5859463945_2a815eed78Your users matter. New or old, give them your trust, your loyalty and they will return. This is a fundamental principle of community management. It informs everything I do as a community manager.

I believe member engagement is a spectrum, with dormancy at one end and deep engagement at the other.

It’s important for a community manager to have a hand shaping the experience of every type of user on this spectrum.

Responding to the ideas, feedback and criticism from users is a proven management strategy. Their input is invaluable in building vibrant and healthy communities.

I believe you need to find, engage and reward your super users. I’ve had many positive experiences building communities with an active cohort of super users. I’ve seen the positive impact they can have.

To an extent, online communities grow and support themselves. Even without community management, certain users will feel more engaged and committed than others.  This will happen on its own.

A strong relationship between the organization and the users? That won’t appear without some help.

This is where a “super user” program shines. By identifying and reaching out to your most engaged users, you create culture. In communities with strong cultures, users feel connected. Not just to each other, but to the organization as a whole. This creates longevity in an online community.

Engaged and excited super users spread their enthusiasm.  They foster the growth of the community and contribute more. They act as brand evangelists and often volunteer their time and talent for the good of the community. They’re also great candidates when a community team needs to grow. Many successful community managers started out as passionate super users.

How do we find super users and what can we do to engage with them?

Your community policies should seek out and reward engaged, active users and incentivize participation. Often, super users find ways to make their presence known. Help this process by opening communication channels. When you identify super users, reach out. Offering rewards, responsibility and visibility strengthens connections and the community as a whole.

First, let’s talk about steps for finding super users.

Encourage users to contact you

You want to create a space where users can get in touch with the Community Team in private. This could be:

  • Periodic surveys that have text fields users can fill out
  • A category for “Feedback” in your user-submitted bug tracking software
  • An email address members can write to

or anything that else suits your community. Watch these channels, keeping an eye on both the quantity of submissions and the quality.

For example, Feature Requests are a great way of identifying super users. Consider receiving many feature requests over a sustained period from a single user. Contrast this with infrequent, yet detailed, comprehensive requests from a different user.

Both are clear signs of deep engagement. Quantity and quality both matter.

Look for thoughtful commentary in feedback. Super users are often interested in the community as a whole. They can be a valuable source of information about the health of the community. Often, super users understand the nuances of the community in a way staff cannot.

Look in the external channels

Super users may also reveal themselves in spaces surrounding the community. Fan sites, Facebook groups and external forums are often created by super users. You may also find super users in spaces outside the community that belong to your brand. Observe your social media pages, looking for the most active users. They often give help, answer questions or evangelize in postings and comments.

Measure interactions and contributions

Engagement metrics can also reveal super users.  Either on your own or with the help of a product manager, look for users that visit often and stay a long time. Measure the quantity and quality of interactions like posts and contributions. Not every user that makes extensive use of your product is a super user. Observe a variety of users and learn to categorize them by their engagement metrics.

Once you’ve identified your super users, develop a plan for interacting with them.

It’s wise to develop your program after you’ve had some conversations with likely candidates. The goal is to identify motivations and broad archetypes. Understanding your users helps your program features suits their needs and interests.

Make sure your program is sustainable. I suggest you under-promise and over deliver. Half baked programs that fall apart can discourage users and hurt future efforts.

Here are a few features you can use in a super user program:

Give them editorial control

Super users often have a deep understanding of your community’s strengths and weaknesses. They’re also often representative of member archetypes. This helps them gain the trust of other users.

Giving super users limited editorial control makes use of this understanding and trust. Super users feel more engaged, and other community members feel that they’re represented.

Save editorial control for your super users who are natural stewards. Establish guidelines and limits to avoid the perception of super users having un-checked power.

Give them curatorial responsibility

If your community generates any kind of content, allow super users to curate and share it. Curatorial responsibility can take the form of lists, “picks” or collaborative voting systems.

You can also give super users the power to reward, elevate or recognize content on your platform. Establish clear guidelines for this type of feature, and reserve some level of governance. It’s important that the larger community perceives the program as having a positive impact.

Use visual differentiation

Visual differentiation is a classic strategy for rewarding super users. A visual reward can serve both as a reward in and of itself and as a publicity tool. Visual rewards also signal the community team’s commitment to active engagement.

Interface elements for super users can take many forms. Some examples:

  • Badges
  • Customizable profiles
  • Special interface features like borders or stickers

Whatever you use, it should be well-designed. Interface features need to have pleasing aesthetics to be effective. Bad design will diminish the perceived value of the reward. Above all, they must not have a negative affect on the experience of other user classes.

Make communication commitments

If possible, make a communication commitment to your super users and honor it. Some forms of communication:

  • A special newsletter
  • A feedback form only for super users
  • Periodic Google Hangouts or Twitter chats

…or whatever communication channel suits your community best. Whatever commitment you make, it’s important that super users see consistency. If you need to skip a newsletter or cancel a chat, always notify users. No user should ever wonder why you aren’t where they thought you would be and not be able to find an answer.

This kind of high-touch service sends a clear signal to users that you care. The dialogue between users and staff matters, and super users especially value this connection.

As with most community management techniques, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for super users. The best thing you can do for the health of your community is to understand the types of users that it’s made up of. Super user programs can be an invaluable resource and I encourage you to try out these tactics.

I love to know what’s worked for other community managers. If you have implemented superuser programs, what have you learned? What worked and what didn’t?

Leave me a comment or hit me up on Twitter, I’m @TomMaybrier.

Photo Credit: Artiee via Compfight cc

5281316785_804d5d9ff1Today I’m going to talk about freelancing and smart management of your money. This information is for anyone who works freelance in the US, whether all the time or on an occasional basis.

I’ve freelanced regularly since 2008, and I’m embarrassed to admit that until recently, my freelance finances were messy. To be more specific, while my personal finances are generally well-managed and I do a good job planning and tracking my spending, I haven’t always been as rigorous with my business finances and lacked a clear delineation between my personal finances and my business earnings. A lot of people working on contract or freelance don’t think of themselves as business owners, but in respect to US tax law, they absolutely are.

Here are some steps that you can take to get your finances straightened out, be a better contractor for your clients and avoid unpleasant surprises at tax time. Keep in mind that I’m not “in” finance and I’m certainly not a tax expert.

Open up business bank account

It’s important that anytime you receive payment for your services, you set that money apart from your personal finances, then pay yourself out if it. This makes filing your taxes easier and will be helpful in the unfortunate event of an IRS audit. You may wish to file for an EIN (employer identification number) with the IRS before opening your account.

This is optional, but it’s another way to show that your business earnings and your personal funds are separate. It’s easy and you can do it online here.

Using an EIN also lets you avoid giving out your SSN on W9 forms. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen shockingly poor information security at startups and small businesses, and I believe anything you can do to protect yourself from identity theft is always worth doing.

You have a lot of options when picking a bank or credit union to use, and I recommend checking out Bankrate.com to find the account that works best for you. Keep in mind that most online bank accounts (Discover, Ally, etc) don’t allow you to use them for business and they will close your account if they suspect that you’re using it to receive your business earnings.

If you have a good relationship with the bank that you do your personal banking with, you may want to evaluate their business banking options. Keep in mind that you probably won’t doing a great deal of in-person banking and that while fees are deductible on your taxes, they still come out upfront and can limit your access to funds. There are many options with other banks and credit unions that may offer you better features, like a higher rate of return on certain types of accounts, a better web banking experience and lower or no fees than your personal bank.

In my case, although I do my personal banking through a local credit union, I went with at Bank of America business account because that was what my then-primary client used and I wanted to make receiving payments from them as easy as possible. However, once I had dealt with Bank of America a few times, I realized why I had always avoided them (poor customer service, aggressive upselling, fees for everything) and switched over to Comerica, who were able to provide me a completely free account that met my specific needs.

Figure out what you’re going to owe and set it aside NOW

When we first start working freelance, we have to adjust to the idea that the money you we’re paid isn’t all ours. If you have always worked as a hired employee, your employer paid a portion of your tax liability for you. When you received a paycheck, the money was (almost) all yours. When you’re paid on a 1099 basis, no taxes are removed from your earnings and it’s your responsibility to set aside this money, and in most cases, send it to the IRS on a quarterly basis.You may qualify for what the IRS calls “Safe Harbor”, so read the conditions before you start sending payments.

For more detailed instructions on how to estimate your tax liability, read this article.

Ideally, you’ll be using your business debit card for all of your business related spending and saving all of your business related receipts as digital scans. You may also want to make a profit and loss statement for every month. It will help you keep track of your earnings and make liability calculations simpler so you can better estimate what you owe.

Be sure to create quarterly calendar reminders for all four estimated tax payment due dates, both State (if applicable) and Federal and remember they change from year to year.

I set aside the money I’ll use to make my estimated tax payments in a separate online savings account to reduce the temptation to spend it.

Set up a money flow and decide your salary

What you pay yourself will be up to you and can vary as needed. For example, sometimes you may need more cash on hand and decide to pay yourself a higher rate temporarily and other times you may wish to make up for being behind on your tax savings by paying yourself less.

Here is my money flow: Incoming payments go into my Comerica Business Checking Account. I pay myself once a month, at the end of the month and I typically somewhat under-pay myself to create a cushion for taxes. I write myself a check for  50-65 percent of my profit and deposit it into my credit union’s checking account. The remainder is transferred to my American Express online savings account, to be sent to the IRS.

Invoice efficiently

Try to always send invoices at the same time, whether that’s every week, every other week or monthly. Use the same format every time. Clients like it when you’re consistent. Create a positive experience for your clients by being consistent, but flexible, always willing to do what works best for them.

One way to do this is accepting multiple payment methods, like checks, Square, bank transfers or sending invoices through PayPal. I consider myself fee-averse and will always prefer cash or a check over anything that costs me and my client extra money such as Square or PayPal, even though it means waiting a longer time for a payment.

Know your worth

It’s important to know the market rate for the services that you offer, taking into account any regional variances that factor into what your client expects to pay for your work. As you become more experienced, I recommend regularly evaluating the marketplace to make sure that you are billing at a fair and reasonable rate.

When setting your rate, keep in mind that since you’re liable for more taxes, you need to build this into your billable rate, or you may end up working for far too little and hurting yourself in the long run. W2 earnings shouldn’t be used to set your 1099 rate, as your tax liability is at least 15.3% higher.

That said, it’s good to be flexible and sometimes you may want to work for less than market rate to develop a relationship with trusted or valuable client. Always be accurate and transparent about the amount of time that you work, and never, ever bill for things you didn’t do.

There’s a lot more to small business finance, and everyone’s situation will be unique, but these are the things that I’ve learned in my years as a freelancer. I hope they help you and let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed or inaccurate information

If you need financial help, consider using a fee-only financial planner. They are required by law to only give you advice that is in your best financial interest. Other financial planners and consultants may advise you in ways that are designed to benefit them at your expense.

Note: I’m not affiliated with any of the sites or institutions I recommended in this article.

Photo Credit: frankieleon via Compfight cc

2137294324_d0d17a4178Community management is a developing field and as such, there’s no one set of rules on how to interact with your community members. Every community will need a unique approach, but that’s what makes it such an exciting and rewarding career. When you’re experimenting with how you will communicate with members, I’ve found there are two core goals you’ll want to meet:

Keep everyone happy and satisfied and reduce the amount of back and forth messaging you do with each member.

Here are 5 tips that can help you to design the best practices for communicating with your community.

1. Be pleasant, but not too conversational.

It’s unlikely you’re available 24/7 to respond to members. Acknowledge this by structuring your answers as letters, and not conversational messages. Time management is an essential skill of a successful community manager and using too relaxed a tone can encourage a casual, conversational interaction. Getting into a drawn out back and forth wastes time and can prevent you from responding promptly to all of your inquiries.

2. Be clear that you are there to help, but you’re not tech support

Vague, general answers often result in “bounce back” – a community member asking a series of follow-up questions that wastes time for both of you. If you’re asked a technical question that’s beyond your ability to answer succinctly, rather than being vague, re-direct the user to a where they can find a solution on their own. Community Managers aren’t technical support – we are the information desk, the signpost to help orient members, and it’s important to help your community members find answers to their issues, so don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, but if you go here, you’ll be able to get the help you’re looking for.”

3. Write a Knowledge Base or FAQ to help you direct members to self-service solutions

You don’t always need to answer every question you’re asked – even if you know the answer. You can empower a community to be self-sufficient by creating resources to help members solve their current issue and anything that could come up in the future. For extremely specific questions, it’s totally OK to answer in your communication, but your larger goal should be to decrease your communities need to write in looking for an answer – a well designed Knowledge Base can help your community run smoothly with minimal messaging.

4. Only give good answers

When you offer them, your solutions need to be rock solid. It’s frustrating for users to talk to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, so don’t offer answers that you’re not sure about. Avoid getting into a “trial and error” message thread with your users – if you can’t help them, redirect them to someone who can right away.

5. Keep it cute or put it on mute

Which is to say, check your messages for attitude, snark or condescension. It’s easier than you think to accidentally be curt or short with your users. We write a ton of messages and sometimes you can forget that you’re in a 1-on-1 interaction with another human being. You’re not a robot serving up pre-crafted responses, you’re the human face of your business or organization, so double-check your messages and do your best to empathize with your users. Maintain professionalism and don’t be overly casual but don’t sterilize your messages. Be human, be helpful and be real.

Photo Credit: erikadotnet via Compfight cc

Okay, now before we begin, I want to make it explicitly clear that I’m going to talk about the Twitter account of a banana. Heady intellectualism this ain’t. But something sort of unseemly happened on our fair internet 5 years ago and since it doesn’t seem that anyone else has noticed, I’m going to go ahead and talk about it.

First, a little personal back story. I’ve been vaguely aware of Nannerpuss, aka the Final Boss of the Internet (debatable) for a few years now. However, I was unaware of the origins of this googly-eyed cephalopod until a few days ago. I was reading the Know Your Meme article where I learned that Nannerpuss was part of a Superbowl ad campaign for American restaurant chain Denny’s. I haven’t ever actually watched the Superbowl but in American broadcast advertising, the commercial spots are kind of a big deal.

30 seconds can make or break your brand, leading to massive spikes in sales or nation-wide ridicule of the money wasted on high-profile advertising agencies. 2009 was one of the first years that a successful ad campaign would require a matching social media presence, and with a mascot as absurd and endearing as Nannerpuss, Twitter was the natural place for Denny’s to connect with the bemused public.

And connect they did, with viewers tweeting their admiration and Nannerpuss making strange, breakfast related comments like this one:

Weird, but inoffensive. I’m not sure it would have gotten me in the doors of a Denny’s (only desperation and fatigue will do that these days, I have too much respect for food) but things quickly take a turn that has me scratching my head.

Yeah….no. Wildly inappropriate in this context. Perhaps a standup-comic could make this funny but here it’s not.

Wow, okay, now we have definitely crossed way out of brand-appropriate tweeting. I really don’t have anything to says about this one.

I’ll skip over the drug refereneces since they are neither witty nor funny but cocaine, PCP, LSD and oxycodone are all included. Then shit really goes off the rails with a tone-deaf attempt at political humor: 

And finally, the last tweet from @nannerpuss, which I hope got this person sacked from ever attempting humor ever again: a facile, grade-school gay “joke”:

All of this leaves me terribly confused. What the fuck happened here? Is/was this what Denny’s had in mind? Now, I’m no prude – I love “fuck” as much as the next guy, even in a professional context, but these jokes are just so not funny and borderline offensive I think mostly I am just angry that someone got paid to make them – hopefully 5 years later either their humor has matured or they’ve given up jokes altogether.

In internet years, 2009 was ages ago – Twitter wasn’t even a “thing” yet for most of middle America, so I have to chalk some of this inanity up to  the novelty of the platform and perhaps Denny’s not taking social media marketing for an octopus-shaped banana particularly seriously – and who could blame them? I mean, even I feel a little ridiculous expanding this much energy into talking about it. Still, I’m left with more questions than answers.

Who was @nannerpuss? Why couldn’t Denny’s hire someone funny and not tacky/borderline offensive? Does anyone give a fuck about this besides me? I only know the answer to the last one…

If you’re reading this it’s likely you’ve come across me through my work in community management – although that’s not to make light of my excellent Tumblr curation skillz or my ability to rant at length about Instagram!

With that in mind, let it be known that I am currently at 100% availability for work. I’d like to keep working with online communities, writing and research projects, especially those with an emphasis on social good and/or user-generated content.

If you’re looking for a freelance community manager, think you can make use of my skill set or you want to bounce some ideas off me, shoot me an email! Contact details are on this page. I’m looking for remote work anywhere in the world or local jobs in Amsterdam, NL or Berlin, DE.

WARNING: Bitching and moaning ahead!

When I got my first Apple computer one of the programs I was most excited to use was iTunes. I’d had my heart set on an iPod since the device first debuted and as a huge music fan with a growing collection of mp3 files, I was anxious to use Apple’s media player to organize and explore my music.

It was 2003 – OS X “Jaguar”‚ iTunes 4.0 and the 3rd iteration of the iPod (15GB – somewhat surprisingly, over a decade later my iPhone 5s is only 1GB larger). Back then‚ the iTunes icon was a CD underneath a pair of green‚ 3D beamed 8th notes. Logical‚ right? Music was on CDs and music is written with notes. The icon looked like any other Apple icon from the early 2000s. The real-life products were all translucent plastics and rounded edges and OS X’s icons mirrored this aesthetic.

iTunes 7.0‚ released in 2006, was a visual overhaul in many ways (including the totally useless Cover Flow) and the icon changed for the first time in 3 years. The quarter notes turned blue and their beam fattened up but the shape and layout of the icon remained the same.

When it was finally time to ditch the fake CD in 2010‚ the icon stayed round and blue. For 8 years‚ iTunes has been two things‚ visually speaking: Round and blue.

It’s been a week since the release of OS X 11 and iTunes 12 and I’ve mostly adapted to every change except for one: iTunes now has a red icon. No change to an Apple product has broken my brain the way this one has.

Now‚ I’ve used Apple products long enough to know that the faster you can adjust to a change the better. And generally the transition period is short. “Natural scrolling” that everyone hated? 2 hours‚ tops. Terminal commands that change every version? Annoying but just Google it.

This red iTunes icon though? It’s seriously tripping me up. I’m almost certain that the blame for this jarring chromatic shift can be placed equally on the App Store and Safari. Both have an ironed-out white on blue look that’s incredibly similar to a blue version of the iTunes 12 logo.

For now I’m using this totally awesome, if totally incongruous, retro version of the icon by reddit user nazgulhunter:


PS: At least they killed off Cover Flow!

I discovered Hiromi in a roundabout way. While browsing the work of the excellent photographer Rinko Kaweuchi I noticed she had done the headshot of a woman with a great smile and a distinctive hairstyle. When I looked up her name I discovered one of the most exciting jazz pianists working today.

I’ve since become a big fan of hers and this unexpected reworking of Beethoven stands out to me as one of the best pieces of cross-genre musical adaptation I’ve heard in ages.


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