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.

Community Manager Breakfast Notes – August 12th – Internal Communication

August’s Community Manager Breakfast focused on Internal Communication, a challenge that many departments face but particularly vexes community departments. We had a fantastic group with a lot of similar challenges and some great suggestions (I’m implementing at least two of them). A selection of them are below, but for the full shebang you’ll want to attend our next breakfast.

Thanks to Krista Gambrel for taking notes! You can finger her on Twitter @kristagambrel and  her company @mindieapp.

Biggest Challenges

  • Getting Info: Many struggled with getting insight into roadmaps, what other departments were doing, etc.
  • Participation: Getting team members to participate on an intranet, give them images for social, just give feedback.
  • Brand Disconnect: On a similar note, a lot of CMs got negative feedback on certain posts but didn’t get any directional feedback about the brand to help shape those posts. Sometimes, even the general mission statement was a bit of a mystery.

Getting Info

Why is there a disconnect? Perhaps because people don’t understand the role of Community Management.

Show metrics if you can:

    • Do customers spend more? Are they more loyal? More satisfied?
    • What is the average case cost? The community answers questions for you and saves company money.

Not all products have metrics to report – some people don’t have sales goals. In that case, ask questions: What are the top 3 things your boss needs to have done? Come in with ideas and recommendations. Be diligent about following up.


Pro Tip: “What’s Up Wednesday?”

Four questions:

  • What are you excited about this week?

  • What are the challenges you face?

  • What is something you have read?

  • (One question cycles through)

Then follow up with public thank-you’s (people notice if their name isn’t in there, and feel bad). Helps set a habit for participation.

Is it spammy? Sure, but if it’s a small enough team and you have buy-in from management, it works.


  •  Ask for Forgiveness and not for permission – you gotta publish something
  • Try not to be defensive- feedback is really important
  • Ask them to describe the brand voice as a character – it helps!
  • Asking what did the person liked is more useful than what they didn’t like.

General Tips 

  • Forgive, forget and move on. It’s easy to get passive-aggressive. New day, new game.
  • Make time for direct communication. Make time for a “standing-meeting” and have direct communication to talk about main points.
  • Be empathetic to what your colleagues are looking for and elicit empathy.
  •  Know your motivators, and internal audience.
  •  Communication isn’t about what you say, but about how you act and how you say it and also how you listen.
  •  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and listen. Its so important in extracting information.

Two things the Washington Post doesn’t understand about comments

The Washington Post wrote an interesting piece on the state of comments on the web in response to the current Kinja/Jezebel offensive comment issues. Their take: maybe it’s just not worth it to have comments. It’s a great discussion to have, and largely I think the article is thought-provoking.

However, I think they missed two points (though I don’t blame them).

1. Sometimes the comments are half the reason you visit a site

io9, which is also on the Gawker network with Jezebel, is probably the site I visit the most outside of Gmail. I’m a huge geek, and I love their articles…but I also like connecting with fellow geeks, learning random facts that even the editors don’t know, and sharing in the joy of fandom – all in the comments.

Without comments, io9 would survive. But because of the comments, they thrive. (They even have a regular open animated gif comment threads).

2. Some content can’t really exist without comments

Similar to my last point, but worth calling out separately.

Jezebel is a women’s site, but more relevantly a feminist site. They spend their days calling out and debating women’s issues. Can you imagine a site like that without comments? These sort of issues are an ongoing discussion, not a piece of news.

That said, I totally understand why the Washington Post missed these points. They largely publish news. People come to news sites for news, not comments. Often, comments can actually misinform the reader about news (which is why I understand science sites like Pacific Standard turning comments off).  And there’s plenty of news that doesn’t really warrant comments - and often providing them can open a can of worms (I think it’s quite interesting how the New York Times only turns comments on for certain posts).

This is a very tough, very important debate to have. Turning comments off for some sites might make sense (though I would consider that a last resort). But let’s keep in mind that this is just not an option for some sites – and when comments are great, they’re incredibly valuable and even powerful.

Community Manager Breakfast Notes – July 9th – Event Management

We had our very first Community Manager Breakfast of the new season last week, on the topic of event management. It was a great discussion and a fantastic group of people – thank you to everyone who came out!

Many thanks to Kat Otto of Galvanize for taking notes (and a big thank-you to Galvanize for hosting the event)! These represent only part of what we spoke about – you’ll have to attend for the full shebang. Interested in joining us next time? If you’re a community manager, sign up here. If you’re not a community manager, I’m so, so sorry.


Have clear goals for your event

  • Go to other events, and note what you like…but more importantly, what you hate.
  • The very smallest things are the things that people remember the most; attention to detail is key
  • No-brainer: create really relevant content that focuses on helping people do their job better
  • Make sure human connections are happening – giving people an experience that they remember
  • Don’t forget the fun factor!

Drawing an audience/scaling future audience:

  • Make sure relevant & key people are there – give out free tickets! (and ask them to tweet about it) :)
  • Show who else is going to be there – “if they’re going, I have to go”
  • Take the star of the conference/event & follow through with more content, events
  • Lean on real-time social data from the event

Struggle: online events/forums/platforms – not as interactive as hoped
How do you pose questions/give instructions in a way that guests/attendees feel that their input & participation is needed & valued?

  • Need first followers/active participants to start the conversation
  • Pathable – interact with other attendees, articles by speakers, discussion boards, etc. – pre & post event – a private community – added an additional layer of community
  • Take interesting content & push it out to social media
  • Get speakers to seed content – other topics surrounding the topic they are planning to speak on  (you don’t want to ruin the talk)
  • CMX Summit does this really well
  • Logistical discussions may not be sexy, but can get people interacting prior

Event Series
How do you keep people coming back?

  • Ask what they want to see, why they’re not coming back (though probably ask more than once to get an honest answer)
  • Reach outside & beyond the pool/database of people that you’re given. What adjacent events/communities can you promote to?
  • Relevant recurring content vs diversity of content
  • Find your focus. Parisoma has been successful in bringing their own members to events – specialize in business content, which is hyper-relevant to their members

Revitalizing a stale event

  • Try new locations
  • Consider hosting less frequently
  • Make it more exclusive
  • Re-brand – new name, new tone, etc.
  • Take a break – 6 months – make people miss it!
  • Be strategic about messaging, though. You haven’t failing, you’re “taking a break to plan exciting new things”.

Structuring an event team

  • Content managers: background in the arts & design can be good
  • Do you separate logistics and content?

Looking forward to seeing folks at the next breakfast!

You’re so vain, you probably think this (support) is about (acquisition)

“When your [customer support] representatives start seeing themselves as marketing staff instead of troubleshooters, they can turn questions and problems into opportunities. They can listen to what the customer wants or needs and:

1) Educate customers about your company

2) Upsell your products

3) Build buzz for upcoming product releases”

From Turning Support into Marketing

I promise you if my support team focused on this, our customers would hate us.

I agree with the premise that support should not just be damage control. I agree that the people on the front lines talking to customers are extremely valuable to the company. I even agree that the occasional upsell can make sense (Warby Parker’s support team just upsold me thinner lenses the other day – after doing an amazing job solving my issues.)

"Notice - prices subject to change according to customer's attitude"But putting the support team under sales or marketing is dumb. Those departments are focused on acquiring customers. While some support work can contribute to acquisition & sales, the goal of support should always be on retaining customers. (And if you don’t think that’s valuable, read Jamie Quint’s post on how it can be MORE valuable than acquisition.)

I’m not trash-talking Sales or Marketing – I’m just saying support goals don’t generally fit into their paradigm. It’d be like moving Sales under Engineering. Does the Sales team have value to the Engineering team? Sure: they can provide customer feedback and find beta testers. Does that mean they should work under Engineering and focus on those tasks? Of course not!

It’s distressing to me how acquisition-minded the tech industry continues to be, despite the waning effectiveness of acquisition channels (see Richard White’s UserConf keynote for a great overview of all of this). Retention is hugely important, and the sooner companies realize this and build departments and executive roles around it – encompassing support and community – the sooner they’ll be poised to survive beyond their early success and buzz.

Full Disclosure: I previously worked for UserVoice, a Desk competitor. I’ve got nothing against Desk though…they were always nice to us. :)

ForumCon teaches us that strategy and tactics are both essential

Although I missed CMX Summit last week and was forced to survive on tweets alone, I got to attend ForumCon this week. I attended ForumCon two years ago and honestly thought it was rubbish. It speaks volumes about Lucy Bartlett that this year’s ForumCon had an amazing lineup and was overall excellent.


Photo via Vera Devera.

I’ll let others collect their favorite ForumCon tweets, but I wanted to capture two major thoughts. They might seem contradictory, but they’re not.

#1) Go in with a plan and goals. I quipped about this during my moderation segment, but it’s true. So many communities are thrown together because a CEO says “we need a community”. As the incomparable David Spinks and Richard Millington attested, perhaps the most crucial part of creating a community is making sure you should. They tout the Minimally Viable Product (or Community) model, as well as the 5 Why’s: ask why someone wants a certain community or has a certain interest until you understand their base motivation. The guy who wants a Giants forum actually wants a place to relax and trade baseball tactics…which is not at all what he’ll say when you ask the first why.

#2) While #1 may have convinced you that the big strategic elements are important, the second-most important part is the daily work. Richard’s presentation (and his book) are full of this goodness. How do you addict someone to your community? Through minute, daily work. Through responding within 5 hours to your new members’ contributions (which will result in a 53% chance they’ll contribute again, according to Richard’s studies). Through living with your community, rather than treating it as a task, algorithm, or line item.

We get very obsessed with tools, be they forums or social media. But at the end of the day, nothing beats a great strategy and fantastic interpersonal engagement with your community. Thanks to everyone who helped educate us on these points today!

Update: for more in-depth coverage, check out this collection of ForumCon tweets.

My favorite tweets from CMX Summit

It gives me so much joy that we now have such a fantastic conference dedicated to the craft of community management. I learned a ton and had a blast at the first CMX Summit, so I was disappointed to not be able to attend the second in NYC this last week. If you also missed it, here are some of my favorite tweets so we can live vicariously together.


You can find more here!

Ryanair is failing, and I couldn’t be happier

 Ryanair CEOThe problem with the balance between marketing and caring for customers is that marketing is often immediate. You can put an ad out and immediately see people visiting and signing up and spending money. You put effort into customer service, community building, or just basic user experience and you don’t see an immediate result. But us community professionals swear that you will see a long-term benefit.

That’s why I’m so pleased to note that Ryanair is seeing its worst annual revenues in five years. I’ve been saying for years that Ryanair’s tactics were going to explode in their face, but people kept saying “they’re selling tickets, so apparently is not an issue”. To me, this is fantastic validation that caring for your customers does make a difference and treating them badly does affect the bottom line.