Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015! Let’s grow up.

Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015!

they grow up so fast

It’s amazing to me to be celebrating this for the 6th year. It feels like just yesterday that Jeremiah Owyang created it (Who, incidentally, was my mentor when I stumbled into community management – thank you Jeremiah!).

Anniversaries are always a nice time to look back and look forward, so let’s take stock of our situation.

So far we’ve seen the industry go from nascent to the-hottest-thing-nobody-understands to near-takeover by social media marketers to, finally, an emerging set of values, frameworks, and resources.

The problem is that we still don’t quite know what we are.

Every CM struggles with this. Our jobs are focused on the user – we know that much – whomever that may be. But they can involve forums, events, social media, customer feedback, customer support, user testing, product design, communications, and more.

I’ve talked to talented folks lately who have gotten out of community management partially because they’re unsure what it is and where they fit in it…and it’s a lot easier to have a job where the lines are clear, and it’s a lot easier to tell your boss you’re succeeding when you’ve got one clear goal.

I think there’s a couple steps we need to take to move past this fourth-act crisis.

1. Start showing ROI.

Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Yes, it’s HARD. (We’re not unique in this, by the way – PR feels the same way.) But ultimately, if we can’t show that there’s inherent value in making customers happy, we can’t advocate for our jobs.

How do we do this? However the hell we can. We need to stop imagining there’s one perfect formula for community ROI – especially since community takes so many forms.

Maybe for you it’s the fact that your cost-efficient meet ups can be paid for if they convert just ONE attendee a year to your platform (as was the case when I was at UserVoice). Maybe it’s calculating whether the lifetime value of people who participate in your community is higher – like Salesforce, which proved that community participants spend more. Maybe it’s showing that NetPromoter score is higher (which should indicate referrals, which means more money) for those who participate in your community efforts. Maybe it’s showing that your community efforts increased open rates, which increased impressions on your product. Maybe it’s showing that feature uptake was more likely when someone participated in the community, like Google AdWords has shown.

There’s something you can measure. It may not be possible for you to have a daily or weekly dollars-spent-to-dollars-earned, but you can prove that you are generating value. (And for the record, it’s not like Marketing really has direct ROI – ever heard the phrase “I know half of my marketing is working; I just don’t know which half”?)

Everything else is gravy. Yes, it’s great to create a good impression of the brand and to have advocates and to have happy customers, but consider that all bonus. Show your ROI, then talk about all that…don’t show the bonus results and assume there is ROI.

2. Build the Community department.

I’ve been arguing this for years, and I will continue to. If there’s a department focused on sales, a department focused on marketing, a department focused on finance…why the hell wouldn’t there be a department focused on customers, arguably our most important asset?

What does this get us? Sure, respect, and pay raises…but also leverage within the company and room to specialize. The conundrum above, where we can’t define our jobs because we all do so many things? To me, that’s indicative of a burgeoning industry and a trade, not a problem. When you look at those many tasks alone, it seems a bit manic. Look at them together? Events, communications, forums, user testing, customer support, social media, product design, and more? Why, that’s a team of community specialists!

Stepping up to lead departments will grow the number of community-focused jobs and allow people to specialize in what they’re good at and interested in, rather than struggle to do everything. That’s a bright future.


Don’t think you can do it? Sure you can. Companies are waking up to the need for this. There’s plenty of ammo (start here) to send to your boss. (Sign up for that mailing list on the right side of this page and I’ll keep your inbox full of that stuff.) And if we lock down a basic version of the ROI component, we can stand our own next to Marketing and Sales.

Forging a community department will be hard, and it won’t happen right away…but it can’t be any harder than event planning or motivating people to participate or dealing with trolls!

Go forth and find ROI and build the community department. Long live Community Manager Appreciation Day!

How to keep your in-person meetup from being awkward

Hi, I'm awkward

There’s an online publication that I adore. I won’t name them in this article because I love them so much. They’ve built a publication and community around the geeky topics that I hold dear: superheroes & sci-fi (with a dash of fantasy and actual science). I read it religiously, multiple times a day. So when I saw that they were hosting a meetup in San Francisco, I felt like I had to attend.

You may not know that I’m an introvert. But you probably know that many fans of the aforementioned geeky topics are. So I went into the whole thing a little nervous, but also excited at the potential of being welcomed by my people.

Instead, it was an incredibly awkward experience. Although I did have a few nice conversations, I did not suddenly feel like I had reached the geeky promised land.

Why wasn’t this meetup a success? As a geeky community-builder is wont to do, I decided to analyze what made the event so awkward (for me, at least).

Announcement/RSVPs

The event was announced on their site as a regular blog post – no RSVPing or ticket purchase, just the announcement. The normally-busy comments section was surprisingly quiet, mostly people saying “argh, I wish I were in San Francisco”. One or two fellow introverts spoke up and said they were going to try to come. The excitement I’m sure others felt was tamped down by the thought that, perhaps, nobody else was going. An introvert’s nightmare.

Solution: making people RSVP would have helped the organizers estimate attendance (for free events, expect 20-50% of RSVPs to show). Making people RSVP via comment would have started to build confidence about the event. Adding something fun – “leave a comment and your favorite gif if you’re attending” – would have been on-brand for the site and taken that confidence all the way to excitement.

Location

The event took place at a coffee shop/scifi book store. While having the advantages of proximity to public transportation and being on-theme, it was not the best spot for a meetup. Caffeine generally doesn’t help with conversation, and the space was very loud.

Solution: while I don’t think alcohol solves many problems, it is a GREAT social lubricant. Hosting an event for introverts at a place with alcohol would have helped get discussions going. Bars are hard because they can be dark and loud; however, there are tons of spaces (both formal event spaces and private locations) that are booze- and meetup-friendly in the Bay Area.

Layout

I’ve sketched the layout below. There are a multitude of problems with it.

bad meetup layout

First: having any sort of bottleneck makes it awkward for new people to arrive. When you have a more open space, people can assess what’s going on, put their things down, get a drink, find a group to join, etc.

Second: having the Editor, the life of the party, right in the bottleneck forces you to talk to them. Which isn’t bad…except that it’s high-pressure (“Oh my god, she’s the one who started all this!”) and she’s in demand. I started chatting with her and then she quickly got distracted by people she knew arriving. There’s nothing wrong with that…but it meant that I had to stand there and smile politely until I could excuse myself from a conversation I was clearly not part of.

Third: having such a tight space meant it was hard to mingle, so you had choose a group and try to wrangle your way in.

Fourth: having very limited tables and seats meant that they were quickly filled, and new arrivals felt the opposite of welcome. “Welcome, please don’t take a seat because there are none”? Bad form.

Solution: host the event in a more open space. Have one seating area that only fits a few people, so standing and creating malleable groups is necessary. Put the drinks off to the side so newcomers can come in, put things down, get a drink and figure out how to enter the fray. Let the Editor flit around; don’t worry about greeting people, just have clear signage so people know they’re in the right place.

Interests

Turns out, even if you’re all frequenters of a geeky website, you can be into very different things. Some of us (*coughmecough*) were very into the latest comic trades. Some were really into deep, heavy sci-fi (which I appreciate but don’t read very often). Some were just into science. Some were a mix of the above. The result was awkward groping for common topics.

Solution: build in a way to break the ice. This could be as simple as a name tag with a few interests (boring, but totally effective). You could also go more fun: have a bunch of stickers that represent different interests (Marvel, DC, Spider-Man, X-Men, Star Trek, Star Wars, NASA, Game of Thrones, etc). Make it a bit of a challenge to assemble your unique set of stickers – fun, but also a great way to immediately know what to talk to someone about.


In the end, running real-world events requires that you really consider human dynamics. Something that might seem acceptable to you, the host, might be a nightmare for your introvert attendee who doesn’t know anyone. A great event doesn’t need to have fancy production values; it needs to be optimized for people to get to know each other and connect on a deeper level. Here’s hoping their next meetup manages this!


Awkward photo courtesy of Laura Barberis.

Sharing economy lessons from Lyft, Yerdle, & more

I recently had the pleasure of attending the San Francisco Community Manager Meetup‘s panel on the sharing economy and writing the official summary post. Here’s an excerpt:

“If there are 19 other drivers posting on the forum, you think ‘Ok, I’m gonna keep driving’.” Super-users were key to helping Lyft scale. Several months into a year in which their goal was launching 70 cities, they had launched exactly one city. They were struggling to find an office space and hiring local employees to work with drivers. Forced to innovate, they thought “what if, instead of having new drivers come into the office, we just have them meet an experienced driver in a parking lot?”

“It was scary,” David admits. “But it worked.” 

Check out the full article at CMX.

“If we make an exception for one customer, we’ll have to make them for everyone”

no parking signNo, you won’t.

What percentage of your customers contact customer support? 1%? 5%? Let’s be crazy-generous and say 10%.

What percentage of those ask for an exception? Maybe 50%.

So that’s 5% of your customers you’re giving an exception to.

Sure, maybe word spreads and now 75% of those contacting customer support are asking for an exception. That’s still only 7.5% of your customers.

Exceptions are possibly the most powerful tool you have in delighting customers. Who doesn’t rave about how a customer service agent bent the rules to do something nice for them? Zappos practically built their entire reputation and PR on bending the rules.

Yes, you need to have some restrictions so you don’t break the bank. But if 7.5% of your customers leave delighted and tell 5 friends each, you’ve just increased your userbase by 37%. Not too shabby.


Photo via Patricia H.

What if you subtracted “women” from that question?

For most* questions, if you replace “women” with “someone” and you get a different answer, there’s something wrong. Either there’s a institutional issue you should address, or you’re being sexist.

Take the case of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who was asked what advice he’d give to women who want a raise (and might be uncomfortable asking). If Nadella was not sexist, he would have two options:

1) Give the same advice he gives to men: meet with your boss, show all the good work you’ve done, and ask.  This advice probably wouldn’t be super-helpful, seeing as women make 78% as much as men, but it would have been ignorant instead of sexist.

2) Acknowledge that there are a lot institutional problems with gender and pay. Talk about how women are often called manipulative or bitchy when they are strong-willed in the workplace, but similar men are considered driven and ambitious. Talk about how that needs to change, and maybe outline some ways that someone powerful like, I don’t know, the CEO of Microsoft, could change things. This also wouldn’t be a super-helpful answer, but it would be honest and definitely not sexist.

By telling women “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along”, Nadella is being sexist.

You might argue that he doesn’t know about the huge wage gap between men and women. Maybe that’s the case (disappointing if so). But again:  if he thinks women get the same opportunities as men, why would he give them a different answer than he would give men?

As a straight white male, anyone I’ve ever asked for advice on getting a raise has told me to ask. You can find plenty of this advice on the web. You’re generally supposed to gather examples of your great work, do some basic research, and then ask. “It never hurts to ask”, “you’ll never get what you don’t ask for”, etc – this is the stuff I’ve heard many times.

Why didn’t Nadella give this advice? Because he treats women differently. And that’s sexist. Period, full stop.

Let’s hope this is a wake-up call for him. I know it’s a wake-up call to me and many consumers that to not buy any Microsoft products. In the meantime, I’d recommend women avoid applying  to work at Microsoft, unless you want to cross your fingers for your “good karma” to somehow net you a raise.


*I will admit that “My water just broke, what should I do?” should have a different response when coming from a man.

Your morning cup of empathy

tip jar

The kid who made my chai this morning was a disaster.

It was his first time on the register in the morning, unclear if he had ever made a chai. He couldn’t find the bring-your-own-cup discount on the register, tried to get the cook to make the chai, couldn’t find the nutmeg, put it in a paper cup instead of my mug, etc.

I remember when I worked at a coffee shop, between freshman and softmore year of college. It was a tiny little place in Nevada City that tended more towards the grab’n’go crowd rather than the lounge’n’sippers. I was terrified of screwing up (and I often did). The thing is, the customers see a sign that lists items they can buy, and they expect to be able to buy those exact items, made as specified by the sign. That’s very reasonable. But when you’re new and have maybe never made that item, don’t know that there’s usually a sprinkling of parsley, can’t get the foaming just right – it seems impossible. People are often impatient and condescending; THEY know how this thing is made, why don’t YOU? Again – it’s not unreasonable, but they don’t have the full context of a kitchen with 300 ingredients and various things tucked in corners you’ve never seen.

Why is this story important? Because empathy is key to community management, customer service, and (in my opinion) life.

I believe empathy is imbued at a very early age by the people around you. When I interview, it’s clear some people have this as a core part of their personality and some people find it foreign.

But just because you’re naturally inclined towards empathy doesn’t mean you’ll always have it. Like a natural inclination towards singing or athleticism, practice is required to keep your skills of empathy handy and top-notch.

I frequently hear folks in customer-facing roles – hell, myself included – say that they often don’t have empathy left for the world when they get out of work. They feel pessimistic and mean. It’s understandable; you’ve used a lot of energy being extremely empathetic.

But that doesn’t mean you should only be empathetic at work. If you want to do your best work for your customers, you need to keep this skill sharp. I could have easily been frustrated with my barista this morning, tapping my foot and criticizing and holding back my tip. Instead, I assured him that it was ok, agreed that the register seemed complicated, and gave him a nice tip.

Practice empathy as much as you can, and it’ll come easier when you’re in that tough situation with a customer yelling at you, or a significant other snapping at you.


Photo via Dennis Miyashiro.

Business is simple

“Business is simple. Management’s job is to take care of employees. The employees’ job is to take care of the customers. Happy customers take care of the shareholders. It’s a virtuous cycle.”

John Mackey, Founder and CEO, Whole Foods Market

Love this quote, which I spotted in Chip Conley’s book Peak. Somehow companies keep forgetting that their customers pay the bills. Why would you accept (even build, in some cases) anything that makes them unhappy?

On listening

I just finished reading Oliver Reichenstein’s fantastic piece, “Putting Thought Into Things”. It’s extremely, well, thought-provoking.

“Thinking is stressful. While stereotypes click together sweetly, thinking comes in bitter flavors. We recur to clichés rather than reflection, because they make us wise without listening, bright without reasoning, and smart without taking the risk of being imprecise, boring, annoying, wrong.”

Ouch. I have definitely done this, casually leveraging my experience and cliched tips in order to provide value without actually thinking through how valuable it is. Terrible habit.

“Listening is a masochist endeavor. To do it right you have to put everything down. Not just your phone, even pen and paper.”

I realize he’s being intentionally dramatic (sometimes you need a pen to note details), but I get the point. It’s too easily to, mentally or physically, prepare for your response or your solution or your protestation. Truly listening, internalizing what’s being said, empathizing – that’s a lot harder.

“The fog of boredom and emptiness when listening to people you don’t sympathize with can be a sign that they are boring, empty, or not making sense. It can also be a sign that you do not understand.”

Another one that hits too close to home. I can distinctly remember being bored with a conversation because I didn’t understand the point….then how quickly that boredom disappeared once I did.

“The ease of following protocol comes with the disappointment of running in circles. The bittersweet pain of progress comes hand in hand with the heartache of making mistakes.”

When was the last time you felt deeply satisfied from throwing something together, rather than thinking it through?


Thanks to Andrew Spittle for sharing this post originally!

How to turn customers into enemies

1) Build a habit

2) Ambush your customers and fine them for following that habit

If you’ve ever taken a MUNI bus or light rail here in San Francisco, you’ve probably paid and then got on your vehicle, like a normal person. Your bus driver has perhaps nodded or smiled at you, or more likely stared off into space while contemplating their next aggressive driving move.

MUNI sucks

Turns out, you’re supposed to get a receipt – though this receipt is confusingly called a “transfer”, even if you’re not transferring. You wouldn’t know this to ride the actual buses though, since I have never, ever seen a bus driver offer a transfer. (I’ve heard people request them on occasion, but I assumed that was because they needed to transfer, hence the name.)

Today I entered my bus and paid with cash instead of my normal Clipper card (which I had accidentally left at home). I entered through the front door and clearly put my money in the machine. When I exited the bus where I normally do, I was cornered by a MUNI cop of some sort who asked for verification that I had paid. Sure, they could have just asked the bus driver, but since I didn’t get this mysterious receipt that apparently everyone is supposed to get, I got fined $108.

Yes, this effort is intended to stop people sneaking on without paying. What has it done instead? It’s created an enemy. All I did was act like a perfectly upstanding citizen and take my public transit to work, and I got fined $108. That’s a slap in the face. I’ll be avoiding MUNI as much as possible going forward. I like supporting public transit but you can buy a lot of taxi rides with $108.

Good job MUNI. Zero fare-evaders stopped, one customer alienated.