedIn. For instance, searching on my name brings up my LinkedIn profile first, although there are other platforms on which I have been active much longer. LinkedIn is a powerful force for visability.

Corporate Presence in Social Media - Not every business is right for a blog, or a Facebook page. You may not be able to reach out to clients on Twitter, especially if you work in an externally regulated industry. By having a coherent LinkedIn presence, you can show that your company is not opposed to Social Media or behind the curve. You understand the need for Social Media, even - especially - at the corporate level. LinkedIn keeps it Professional.

Highlight Employee Expertise - This is your best weapon in Social Media and no less on LinkedIn. The Answers forums give your employees a chance to apply their experience and skills to a variety of business-to-business situations. They can learn from competitors and peers, just as they might at an industry meeting. And they will have a chance to show off the same expertise that they apply for your company. When your employees actively, intelligently participate on LinkedIn, it shows the world that your company has it together.

Professional Credentials and Recommendations - Groups on LinkedIn can highlight professional associations, credentialed institutions or affiliations that your employees - and therefore your company - are aligned with. Recommendations are another way for your employees to bring their A-game to a publicly visible space. When your top producer has fistfuls of recommendations from clients, it says something important about them and about your company.

2) What if my employees are reluctant to embrace LinkedIn?

One of the concerns that employees often express in regards to professional use of Social Media is that they "don't have time." This often masks fear of the unknown, or fear of failure. It's very easy to see a new task as an obstacle that has to be avoided, rather than a new skill to be embraced.

Social Media as an overarching concept tends to be used to refer to the technological platforms, like LinkedIn, through which we communicate with other people. Forget the technology - it's just a platform. LinkedIn is no different, really, than talking with people in person, by phone, by email. Setting up a profile is no more difficult or time consuming than taking a moment to establish who you are to a lead over the phone.

Whatever function employees are already doing - communications, marketing, sales - does not change. Only the platform on which they are doing those things changes. Whatever the function was, it still is. So Marketing on Social Media is still Marketing. Communications/PR through Social Media is still Communications. Sales is still Sales. Your employees are just picking up a new kind of phone. Give them clear guidance as to your expectations of their participation and use, provide training and feedback and they'll integrate their LinkedIn profile into their daily routine in no time, just as they did with email.

3) How do I implement Social Media Participation in my company?

Implementation of a Social Media Policy is similar to any other technology or policy roll-out. There needs to be stages for education; expectation training; implementation training; and follow-up/reinforcement/feedback. There also need to be some checks and balances in place for surveillance and enforcement.

A rollout of any policy should go hand-in-hand with a communications campaign and reminders of responsibilities and rules for employees.

The problem that I've seen with most with new policies in corporations is that there is an initial rollout, and then no follow-up. Wherever there are new people coming in, there has to be continuous education on the policy, as well as retraining for employees who have been around a while. Provide a continuous cycle of training, feedback and policy adjustment for as seamless a transition as possible.

With an eye on these basics, maximize use of LinkedIn to promote and expand your company's presence and allow your employees to participate actively in their professional development at the same time.

Project Wonderful