I’m a former community manager, and many of my friends are currently in this role, and I want to make sure they are armed with the right knowledge to succeed during hard times –I know some of them may get laid off.
Community Managers are at risk of being let go
During a recession, we know that marketing, sometimes new media and unknown expenses get cut. Unfortunately, to some, the Community Manager role may sit in all three of those areas of scrutiny. Although I’ve been tracking quite a few Community Managers working at enterprise class companies, they must quickly learn to measure, and demonstrate ROI or risk getting cut.
Community Managers must educate stakeholders and management.
Measurement depends on which objective they are trying to solve, so I’ll break it down into specific objectives and tasks. During incidents the community manager should report in real-time to key stakeholders. Secondly, they should provide weekly updates that can be quickly scanned in 30 seconds to community managers. Each month, they should provide a detailed report, and initiate a 30-60 minute meeting with key stakeholders to discuss changes.
Among these changes they should measure:
Improvement in marketing efficiency
Community Managers should measure increased speed from word of mouth or marketing awareness, the best way to measure this is time from awareness to close –or spread of WOM. This could also include increase understanding of customers (listening) for marketing research, or warning stakeholders about potential detractors before they become real issues. Unfortunately, these metrics aren’t valued as much as the next two, so focus accordingly.
Reduction in support costs
The bottom line is always important to business, so if you can measure a decrese in customers going to physical stores, emailing account reps, or calling the support center as they instead rely on community to help self-support themselves, you can start to put dollar costs on this actual community savings.
Actual improvement to sales
This matters most. Community Managers should start to measure how clicks from community directly impact ecommerce, go to product pages (perhaps if you’re B2B) or to affiliate marketing to demonstrate how community interaction increases revenue. If you can demonstrate this (like Dell’s million dollar sales in Twitter) tout this loudly to management.
Conduct additional research
If you’re like most companies, layoffs are coming, therefore Community Managers must educate the powers that be the value that they offer when it comes to customer service and support. Rather than focus purely on the role that they have, they should demonstrate the overall of the community –then discusss why a role is needed (like a physical store manager) in order to keep it running smoothly. Consider running quarterly surveys that measure Net Ratings or customer satisfaction, and don’t forget to quote qualitative responses from community members themselves, there’s nothing like a pure customer testimonial about why they are customers.
If you’ve other tips for Community Managers during a recession, leave a comment below.
Update: Bill Johnston has some additional tips you should read, he also left a comment below.
Ill be up front, writing research is one of the hardest parts of the job for me, it’s an area I end up putting extra time in.
Despite the extra effort I have to put in, looking back I’m very proud of my body of work. You’ll notice that there’s a strong body of work on community and social networks, all designed to help a brand with their community strategy from soup-to-nuts. Here’s some highlights of what I’ve been working on in the last 16 months:
Body of Work: Community and Social Network Research
Strategy: Online Communities: Build Or Join? (Hint: the answer is ‘when’)
Resources: How to Staff for Social Computing (Like any business program, key people are needed, and here’s there two roles you’ll need to succeed)
Best Practices: Online Community Best Practices (I interviewed 19 brands that have done it right, and to find out how, remember: only 20% is technology)
Best Practices: Best And Worst Of Social Network Marketing, 2008 (we scored 16 brands who conducted marketing efforts on social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo)
Best Practices: What works in Online Company Forums (lead by Cynthia Pflaum, we published this report to help brands understand what works)
Vendor Selection: Forrester Wave on Community Platforms (This recently launched report scrutinizes 9 of the 100 vendors in this crowded space)
Technology: I’ve done a piece on Facebook’s engagement ads and Google’s Opensocial, while I tend not to like to focus on technology as a driver, these were both innovative ways for marketers to reach communities.
Soon to be published: My upcoming publications include the social technographics of baby boomers, and our predictions for social computing for 2009, you can setup a ‘research alert’ on the right nav of my profile page to be alerted to upcoming reports.
I’m very proud of the hard work we’ve put in, and I’m thankful for my very tough editors, researchers, research associates, editing team, web team and management for supporting this process. Although the research is never done, the current body of work is designed to answer the most critical questions during key milestones for brands who want to understand community. In most cases, while these reports help brands get their strategy in order, I’m often asked to present the reports to their staff, conduct custom research, or make specific strategy and vendor suggestions, I’ve noticed an increase in demand and it’s keeping me very busy.
I’ve two reports that I’m working on, both I hope you’ll find interest in. The first, which is focused on how brands are changing their spending and behavior towards social media during a recession. We conducted a survey, and I found it interesting that most marketers certainly leaned one direction when we asked them “are you going to increase or decrease social media spend”. I am also seeking case examples of brands that have conducted social media efforts since sept 08 and have seen success during times of resource scrutiny. Secondly, I’m working on a report to outline the future of social networks, you may know about the roundtable I hosted in Oct, which is just the precursor to this vision piece. I’m seeking to speak with thought leaders that can see how technologies like, social networks, mobile, ecommerce and corporate websites will evolve to impact the marketing and purchasing process.
If you have research examples you want to submit, you can contact me at jowyang at forrester.com, lead in the subject line “Research Report Submittal: X”
Social + Research
In my opinion only, I’m well aware of the impacts of social technologies on research and analyst firms. Although it hasn’t been done correctly yet, the market could self-organize and provide community based research to each other, bypassing firms. We’ve not seen this happen yet, as then quality of community based research is still low and lacks a directional strategy it certainly is possible. Like I tell my marketing clients, the power is in the hands of the participants –so participate!
My employer has taken note of how I’ve used social technologies to improve research, increase thought leadership, and to share the findings with the market, I’ll be working with fellow analysts to help them understand what works and what doesn’t. Blazing trails is always risky and sometimes fun, but what really matters when it helps a company become more efficient.
If you had your say in my 2009 research agenda, I’d love to hear what you think is missing. We’ve a pretty solid plan based on what we think the market is asking, but I’d love to hear your opinion as well.
Given the state of the economy, monetization is at top of mind for this blooming social media industry, in fact, we’re not seeing a tremendous amount of it. I can see some entry level opportunities for community platforms, here’s some quick ideas that have been churning in my mind, I release them here in public and maybe someone will make something of it:
Hook then offer premium services
Like Yammer, create an easy to create community tool that allows any person in a company to quickly setup an enterprise class social network and start collaborating –sans the sales folks. Let it be rebrandable, but with features perhaps more robust than Ning or Yahoo groups, that tie into company confirmed email addresses. Then once you get 10% of the company hooked, you’re able to start to have an enterprise licensing discussion. I’m surprised no one has done this.
Go the consumer route –then build network
We’re seeing more of an influx from Liveworld’s features LiveBar that let an ‘social media overlay’ quickly be plugged into any website, as well as Plum which offers features that can be quickly embedded into websites. The trick here is to gain mass consumer adoption, and then switch up business models away from premium instead to an advertising model, data collection, much how buzzlogic has morphed their business model.
Start em when they’re young
While there’s many social media tools for the classroom, I’ve yet to hear about a robust social media community platform that could be used for schools for the entire duration of a students enrollment at an education institution. While schools may be reluctant to pick up the tab, there’s ways to monetize that let parents purchase premium services, or education vendors like Scholastic, Kaplan, or other supplementary services.
Ideas are cheap, and I have no idea sharing these in public. What’s more important is prioritizing your feature roadmap based upon market needs. As a result lately, I’ve been doing strategy sessions with product teams at enterprise companies to discuss how their products can benefit from the social web. You’ll see some major products released from large companies in the coming quarters, some of them, I had a direct hand in shaping and molding.
Not all of the community platform plays need to be at enterprise level, there’s quite a few other untapped ways to monetize. Leave a comment if you’ve another idea, or see some of this in action.
Intel is known for trying out a variety of social media efforts, for better or for worse. They experiment, and continue to learn and iterate, I give them continual credit and reference them in presentations. One particular activity of note is what I learned from David Veneski, he tackled the join vs build question and made the call to join.
Earlier this year, I visited Intel up in Seattle (correction: Portland) and spoke to David Veneski, a marketing manager, and spoke to his group about social computing strategies. He had deployed some successful marketing efforts, and reached communities where they existed, he had efforts to reach early tech adopters in Digg, as well as Slashdot. Both of these communities are rabid passionate tech communities that are self-thriving and require little attention from outside sources to be successful.
[Savvy brands join communities where the exist, rather than solely trying to coax customers to the corporate website through disruptive tactics]
In the case of Digg, Intel funded development of new features, and became a sponsor of the creation of “Digg Arc” a visualization feature. This associative play tied the Intel name with early tech adopters, as well as got dugg. Next they brought forth some of Intel’s top engineers to have a conversation with the Slashdot community, and apparently it was so successful that the amount of questions became unwieldy to respond to.
The moment of brilliance was when David said that one of the requirements of his marketing efforts was to not link to Intel.com. Rather than try to join a community then pull them away, the marketing efforts joined the community and stayed there –likely where the trust is highest (see data).
As a result, David fished where the fish were, and avoided trying to suck the members off the community they were part of. Marketers are often measured on the amount of traffic they generate to their corporate website, but in this case, Intel will have to measure using different attributes such as interaction, viral spread, and maybe even a survey.
Rather than coax users to your irrelevant corporate website, savvy brands will fish where the fish are.
Part of being an analyst is talking with clients on inquiry calls, I have several of these a week. Just about every other week, I have a client who calls and tells me their grandiose plans to create a community to reach executives. From the CIO, CTO, COO to CEO, I’ve heard them all. Of course, I tell them that they are not alone and that I just had a similar call just a few days ago.
While reaching the check signer is always ideal, I have to remind these ambitious brands that:
- Should first know the technographics of executives, do you know if they even participate in social technologies? If age is an indicator of adoption, (see this chart) then it’s less likely older users are going to be ‘joiners’.
- Executives are busy and don’t have a tremendous amount of time to join communities
- Decisions are made from the folks below them –they seek the recommendations from the troops, execs may just sign the check –not make specific recommendations.
- Executive communities already exist –why not join them where they are?
- Quite a few other brands are trying to accomplish the same task
So before you venture off to create the next executive community be sure you can address these previous five points.
Left Image: This sample screenshot of the embedded community experience from the Quickbooks site.
Over the next few years, expect your friends and network of experts to be interacting with you as you use desktop software –community will be integrated within your products.
This weekend, I had a discussion with Scott Wilder at Intuit, who is one of the practice leaders when it comes to community and how it impacts business. He’s one of those leading the charge at Intuit, who has developed very large communities that thrive beyond the product itself and serve the lifestyle of the community.
Scott discussed his strategy of embedding the community features right in the software products –extending the discussion, network, and peer to peer strategy past awareness, consideration, purchase all the way to support and development. Although this is mainly a supporting objective, when brands embed community this close it’s naturally going to lead to ’embracing’. Watch this video to learn about all five objectives: listening, talking, energizing, supporting and embracing.
[Software products will integrate your contacts in the application experience –encouraging peer learn, self-support, and community improvements]
The software product embeds the community features right into the Quickbooks, not a link, not a popup, but as part of the product experience.
Of course, more challenges lay in wait for Intuit: 1) They need to have a plan to ensure the community will understand and adopt these changes 2) Need to make it clear what the scope of this community is and what it’s not 3) Be internally prepared for what changes this brings to future product development and how it impacts support –undoubtly, customers will make product suggestions, and others will chime in.
How can this cascade to other products? Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, SAP, IBM, HP, Symantec, Electronic Arts, Hitachi, Adobe, Autodesk (Bill Johnston leaves this comment), and Apple can start to embed community into their desktop operating system and software. TV shows can start to allow users to embed community actually on the TV set (we saw an early taste of this with Current TV during the elections), and the possibilities can continue on.
Now if you have a software product and a community, forward this post on to them, and initiate an internal discussion, to find out if customers are really core to your mission, and when this would make sense to trial or even put on the roadmap.
All of this points to the larger trend how people are connecting to each other, and forming their own power bases, some companies who embrace this stand to benefit –but only if they are prepared.