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.

Project Wonderful