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.

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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:

Retrolicious!

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.

Be it.

As the web matures, readers are beginning to expect a greater level of quality in the content that they find online. Search engines are adapting to this shift too: Google’s latest “Hummingbird” algorithm places priority on the “why” of a search and not the “what”. Gone are the un-glory days of  “articles” (I use that term loosely) stuffed to the brim with keywords and SEO “optimization”. On the new web, successful content is personal, engaging and real.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with three tips that you can use to improve your work and shake the bad habits of inauthentic, generic writing.

1. Be and write like yourself

When you’re writing, it’s very easy to inadvertently copy the tone and style of other writers. I am especially guilty of this  – the subconscious mind has a powerful ability to shape and alter the way you use language and I find that many of us are natural mimics. When you’re writing your very first drafts, try to let your thoughts flow naturally. I find that dictation lets me be more spontaneous and creative than typing or writing with a pen or pencil. You can record using a smartphone’s “Notes” features, software like Dragon Naturally Speaking, a hand-held tape recorder or if you are using OS X “Mavericks”, the built-in dictation feature.

When it’s time to check your first draft, look at the writing with a critical eye. Are you copying something you’ve read before? Does your writing sound like the copy from a print advertisement or the voiceover on a TV commercial? If it does, rewrite it as if you are speaking to a friend or family member. Readers are looking for intimacy and authenticity, not fluff and spin.

2. Ask for help and critique from others

It’s very difficult to judge the impressions our writing gives. Our perception of the quality and clarity of our writing will always be colored by our own expectations and beliefs about our abilities. As I mentioned in the introduction we want to write content that’s written from a real, honest place. One of the best ways to judge the genuineness of your content is the critique and commentary of others – it’s not important that the person know you in real life and you may find it valuable to source critiques from people who don’t know you.  Be sure to ask them what impression they get from what you’ve written – does it sound like the work of a real person or a team of copyeditors?

3. Tell me how you really feel

As far as I know, search engines are not yet at the level of being able to gauge the emotional content of a piece of writing, but people are very sensitive to these aspects of the written word. It’s always a good idea to choose subjects that bring you real, honest joy, excitement or even frustration. Choosing topics that really grab you will result writing that’s dynamic, passionate and exciting to read.

Your readers will be looking for clues that help them assess your authority and knowledge but  they will also be able to pick up on your emotional response to the topic that you’ve chosen.

When we write with authenticity, we share our feelings both directly through the words that we choose and indirectly through our phrasing, sentence structure and grammatical quirks. Many of us default to writing in a formal style that deliberately conceals the author’s thoughts and feelings. I urge you to shake this habit, after all, if your readers wanted Wikipedia, that’s where they’d be.

If you feel your content lacks in authenticity or isn’t as genuine as it could be, try revising it to share more of your feelings and thoughts about the topic. Don’t pack your writing full of idle musing; think of the emotional content as a rich spice and insert it sparingly.

I hope these three tips help you to create more authentic, genuine and “real” content. You can use these concepts in new writing as well as old  – revise your work often as your skills improve and you will see your audience grow and your body of work will better show your abilities as a content creator.

In closing, I’ll leave you with my latest mantra: “If Content is King, Authenticity is Queen.” 

Photo Credit: poshdee via Compfight cc

3081512009_2ecaf4e3eaUsed effectively, testimonials are an effective tool to encourage conversions from visitors to active members. When you offer visitors compelling stories and endorsements from active, engaged and enthusiastic community members, you create a welcoming and encouraging environment that will help you recruit new members.

As your community grows, you’ll likely receive unsolicited testimonials. Be sure to create a space for existing users to reach out and contact you with their thoughts and ideas. Be explicit about your openness to receiving feedback from your users by clearly stating that you welcome any and all feedback. Of course, not all the unsolicited communication that you receive from users will be of use to you, so be ready to sift through to find the good stuff.

Here are some things to look out for when choosing which testimonials to use:

  • Statements that illustrate what the member gets out of the community
  • Ways they have gotten involved in the community
  • Statements about the resolution of uncertainty about joining
  • Endorsements on the value of any paid perks your community offers
  • Anything that sheds a favorable light on the community, your business  practices or the quality of support offered

When choosing testimonials to display, remember that a good testimonial answers the “What’s in it for me?” question that potential members will be mulling over when they consider joining your community.

You may want to explicitly display the questions that your testimonials can answer – for example:

  • Why join X community?
  • What does membership offer?
  • What do members like about paid feature X?

Testimonials are one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate the value a community offers a visitor. Together with the right advertising strategies and promotional incentives, testimonials can greatly increase your conversion rate and strengthen the positive feelings existing members have about their role in the community and the communities value in their lives.

Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos via Compfight cc

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