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.” 

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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.

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312210315_f2b941f339Something I find interesting about Community Management is that while the situations and circumstances of your work can vary wildly, there are a few productivity tricks and tools that apply to nearly everyone. While I’m still rather old-fashioned about hand-writing my notes (I like to take advantage of the many cognitive benefits of analog note taking) there are a few browser extensions I use daily in my work as a Community Manager. I find that they improve my workflow and cut the stress that can come with the job. I think almost every CM could find a way to make these apps and tools work for them and recommend them whole-heartedly.

1.  Wunderlist

Wunderlist is certainly not an innovative type of service but what it lacks in “originality” it makes up for in polish, build quality and an intuitive user interface design. It’s also capable of assigning multiple people to a task. I haven’t yet used this feature but I can see it’s utility for collaborative Community teams.

Wunderlist also has a very nice iOS app and OS X app that I also recommend.

2. PopChrom

PopChrom allows you to create expanding text snippets in nearly any text field in Chrome. I find it tremendously useful for things like signatures, form email replies and light HTML coding.

For example, I use the shortcut “anc” to expand to <a href=”, cutting down on the time it takes me to post anchor links in comments and forum postings.

3. Skitch

Skitch, now heavily integrated with Evernote, allows for easy editing and sharing of screenshots with well thought out “doodling” tools that can really help when you need to get your point across visually.

One thing I really love about Skitch is the re-sizable elements like arrows and the smoothing it applies to free-hand doodles.

4. Lazarus

Lazarus, the cleverly named “life saver” for text fields will resurrect what you’ve typed in nearly any field in Chrome. Useful for unexpected crashes, accidental “Backs” in your browser or any of the other irritating unforeseen events that leave you ready to put a fist through your screen.

Never lose your work again!

5. User-Agent Switcher

Finally, easy to use, effective browser spoofing! Immensely useful for troubleshooting when your community members report issues and then tell you that they are using Opera, a legacy version of Firefox or *shudder* Internet Explorer.

6. StrictWorkflow

Here’s a fun bonus for you – working online can be difficult, especially if you find your attention easily diverted. If you’re not ready for full-blown access restriction ala StayFocusd (which I love, incidentally) you can try this extension to set you working in “Pomodoro Technique” style.

Tell Strict Workflow what sites you want to be able to browse and start the timer. For 25 minutes you will only be able to visit whitelisted sites. When the timer’s up, it resets for a 5 minute break. I find it very useful and more intuitive than having an analog timer or a standalone app or widget.

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471661031_7a5183d863From time to time, all communities lose members to death and online communities are no exception. As dissemination of information becomes a common post-mortem ritual for surviving friends and family, the more we will see the effects of a death on the living members of online communities.

When an online community loses a member to death, it’s important to understand the different ways the loss of a member can affect a community and the best ways to support and manage that community as they recover from the trauma of loss.

It’s important to allow community members space to grieve, post memorials, make tributes and share memories of their lost friend. Never remove a profile because a member has died – you may decide to grant access to living members but do so at your own risk. Most of the time, living relatives can be trusted with access to a dead member’s account, and this may be especially appropriate if the community you work with is composed of real-life acquaintances of the deceased.

The profiles we leave behind when we die often become important sources of information for the living, especially in the immediate time after a death. Funeral arrangements, instructions for gifts and ways to help survivors of the deceased can all be spread, posted and shared through communities through the accounts of deceased members.

Depending on your community, it’s very often appropriate to publicly acknowledge the loss of a member. A brief social media post is generally right, but for highly visible community members, often a longer tribute is more appropriate.

A death in an online community is always sad, but handled well, it can strengthen the bonds between members and engender a company or platform to its users. Death affects us all in our lives and as life is increasingly lived online, we need to learn to accept, understand and deal with death in a new way.

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"Like oil and water"

“Like oil and water”

If you want to build a healthy online community, having a skilled, knowledgeable Community Manager or team on board is essential. Having an employee working on the frontlines with users, building, strengthening and maintaining relationships accelerates the growth of communities and makes for a healthy, vibrant space.

A thriving community is also an invaluable source of feedback on what a business is doing right and where they have room for improvement.

 

So why does is seem that so many businesses hire Community Managers only to have them do social media marketing? In this emerging field, I think there’s still a fair bit of confusion about what exactly community management is and isn’t.

Sure, a good Community Manager can juggle community building work alongside growing likes, tracking “clicks” and other social media marketing metrics, but I’m of the opinion that’s a waste of valuable talent.

In many situations, the community manager is asked to wear a lot of hats, especially when staff is small, but for many CM’s (myself included) marketing and advertising duties are not where our interests lie. Good community managers are concerned with things like the behavioral economics of online interaction and the psychology of decision-making, but in a fundamentally different way than someone coming from a marketing perspective.

Have your interns delete spam from the blog. Ask the marketing department to “craft tweets”. Facebook likes can be easily bought, Twitter followers too – these are increasingly meaningless numbers and having your community manager focus on these things is at the expense of your community’s potential – and probably your community manager’s morale too.

Use your community team where they have the most real impact: in community facing spaces, building relationships 1-on-1 with your users. Leave marketing to the marketers.

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