Don’t Ask Community Managers To Be Strategists by Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks

jack_of_all_tradesThe enterprise community manager position is sometimes termed a “jack of all trades” role. I know — I’ve said it myself. But I think we’re starting to take it a bit too far.

[In the past] I have participated in a suite of webinars and talks about online communities and their growing role in functional areas such as customer care. I have listened to, and debated with, countless community management specialists about community management best practices. I’ve heard a lot about keeping business strategy and community management aligned. There’s no question this is a critical success factor for social business — but the issue is whether or not this responsibility is part of the charter for the online community manager role.

Pity the poor community manager who has been handed a whole range of new and complex tasks, responsibilities, and accountability measures related to managing and monitoring business strategy — in addition to the normal work of running a community! It won’t work. Placing responsibility for business strategy on the community manager will ruin many a promising online community, with lasting negative consequences for the business, the brand and, most of all, community members and customers. Online strategy and online community management are emerging as two distinct roles in the rapidly evolving world of online communities.

Let’s look at the role of online community strategy. It starts at the highest level, based on the organization’s mission and vision, and then proceeds to the business goals and business processes for the community itself. It is a line-of-business function led by an executive stakeholder responsible for strategic alignment based on the goals, metrics, measures and ROI.

This means the leadership from customer care, the office of strategy management or even product development — depending on the mission of the online community — have the charter to ensure that the online community is tracking in support of their organization’s strategy.

The second role is that of online community management. The crucial task for this role is delivering value to the community participants – the members. Full stop. If the community serves member needs and builds high-value customer/supplier/prospect relationships, it can achieve the strategic goals established by the business organization.

Adding business strategy leadership to the community manager’s role renders them ineffective, unable to succeed at either task. Keep in mind the community manager is the voice of the members back into the organization, and is charged with serving member needs. Asking the community manager to view her community through the lenses of both the business and the members is a prescription for blurred insights, mixed messages and reduced trust on both sides. Community managers can and should take into account the firm’s business goals in the programs and engagement models they develop and produce. But determination of which best fit with the overall strategy is best left to those in charge of business leadership.

The reasons for this separation of roles is primarily around skill sets. A seasoned community manager typically grew up through the ranks of communication specialties, and has the unique and invaluable ability to facilitate ideas, grow thought leadership content and listen well. What they do, and the ways they have honed their methodologies and insights, constitute hard-to-find skills based on extensive hands-on experience. In contrast, the skilled strategist has a keen appreciation for the nuances of goal-setting, planning, and measuring results, involving technical, financial and organizational design skills.

Just as HR executives typically aren’t tapped to run adjacent lines of business like finance, the community manager may not be best at driving the business of community. While there should be a dotted line between the business and the community operations, asking online community managers to manage functions that are out of their realm of expertise jeopardizes both the community and the business. The corollary is that for your online community to succeed and deliver business returns, the roles of online community strategy and community management should be treated with the business respect they deserve.

[This work was originally published on Vanessa’s blog, Leader Networks and is reposted here with her permission.]

Page Load Speeds and Your Online Community – by Gina Narramore, 4-Roads

Please enjoy this first post from new Guest Blogger, Gina Narramore of 4-Roads! #Follr Gina & 4-Roads on Twitter and check out more about Online Community Strategy Org 4-Roads here

There is no denying – the way the Internet is presented is constantly changing. In today’s hyper-connected world, web pages are much richer and contain more functionality, which results in increased amounts of page data and external resources to power them.

As technology advances, web users have become to expect a visually appealing community sites, and fast page loading times. The speed at which a browser loads your community content, means the difference between engagement or abandonment – a problem which could be detrimental to your online community.

Often, efforts to optimize web code, including the reduction of overall site density to improve download performance, are not enough to ensure a healthy and successful online community.

Page load speeds have to be considered. This post shows how a decrease in page load and rendering times benefit an online community.

Reduce Bounce rate

A web user may be searching for a particular type of online community to satisfy a certain motivation they may have. Your community may appear in their results due to keywords you’ve selected or ads you’re displaying on search engines. But, when this user lands on your community site, they immediately see that you don’t have what they’re looking for and they click away.

If your messaging is correct and your keywords accurate, it is important to take a closer look at website download speeds as a contributing factor to higher bounce rates within your online community.

A key factor contributing to high bounce rates is slow download speeds, especially for mobile site downloads. A user may initiate a visit to your online community and because the page takes too long to load, they abandon the community almost right away.

Enhance SEO

Since 2010, Google announced that the speed at which a web page loads would impact search rankings. Additionally, at SMX Advanced, Google’s Matt Cutts said that mobile sites, which are slow in performance, would be penalised.

Research, carried out by Zoompf, concluded that both front and back-end performance factors do correlate to increased rankings. They also state on the Moz Blog:

“We do know that fast loading websites gain more visitors, who visit more pages, for longer period of times, who come back more often, and are more likely to purchase products or click ads. In short, faster websites make users happy, and happy users promote your website through linking and sharing. All of these things contribute to improving search engine rankings.”

This statement is also valid with regards to online communities – if members are happy, they return, engage, become brand advocates and promote the community to gain new memberships.

Increase customer satisfaction

According to Kissmetrics, a one second delay in page loading time will decrease customer satisfaction by about 16% and 44% will people will tell their friends if they have a bad online experience.

This is supported in a study by the Aberdeen Group, which estimates that this one-second delay in page load time also results in a 7% loss in conversions and 11% fewer page views. This successfully provides evidence that optimising how quickly your community site loads, can have a significant impact engagement, response, conversions, and sales.

Higher engagement

If a user can’t find the information quickly on your community site homepage or their search is hindered by slow download performance, they will go elsewhere – likely to be a competitive site that can provide the expected content and download speeds – resulting in loss of online community engagement.

The order of how community content is delivered through the browser has an impact on whether someone engages quickly with your community or not.  Ultimately, it matters more how quickly a user is engaged than it does how fast an entire page loads.

Increase conversions

As page-load time increases, likely conversion rates will drop. This is confirmed by Kissmetrics, which shows 47% of consumers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. After this peak the rate drops by 6.7% for each additional second.

A conversion is when a visitor takes any type of action on your site. Within an online community, a conversion could be a membership sign-up or when a member submits a post within the community. As these are obvious benefits – which could ensure the health of your online community – taking steps to increase conversions should be considered.

An online community may already be seeing an adequate number of visitors, but there is failure to convert them in to members. Other than providing engaging and relevant content, download speed could be a factor that is impacting conversion rates.

For more of Gina’s expertise stay tuned to the #FollrBlog as she’ll be guest-posting on a bimonthly basis! 

Building on the Basics: 3 Steps to Be an Online Community Builder

If you are already an online community builder or aspire to be one, our goal at Follr is to make the experience as simple and fun as possible. As we continue our series on building a solid foundation for success with online communities we will focus on creating the community identity.

Become an Online Community Builder with your own Follr Community - simple, easy and freeWhen creating a community you should have a clear definition of the community focus and purpose. Creating the community mission statement, as well as a comprehensive list of related keywords, is more important than many understand. Focusing on the recommendations here will result in an increase of online community engagement, interaction and posting, once you’ve opened your doors to your new community.

As soon as people read the term “key words” their minds automatically connect the term with search engine optimization (SEO), in this case that is a secondary benefit of your primary purpose. The primary purpose is to help focus on the content and direction of the online community you are building. Once you have a good list of 10-15 keywords, or terms, related to the community you are building, and the mission statement you defined, you will see a true community begin to form.

3 Steps to Be an Online Community Builder resulting in huge Online Community Engagement

  1. Define your purpose: A Mission Statement

    It might sound tedious but taking time to plan and focus will help create a more viable, and vibrant, online community. When the purpose is clear then people will easily be attracted to the community, don’t allow confusion to be a barrier to community success. A clear definition and statement of purpose make a transition into a new community much easier for a potential member.

    People are hesitant, they resist change, for maximum engagement in a new community being clear in the focus and purpose will put them at ease. By defining this in the community description, and even seeding content into your community, will result in seeing conversations begin at a significantly faster rate than the average online community builder does.

  2. Keyword: Success
    Identifying keywords which relate to the community topic and purpose allows for powerful online community building tricks. The first is that now potential community members can be found via social search. Use your key words/terms to search and find those potential community members. The second is that if the goal is to ramp the interactions up in the community even faster, you can use those same words and terms to invest in SEO and purchase Adwords via Google.

    Notice the focus on sharing the community with people on other social networks. By being “discoverable”, and in turn discovering, a rapid decrease in the odds of community survival shift in the favor of the community builder.

    Using social search tools, you will find people who are “talking” about your topics and focus, and get into the conversation with them. If you have seeded enough content and encouraged your community members to do so as well, you should have no problem bringing the conversation back to your Follr Communities website.

  3. Target: Locked and Engaged
    Once you begin to identify people who are conversant on the topic for your community you want to begin to have conversations, on the topic with them. Create saved searches (eg Google Alerts) to monitor – blog posts, tweets, shares, statuses, etc. that have already happened or are happening live.

    Take time to review the conversations, be sure there is something relevant posted within your community. If not, consider posting something – take the topic and spin a question out of the conversation or post. Try to build a few responses to it from your community before you get into a discussion with the target of your attempts at engagement.

The goal of these key steps is to create a community alive with conversation and engagement. Searching for people and focusing on being found is a very genuine way of finding people who are like-minded and want to participate with you and your community. Don’t feel as though you are being “sneaky” – there is nothing sneaky about connecting and sharing with other people, it is the entire purpose of building an online community.

Show us how it works for you, create your Follr Community – they are simple online communities to build, with an elegant format similar to a template, and all you do is fill in the information and voila you are up and running.

There really is no simple way to be an online community builder than with Follr.

Join or Build: What Do You Need from an Online Community?

A lot of people wonder why they would want an online community. There are really two questions in the single statement. Do you need a community as a member? Likely. Do you need to build a community as a leader? Perhaps.

There are a few simple ways to help determine whether you would benefit as a member of a community or if you are better off building a community to meet your needs.

Here are some quick tips to help you know which decision is the one you need to make. Join or Build?

If you can't find what you need, do you create the solution to the need? Build or Join an Online Community?

If you seek it, you will find it. Or will you?
What information are you searching for? As you pour through search engine results, digging deeper and deeper, not finding what you are seeking. When you do, is the information timely and relevant? Or just keyword purchases misdirecting you to something you have no use of?

If the information you need is beyond the first page of results, there need to be more relevant and reliable resources on the topic you are researching.

If you are seeking it, chances are thousands of others are as well.

Overwhelmed by Results!
Your search returns lots of information, more than you have time to sort and review. How do you determine which results are credible and which are not? Social proof, and word of mouth marketing experts, would say that now you will seek the advice of your own friends, forcing more time spent on research, still seeking information.

You choose a link. There may be ads, live updates, pop-ups, and more. The stimulation alone overloads your senses. Overwhelmed, you give up.

Taking the initiative.
You ultimately aren’t happy with the options you have been presented with. You are an “initiator” and ready to take action. The “initiators” are a group of people that have the spark, enthusiasm and the drive to take the words “I can do it! If I solve it, they will come!” and make them a reality!

This is the birth of a community. The topic, the focus, the need, isn’t important. You can insert any of those, or business vertical, local community, government (the list is limitless) and you will have a need for a community.

Building that community should be intuitive, simple, easy and quick. You shouldn’t need to “code”. You require a simple, yet elegant, platform which gives you a place to build a vibrant community forum.

A place that people will want to flock to and enjoy returning. You want your community to be discovered, so having it a part of a larger network is ideal, but you don’t want that parent network to control it’s visibility.

Before you know it your community will take on a life of it’s own, becoming the sought after resource just waiting to be discovered by someone like you.

You made a connection, and you might have changed a life. What Community will you build to make a difference?

Social Communities Made Simple by Follr!

The idea of social connectivity is being social, sharing common interests, connections and passions. Having access to a network that brings you value and improves your life.

Are you missing the updates that matter or the conversations you really care about? You can search for community information and successfully find it on the search engines, not nestled inside a website that wants to mine your information and serve you advertisements. Make being connected simple, elegant and desirable.

follr_logo_250

You want a community that really is about the community, not about the host, which means it is about the members and the message – helping your community become discovered, and helping you discover your new community.

The trend toward micro-sizing social networks has long been forecasted, but no one has really actually theorized how that ideal social network or online community would look.

Now you don’t need to, they are here; Follr Communities – social networking done better, bigger and brighter. Vibrant, engaging and dynamic online communities. Completely scalable, configurable, and simple to create.

Unlike other sites, you control your community, you own your content, whether it’s public or it’s private. With powerful SEO built in, this is what every online “group” needs to switch to.

Your mind is the only limitation…connect around your favorite:

  • team(s)
  • player(s)
  • league
  • sport
  • band
  • artist
  • movie
  • show

You imagine it, you build it. Ready to reconnect with your passion and build a community? Start your own Follr Community or find a Follr Community to join now!

Social Media Manager vs. Online Community Manager: Same or Different?

Source: Vanessa DiMauro

Slide1One recent morning I saw a post in one of my LinkedIN groups asking “what is the difference between a social media manager and an online community manager?” Easy, I thought, and offered a quick response on my mobile … “Social media managers bring the guests (clients, prospects) to the table and community managers welcome them in!”

Ahh, but wait. This may require more words than I can manage on that little screen. So, naturally, I turned to trusty Google to see what others have said on this topic. Among the first mentions I came across was a CMSWire which discussed the confusion between social media and online community management, and suggested the two roles have become blurred.

In my view, the confusion often begins with job descriptions, which are rarely written by actual practitioners. For larger organizations new to these rapidly evolving specialties, they strive to find and describe the commonalities rather than highlight the differences in the two roles.
Next, I sought out my trusted peers and colleagues to see and hear what they had to say. In a post by the very knowledgeable Blaise Grimes-Viort from the UK firm e-Moderation, he shared the following definitions of these two roles:

· Community Manager: Operates from deep within the company, managing customer relationships with a brand or product, and each other. Potentially she can be a fully Enterprise Community Manager, involved in facilitating efficient inter-team and staff communication and collaboration. She is focussed on the flow of information and knowledge, strengthening relationships and promoting productive collaboration, which may include moderation and hosting of both micro- and macro-events on the company’s community platform. Placement within the Organization chart is more likely to be connected to Editorial, Product development, Business development, and Marketing. In addition, I would add Customer Service/Support to the list of org chart nodes above.

· Social Media Manager: Operates from the edges of the company, managing brand recognition and reputation outside of the scope of the brand website. He is focused on listening and evaluating brand perception, planning campaigns and promotional material or initiatives to promote the company’s message, building and leveraging social networks on social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to facilitate depth of communication. He will usually be found within the Organisation chart connected to Marketing, PR, and Sales.

Another aspect of the blurring and overlap in roles is the type of organization doing the hiring — what is the business focus for the role? Business-to-business (B2B) and consumer companies have very different requirements. In consumer organizations, the community focus is individual consumers, and consumers generally frequent public social media channels with broad reach and large numbers. On the other hand, B2B organizations focus on building customer intimacy using channels such as online communities, customer councils and executive briefing centers along with offline outreach. For B2B, the desired relationship is deeper, just as the purchase cycle may be longer, revenue potential much greater and the depth of engagement (think suppliers and partners as well as customers) may be much greater and more complicated. In B2B organizations the social media manager is part of marketing and PR, facing outward for the most part. The B2B community manager has some outward responsibilities, but is connected to more core operations at the firm.

These distinctions are especially visible in the success measures for each role – the key performance indicators. Of course, both roles may share responsibility for a number success metrics and will need to partner effectively to deliver results. Here is a short tabulation of key B2B success measures, the role involved and the organizational accountability path.

B2B Success Measure Role Accountability
Drive leads Social Media Manager Marketing
Raise awareness of products or services Social Media Manager Marketing
Visibility of company, products, services or thought leaders Social Media Manager Marketing
Increase sales Social Media Manager Sales
Event attendance Social Media Manager on public channels, Community manager on community channels Marketing
Customer questions about how to use a product or service Community Manager Customer Service
Learn from customers (e.g. feedback into product development) Community Manager Product Management/R&D
Customer retention / satisfaction Community Manager Sales
Call center reduction/ Improve customers’ ability to get help from each other Community Manager Customer Service
Increase utilization of the products Community Manager Product Management

Note that in the B2B world, where customers tend to be other organizations purchasing complex and expensive products and services, the lines between the social media manager and the community manager roles can be more clearly defined than in consumer space. B2B and consumer prospects have very different information and relationship needs, and when the sale is made the customers require very different levels of ongoing engagement and support. The overlap between the B2B social media and online community manager roles is usually much less than for those roles at a B2C firm.

Simple Kindness Trumps Most Anything Else

Today’s post was inspired by my old pal (and I don’t mean age, because I trump him by about a month) Chris Brogan. In Owner Magazine, of which Chris is the CEO and Publisher, he wrote a thoughtful and thought provoking post entitled “When it All Starts to Work” – his work usually gets me thinking, this time it really nailed a truth, and reminded me of how Chris had offered kindness, help and inspiration as a mentor to me back in 2010. Thanks Chris! Keep up the work of being awesome and king of the Freaks (and Geeks) with Julien, Rob and Jacq!

When it all comes down to it, no matter how connected we are, the connection doesn’t matter if we don’t make sure the people know they matter.

Staying connected to your community, and therefore keeping your business alive means making sure you take notice of the things that matter to people.

Despite the vast size of the Inter-webs, we have all gained the ability to become more aware, better connected and more empathetic to the needs of those that exist on the planet around us. The community that is humanity is the most amazing community of all.

Online communities are no different, each individual is an important part of the whole. A community of one isn’t a community at all, a community is an ecosystem, a beautiful result of the efforts of many coming together to create something of value, something that can help and inform.

The online community is the Village of old, in the days before automobiles, even before steam engines, when horse and wagon might have been the only method of travel.

Finding moments to stop, look, breathe and appreciate what we have and how easy life truly is, is also the time to consider and reflect on what you bring to the Community.

It is time to find more moments of kindness, of thoughtfulness, to ask others what they need, how you can help, and for those you ask to know that the intent is truly there, it is not a nicety. We all need to connect with others in some way, we are not creatures of isolation, and humans are social by nature.

We need more communities. The recent trend toward smaller communities online supports our overall desire for a simpler, more basic existence. The cry for connecting, reverberates within us and we long for the “simpler times”. It’s why we now are clearly seeing the trend toward micro-networks, and micro-communities.

Where will this lead us? What will happen to the gigantic networks, the silos, as they struggle to define their existence, slowly strangling the young communities only just beginning to gain their legs, ready to sprint forward and change the world.

The next few years should be wondrous. Watching the evolution that I believe is inevitable, the great giants brought to their knees as people seek to reconnect with their communities, to matter to one another, to be thoughtful of others, to offer kindness to everyone. To encourage, promote and lift each other up, for when one person rises, we all rise together.

What do you think is coming next?