Digital marketing metrics vs digital support metrics

I posted the following to twitter today:

It’s interesting to me that ‘engagement’ is a major digital marketing metric and ‘call deflection’ is a major digital support metric. “I hope they talk to me” vs. “please don’t talk to me”. We need a bigger view.

That was the distilled sentence from a whole blog post that I may flesh out later. But that’s enough. Think about each spot on your customer lifecycle. How friendly and open are you being at each stop? Keeping your existing customer is way cheaper than getting a new one so why are we (most consumer product companies) making it so difficult to talk to us? Why are we paying customer support techs such low wages and outsourcing what could be a major customer retention opportunity?

If you are running a customer support community, consider marketing metrics as part of your metric play. Just going with ‘contact deflection’ is a lesser scoring game.

Security, human harm and the technology of social

In a live chat with Ars Technica, former Facebook Chief Security Officer said, “We had ignored that the vast majority of human harm caused online has no interesting technical component. … It’s a technically correct use of the products we build.”

“It’s a technically correct use of the product…” is such a weighted phrase, and it’s a huge problem in the software we build for our communities.

Unfortunately, so much of our community software is being built by people that are either:

  • Naive
  • Purposely ignoring the problem

People act badly in person, but we’ve thousands of years of socialization to keep “normal” people from acting too out of line with norms. Put someone on a phone or computer and they lose those norms. We know this, but our software is not designed for this.

“…has no interesting technical component…” is, however, BS. Facilitating healthy, safe and engaging dialog between humans is one of the greatest, most interesting, problems left in human-machine-human interaction. We have to imbue our technology with … heart? Soul?

The ability to recognize the bad behavior and address it in real time is a (the?) gritty puzzle to solve.

Community Managers have a unique perspective and skill set and we should be out there with our voices and interactions. Help those builders of technology to build something that really will assist people to be excellent to one another.

Let’s go.

When should you hire a community manager and what should that person be expected to do in the first 3, 6, and 9 months?

The following post is an expanded and edited response given in response to a question in a closed community manager forum. 

When considering whether to hire a community manager your first question should be: why do we want a community? Is it because you “should?” If your response is “yes,” you must spend some time in reflection: What business goals are you trying to accomplish with a community? Could you better achieve those goals with more traditional marketing? If so, that route can be more economical and more direct, as you probably already employ a marketing person.

Why should you have a community? Traditionally, here are the popular reasons: the desire to get more direct feedback from customers, supporting customer service agents with real-world information, and SEO support†. More recently, there are more companies looking at Communities of Practice in order to be perceived as thought leaders in their problem space. Determine your business need and the “why” should follow.

If, after evaluating your motives, you decide you do want to create a community around your product/brand/idea, what kind of community achieves your goals? Here are some examples of ways to “do community”:

  • Have a community as part of your website offering (à la traditional forums or a white-labeled community platform). These start typically as part of a support offering, but may ultimately fall under marketing.††
  • Have a community on a separately hosted SAAS offering (MightyNetworks, Higher Logic, Mobilize, etc.).
  • Participate in other, existing communities, like Stack Overflow or Reddit. I call this participation marketing and it is not necessarily community building. It can still be a beneficial practice, especially in early-stage startups, but it requires deep domain and product knowledge mixed with a bit of sales and marketing skills to do well. As such, it may be better served by a founder, product manager or engineer instead of immediately hiring a community manager.
  • Participate in Twitter/Facebook/Friendster/Snapchat/Instagram. In this case, determine if what you really want to do is social media marketing. If so, be aware that it’s a different kind of community experience and you’ll need to hire for a different, but related skill set.

You may decide you wish to take on all of these ways of “doing community,” but if so, you should assume you’ll need a team of professionals to do it right. Each style of community engagement requires different approaches and different skill sets, which is unlikely to be found all in one person.

If you need help determining which path to take, a consultant can help with your decision making, preferably before you hire your community manager.†††

Once you have defined your desired community model, this will inform what your new hire should accomplish in the first 3, 6, or nine months.

But wait!

Before hiring your first community manager there is one more consideration: what is the opportunity cost for having a community?

If your community is planned as a part of your website offering, the community is a product in and of itself. That means budget. It means goals, development, legal reviews, timelines, project management, and all the other requirements that a “product” engenders. Make sure you have those resources identified and locked up before you hire.

Off-domain participation may be thought of as a product as well. Consider the case of Zappo’s Twitter engagement. I would argue that this type of participation requires thought around voice, budget, timelines, legal reviews, etc., and is, therefore, a product.


I’m obviously advocating that you don’t start a community just out of a vague sense that you “should.” Rather, start a community because it will solve a business problem. This will help you determine the goals and measures that you will use to evaluate your community’s success and your community manager’s effectiveness.

One final caveat, make sure you remember that a community is made up of people. Your people. Your customers. A community is a give and take; make sure you don’t set up a community only as a ‘taking’ resource. Give back to it, nurture it and give it the funding and functionality it needs to succeed.

† There are issues with each of these reasons, but that is fodder for future posts.
†† Where your community team fits in your org is another recurring question. My opinion: reporting directly to the CEO, with Marketing, Product, Sales and Support underneath.
††† If you need recommendations, reach out. I know a few people that do excellent work.

David Spinks: If you can’t prove that community helps

Really great series of tweets last week by David Spinks of CMX. Here’s a few highlights, but really, go read the whole thing:

If you can’t prove that community helps your business grow or retain customers/users, you’ll never get more budget/opportunity.

This is so, so true. As CM Pros you have to prove the value of your community as a community and as helping the business. These are likely two different measures.

people don’t say “they grew an awesome community!” They say “they were responsible for fueling growth”.

Failure is an option – celebrate it.

Here’s something to do at your next conference – talk about mistakes and failures you have made as you implemented your programs.

Why? Because: Learning

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” – C. S. Lewis

Community Management is a young field of practice and many of us are still figuring things out, trying new things, experimenting. Experimentation is good, but can lead to…unexpected outcomes. Sharing those outcomes can save someone that same path, or it may be the inspiration to try something similar but in a way that has a better result.

“Failure is success in progress” – Albert Einstein

I often tell my children that the most amazing thing about the scientific process is its acceptance that failure is a part of the act of testing your hypothesis; it can lead to new and unexpected discoveries and become a new base to build upon. If you aren’t experimenting, you aren’t learning. If you aren’t sharing, you aren’t helping others learn.

“Success is not build on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.” -Sumner Redstone

But at a conference?

A few years ago Cass Phillips put on a series of conferences called FailCon whose motto was “Embrace Your Mistakes. Build Your Success.” It was such a refreshing experience and, honestly, the impetus for this post. I ran across my notes from it and realized what a great idea it was.

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.” – Richard Branson

Every other conference I have ever attended, correctly, focus on those successful programs. That is amazingly valuable and one of the main reasons to go to a conference. They give you the tricks to take back to your organization and consider. But it could be a nice break to share what hasn’t worked, what hasn’t been successful, both as a way to give back to your community of practice and as a bit of a palate cleanser. I also expect it’s easier to share in person rather than writing it up and post it your blog.

I imagine a gentle mix of presentation and group therapy session where everyone is invited to get up and share after an introduction and an initial offering by the moderator.

“I fell off my pink cloud with a thud.” – Elizabeth Taylor

What might you share?

Scaling a community or Not everything needs to scale

Two posts this week are related but in entirely different fields.


Not Everything needs to Scale” by Beekey Cheung. It is targeted at developers but I think the words are true for community managers. Here’s the rub:

The difference between making sure a feature scales and just making a feature work is a huge investment in time.

Replace “feature” for “program” and you’ve got universality. He discusses figuring out which idea is risky and not spending as much time making sure it scales. Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk to see if something works, but if it is that risky, don’t invest huge time into it. His reminder is a good one though, “…don’t for a second think you can get away with not rebuilding…” I’d also add don’t assume you can go forward without a program review with management. If the risk pays off, it’s a great story and you then need to figure out how it scales. If it doesn’t work, it’s a great story on what you learned and what you might try in the future.


From David Spinks of CMX fame: “How to Scale a Community.” Go read the whole thing but here’s the top line:

There’s only one way to truly scale communities, and that’s to distribute control to members of the community.

He says “You can create playbooks that will guide your members in how to contribute in the right way.” I would argue “can” should be “should” but so much of the rest of this is true.

Community Bonsai (a Metaphor) – Part Three: Death

This is the last of a three-part series where we are using “A Beginner’s First Bonsai” by Brent Walston as a muse for how to think about managing an online community. See parts one and two.

“It may die anyway, so be prepared for that.”

Your community may die, fracture, or fail in some other way. As a professional, you may be called upon to close an active community for reasons outside your control.

Personally, I believe it’s better to acknowledge the passing and have closure, versus allowing a community to die slow death. Humans are wired for ceremony and having the change acknowledged in a meaningful way can be important, especially for those that have grown attached to the community. Community constancy Feverbee created a way to manage this process with their framework Mitosis. Even with this tool however, community managers must be proactive and “out in front” of the ending process to achieve the most satisfactory result.

It is important to acknowledge that closing a community can be heartbreaking for you as the community manager as well. You may be highly attached to the people within, so remember to address your own emotional needs as well those of the community members.

I wish you the best of luck in growing your communities. May they be as beautiful and rewarding as bonsai. Feel free to contact me at hello at for my expertise and encouragement along your community journey.

Community Bonsai (a Metaphor) – Part Two: The Trunk Line

Part two of a three-part series where we are using “A Beginner’s First Bonsai” by Brent Walston as a muse for thinking about managing an online community. See parts one and three.

In this continuing reading of that post, let’s talk about VIP programs as viewed through the lens of bonsai:

“One of the first things you will notice is that all of them have a definite trunk line. It usually will be a single trunk, but sometimes there will be a dominant trunk and a secondary trunk. Rarely will there be more than two trunks except for group or forest styles. … One of your first tasks will be to find a trunk line. … It most likely will not be straight but rather curved with flowing movement.”

A community’s core members are like that trunk, the binding structure of the community that holds it together. It is your job, as a community professional, to find the trunk line and nourish and strengthen it. Look for people who are supporting the community, answering questions and welcoming new members. These supporters will help bind the entire community together.

There are ways to nourish the core member trunk line. Often it’s as simple as acknowledging their presence and recognizing their value to you and the community. Depending on the situation, you may want to provide other incentives, such as schwag or access to product. Be creative, but do be careful about demotivating your users with too many extrinsic rewards. Alfie Kohn has effected fascinating research on the topic in “Punished by Rewards” (1993), as have Randy Farmer and Bryce Glass in “Building Web Reputation Systems” (2010).

As with bonsai, keep in mind that you may be required to trim trunk lines on occasion. Someone who, at one point, may have been the pillar of the community could change. It’s been said that the only constant in life is change, which translates to the need for careful vigilance by community managers. Addressing a former trunk line supporter who has become a poisoning influence is a hard action to take, but it is a vital one. If the trunk line becomes poisoned, this can spread to the branches and kill the community.

Next up: Death

Community Bonsai (a Metaphor) – Part One: How to Start

This is part one of a three-part series where we use “A Beginner’s First Bonsai1 by Brent Walston as a muse for thinking about managing an online community. See parts two and three.

I am fascinated by bonsai. It’s such a work of love and almost daily care. Occasionally, I consider starting a bonsai, and today was one of those days as I found myself reading A Beginner’s First Bonsai by Brent Walston

While I read, it struck me how much similarity there is between community management and bonsai care:

“Don’t ‘buy a bonsai’. That is a poor way to begin this fascinating hobby and usually doomed to failure. Bonsai is not about ‘owning’ bonsai plants, but rather the enjoyment of caring for them and especially creating them. … Any ‘real’ bonsai will take at least five years of development to be convincing. … Of course you can find ‘mall bonsai’ everywhere, even grocery stores. These are junk, they are not bonsai. … It is the care and training that makes bonsai.”  

Our translation to community: Just putting a community out there and hoping for the best rarely works. A community, like a bonsai, requires care and nurturing, which can be amazingly enjoyable. You do not “own” a community, but by hosting one, you are responsible for it. If your goal is long-term community that will hold up to the vicissitudes of life, it will likely take years to develop. Of course, like bonsai, you can buy a ready-made community platform from a multitude of vendors, but these are just platforms, not an actual community. Even a few hundred support posts in a community does not a true community make. Community creation takes time, care, and communication; platforms are just the underlying structure. If a strong community is important to you, hire a community professional, your bonsai master.

“One learns the basics of bonsai best by creating them, even your first one. Without these basics, it is unreasonable to expect that someone could keep one alive, let alone maintaining it as art.”  

Speaking of community professionals, one learns the basics of community management best by actually managing a community. There are classes, blog posts, and certificates, but nothing will prepare you to be a community manager better than by actively managing a community. You can probably keep a community alive without the skill of a professional, but it is unlikely to grow and flourish.

“If this seems daunting, well, it is. It takes years to learn most bonsai skills… Styling skills are learned over a lifetime. Well then, how do you start? First and foremost read as much as you can find about bonsai. … Next look at as many bonsai as you can, even if only pictures. Many images are available on the web, analyze them critically. Try to determine just what it is that you like about them. Until you can visualize bonsai, you won’t be able to create one. … Begin right away. Buy one gallon nursery plants that look interesting and start training them.”  

It takes years to learn the skills to be a truly great community manager. How do you start? Read as much as you can, join communities dedicated to community management, go to community conferences, read a book or two. But the best thing you can do is participate in many online communities. Figure out what works and doesn’t work in the communities in which you are a member. Volunteer to help, probably first with moderation, as this is one of the best ways to see the internal workings of a community.

“Finished is a relative term in bonsai because they are never really “finished”. … If you work on the roots right away, you will kill it outright. But by working on the top you will learn some of the pruning, wiring, and styling techniques, and will actually prepare it for its first root pruning.”  

An online community constantly moves, changes, grows and shrinks. It is yours to decide how to react to those changes. Just as a bonsai can die from too aggressive pruning, so may a community die from overly aggressive moderation. It is often better to take the gentle road with moderation than the harsh “ban hammer.” Except, of course, when it’s not, which an experienced community manager learns to distinguish through years of skillful “pruning.”

“Believe me, EVERYTHING you need to know to start bonsai is right here in front of you. Nobody said it was going to be fast or easy, but it is fascinating and addictive. If you have the dedication, it can be done.”  

As true for community management as for bonsai.

Next up: The trunk line

(1) The article was mildly edited to fit the narrative.

Think That Employee Harassment Complaint Is Too Stupid To Take Seriously? Just Write Your Check To Me Now →

From the often funny but always legally interesting Popehat:

American employers are, in fact, responsible for taking reasonable steps to protect their employees from racial or sexual harassment by third parties. This is the example I use when I train companies on sexual harassment prevention: if the UPS guy is constantly and creepily hitting on your receptionist, you need to do something about it. You may think that it is outrageous that this is the rule. Cool story, bro. That’s what the law is, and if you employ people or advise anyone who employs people, you’re a fool to ignore it.

If you are running moderation services, you should read the whole thing and then maybe take a lunch with your friendly corporate lawyer to make sure you don’t end up on the wrong side of this.

At the very least, take it seriously if one of your employees starts complaining.

Reverse-engineering censorship in China: Randomized experimentation and participant observation →

via and Science magazine

To find out the details of how the system works, we supplemented the typical current approach (conducting uncertain and potentially unsafe confidential interviews with insiders) with a participant observation study, in which we set up our own social media site in China. While also attempting not to alter the system we were studying, we purchased a URL, rented server space, contracted with Chinese firms to acquire the same software as used by existing social media sites, and—with direct access to their software, documentation, and even customer service help desk support—reverse engineered how it all works.

If you are considering a move into China with your community strategy, you need to read this.

78% of Anonymous Commenters Will Leave If Forced to Use a Real Identity →

Really well done analysis of a Livefyre study on anonymous commenting.

Livefyre’s Samantha Hauser makes the case that anonymity isn’t so much the cause of terrible comment sections as much as a lack of moderation strategy. I definitely agree with that. If you want a sense of community, you have to fight for it. →

The quote is frightening and sad (even allowing for “these days”):

As long as the Internet keeps operating according to a click-based economy, trolls will maybe not win, but they will always be present,The faster that the whole media system goes, the more trolls have a foothold to stand on. They are perfectly calibrated to exploit the way media is disseminated these days.

See also: Robin Williams’s daughter Zelda driven off Twitter by vicious trolls

Throwback Thursday: Jive and IBM strategies in 2009

I came across these two articles in my feed reader archive today.

In Larry Dignan’s article “Jive and the battle for the social enterprise” (10 March 2009) there’s this quote:

Simply put, Jive has made its move, but it’s unclear whether much of what is called enterprise 2.0 will be features in larger enterprise suite. […]The end game: Jive is likely to be acquired by a larger fish after it makes some hay.

In “How IBM’s sprucing up its ‘social’ side” from 12 March 2009, CNet’s Charles Cooper covered a number of IBM technologies such as Play-by-Play, CoScripter, Privacy-aware MarketPlace, SaND (Social Networks and Discovery), and Blue Spruce.

Thus, it was show-and-tell time at what IBM dubbed its “Smarter Web Open House.” The labs folks were offering a peek at a cross-section of collaborative Web technologies–mostly in early beta stages and likely to need a lot more fine-tuning in the months ahead.

It’s five years later…Jive is now on version 7 and powering ahead. From what I could find today, all of the technologies that were covered in the article are still research products. To be fair IBM has at least 4 different ‘enterprise collaboration‘ products. It’s unclear if any of the technologies listed made their way into any of these collaboration products.

It’s interesting to know where we have come from and how far we still have to go.

Riot starts getting tough on toxic LoL players with “instant” bans →

This is a pretty big community management turnaround for Riot, which has in the past made a point of trying to reform and reintroduce problem players into the League of Legends community rather than just going straight for the banhammer. The company has taken a scientific approach to trying to correct disruptive player behavior through player-run tribunals and “reform cards” that let players know exactly why they are being punished.

“The key here is that for most players, reform approaches are quite effective,” Lin wrote on reddit. “But, for a number of players, reform attempts have been very unsuccessful, which forces us to remove some of these players from League entirely.”

Good to see. These games bring out the worst. It’s good that they have some measure of intervention, but sometimes the giant godlike banhammer is necessary.

Here’s the original tweet:

Consumers Will Punish Brands that Fail to Respond on Twitter Quickly →

Customers have high expectations for a quick response: 53 percent who expect a brand to respond to their Tweet demand that response comes in less than an hour, according to the Lithium-commissioned study by Millward Brown Digital. That figure skyrockets to 72 percent when they have complaints.

When companies don’t meet these lofty response expectations, 38 percent feel more negative about the brand and a full 60 percent will take unpleasant actions to express their dissatisfaction.

The full press release is a bit of a shill for Lithium’s products but these figures are interesting.  Now, one thing to note is that the survey respondents were already Twitter users. So, the better line might be “Those customers that use Twitter have high expectations…”

Is Twitter right for your brand? If you do decide to participate on Twitter, this study indicates you should be ready to respond.

The golden rules of community management →

An older link from econsultancy (is 2010 old?) 

The internet is littered with empty forums and half-formed Ning groups, so here are a few universal rules that will help you grow a successful, useful online community whether it’s for a blog, forum or dedicated network

While platforms and integration are continually evolving, the basic rules of governing and growing a community are fairly straightforward and if properly implemented should enable you to grow a long-term, high value community that will really benefit your business.


I especially like the “Engage the right people” idea. 

Why 29 is the best number for BuzzFeed listicles →

While listicles with 10 items are the most prevalent (BuzzFeed sells lists of that length to advertisers, Lotan writes), and there are plenty of even-numbered lists, odd numbers have “higher audience score on average” and “the number 29 tends to have an advantage over the rest,” Lotan writes.

If you are chasing clicks, you should definitely read this bit from Poynter. Sometimes science feels so icky.

Creating distraction-free reading experiences — azumbrunnen →

Adrian Zumbrunnen wrote a beautiful piece on reading. I wish more designers of community platforms would read it. Discourse is trying, but I still find it busy.

On the web, we are confronted with an unprecedented amount of distractions that gave birth to various tools like Readability, Instapaper, Adblocker, etc. Attention span shortens while the quality of reading experiences declines; ultimately leaving a lot of great content out there undiscovered, unloved, unshared and unread by most.
This bit on images is right on. Stock images should die.
This image didn’t just interrupt your reading flow, it’s also dull, boring and does an impeccable job in boring the shit out of every other visitor too. What does this kind of image actually communicate? That a company has really nice pens? That people actually work together or the fact that they work with laptops from 1999?

Scunthorpe problem →

The problem was named after an incident in 1996 in which AOL‘s profanity filter prevented residents of the town of ScunthorpeNorth Lincolnshire, England from creating accounts with AOL, because the town’s name contains the substring cunt.

I didn’t know the name of this problem until today. I’ve definitely run into it on some basic profanity filters (early Jive products especially).

edit July 24, 2014: via