Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Landing Pages, The Herpes of Social Media

You click on a link that interests you; an article or a whitepaper that seems interesting. As your eyes cross the title, the page blurs and your line of sight is obstructed. All you need to do to read this article is SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER! or give us all your contact info and we'll email you the whitepaper.What is this madness? Give up your name, email, address and phone number just to read an article? Click it away and seconds later it's back like a virus. SUBSCRIBE NOW!

You have encountered the herpes of Social Media - the Landing Page.

It is absolutely true that Landing Pages increase conversion. It is also true that they help qualify leads. They also annoy most of the people who will ever come across your site and drive them away instantly. "I like you, but you should know...I have a landing page."

Landing pages are pernicious. They break visitor concentration, they refocus their interest from content (or product or service) to the ugly business of buying and selling. How serious are you about getting subscribers? So serious that you will interrupt your own message to bring your reader this important message about you.

It's perfectly fine to ask for someone's phone number, but usually we do it after we've talked a bit. Landing Pages may be great for your business, but they are even better for letting people know you have no time or interest in anyone who isn't doing something for you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Everybody's Talking At You: 3 Really Important Things You Still Don't Get About Social Media

The last few weeks have been a roller-coaster ride in the Social Media world. People who should know better misusing their public platforms to say unfortunate things, people using traditional media arguing about the wrong parts of the problem and the great piranha tank of social media weighing in with opinions without context.

There was a lot of misunderstanding on all sides and everyone was wrong. And in the mix of screaming and screaming about screaming, everyone missed the three lessons everyone who works with Social Media needs to know.

Lesson 1:

You Cannot Control the Message

In the closed world of the conference room, you might make an off-color joke about the mail guy. Depending on your level of power, people might pretend it was funny. If you have less power, someone might look at you and say, "that was uncool." You then backtrack, claim it was a joke. But the mailroom guy is not likely to hear about it, whatever happens.

In Social Media, even with locked accounts, you are speaking to an open room. Once out there, a screencapped image can live on forever. Forget claiming an account was hacked or that it was a joke...the evidence of your inside voice can and will get to the mailroom guy....good luck getting your mail forever.

Being tone deaf to the AIDS crisis or Middle East uprisings will not make you look clever, it will not get laughs, except those "Hah-Hah!"s that accompany pointing fingers as you go down in flames. Political and social crises are not acceptable vehicles upon which to piggyback your marketing messages.

If you wouldn't want 7 billion people seeing, talking about or retweeting it - don't say it.

Lesson 2:

Everything You Say on Social Media is Relevant

The person you hire to spread your messaging is You. The message they spread is You. The name that is used in those messages is You. It is not Social Media's fault if you won't admit that yours is not the most popular company.

When a person states in their profile that they are your PR person, they will speak about your corporate culture 24/7. If they post dismissive, rude comments at 3AM on Saturday after a night out, it will still reflect on you.

There is no "time-off" for your company. No kicking back, taking the shoes off. Everything ever said by you, about you or for you reflects on you.

Lesson 3:

Social Media is Not An Advertisement

In a discussion with an agency recently, we commiserated over the case of the client with a missing clue. They want to get straight sales conversion from a Social Media profile but they don't want to do actual sales tactics. Apparently, the client believes that merely liking their page - and never hearing from them again - should magically convert into higher profit.

Advertising works because it saturates a space. Social Media works because it doesn't saturate a space, it targets very specific, very precise areas. Social Media is the way we communicate with people in small, deep pockets of the Internet, not broad swaths of it. If you're looking to work the advertising funnel model of conversion, do not go with Social Media.

You get to choose one way to communicate: You can talk to everyone through advertising or You can talk to a few people through Social.

Both can create value for your brand and your bottom line...but you have to choose each one for itself, mixing them up doesn't really work.

Learn these three lessons about Social Media and you'll never be embarrassed again.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why People Unfollow/Unfriend/Disconnect Your Business and How to Re-Engage

When you're a small or medium business owner, there is both power and prestige in having a strong Social Media following. And it can hurt your bottom line if there's a mass exodus of those followers. There are any number of reasons why people stop following your business, and today we'll look at ehy people follow your business in the first place - and what keeps them engaged or drives them away.

Why People Like, Follow or Connect With Your Business

1) Immediate Need - the customer is looking for a product or service something your business offers.

2) Advocacy - The consumer could be a repeat customer looking to a) support a business they like or b) to get coupons/discounts for products or services they have enjoyed in the past and wish to get again.

3) Non-Business Loyalty - A friend owns, works for, or has some other allegiance to the business and the consumer is showing to public support.

Having gotten consumer interest in the first place, why do so few Businesses retain their interest? It's relatively easy to get someone to "Like" a page, and it is even easier to lose followers with a single misstep.

Why People Unlike, Unfollow or Disconnect With Your Business

Let's start with Non-business related Loyalty first. If a person's reason for following a business has no relation to the business itself, then their reasons for unfollowing/friending them are likely to to be the same. The friend has moved on, or gained enough traction, or they had a falling out.  Supporting their business is just not a high priority anymore. This is a problem mostly for extremely local-focus businesses, which rely heavily on word of mouth.

How to Re-engage: Turn your friends into valued customers and gain real loyalty for your business by reaching out with meaningful connection related to your business.

When Advocacy lapses, it is important to recognize interests and needs change over time. The company may no longer be relevant to me.  There's very little that can be done about this loss, except to be gracious and express a hope for future reconnection.

It's important to acknowledge that you company may have alienated the customer in some way with bad customer service or uncompetitive pricing, or poor product or services.  Consumers may become tired of self-promotion, poor response rate or dislike the fact that no one is curating the social accounts. At this level, there are *so* many reason a person might unfollow.

How to Re-engage: An advocate is almost always going to be a customer who wants relevant, authentic contact and content. Many companies seriously drop the ball with their customers at this level. Instead of thinking about what customers can do for you, consider how your business can make a difference for customers. Talk with them, as opposed to advertising at them, invite good customers and loyal customers to special events, offer "tell a friend deals." Invest time in your relationships and in your Social Media.

If the reason a person followed you was Immediate Need, thhey no longer need to be in contact with your company. Not every unfollow is a personal insult.

How to Re-engage: If you've done your job and created truly Social interaction, they'll be back when they need you. Acknowledge the Tare and move on, working with those people who want to stay connected.

Losing followers is inevitable. The best thing to do is make the trail back to you appealing and open. Build bridges, don't burn them and you'll find your following growing naturally.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

You're Not the Pied Piper, Part 2: "One Too Many"

In Follow Me! Follow Me!, we discussed companies that ask you to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, sign up for their newsletter...all so they can give you the same press release in 5 fabulous formats!

Today, we're going to look at other side of this bad social media practice - the "One Too Many" syndrome.

Company A offers a reward: Like them on Facebook! (Okay, no prob!) Then follow them on Twitter. (Um, okay...) Now, tweet this canned response with a hashtag! (All right...) Now, take the code you receive as a DM to their website to get your reward! (Too late, I've moved on.)

Company B offers a contest: Like Us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, then scan this QR code, go to that website and register, to be entered into this contest for a free something worth about $10!

It's a classic case of "one too many."

Followers should have to do one thing. Either they scan in the QR code or they give a FB like or Twitter follow. Then give them the reward. Customers are not toddlers, they are not dogs. Ask them to do too much, they'll wander off, bored.

Every additional step a company requires from consumers, leeches their interest in whatever contest, or junky reward. No, they will not scan a QR code, then like your FB page to get...what? A few bucks off? A free soda when they spend $50?  A free sticker? The "reward" is rarely worth the time and effort

Consumers are not following your company to bump up your numbers. They expect value from you.

Exclusives, special deals and good content will bring in loyal followers. And loyal customers is what you want, not people who sign up for contests.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Leave A Social Platform: The Dos and Dont’s of Saying “Goodbye”

It’s easy enough to join a new social platform. Fill out the registration form — or just sign in through another platform, such as Twitter or Facebook. Perhaps click a verification link in an email. Maybe a friend introduces you, shows you around. That first date is easy. It feels comfortable to spend time together.

You’re enjoy your time with this new platform. You’ve developed a new peer group, you share good times — you laugh at new in-jokes. It’s all fun for a while…but eventually the thrill is gone and feels more like a chore to check in.

You can’t help it — you feel like the platform let you down. You were such good friends, but now this friend is still complaining about the same stuff, full of the same questions over and over and it’s annoying you. You stop coming by so often — and when you do, it’s often to tell folks how much less often you’ll be dropping in.

You wake up one day and think — “I’m done here. It’s time to move on.” But…how does one go about leaving a social platform? It’s easy to join, shouldn’t it be easy to leave too?

It should be — but it isn’t. A community is more than just a place to chat with other people. When you joined, you only had yourself to answer to. When you leave, it’s going to affect others.If you’ve been granted any cognitive authority, your absence will create ripples. If you have real authority on the platform, those ripples will be bigger. Either way, the ripples will subside, but for a while it’ll be hard on you and on the community.

What to Do When You Are Leaving A Platform
Take a Break — As you would with any relationship, you’ve been spending a lot of time together with your new platform. Being attached at the hips takes a lot of work and it cuts you off from other relationships. After a while, you might just need some time off . Separate yourself from the drama for perspective. Take yourself offline for a bit, quietly, and see if you miss the community. If find yourself saving items to share or stories to tell to your community — come back. You don’t need to apologize to the community, we’re all human.

Update Your Profile — If you intend on leaving your account active, write a note on your profile with links where you can be found while you’re away. People who want to will be able to find you. You might be surprised how much of your community follows along.

Let People You Care About Know You’re Leaving — You’ve made real friends and your absence will be noted. Do you have a blog, a forum, a thread or a group? If there are any warrens on the site (or offsite, but related such “Platform Users” group on a different platform) where people expect you to be, value your contribution or desire your company, let folks know where your contributions will be (if that is of interest) or where they can find you (if you want them to be able to do so.) Knowing who your real friends are makes any kind of breakup easier.

What Not To Do When Leaving A Platform
Come Back Repeatedly To See If Anyone Noticed — This is called a “Flounce.” Flounces are commonly enacted by people who never really quite fit in in the first place. When you walk out the door of a community, there is nothing at all that will kill your credibility faster than looking over your shoulder to see if anyone is watching you. “I’m really leaving this time!”

Complain About How Things Have Changed — Yes, things change. Old users get worn out or just move on, some new users don’t get the Sitegeist (the general culture and etiquette of a site. ) You change, too — the topic/format just doesn't interest you any more. It’s perfectly natural that your relationship with the platform will change and it’s really okay for you to simply move on.

How to Leave a Social Platform
Leave — Walk away. Say your goodbyes, delete your account, move on with your life. Maintain your dignity.

That platform will move on as well and, after a short period of grieving, you’ll remember the good times, you’ll grow from the experience and you’ll find a new relationship.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

How It All Went Wrong, A Social Media Love Story

You used to come home and find her so sexy, waiting by the door, her seductress self available for your every whim. Now, you find her to be work. Your experience on Social isn't giving you the same thrill it previously did. What changed?

Do you remember what she wore the first day you joined? She was gloriously nude, a blank page to be written on, then read. She took a little effort, needed a little pursuing, but it was worth it. Part of what made Social so exciting was the thrill of the chase - the hunt for followers and re-posts. Teasing her until she gave up those important things to you was a total rush.

She knows your likes and dislikes now, and anticipates your needs, brings you comfortable topics and people...but the thrill is gone. What changed? 

You changed. 

You're not trying any more. You're tired when you check your feed, disengaged when you read statuses. Your posts are memes and jokes. You're muting people - you don't listen to Social anymore. 

You're bored with Social and are treating her badly. She's as interesting as ever to those of us who spend a little time paying attention to and taking care of her.

Social is not a thrill ride, she's not a hussy, here for a roll in the hay, so long, see ya. Social is a fine lady with a salon full of fascinating people and objet, worth every moment you spend to cultivate her company. Don't blame her if you're not fun anymore. 

Originally posted on Quora

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Handle The Mundane in Online Community's Customer Support

You've got your Online Community up and running and it's going well...until the complaints start pouring in. You've got FAQs up for how to get login assistance and what to do if a password won't work..but what on earth are you supposed to do when two people just don'e seem to get along? Or how do you handle complaints that a poster's question aren't getting answers...or that someone else is being mean to them?

As anyone who has worked in customer support can tell you - the bulk of customer support is telling people answers to questions that have clear answers already written and functioning as playground supervisors.

So how do you handle the mundane in online community customer support?

First, craft rules that state plainly and simply what types of conflicts the site administration is willing to become involved in. These will have to take into account the ages of the user base, the purpose for which the site was created and miscellany abuses of the system that can occur.

Secondly, give your admins tools to make and enforce rulings, and support for those decisions. When someone on the frontline identifies an abusive personality, telling them they "have to work around them, because they are a sponsor" is the worst possible thing for the community.

Thirdly, provide a clear and concise method for complaints. "If someone is abusing/offending you on our site, do this:"  Then follow up. Quickly. Don't dither. Investigate the claims, make a decision, communicate it. Make sure that admins are audited themselves, so their bad decisions don't ruin the site. (This has happened at many of the communities I've been part of.)

Give users block/ignore/mute tools to users so they can control what and who they see. (I don't know why sites so often forget this. When a person is a troll, but a user can still see their comments, it's like a continuing slap to the face.)

Actually investigate issues. Don't write them off as "mundane complaints." It's annoying, yes, and you feel like a kindergarten teacher, yes. That's site adminning and moderation. If you have something else that needs your time, hire an admin to do the dirty work. Make the process transparent. There may well be a very irksome person serially taunting and just being a jerk. Get rid of them....quickly.  Because:

Make unpopular decisions. Be the grown-up. "You - you - to opposite corners!" It's annoying, but what on earth do you think humans are? ^_^ We're annoying. If a teacher doesn't make the bad kid leave the room, it will ruin playtime for all the other kids,

With every new wave of subscribers, you'll need to circle to the top of the list. You can never be perfect, or be everything to everyone, but with clear guidelines, and support tools, you'll be able to handle things more consistently than if you just toss your moderation out to the wolves with "block" and no rules. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Attack of the Serial Commenters (How to Manage Fans Who Don't *Get* The Rules)

Comments, likes, upvotes, shares - these are all signs that someone is engaged with your community. You use these marks of engagement to measure how well you are connecting with your audience and which members are converting their loyalty or interest into action.

So when you notice that a member of your community always comments on every post, it doesn't seem like it's a problem. Comments are *good*. Then you notice that this person comments on everything whether they have something to say or not. You're reluctant to tell them to stop, because People Talking About This is good, right? You can always pull the conversation back on track if it starts to slide or correct mistakes. This is your job as community manager.

Then one day, you notice that more than 15 minutes of your day is spent managing this one person. They've hijacked so many conversations you start to doubt that anything they've posted has value. And you start to doubt your own ability to manage your community - after all this person is a *fan.* So what if they keep mentioning this other site, or get annoyed with you for correcting them? And why do they annoy you so much anyway?

You have just met the Serial Commenter.

Serial Commenters come in several forms:

New fans who discover your community and spend the next week reading, liking/voting and commenting on everything you've posted for the last month, or in a particular topic.

Old fans who believe that "LOL" is a valuable comment on every single post.

Time-outs who seek to cull favor by adding content, whether or not it is relevant, helpful or legal. These often become the hardest to deal with, those people who simply Need to Stop Posting for a bit, but won't.

Serial Commenters are extremely difficult to deal with. They are often highly, deeply and passionately engaged, but cannot manage to play by the rules. They never take kindly to being gently warned. And more often than not, they have no self-awareness of what you mean when you ask them to stop.

So how do you deal with a Serial Commenter?

First, Time-Out: This is an incredibly important step. Give yourself a Time Out. Take a few days to decide if the comments are harmless, if they might add value to someone who isn't you, or if they stimulate productive conversation in the comments. If any of these are true, bite your lip and ignore whatever it is that rubs you the wrong way. They may simply be new and excited. Give them time to calm down. This person is not a problem.

Second, Etiquette Reminder: Some people are not used to community rules. They may have been hanging out somewhere with less rules, or simply never been socialized. Do your best to surface unwritten rules somewhere. Write down in plain words what you expect of community members. I keep my rules relatively simple, but my expectations high.

Do not be coy, if a Serial Commenter is breaking an unwritten rule, write it out. Some people are not subtle. Don't be rude, but be blunt.

Third, Warning: By the time you have gotten to this stage, you should have already given all the gentle guidance you have to give. At this point you are merely handing the SC rope with with they can hang themselves.  Warnings should be simple. If you choose to enforce a Time-Out for your SC, state the time period, expectations upon their return and the factors you will weigh against them.

Fourth and Final, Escort Them Out the Door: At this point, you have decided that their absence will free the community up. No one need talk around them, explain things to them or help them with a seemingly un-ending list of confusions and problems. Time and energy can be spent on fun things again.

Do not second guess yourself.  Whether it is your personal or professional community you have every right to control it. As we all must sometimes remember, every site/platform/network online is owned by *somebody.* It is a privilege, not a right to post on these. Sometimes we must remind someone of this.

Serial Commenters are not always a problem, but be ready for those that become one with a fair, actionable plan. You owe it to your community.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wibbly-wobbly, Returny-wurny | Lessons on Social Media from Doctor Who

In 1963 a children's show was created in the UK. It was meant to be an educational show, a show that would transport its audience through time to the past to witness the Aztecs or Ancient Rome. It was marginally successful until someone decided that while the characters were traveling through Time, they could also be travelling through Space. The show, Doctor Who, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and is more popular than ever. But it wasn't a smooth ride at all.

For the first years of its life, the show was popular with children (and their adults) as a sci-fi show, with evil baddies, ambiguous morality lessons and a charismatic, mercurial lead, The Doctor. In the 1980s the BBC leadership was absolutely dedicated to killing the show, but fan pressure - now global through Public Television support for the show in America and Australia - brought it back from the grave, for a while, until the show was once again cancelled after the 7th Doctor played his last spoon....

...Only Doctor Who didn't die. Bizarrely, it was picked up by an American television network, which of course focused on all the wrong things, and annoyed the British fans no end ("The American Movie" is how the 8th Doctor's tenure is known among fans.) But it did something unheard of. 40 years old and the show hadn't died. Like a Monty Python character, it kept reassuring us "It wasn't dead yet." And fandom hadn't moved on. With a body of episodes in the hundreds, still showing on Public TV, then reluctantly released by the BBC on VHS, the DVD, fandom wasn't dead.

And neither was the show. In 2005 the famous blue box known as the TARDIS landed once again in the UK and it was alive, again. The "new" Doctor Who, which picked up with the 9th Doctor and has now made it to the 11th is more popular, more global  - and more financially lucrative than ever before.

So, what are the lessons we can learn from this story?

Return on Time - Perseverance isn't overrated

In the days before Venture Capital and Y Combinator, sometimes all you had to rely on was Time. Having a good idea five years too early can gut a company. But Apple proves the point - when a good idea takes time, perseverance, passion and a soupcon of delusional belief that you're right, playing the long game can lead to success.

Return on Investment - Throwing money at the problem works too

When the BBC demanded better ratings for the 7th Doctor, and they were competing with Star Trek: Next Generation for share of the TV Sci-fi watching audience, the creators of Doctor Who were in a bind. They scraped up more money and put on the most sophisticated show their budget would allow. In comparison with earlier seasons it was fantastic (despite that, the BBC was grumpy again, and they killed it anyway.) In 2005, the showrunners pulled out the stops and the re-launch of this iconic show was as good as anything else on TV. No plywood hallways, no two-set shows. Doctor Who was a big kid now. When you've strained to the edge of what you can do with Time, Investment pushes you to the next  level.

Return on Social is Wibbly-wobbly, Returny-wurny

The 10th Doctor famously stated, "Time is wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey." If there is a single lesson we can grok from The Doctor and his travels through our airspace and time, it's that Return on Social isn't a matter of simple eyeball formulas or likes or shares. In the days before the Internet, Doctor Who fandom created fanzines, wrote fiction, gathered together with friends on Saturday night to watch the show on Public Television, went to conventions to meet the actors. It has always been a social product. DW fandom were early adapters of online technology, expanding their contacts in fandom globally. When the new show launched, fandom was all ready for it. The network was built, ready and waiting. Virality wasn't an accident, it was 40 years in the making. And that is why the new show is popular. BBC and BBC America have made it more accessible, but the Internet does the rest.

Return on Social means a little push here, a nudge there, circle back and start again. When the formula doesn't work exactly as planned, passion and engagement can carry the project along. Superb execution pushes the boundaries and then back to the beginning yet again. Social is wibbly-wobbly, but if Doctor Who teaches us anything, it's that it can absolutely be returny-wurny.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The 4 Pillars of A Healthy Online Community

Whether we're reaching out to a specialized subject community or to a broad social network, we're looking to our contacts online for information, suggestion and recommendation all the time.

More of our lives is spent online in the communities we join and build, and more of our time is spent handling the issues that arise in these spaces. Communities exist on investing sites, shopping sites, health sites and entertainment sites. There is hardly anywhere online one can go where a community is not at least part of the equation.

The question then is - how do we build healthy online communities?

Defining Community vs Network

For the purposes of this article, I want to define how I am using the word "community" vs. "network." 

A "network" in this context is the web of contacts, acquaintances, friends and colleagues we acquire over time. These may be circumstantial - professional colleagues, coworkers, etc.;  or social - friends, relatives, acquaintances. Networks may be organic and/or intentional.

Communities are, for the purposes of this article, always intentional. A professional community may be an association, a personal community may be a group focused on a hobby or interest. Networks can grow without our specific intent to do so (a friend introducing us to another friend for example) but we seek out community with intention.

Groups on Facebook, subReddits, hashtags on Twitter and other smaller pockets of interest on larger platforms can function as communities, as well as focused lists, forums, sites and even whole social networks.

Online Communities are, therefore, groups of people we intentionally seek out in order to...what? 

People seek out community to gain/share/impart information.

The guy who tells you about this lunch on Twitter - he's imparting information. Not very relevant or targeted information, admittedly, but hey, there may be someone out there who cares that Taco Tuesday at the Taco Stand is outstanding. It might be noise to you, but it's signal to the guy who shared it.

So when we seek out community, we have the intention of finding folks who will share info that is more signal than noise - i.e., stuff we care about. This may be information of relevance to us professionally or personally, but the point is, we look for a "community" where this kind of information will be shared.  

When we join a community, we are all initially consumers of information. We might read FAQs, ask a few folks for their thoughts, read what is being said. We join to gain information.  We join as "consumers" of information. Over time, some people find themselves with the right experience or temperament to share or impart information. These people contribute information. (Contribution is sometimes rewarded with badges of achievement or rank.) Generally speaking, even new people can see that there is an upper class of users. These may be called senior members, power users (or the star-chamber cabal, depending on the level of resentment harbored by non-power users) and they will have both cognitive authority and be the object of resentment on even a healthy community.

Building a Healthy Community

Every community want to be a healthy community. Like our own bodies, there's a certain amount of health one can establish as a solid base on which to build. For a community, these include good moderation, inclusive policies, scalable architecture and a soupcon of humor when dealing with other humans. I.e., the hardware, the software and the humanware should be as flexible and scalable as possible.

On this base are Four Pillars that support the Community.

       Contributor                                             Contributor
Top-Down Communication
Peer Communication
    Peer Communication
 Bottom-Up Communication
        Consumer                                              Consumer

Consumers come into a community with a desire to know, learn or share.

Let's create a fictitious community called Labville, where high school students can discuss scientific experiments with other students and get prompts from older students and teachers.

Adam joins Labville first as a Consumer. He reads posts by Barb and Charlie, both students who have done the same experiment he's working on now. Adam asks a few questions, but mostly reads. He is a consumer involved in Bottom-up Communication. Once he's learned that Daniella is doing the same experiments and has similar ideas as he does, he starts to talk to her as a peer. Adam and Daniella are joined in their "Experiment Y" discussion by Eugene and Frieda. A peer group is forming between them and they generally don't reach outside of it unless they need help from Barb and Charlie. The groups now engages regularly in Peer-to-Peer Communication.

George arrives and he's...a problem. For whatever reason, he's taken a disliking to Adam and snipes constantly at his work. Whether Adam asks a question, replies to someone else  - and even though he generally avoids conversations where George is active - George goes out of his way to be rude to and about Adam.

Barb and Charlie, as Contributors, will try to hold the conversations on topic and maybe Harriet, a Labville Moderator, will step in.

These Contributors will shape the conversation through Top-Down Communication.  Because Labville is not a hobbyist community, but is focused around asymmetric relationships (people who know and people who want to know) Contributors contribute by answering questions, positing thought-provoking questions of their own and guiding and focusing conversation. Top-Down Communication serves to keep conversation moving forward, or restarts it after it stalls. One of the goals of Top-Down is to inspire Peer-to-Peer Conversation among Consumers by helping them over humps in their learning

George has been behaving, but after a few months, he's started up again. Barb and Charlie have both moved on as Contributors (as a natural part of the Community Lifecycle,) but Ike and Justine are now very active Contributors. As Moderator, Harriet needs a private place to warn them about George and ask them to let her know if there are issues. The Contributors need a space for Peer-to-Peer Communication of their own, to foster best community practices, share critical operating information, training materials and provide a space for them to discuss the Consumers who might serve the community well as Contributors or even Moderators.

Peer-to-Peer Communication at both Consumer and Contributor levels fosters teamwork (and cliques.) Top-Down Communication provides a steady hand at the rudder and Bottom-Up Communication means there's opportunities for Consumers to learn and grow in the community.

These four pillars, standing on a foundation of good community practices, will be stable enough and strong enough to support a healthy, sustainable community for a long lifecycle.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Truth About Internet Trolls

There is a very real misunderstanding of the nature of Internet Trolls and, as a result, there is a incorrect belief about the way to "deal" with them.

Here is the fundamental flaw.

People think this is what Trolls look like:

Angry person online, fundamentally outraged by your words - possibly your very existence. 

Trolls give you that impression because they make very personal insults, they comment on your appearance or something you may or may not have said. As a a result you think trolls are about you.

And then you think, surely, this guy can be reasoned with. Yes, he's angry, but he is an adult, he can see the value in other perspectives. So you engage, thinking consensus is possible.

In reality, trolls are this:

Trolls have no idea what "skullfuck" means, it doesn't have to mean anything - it sounds nasty. They don't have any interest in reasoned dialogue - they haven't read your post/article/answer. It's for the lulz and the win - if they can silence you, they win the Internet. It's something to pass the time..

I'm not being ageist here - trolls are often actual teenagers, trying to be adults in a very childish way, they are also adults being childish, but they have one thing in common - trolls all treat harassment as a game. A game they can't lose, because there is no one to catch them, there's no punishment if they are caught. It's for fun. If you get angry, they win. If you react at all, they win. If you have to set up new rules for comments, they win. Block their IP, they'll change it - and they win.

So how can you win? Remember "sticks and stones"? Yeah, that.

Since the goal of the game is to silence you, all you need to do is ignore them and go about your business. Leave their comments hanging out there, ignorant and hateful as they are, unanswered. They will expose themselves trying to get you to react. All you need to do is...nothing. If they escalate - you win. If they take it to multiple spaces online - you win. The more they scream and rant and waste time thinking about you, and the less time you think about them - the more you win. Your toolkit is Report, Ignore, Block, Delete, Mute, depending on the site/platform you're on. Use all of the tools, but use Ignore the most.

Have pity for the trolls who spend hours of their day obsessing over you while you read books, go out with friends and have a life. Because the more you win, the more they lose.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Opinion is not Information - Why Social is Not the Answer You're Looking For

Lee Odden in his excellent presentation War of Words: Myth-Busting Social Media, SEO & Content Marketing has a slide that shows Pete Cashmore stating "Social is on the verge of solving all search problems". 

As a Information Professional with a quarter of a century of experience, I think my reaction to those words looked something like this:

And it came to me in one fell swoop WHY social is not the answer to search at all.

Opinion is not information - Social is not search. Information is nor knowledge - Search is not research.

Let's look at a common scenario to explore the difference.

You want to take a short vacation. You ask your friends for ideas. One suggests Las Vegas. Now, if you like spectacle, elaborate shows, gambling, theme hotels, this is a terrific idea. What if you hate those things? Not so good an idea. 

You asked for an opinion - you received an opinion. It may be relevant to you. It may be as irrelevant as possible, if your friends ideas are about their desires, as indeed, I have found with the above question. People tend to suggest the kinds of vacations that would appeal to them, whether or not they know your tastes.

Now you need to book that room, one friend went to one site, got a one price, another friend got a different price, one bought a package and has no idea about the cost of the hotel. You asked for information - you received data.

Social search can answer some, but not all the questions you have. When you need information, opinion and data points will only confuse the issue. 

Your friends are great when you need an opinion. Social Search will be great when you need an opinion. But when you're running a business, you don't need opinion, you need information. Information professionals take information and turn it into knowledge you need to make critical business decisions. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Defining "Quality" for Content Marketing

Quality is not, by it's nature quantitative, so it will always be both subjective and a moving target. So what does "quality" mean in the context of content marketing?

As much as I would like to say "Quality is more important" it honestly doesn't matter how good your storytelling is if you're talking to yourself. Compelling, unique content brings in an engaged audience, and nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. To achieve your goals you'll need quantity in audience and quality in content.  

When you and I read a newspaper article, novel or blog post, we bring our own bias, opinions and experience to bear on what is ostensibly someone else's bias, opinions and experience. One should not presume there is a valid way to measure that - if one does, one had clearly lost site of their own bias, opinion and experience. 

For instance, I loved Lord of the Rings the book and thought to movies and incoherent mess. My relatives loved the movies and though the book boring. Which narrative has the best "quality"? The books which have sold millions of copies over decades, or the movies which made millions of dollars? Both are high quality when judged by certain criteria, and perhaps not so high when judged by others.

Quality is judged over time: I've been writing a blog for over a decade now and I'm still gaining new readers. But some people vociferously disagree with my opinion, so they say my blog is poor quality. In this case, "quality" is the word we use to describe things that agree with us. ^_^ 

When you're selling the story of your business, "quality" means "good enough to bring someone back." 

Quality content will sell consumers on your brand, your products, your commitment and on you. 

In content marketing, "quality" is the impression you leave on potential consumers that brings them back as customers.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Community Lifecycle: How to Prevent Evaporative Cooling from Eroding an Online Community

Evaporative Cooling, a termed coined by Eliezer Yudowskyis the natural loss of user base on a community, tare if you will. Time, crises and change will contribute to Evaporative Cooling. It can't be prevented, but it can be slowed and managed. In response to a question on Quora, I detailed a few steps to identifying, managing and modulating Evaporative Cooling on an online community.

How to Prevent Evaporative Cooling from Eroding an Online Community

1. Acknowledge Community Lifecycle

2. Passion At The Top to Ignite Passion at the Bottom

3. Reward Users With Rewards, Not Rank

4. Architectural Flexibility = Good, Managerial Flexibility  = Better 


1. Acknowledge Community Lifecycle

There is no way to "prevent" Evaporative Cooling (EC) in an online community completely. 

Your active user base will ebb and flow over time. Incremental growth may or may never lead to an explosion of popularity, but tare will exist with every new generation that joins the community, because people's priorities change and technology changes over time. What is a passionate interest now could become a vague interest later. Technology will change and no matter how innovative a community architecture is right now, at some point it will be old-school or obsolete. Not updating the technology means you'll lose people - updating the technology means you'll lose people. Keeping the group small and intimate means you'll lose people. Opening the community up means you'll lose people.

The key to keeping a community alive has a lot to do with keeping the currently engaged users engaged. In part, this can be achieved by...

2. Passion At The Top to Ignite Passion at the Bottom

I'm speaking here as owner and moderator of 4 concurrent communities, all based around an interest - not a hobby even, merely an interest. Of course people come and go in this interest space and in the more than ten years I've been running these communities, the thing that sustains me - and the communities - is that we all still enjoy the topic. My passion for it communicates to some degree in everything I do on these communities. My communities give warm welcomes to other fans, who find their enthusiasm rewarded.

In communities I haven't run, but have had the pleasure of moderating for, when the passion at the top cools, the community congeals almost instantly. Community builders that choose moderators so they can play with the architecture, cede control to people who don't have their vision or their passion. Moderation becomes a "thing to be done" not a "thing that keeps our community thriving." (1) (See point 3 for more on this.)

To slow one's own EC, one must acknowledge the limits of one's own passion - and energy. Like any community leader, I go through phases of burnout, or if there is simply less to talk about, I let the conversation ebb. Ebb tide is not an irreversible trend on a community, a blog or even in a conversation. When I've been blogging with frequency and intensity, I often take a few days off to let the audience - and myself - have a break. When I come back to it, my readership jumps. The same is true with a community. Short breaks in news/updates allow for a more relaxed approach when one returns - time for chat, personal opinion and other less quantifiable discussions that make up a community. Or a pattern of small news/chit-chat can be excited by big news or broader topics. 

The more passion a leader brings to the community, the more passion the community will generate.

3. Reward Users With Reward, not Rank (2)

I cannot stress enough how critical this point is.

It's time for a story. Two, in fact. In both cases, I was a Admin-level member after rising through the ranks by just being a good contributor and relatively unflappable.

The story is very similar in both cases. In the first case, there was a member of the group who offered to take charge of one of the committees. She was a horrible leader; selfish, mean and lazy. Everything she touched withered and died. She was so bad, that even the people above her left because she was loud and intractable and it just wasn't worth the energy. When the person above her left, invariably she would be given that position. No one at the executive level would be the bad guy and tell her to get lost (in part because this was a volunteer community, in part because of who was chosen to lead.) She rose through the ranks, more quickly as time went on, because the higher she got, the more people had to work with her and more would leave.

Ultimately, in the first case, the person took over the community and - no surprise at all - within a year the community was dead.

In the second case, a top user was rewarded with rank, because she was online so often. The community owners relied on this person for feedback but there were no checks and balances to her intel or actions. Her misinformation was the only information the owners received and like idiots, they relied on that. The problem was that the reason she was online so often was that she was conducting a cyber-affair with another user (who was a major contributor of money, which translated to rank on the community.) The two of them formed a block that abused, harassed and destroyed other users they felt were a threat.

In the first case, rather than dealing with the problem, that person was given power. In the second, the community owners used hours logged as a metric for valuable contributor. In both cases, the community owners set the community up for massive EC as the community members were disengaged and occasionally, active persecuted, by people who unsuited to hold any power at all.

In both cases, I pointed out the fallacies behind the appointment, but The Powers That Be chose to pretend nothing was wrong. I did not stick around long.

How can this problem be rectified? Understand that the #1 value good contributors are making is not their presence, not the hours they log, not their experience. Good contributors contribute good content. Rewarding them by giving them management tasks which will suck away their energy and desire to contribute is the perfect recipe for EC. It's the Peter Principle, online community style.

When I created a reward program for one of my communities, I focused on rewards that reinforced the "team" aspect of user support. Rather than adding on burdensome responsibility, they are rewarded for what they already do, the way they already do it. Time is not an issue. Amount of money spent is not really a major factor. Power is taken out of the equation entirely. The point of a reward is to make someone feel rewarded. (3)

By using Rank as a Reward, you disincentivize your top users to use. Their time on the site becomes unpaid work, their voice becomes the Voice of Authority, so it's harder for them to kick back and have fun. Many sites give rank without power or tools to maintaiin order- a veritable death spiral for online community moderation. Additionally, training for Moderators is poor or non-existent on many communities. The end result is that your best users are too frustrated and tired to contribute. 

There is no faster was to kill a community than by using Rank as a Reward for contribution. It is the major EC generator.

4. Architectural Flexibility = Good, Managerial Flexibility  = Better

In the article quoted, the focus is more on the technology than the people. It is absolutely a benefit to be able to adapt to the times. Adding social sharing and alternate means of communication, providing spaces for digression and dissension (warrens) and open fora for conversation are a fantastic way to slow down EC.

Even better is management that acknowledges mission/scope drift and is as transparent as possible (4) when changes are made or have to happen. "We're adding a new feature because we want to try it out" is something that community builders can (and should) say. Users may or may not try the new feature out - this, and what they have to say about it when they do use it, is valuable feedback. When a new control has to be rolled out, the best way to explain that is to say just that. "We had to do this because...." Engaged users will understand. Don't be coy, "Hey we made new changes that will take away something you liked because we did." Are there so many cases of something that a new rule was warranted? Say that and say it plainly.

Users believe they ought to have some say in a community by virtue of their time and engagement. Management has to make decisions based on the greater good and the bottom line. But surely there's a way to bring these two things together? Harness the insight of new users, casual users and heavy users in regards to community change  - and publish these findings so people can feel as if they were represented, heard and understood. In the volatile start-up world more=better, so it's understandable that changes will be rapid and constant. Can you think of any community anywhere, online or off, that likes change? People get used to what they get used to and they adapt very quickly, but they do not realize this. Every change, no matter how ultimately important, will increase EC...unless you include the community in that change.

It's easy for engineers to tinker with architecture, it's far more important for community managers to tinker with community engagement.

5. Conclusion.

While Evaporative Cooling is a fact of online community life and cannot be prevented or avoided, it can be slowed and managed. Understanding which aspects of community life are the most vulnerable to EC, establishing a rhythm to harness the ebb and flow of community life, maintaining engagement, rewarding contribution, providing tools for moderation and flexibility in management can decrease EC over the long-term. 

More reading:

1. Perils and Pitfalls of Online Community Management by Erica Friedman on 'Splaining: The Bloarg

2.Moderation: Policing, Curation and Shoveling Behind Elephants by Erica Friedman on 'Splaining: The Bloarg

3. When a Reward Program Feels Like a Slap

4The Myth of Transparency in a Community by Erica Friedman on 'Splaining: The Bloarg

Erica Friedman has been managing online communities since the olden days of BBS. She was a moderator on Usenet, and has owned, adminned or moderated about 2 dozen communities online. She currently own and runs 4 communities.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Heart of Social Media - and the Key to Unlocking It

Hey you. Yes, you. Your Social Media strategy isn't working is it? Takes too much time, you end up dealing with customer complaints mostly, you don't really see the point, right? Forget ROI, you're not seeing ROAnything.

Well, I have something important to tell you.This isn't just another "why companies suck at Social Media post", although yes, we'll be starting there.

The heart of Social Media is the ability to express mutual admiration.

Okay, so what? There's plenty of things that express appreciation. Greeting cards, 15% off discount coupons, televised award shows...

Only those aren't really mutual at all. Think of Sally Field's iconic Academy Award speech, "You like me, you really like me!" The Academy did indeed like her that year and she liked that they liked her (after years of pretty much ignoring her existence.) A discount coupon is a carrot to get the horse into your barn. These may have mutual benefit, but they are not expressions of mutual admiration.

Customer A: "I love this store. You guys are always friendly and you always have just what I need."

Store Owner: "Thanks! We try our best."

There's nothing wrong with this answer, but it could be better.

Store Owner: "Thanks! We try our best, and we couldn't do it without great customers like you."

By expressing *mutual* admiration, the store owner acknowledges the important place the customer has in the process.

Online, way too many companies forget the mutual aspect of Social Media. A company might thank customers for complimenting them. They may offer to help customers with problems...but how many companies on Social Media think to thank their customers?

Take your Social Media up a notch and make it mutual. That's the key to unlocking the "social" part of Social Media.

Project Wonderful