Community Management: Marketing or Customer Service?

Let me preface this post by explaining just a little of my background. I am not a snob – but I do have very set opinions of what a Community Manager is and does. I began my CM career as a volunteer moderator for a wedding website forum back in 1999. I quickly moved up to Administrator there, and helped manage a very robust site with more than 50,000 active women. From there, I branched out over the years into working as a volunteer moderator/administrator on many large computer help forums, sports-related forums and more. I even helped run a few IRC networks in my day. All of these things translated into a paying job in 2007 when I went to work as the Community Manager for Chris Pirillo. There again, I dealt with people – not products.

Earlier today, I happened across a job posting on Twitter for a Community Manager with a company I very much respect. I clicked through to the listing to check it out and was actually angry to see that they had listed the job under “Marketing” – two categories below the people they needed to hire in “Customer Service.” Wait, what? Since when did managing a community evolve from working with people into pushing a damn product or service? Say I’m behind the times all you want, but I think this is a travesty to the profession… not an evolution as some claim.

A Marketer deals with marketing products or services. A PR person deals with public relations. A Community Manager deals with people. Period. End of story. Managing a community isn’t supposed to be about trying to convince a group of people to buy whatever it is you’re selling. It’s about breathing life into them – connecting them to each other and giving them the platform and tools to change the world. Your company may be what brought them together, but do you really think they’re only going to stick around because you sell the best gadget for the lowest price? They want interaction. They want direction. They want to become a true community.

Many of you are going to argue that the role of the CM is changing to include marketing and brand evangelism. There again – I disagree. A Community Manager works with the people – talking to them, listening to them, interacting with them and helping to evolve and grow the hamlet. A Brand Evangelist is something completely different. These people are the cheerleaders for the company itself and the things being sold. They deal with customers, yes… in order to facilitate sales and keep them happy with product.

Can a single person do both things at once? Absolutely! However, slapping the title of Community Manager on a job description stating you want someone to help you sell yourself is just not cool. Call it what it is folks – a Marketer, a PR person or even a Brand Evangelist. If you want someone to work with people in order to help build a true COMMUNITY – then we can talk.

Posted in Random Thoughts, Rants, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Should Celebrities be Using Social Media?

We all know that celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher have taken to social media sites in a very big way over the past year. We see stars coming from all industries carrying millions of fans and followers. Many of these people interact on a regular basis, sharing their lives with us just like anyone else would. However, some of the VIPs have begun to turn over the handling of their accounts to marketing and PR companies. I’m not so sure this is a great idea.

I’m going to pick on Ashton for a few moments to illustrate an important point. We’ve all heard stories of his big Twitter oopsie. The man received a lot of flak over saying something he felt was right at the time. OMG… he made a mistake. So what? I’m willing to wager every single one of us has – at some point – Tweeted out something we later wish we hadn’t. Do we hire a PR person to write on our behalf? Of course we don’t. We may apologize or even pretend it never happened, but we continue on as before. We’re human after all. We screw up. We learn from our mistakes and we keep going.

Ashton’s blooper wasn’t the Tweet itself. His flub was in giving up on himself. He still has a bajillion followers, but how many bother to follow the stream now? They know the words aren’t coming from Kutcher. Mr. celebrity is no longer sharing his life – someone else is simply sharing his work. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather find out what he thinks about current topics, how he feels about the world around him and what his plans are for the future. I don’t give a rat’s patootie when his next appearance is. I wanted to understand and know Ashton as a PERSON – not as some Hollywood icon.

So what should these stars do? They have to be real. They shouldn’t have some mouthpiece sending out missives for them. Why can’t more of them embrace social media like WWE star Shawn Michaels does? Shawn talks WITH people – he doesn’t talk AT them. He interacts. He answers questions. He lets us into his life – good and bad. Sure, he may talk about his upcoming adventures in showbiz occasionally, but more often you’ll find him discussing his latest hunting trip or something fun he did with his kids. That, my friends, is a perfect example of a superstar getting social media absolutely right.

I’m sick to death of the PR people taking over Twitter, and it’s time the hotshots themselves take it back. Social media marketing is powerful, yes. It’s a great way for musicians, actors, sports bigwigs and writers to promote themselves, yes. But they need to learn to just hang out and BE THERE, instead of only trying to sell us – well – themselves.

Talk to us, folks… I guarantee we’ll love you a lot more (and buy more of your stuff!!) once you do.

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Does Social Media Make us Even More Intolerant?

The world is full of hate and bigotry. Intolerance is so thick in the atmosphere that it’s a wonder any Oxygen can get through to us. We bash those with religious beliefs different than our own. Anyone whose sexual preference doesn’t quite mesh with what we feel is right is turned into an object of loathing. There are people who judge others based on everything from the color of their skin to their IQ number to their gender. No one is ever satisfied. Nothing is ever quite good enough. As I grew up, my momma would say with a sigh that “someday” when I was an adult, people would learn to accept each other. I guess at the age of forty I’m pretty grown up now – yet I don’t see that things are better. In fact, I often wonder lately if social media is making us even more intolerant towards others.

The anonymity of the Internet has been blamed for people who like to troll or bully others for quite some time. Extend that just a tiny bit, and allow yourself to notice how much hatred is spewed across the Internet every day – often in the form of supposed jokes. Haters spew their filth on several different mediums all at once. Ignorance definitely isn’t bliss – it’s dangerous. Those who are ignorant of others’ way of life tend to be fearful of the unknown. That turns into hatred and condemnation – and even more intolerance. My brain spins just thinking about all of the racial, sexual, gender and religious slurs I read on a daily basis. It’s insane.

Tolerance will never happen until ALL of those who preach about it actually begin to practice it.

The biggest problem I see are the posers who don’t practice what they freaking preach. Day in and day out, I see someone on Twitter or Facebook get onto a soapbox, going on and on about how our President should not be judged because of the color of his skin. That same person then turns around a few hours later and goes off on a tangent about “those disgusting gay people who should burn in Hell.” Don’t even get me started on their posts the next day: one moment preaching about how Christianity is the only true religion and then turning around to crack jokes about rape. Seriously? I could have sworn that Christianity teaches tolerance, acceptance and love – for EVERYONE. That’s a subject for a different post, though.

Just as social media sites have made it easier for us to connect with others in a positive way, they have made it easier for the human race to tear each other down. It takes ten seconds to type out a Tweet or Wall post – and a lifetime to erase the pain that your words could cause. Think before you post. Stop hiding behind a keyboard and take ONE moment to decide if you are one of those contributing to the ball of antipathy surrounding our lives. If so – do the rest of us a favor and just knock it off already.

When exactly are we going to stop hating each other for our differences and instead embrace each other because of those aberrations? Sadly, I don’t think it will be in my lifetime.

Posted in Education, Personal, Rants, Religion, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Whitney Houston’s Death Brings Social Media Together in Record Time

I just happened to be staring at my Twitter stream at the very moment the AP broke the news of Whitney’s death. I fully admit to being a huge fan – and to having tears rolling down my face as I read the news and quickly pulled together a YouTube playlist. Such a tragic loss of an astounding talent. I’m not going to begin to speculate on the cause of death. Was it drug-related? It’s possible, yes, but does that really even matter at this point? As I continued to refresh my various social streams, I noticed the Trending Topics on Twitter changing quickly to reflect the loss and had to blink a few times to make sure I was seeing correctly.

Exactly seventeen minutes after news of her death broke, something Whitney-related carried all ten of the TTs. I don’t know if anyone has kept track of these things – but that has to be a record – or damn close to one. Within a a few hours, the passing of both Steve Jobs and Michael Jackson held this “honor.” But again – within a few hours. We’re talking seventeen minutes here, folks. I watched and I counted and I verified. That’s astounding.

The grief is overwhelming on every social network I’m a part of. One good friend – the beautiful and talented activist Steph Rudat summed up many feelings we all share right now when she Tweeted simply that “Whitney’s music was the soundtrack of my life.” Rosie O’Donnell admitted to being overwhelmed and unable to even put her feelings into words. People who didn’t like her music are Tweeting and Facebooking about her. Every major blog and news source is vying to get articles out faster than anyone else – before we even know a cause or place of death.

Another friend sent me a tongue-in-cheek picture, proclaiming today as the day I personally broke major national news before his Australian news source. I sent my Tweet about three seconds after the AP sent theirs – and theirs was the first of millions. I don’t care about being first. But I care about social media and networks, and it’s making my jaw hit the floor to watch this unfold right before my eyes.

Rest in peace, Whitney. Your too-short life was filled with some awful things, yes, but your talent and music rose above it all. You truly were one of the greatest divas of all time – and your voice will never be forgotten. I hope you have now found the comfort and joy that you so craved during your time on Earth.

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Social Media is No Longer Social

For the first time in several weeks, I sat watching my Twitter stream and attempting to interact with others. Between health issues and moving, I simply hadn’t had the time to spend being social. It turns out that the break was crucial for me. Coming back, I’m noticing something that is very troubling – social media is no longer social. Tweet after Tweet flew past my radar, with about 90% of the missives being full of everything BUT true engagement.

When was the last time you actually paid attention to the things being posted in your social streams? How many of those messages contain links? The more self-promotion I saw, the more distressed I became. I began to understand that we are all treating Twitter, Facebook and even Google+ as nothing more than a vehicle to our own success. Of course that’s important… I’d never deny that. However, I am convinced many of you are doing it completely wrong.

You’re talking TO people instead of WITH them. Where did social go? When did we stop having conversations? Don’t give me that baloney about Twitter not being conducive to carrying on a dialogue. 140 characters is more than enough to enable you to make someone feel as though you care about them, who they are and what they’re doing. Drawing people in and making them a part of what you’re up to is the biggest key to being successful that I can think of. It doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in. The fact remains that you better damn well be talking with people or you’re getting nowhere fast.

When was the last time you took the time to not just respond to @ messages or questions and actually went looking for things to discuss? Click on profiles of people in your community. Take the time to read what they are talking about and join in their conversation. Who cares if they don’t happen to be discussing your brand at that particular moment? By integrating yourself into THEIR world, you’re seriously upping the chance that they will want to be a part of yours.

We hear talk all day long about building brand loyalty. There are many ways to do this, of course. You have to have a solid product. Keep your prices reasonable. Have a great return/replacement policy. All of these things are pieces of the puzzle. I’m here to tell you that true interaction with your audience is the single most effective way to build their trust and earn their devotion. I promise.

Additionally, can anyone show me where the rule is written that says everything you must put onto a social network must in some way deal with your brand or business? I’m definitely not telling you to share your lunch menu with the world, but it is a pretty darn good idea to show all of us that you’re human, too. Occasionally opening up conversations about your interests, frustrations and goals outside of your business is another great way to get people interested. It shows them that you’re no different than they are, and gives them another way to make a connection with you – which again translates into someone who will remember you when they need your service or product.

I have never claimed to be any type of expert, guru or rockstar. In fact, I loathe those titles. I’m simply a girl who has spent more than twelve years working with large communities online – beginning long before Twitter or Facebook showed up. I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours TALKING WITH PEOPLE, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. I can not and will not promise you that I can get you more followers, raise your profits or fill your head with some mythical ROI. What I can guarantee you is that if you make yourself SOCIAL in the truest sense of the word, you’re going to get a lot further than if you keep doing things the way you are.

Posted in Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

There is Too Much Noise in My Stream

I came to the realization tonight that there is far too much noise in my social sphere. Not only am I faced with the disquietude, I am learning that it has become redundant as hell. We’re discussing and sharing some seriously incredible information with each other. The problem is that we are having the exact same conversations with the exact same people in oodles of places.

An even larger issue is that we don’t really have much of a choice. We have to be where our community is. Joe and Sally may follow us on our Facebook Page, but Peter and Mary only catch what we said via Twitter. Jane and Jeremy are now Google+ fanatics, so we must share our words of wisdom there, too. The more I watched this happen on my social streams last night, the more I began to crave some peace and quiet.

I adore the connections that I’ve made over the years, and I treasure the friends who have entered my life. It isn’t that I don’t want to know what you have to say or how you feel about a given subject. It’s that I’m growing weary of absorbing it multiple times in several different places. When are we going to figure out this social stuff and finally get it RIGHT?

You’re going to argue that competition is good and that no one network could possibly give us everything we need. I’m here to counter that and ask why the hell CAN’T it happen? Yes, competing sites and services are a healthy thing – for them. When you sit down at your computer each morning ready to spread your message in the social space, how the hell do you begin to know if you’re doing it correctly? Are you reaching your target audience? Is it possible you’re missing someone important? Or – much more likely – are people starting to tune you out completely because they are just sick of having to read the same thing over and over?

There’s going to come a point when enough is simply enough. I honestly believe many of us are reaching that critical stage and are about to whip out the proverbial white flag. No single person can possibly keep up with this many networks. A friend of mine stated earlier that “With all the social noise, we’re turning others into feeds and data streams. The more social we become, the less human we appear.” Oh, how true that seems to be. The more socially spread out we are, the more others see us as just another news feed.

Sadly, I don’t have the answer. Some of you are trying to figure it out. MG Siegler is trying to cut out some of the noise by giving up email for a while. Kudos to him, but I think he’s going to find that it doesn’t solve a damn thing. He’s already said that communications on other channels have increased tenfold. As people realize he’s not going to respond to his Inbox, they will begin to inundate the poor man on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and anywhere else they can manage to find him. It’s a never-ending cycle that we somehow need to break free of.

Do we need to stop being social? Of course not. That’s crazy talk right there. I would rather cut off my arms (figuratively, of course!) than give up my social circles. I DO, however, want to find a more effective way to wade through the clutter and get to the good stuff. I want to see what you’re all up to and what you think, but I want to see it ONCE so that I can move on to the next person’s tidbits of genius.

Posted in Rants, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Social Media Killing Conversation?

My elementary school report cards were always filled with As and positive remarks. However, every single one of them also sported comments by the teachers such as “talks too much in class.” I know – this comes as a huge shock to many of you. I love people, and I like to talk. Embarking on my online social journey back in 1992 opened up so many new conversation avenues that I quickly became immersed in the discussions I was having. Everywhere I turned, new forums and communication avenues opened up before my eyes. I was in Heaven! There are millions of people out there to talk to and connect with! Eventually, though, I turned out just like you: I had branched out a little too much and could no longer keep up.

As a Community Manager, I pride myself on always being available to talk to others. I spend my working hours connecting people and sparking dialogue between them. However, a good friend pointed out to me earlier this morning that I have gotten into a rut of sorts on a personal level… I don’t have any conversations of my own. Oh sure, you’ll find me all over the place on Twitter. But I realized that I’m using that as a crutch and avoiding any real methods of talking to others.

I have long used mIRC to stay connected to IRC. Yes, I know it’s old school. However, you’d be surprised at how many fantastic chat rooms – and people – there are to be found on good networks. Chris Pirillo’s channel, for instance, sees no less than 200 people connected at all times. Part of my job is to manage that particular corner of the network, and I make sure to pop in and say hello to everyone as often as I can. Sadly, though, mIRC stays minimized and hidden in my tray 99% of the time I am at the computer.

Instant messaging clients are another way I used to spend time really conversing with others. For the past few months, though, I am always logged into Pidgin in “invisible” mode. I scoff that I don’t have the time to have people sending me messages throughout the day. It makes me sad to realize that I think I am so busy I no longer have the time to devote to my friends and family.

Raise your hand if you’re seeing yourself here. I am guilty as charged: I am using Twitter as a crutch, pretending that I am still having REAL conversations. There are many who will argue and claim that it is possible to do on Twitter. But I have the feeling that the majority of you are much like me: TweetDeck sits in my tray taunting me while messages float across the upper right hand corner of my screen. I can pause in my work, click the icon, type out ONE SENTENCE and then completely ignore it again. I don’t have to invest any real time – or myself – in order to have a “conversation.” I’m coming to understand how sad this really is.

I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, but I notice the same trends there. People log in, post a message on their Wall… and maybe say hello to a small handful of people on their own pages. Then they either log out or start playing the hottest new game on the site (apparently usually Farmville or Cityville, according to the requests I see all day long).

People like me sit behind a computer screen for more than eight hours a day working. When we’re not at the computer, our noses are often buried in our phones. After all… we have to stay connected, right?

The question is, though… are we TRULY connected? Is social media killing conversation in your world?

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Gary Vaynerchuk Takes Over the World One Book at a Time

I happily call the blogosphere my home – and am proud to do so. I’ve had the chance to connect with so many amazing people during the four years I’ve worked with Chris Pirillo, had opportunities to participate in many cool events and managed to be blown away more than once due to things I’ve witnessed in this small world of ours. Nothing I have been a part of or seen has come close to what I watched Gary Vaynerchuk accomplish a few nights ago on Twitter.

My first introduction to Gary was when he visited Chris’ house in Seattle a while back. Gary took over the live stream and hilarity ensued. I was impressed with his enthusiasm and humor, so began following him on Twitter. I never truly interacted with him until my once-in-a-lifetime trip to New York City back in late October, 2010. I was fortunate to travel alongside Robert Scoble on a whirlwind tour, meeting with startups and interviewing fabulous people such as Nina Zagat. Robert spoke at New York XPO for Business, sharing the stage with none other than Gary Vaynerchuk. I was beyond stoked that I was finally going to meet this powerhouse, and I wasn’t disappointed. Gary was as open, friendly and genuine as I had suspected after following him so long.

His new book – The Thank You Economy – hasn’t even been released yet. When he realized last week how well the pre-sales were going, Gary decided it simply wasn’t enough. In true Vaynerchuk fashion, he set out to send his tome to the number ten spot on the sales list. He took to Twitter, pumping out messages to his followers, friends and fans at a frenetic pace. Within a matter of hours, Gary had surpassed his goal and hit number seven. That’s where he was when I finally gave up and went to get some sleep – I think I later read he went even higher than that.

What impresses me so much isn’t the fact that he was able to convince so many people to order the book in such a short time. Hell, I admit that I reserved a copy for myself. What won me over to the point of near adulation was his complete and utter passion for what he was doing… his belief in himself and his message. So many so-called, self-labeled social media experts claim to be the best. They will talk your ear off while touting themselves as the best thing that ever graced the Twitter site. Most of them have huge egos… they have to in order to claim to be an expert, right? The beautiful thing is that Gary IS an expert… even if he doesn’t realize it.

Gary didn’t stand there and tell us his book is the best thing ever written simply because he wrote it. He wasn’t trying to claim he knows more than anyone else, or can unlock the secrets of success a la Zuckerberg. He simply believed wholeheartedly in what he had created, and feels deeply that it can bring value to your business and your life. That type of true passion and dedication doesn’t come along every day. When was the last time you came in contact with someone who claimed to believe in what they’ve done – and actually meant it?

Gary – kudos my friend. Not only have you written what is sure to be a fantastic book, you have managed to convince this jaded old girl that people with integrity, intelligence and ingenuity still exist. Thank you!!!!

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Can HP’s New Reclining TouchSmart Change the World?

My beloved HP TouchSmart has been my primary computer for nearly two years now. I have put this sucker through its paces in that time, forcing it to do everything I need in a typical workday – video editing and processing, blogging and having a million browser tabs open at all times. Let’s not forget that I run a ton of (sometimes memory-hogging) applications every moment of my day as well, including OpenPandora, TweetDeck, Pidgin, mIRC and my email client. This machine has done me proud, and I have recommended it to a whole lot of people. The problem is, though, that I honestly never use the Touch functionality that this machine was designed for.

This baby sits upright on my desk. While I admit that it’s pretty cool to show off how easy it is to open, close and move things using a flick of my finger when friends visit, I use the mouse and keyboard 99.99% of the time. How the hell would I manage to actually blog all day long if I had to hold my arms out in front of me to type? How convenient would it be to have to reach up constantly and hope that the screen correctly picks up where my finger intended to go? I have long yearned for a touch-screen computer that somehow made it much easier for me to actually use. HP has tried to accommodate my dream with the introduction of their new “reclining” TouchSmart. However, I’m not so sure they’ve hit the mark.

This thing looks pretty damn sweet, eh? The screen isn’t any bigger than what I have now – on a two-year-old model. Sadly, we’re still stuck with 23″. The device reclines 60 degrees and tilts forward up to five degrees. That whole tilt and recline scheme is a huge plus, and one I’ve waited for. But as Michael Arrington pointed out, there are speakers at the bottom. Hello! Why would I want to rest my hands/wrists on the freaking speakers as I try to type on the virtual keyboard?

Sure, this new iteration comes pre-loaded with some nifty applications… but as usual, they aren’t necessarily the ones I would want. You’ll find Hulu, Twitter, Rhapsody and HP’s RecipeBox pre-installed for you. Gee, thanks. I’m a Pandora and Netflix user. Here we go with uninstalling a lot of bloat when the machine is booted up for the first time. Oh, right… that’s going to happen on every machine. How silly of me to forget. I digress…

I have to agree with Mike when he said that HP blew a pretty big chance with this one. Sure, I’d love to be able to recline the screen so that it’s easier to see and perhaps use. But the company had an opportunity to really make a difference… create a game-changer. This particular offering comes nowhere near that title, folks. Hopefully, they’ll come a little closer next time.

I’m in desperate need of a new machine, as the GPU in this one is dying. I’m literally saving up my pennies. However, the new HP TouchSmart 610 isn’t going to be the machine I plunk down my money on.

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Facebook is the Walmart of Social Media

I decided last night that Facebook is the Walmart of the social media world – and that’s actually a good thing. Walmart is considered to be the place to go for all of your “one stop shopping” needs. You can find anything and everything there, all at the lowest prices around. When I wander into my local store, I’m apt to find people dressed in designer clothes who drive a Mercedes. It’s not only “poor people” who shop at Walmart, despite what many of you out there try to believe. The chain is a veritable smorgasbord of people and things to do – choices to make – just like you will find on Facebook.

Let’s face it, y’all: Facebook is where it’s at these days. Deny it if you will. Claim under your breath that with the privacy issues Facebook could never survive. Laugh and snicker when I state loudly that Facebook will continue to grow and permeate even more of our online lives than it already does. Everyone AND their dog has a profile on there, whether you like it or not. In fact, I’m willing to wager at least 90% of the people who read this post have a Facebook profile, as well.

When you log in to the site, you are faced with so many things to do – so many choices – that it’s hard to know where to begin. Do you check your Inbox first to see who has sent you messages? Are you more inclined to skim through the news feed, figuring out who is doing what? Perhaps you simply have to check your crops before doing anything else. A person can spend an entire day on Facebook and still not run out of things to do. You never need to leave the site in order to fulfill every need and desire you may have when it comes to your daily dose of Internet… including photos and videos, news Pages and more.

Facebook is one-stop shopping for all of your social media needs!

Do you really even need another social media site? In theory – no. We are part of a crowd, though, and we’ll continue to flock to new sites as they crop up and are touted by others as being “hot.” We’ll keep on Tweeting and making connections on LinkedIn. But at the end of the day, we will head right back to Facebook where we can (and do!) find anything and everything we will ever want.

Thanks, Facebook, for making it simple. I may not agree with all of the changes you make. I may not like the “price” I have to pay (in the form of lack of easy privacy options) to use your service. But I will continue making your website my first choice for all of my social media needs.

I’m being asked why I chose Walmart instead of Target or any other “superstore.” The answer is simple: not everyone can afford to shop at Target or other high-end stores. You can find a MUCH larger variety of people at Walmart than anywhere else on Earth, I think, which is why I feel Facebook is more like them than any other retailer for my contrasting purposes.

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