Every fourth Monday of January, let’s take the time to pause, recognize, and celebrate the efforts community managers around the world to improve customer experiences.
Passionate About Customers
The title matters not, whether it’s online customer advocate, online customer support, company evangelist, disgruntled customer handler. Instead, focus on what they do: A customer advocate willing to help regardless of where they are online. Learn more by reading the Four Tenants of Community Managers.
Yet, Community Managers Don’t Have it Easy
Yet despite their admirable intentions, we know they face several uphill challenges:
- Many challenges are internal: Most companies want to hide customer issues, and shuffle them into existing support systems. Additionally, measuring ROI in new media when a company wants to keep the kimono shut, increasingly becomes a challenge.
- Seemingly never ending job: Customers never stop having problems, and with the global internet, the questions, complains, and inquires never stop.
- Emotional drain impacts lifestyle: The sheer emotional strain of dealing with a hundreds of yelling customers and the occasional trouble maker will take a strain on anyone.
- Privacy risks in the world of transparency: In an effort to build trust with customers, they expose their real name exposing their personal –and family– privacy forever on.
Now, Recognize A Community Manager, Every 4th Monday of January
While we agree with common manners to always thank someone after they’ve helped you, just take a moment to pause.. and think. Why would someone willingly go through the above mentioned challenges? Because of their passion to improve the company, and help customers have a better relationship. In many cases, a genuine ‘thank you’ can mean more than a yearly customer satisfaction survey. Take the time to recognize and thank the community manager that may have helped you while you during your time of need.
- If you’re a customer, and your problem was solved by a community manager be sure to thank them in the medium that helped you in. Use the hashtag #CMAD.
- If you’re a colleague with community manager, take the time to understand their passion to improve the customer –and company experience. Copy their boss.
- If you’re a community manager, stop and breathe for a second, and know that you’re appreciated. Hug your family.
This isn’t just about a single role, but a bigger trend of making product and services more efficient, and thereby our world a little bit more efficient and sustainable. The comments are wide open if you wanted to share your experience working with community manager, or as one, feel free to thank them below.
Supported by Bill Johnston, Connie Benson, Rachel Happe, Jake McKee, Sean O’Driscoll, Lane Becker, Dawn Foster, Thor Muller, Amy Muller and Jeremiah Owyang, as we recognize and salate community managers!
HRZone recognizes Becky Midgley
Jake McKee says this is (just about) the loneliest job
Bill Johnston, recognizes community managers
Amy Muller, Get Satisfaction contemplates where community management is and where it’s heading.
Amy also asks the community to showcase her community management heros.
Dawn Foster asks if you’ve thanked your community manager today.
Dawn shouts out to community managers.
Sam reasons why the community manager role is essential.
Connie Benson, a great friend, shouts out to community managers.
Rachel Happe gives reasons why we should pause and thank community managers
Connie Bensen of Alterian sent me this screenshot of mentions
Recently, I attended a corporate event that showcased products related to an industry. Press, media, bloggers, and influencers were invited to attend, and meet a variety of vendors and see products. Featured were members of the company’s advocacy program, (a group of preferred clients), and were given products to demo. Some members of the this advocacy program are bloggers, in particular one with a journalistic background, who’s credibility came into question. While the event continued on, a not-impressed attendee (who claimed to be a journalist) started to make comments that some of the members of the advocacy program were not authentic and went so far as to say quite loudly during the presentation they were “shills” from the back of the room.
[Brands, which are often untrusted, must develop advocacy programs to influence their market. Despite good intentions, several risks could result in mistrust and even backlash from those they seek to impress]
Let’s break it down, as these same events are likely going to happen to your advocacy program at events and echo online.
Opportunities: Advocacy Programs Foster A Low-Cost Trusted Voice
Companies aren’t trusted, brands aren’t trusted, and nor are your executives. People trust each other, and now they have the tools to communicate with each other using social technologies and mobile with or without brands involved. As a result, trust has shifted to the participants. Many brands, knowing their credibility has diminished, rely on advocacy programs where trusted members of the community are given a platform and encouraged to speak.
Take for example the B2B Microsoft MVP program (I was formerly briefed) selects the most helpful professionals in their space, and anoint their most knowledgeable customers in public, and use the program as a way to get product and program feedback. They MVPs aren’t directly paid, but may have travel and expenses covered to speak at a variety of industry events. Another example is consumer facing WalMart’s Mom and Dad blogger program (also briefed) where influencers that fit their ideal market are given a place to blog on the corporate website. They have very few limitations and often talk about the competition.
These programs provide brands with a: trusted set of market influencers, a lower-cost program compared to traditional marketing efforts, and a platform to engage in dialog with their most knowledgeable market.
Risks: Incorrectly Implemented, Advocacy Programs Will Cause Brand Backlash
Innovation always requires risk, and many corporate cultures aren’t yet ready to yield control to the market. As a result, they apply command and control tactics to a group that could ultimately shoot them in the foot. Example? The “Target Rounders” program (I’ve not been briefed) encouraged customers to advocate the brand on public social networks, but unfortunately encouraged them to do so without transparency. The email sent from corporate to the members suggesting they advocate without disclosing their ties was quickly put on blogs –detracting from the whole movement. Also, companies not ready to take the bad with the good may not know what to do with the negative feedback, and may push back resulting in the program to crumble. Lastly, the members of the advocacy program themselves may be subjected to scrutiny from the community, they need to ensure they are inline with their own editorial guidelines.
Checklist: Develop a Successful Advocacy Program
Don’t build your relationships on a whim, have a plan, and build off the learnings of others. This checklist is the start of your program plan, share it with your internal teams before getting started.
- Get Internal Teams Prepared First. You can’t love your customers ’till you first love yourself. Companies that aren’t ready for the new world should tread lightly. Marketing, executives, legal, and the rest of the company need to be prepared for a new site of spokespersons to step forward in an unconventional way. Getting ready for the raw discussions that are already happening in your marketplace closer to your doors requires virtue, patience, and an open mind.
- Find Credible Advocates. This is not a shill program. Getting individuals that are already experts in your market to learn more about your company and talk about it in an open way requires a filter. Likely they have respected blogs, or thousands of followers on Twitter, or frequently attend and speak at industry events.
- Ensure The Advocacy Program Is Above Board. Make sure disclosure is loud and clear. Find advocates that are already vocal, maybe have sung your praises in public, and may already be a raving fan. Recognize them in public (online and off) give them a badge (maybe for blog, or even at events) that signify their distinction. Develop a policy, and enforce that any public mentions should require disclosure, involve your legal team.
- Ensure It Matches Up With Their Agenda. Advocates need to feel comfortable this is a topic or association they like. If they are not comfortable with this program they risk ruining their own credibility which will damage your own associations. Make sure they can say whatever they want to –but always give them the right to discuss it with the brand first as a right of first refusal. Never limit their access or privileges based upon what they do or don’t say.
- Incentivize Them With Special Access –But Don’t Pay Them. I’m a firm believer that your most passionate customers want to be recognized as experts, so thanking them, saluting them, and giving them access to information or events is key. Letting them demo products before others and providing an honest review is commonly done.
- Hand Over The Microphone –Give Them The Platform. This isn’t about you, it’s about them. The market doesn’t trust your brand, so let them have the platform to speak. Recognize them on your public website, develop a way to indicate that they’re the most trusted members in your online communities, and allow them to tell others.
- Intake Negative Feedback –But Be Actionable. You’ve now asked for open dialog for them to discuss with their community, but be prepared to intake their experience and thoughts with your marketing and more importantly: product and development teams. This can’t be just lip-service by corporate communications, but their input must be acknowledged, and then reported back to them it was taken into account. Use this as a way to reduce innovation costs –but ensure product teams correctly know how to develop these relationships.
- Provide Them With Communication Tools. Give them the opportunity to talk with each other. Develop an online community or email distribution list, just for them to participate in and talk with each other. Additionally, give them a platform on your corporate website or within your communities to vocalize. For those with advanced communities, give them higher level abilities than other members such as ability to moderate, add unique media, or personalize their experience.
- Define Success Based On Influence And Reduced Cost. This is an influence program, much like media, press, or analyst relations. Measure based on influence by looking at KPIs around number of touch points, impact (anecdotal and through surveys). Also, measure how much and how useful the feedback to product and development teams was taken used –divide by traditional ways of getting similar feedback. Measure cost savings: offset the measurement with the denominator of lower costs of a WOM program to develop a measurement based on value.
- Got An Idea? Leave a Comment. Whew, that’s my list, however the real knowledge is with the community. Love to hear your thoughts. What are key steps companies must take to have a successful advocacy program? Here’s a chance for agencies, brand managers, and anyone who’s got first hand knowledge to share what they’ve learned.
Advocacy programs are a mainstay of today and future marketing programs –yet to be successful companies must have the mindset of being enablers –not controllers.
Left Image: Companies can monitor and manage the discussions in their marketplace, screenshot of Jive Market Engagement
This post was collaboratively written on a wiki with my colleague R “Ray” Wang who focuses on enterprise strategies such as CRM. My focus is on customer strategy which encompasses social technologies. Together, we’re covering convergence of the emerging and incumbent technology systems, he’s cross-posted on his own blog.
Summary: Jive Offers Brand Monitoring Using Radian6 –Empowering Companies To Quickly Respond
Jive Software made an announcement that they’re now incorporating listening service Radian 6 into their community platform suite, they dub it Jive Market Engagement. This gives internal teams that manage brands, topics, or influencers to discuss, manage, and assign tasks to follow up with real world –and real-time market events. An example? A company selling headache relief medicine can quickly be alerted to conversations with mommy bloggers in the social sphere, discuss in an internal, private community powered by Jive, then decide on how to quickly take action before it escalates.
Currently, companies are doing this in a mish-mash of manual efforts using scraped together RSS feeds, Google alerts, and Twitter clients. The benefits of this partnership? Companies can now become more organized around the real-time web, develop a process to quickly respond and therefore be more reactive to customers. Yet, despite the automation upside to brand and customer management, this causes yet another disparate pool of customer data that IT departments will have to splice together –potentially giving customers a fragmented view. Companies should nod to this latest trend of social business software converging with existing company systems and develop an information strategy.
Macro market forces foster new trends in adoption and risk:
Despite this announcement, there are greater trends at play that impact both business and IT side, be aware that:
Diverse systems converging, resulting in greater speed but more complexity
The push to improve customer intimacy, move to a proactive customer experience, and convergence of Web 2.0 with enterprise class social business apps, drives new models and solutions. We’re tracking this living breathing reef and see social software, CRM, brand monitoring, email, and mobile quickly converging.
More “CRM” features being deployed, without involving the CIO
Jive’s offering is really a customer relationship module in disguise, yet because of the web based offering, marketing can implement this psudo-CRM solution without involving IT. We continue to see technology adopted from business units -often at the frustration of not getting on the IT roadmap during budget tightening times.
Greater exposure to risk, as more siloed customer information fragments enterprise systems
Being responsive to customers is ideal, but in the long run, it’s not truly effective if you can’t integrate it with your sales, service, or marketing systems. In the end, fragmenting customer data will result in disjointed user experiences for customers as separate departments will have disparate data for each customer.
Jeremiah (business side) and Ray (IT side) come from completely two different worlds’ speaking two different languages. Yet they both know that these new technologies are going to force IT and Marketing to quickly come together. Expect to see more joint-blog posts merging these two groups together, because customers don’t care what department you’re in –they just want their problems solved.
Ray’s Take: For the CIO
Expect a proliferation of social media monitoring solutions to emerge with a tie back to CRM, eCommerce, project based solutions, and collaboration software. Disparate sources will create fractured customer experiences. Single 360 degree view must be assembled and reassembled.
- Find tools to aggregate these new channels and sources. Consider how these new social business software platfrms will integrate back into data warehouses or customer interaction histories.
- Focus on data integration skill sets as process, data,meta data across hybrid deployment models. Data integration and master data management will play a role here.
Jeremiah’s Take, For the CMO
Marketers should continue to be responsive to the real-time web, but quickly develop processes that involve other customer touchpoints such as support, service, and product development into the mix
- Don’t limit your responses to the corporate communication team and brand monitoring team –cascade this information quickly. While the discussions that will be had in Jive’s community platform will help to aid the customer triage problem, be sure to tie the process and data back to other customer facing teams. Remember, customers don’t care which department you are in.
- Use imported social data to create topic based aggregations. Looking forward, use the data that brand monitoring companies are unearthing and turn your product pages into trusted aggregations of conversations –not just static product pitches. Learn how future webpages will be more like collections of customer conversations.
The Altimeter Group is a strategy consulting firm focused on providing companies with a pragmatic approach to emerging technologies. Note: Ray had a minor changes and links added, which I’ve updated since original post.
One of the top 10 questions in social media marketing asked is “How do we kick start our community?” This post aims at providing some resources for brands that are preparing their community strategy.
The old adage of the field of dreams isn’t true -if you build it–they won’t neccesarily come. Brands must have a kick start plan to be successful with their community. Below, I’ll list out some practices I’ve heard from companies that have had successful communities, and I’d ask you chime in and add more ways, let’s get started, I’ll be as specific and actionable as possible.
How to Kick Start A Community
- Create compelling content on a recurring basis. Brands sometimes create videos, podcasts, or stories on a daily or weekly basis that encourages members to come back.
- Reward users who fill out their profile. Folks like to see other friendly faces, so giving them access to premium features or recognition of those who have the most complete profiles should recognized.
- Invite community influencers and advocates to the community first –giving them first right of testing the system and then inviting others.
- Encourage interaction through conversations. Ask questions, talk about controversial topics, or host a contest that encourages participation.
- Reward top contributors: Those that participate the most, or perhaps, are the most helpful should be recognized on a leader board, and thanked in public. Unexpectedly, send them something nice as a thank you, or reward them with premium services –never money.
- Centralize your community around your real world events. People want to find each other before events, talk about the event during the duration, and then afterwards are key. Use the community in your physical events.
- Virtual Events integrate community: Don’t just use on your real world events, but integrated with your virtual ones, I‘ve written at length about that here.
- Integrate with your website –and other customer touchpoints. Remember, corporate sites of the future are aggregations of community discussion, be sure to integrate community in your corporate site. Make sure your call center, email marketing, and external newsletters all integrate community. (don’t forget even the email signatures)
- Encourage employees to get active. A party isn’t much fun if there’s no one there, so encourage the hosts (often employees) to kickstart discussions by talking, debating, and arguing about the news, updates, or even relevant YouTube videos will trigger discussion. Of course, you have a community manager on staff, right?
- Leave a comment below: Whew, I’ve rattled off my best, now over to you. Leave a comment with your tip. How do you kick start a community?
I’ve also signaled to some of the vendors in the community platform space to chime in –giving them the chance to strut their knowledge. Also see tips from Connie Benson, Shout Em, and Keenview.
Left: Several Press, Analysts, and Bloggers met with executives from Cisco and Warner using Telepresence from NY, SF, to San Jose. Cisco’s Eos (their community platform for media brands) landed an enterprise wide deal with Warner Music.
Attendees included John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, Dan Scheinman who heads Eos, and Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner music and Michale Nash of Warner.
Rather than focus on the details of the deal (you can read WSJ, Reuters, and GigaOm), I’m going to discuss what it means to the industry at large.
[Media companies will adopt social technologies to respond to the Groundswell in social networks –yet to be successful, the change isn’t about technology –but instead, their business model]
Media companies know that they’re not the only voices in the auditorium –the audience now talks back. They create media, content, and share it directly with each other on social sites —now brands, like Warner seek to embrace them closer. Rather than allow this inevitable social interaction on social networks like MySpace, they want to take it back by launching their own social features.
Although EOS was announced earlier this year (read my take), this is their first major client, hence the fanfare. What’s taken EOS so long to clinch a large deal? Their hefty enterprise system is designed for media brands to cascade across multiple properties –not one-off installations. Community platform players that also compete in the media space like Kickapps and Pluck (and to some degree Ning) have self-serve features, are modular, and even have credit card payment systems so individual brand managers can get started –bypassing IT.
Impacts to Community Platforms, and CMS Vendors
Incumbent community platform players (learn more about this crowded space) like Kickapps (who power artists U2, Madonna and Food2), Pluck (who powers USAToday/Gannet, The Guardian, and the NFL), and incumbent CMS systems like Vignette, Documentum, Interwoven need to demonstrate they’ve enterprise viability by proving their systems to brands that can scale across multiple entertainment properties at media conglomerates. Warner is an ‘end to end Cisco customer’ so the aforementioned vendors should immediately reach out to their customers with a large Cisco footprint in the datacenter.
Impacts to Social Networks: MySpace, Bebo, Facebook
As media companies develop their own communities this takes some power away from social networks like MySpace, Bebo, and Facebook. Fortunately, not all fans will interact with artist created communities –so they will need to quickly distinguish how their community base is different (perhaps in a different part of the marketing funnel) –but still valuable.
What It Means: Opportunities –and Challenges for Media Brands
- Consider this the first day in which Chief Media Officers recognize that social is a key component to fostering a brand amongst an audience that wants –and will talk back. Expect other media conglomerates to start this evaluation process.
- Rather than punt the community to MySpace and Bebo to monetize, media companies can now aggregate the data from the community to quickly identify trends, memes, and hits and wins from the community. Artists can foster a tighter relationship with fans as the communication goes both ways.
- They could monetize by providing premium products (exclusive content, backstage passes, or special venues). Additionally there are WOM opportunities, and harvesting data to identify new trends, top influencers, and market trends. Creating premium products for fans and evangelists will spur their business forward.
- Media companies need to develop a strategy beyond technologies that encompasses dealing with process, roles, and allowing for the voices of the customer –not just the media brands. Remember my 80/20 rule about communities, only 20% is about technology, the majority is strategy.
- Lastly, media companies will need to reformat their business model, as the people formerly known as the audience now join artists on stage. Given how media companies have responded to this movement with a clamping and silencing motion –this is a big change for their culture.
Media Companies Under Extreme Change as Fans Join the Stage –Changing Biz Model
Summing things up, media brands that recognize the party is happening without them on MySpace, Bebo and Facebook will build branded communities for fans and artists closer to the corporate domain. This means the structure of the business will need to change, not just to allow fans to participate on the ‘online stage’ but to also develop new ways of monetizing through premium products, cross sales, and lean on efficient word of mouth marketing.
We continue to see that communities will continue to gain more and more power as they lean on each other to make decisions, support each other, and share their lifestyle. What happens to agencies that traditionally serve brands?
Seem far fetched? Not really. We’re already starting to see bits of this: I’ve seen user innovation in car forums, Facebook groups, and networks of mommy bloggers. Or take for example UserVoice , GetSatisfaction or Ideastorms that allow communities to define what features they want with products.
Imagine for a second that these communities, say bike-enthusiasts, or young mothers, or even home-theater-fans could start to define using organized innovation tools what products and features they want. What if Doc Searls vision for Vendor Relationship Management systems (where consumers define what products they want –brands bid for them) takes off?
With communities in the driver seat over product, a shift will happen as communities can define the spec of future products and therefore multiple brands will bid for their business. As a result, we should expect the agency model to flip over, where PR agencies start to represent communities of customers –rather than brands.
What if these communities (we’re likely all part of at least one) started to band together and used UserVoice to define what we want? What if a savvy agency saw this, and decided to take our ideas to market on our behalf?
What could this wacky idea look like? These PR agencies would take the community defined spec to brands, bid for the top design, and even help negotiate the terms. As a result, they could skim profits off the transaction, or maybe offer new services such as community support, or organize events. Either way, if they stay as the conduit between them. Some users in Twitter mentioned this already happens, that agencies represent communities in non-profits, or at the chamber of commerce, but I’m thinking much broader, into the context of commerce.
Perhaps it won’t be that polar, existing agencies that represent brands will adopt the right skills and relationships, and will retain their relationship with brands. If you’ve access, a forward looking report called the Connected Agency discusses how this could work.
What do you think of this wild idea? Far-fetched or is it already underway? If communities assert control over what products they want, will agencies follow suit?
Update: we’ve now 40 comments below, and without a doubt the wisdom from the commentators is greater than the original assertion. I think one key finding from everyone is that this trend is far greater than PR, and impacts all agencies, and marketing as a whole. Secondly, it’s difficult to determine who these agencies will monetize, and some suggest they’ll go away all together. We’ll keep on exploring this topic, I’ve some new ideas on consumer crowdsourcing that I’ll blog soon. Thanks for being part of the dialog.