On October 23rd, 2014, we updated our
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ReadWriteWeb Guide to Online Community
Edited By Marshall Kirkpatrick
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 1
Table of Contents
Framing the issues and describing the parts of the report.
the BasIcs 7
Our answers to the first questions companies ask about online community.
“do startups need communIty managers?” 12
A long blog post that kick started our interest in the topic, based on
interviews and feedback from more than 50 people in the field.
A discussion of the different ways to look at the Return on Investment from
community management; understand the nature of the job by knowing
what your company will get out of it.
JoB descrIptIon 34
An exploration of different ways that people describe the work.
the marketIng/engagement Balance 48
Is community management marketing, customer service, or something
dealIng WIth challengIng communIty memBers 58
It’s a part of every community manager’s job.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 2
Mathew Ingram on the Toronto Globe and Mail’s Big Media Community
Lucia Willow on Managing Community at Pandora
Dawn Foster on Managing Developer Communities
Connie Bensen on B2B Community Management
addItIonal resources 74
The Best Podcasts, Online Groups and Public Events for Community
Big thanks to the research team that helped with this report: Nisha Chittal,
Doug Coleman, Tim Hattenberger, Rennie Wiswall and Nate DiNiro
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 3
We live in a very disruptive period in history. The
World Wide Web is a mere 20 years old and even
younger technology now makes it easy for mil-
lions of people to publish their thoughts online.
With that huge influx of voices, ears, and eyes onto the Web have come
major changes in the way people do business. Entertainment, education,
shopping, and customer service are still based on many of the timeless
principles they always have been, but the new social context online has led
to fundamental changes we’re just beginning to understand.
What’s now being called Social Media -- a cluster of technology types that
make it easier than ever for everyday people to have their say online -- has
created different expectations, consequences, and possibilities in the world
As occurs during any major economic change, new types of jobs are being
created. One of the most common we’re seeing emerge right now is a
position called Online Community Manager. Scores of people are being
hired to specialize in interfacing with online communities for businesses
and other organizations large and small.
Practitioners: Kevin Micalizzi, Mathew Ingram, Kellie Parker, John Cass, Kelly Rusk, Justin Thorp
The job is part customer service, part marketing, part public relations, and
part Web savvy. Some of the required skills are timeless, and some are
very new and unique to the Web. In the following guide, you’ll read how
community managers are touching every part of the businesses they work
Many questions remain unanswered. There is no clear consensus on
job descriptions, return on investment, the appropriate balance between
marketing and customer service, or the best way to deal with troublesome
community members. The people formerly known as “customers” now
play a different role in almost every business, and so new business roles
are emerging in response.
You may be a community manager. Just as likely, you may work at or run
a company that has a community manager or is considering adding one to
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the team. Either way, we trust that the resources in this guide will prove
valuable to you, no matter what your level of experience.
In this guide, you’ll find some of the best advice, perspectives, data points,
talking points, and other kernels of emerging wisdom available about online
community management. In compiling this report, we looked at hundreds
of articles on the topic, chose the very best ones, selected the most salient
highlights from those articles, and then wove them into a coherent narrative
that explores the big questions in the field. Not all of the sources we cite
agree with each other on the topics they discuss, we’ve tried to include
diverse and conflicting points of view. Along with curated selections
from around the web, we also share our own professional advice, having
practiced in and studied the field.
We begin with the basics: our most information-rich answers to the most
common questions that companies ask. Questions like, “Should we have a
page on Facebook?” And, “Should we have a company blog?”
Next, you’ll find a reprint of a ReadWriteWeb article titled “Do Startups
Need Community Managers?” We wrote that article based on interviews
with more than 40 different people in a wide variety of positions at
companies large and small. We’ve selected the 10 most valuable
responses from readers of the article to reprint here.
The bulk of the guide comes in the next section, a four-part exploration
of return on investment, job description, the marketing/customer service
balance, and dealing with challenging community members. These
sections are made up of selected highlights from varying and sometimes
conflicting perspectives, mixed in with our own explanations and advice.
Next, you’ll find four extended interviews with successful community
managers from four different kinds of companies: one from a very large
traditional media organization (Toronto’s Globe and Mail), another from
a large consumer tech company (Pandora Radio), a manager of various
software developer communities (including Intel), and a B2B service
The final part of the written section of this guide is a collection of additional
resources we think you’ll find valuable: the podcasts that every community
manager should listen to, the best Facebook group for community
managers to connect through, and a list of some of the most important
community management industry events to attend.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 5
the OnlIne Part Of thIs GuIde
In addition to the written part of this guide that you hold in your hand or
PDF reader, we’ve also assembled a collection of dynamic online resources
that will keep delivering value well into the future.
Now that you’ve purchased the
guide, you should have received a
password to log in to the Community
Management Aggregator. It’s at http://
aggregator.php and the password is
There, you’ll find an automatically
updated selection of the most talked-
about articles being published by
the sources that we cite in the first
half of the report. (If you’re familiar
with Techmeme.com, we think of this
section as a little “Techmeme about
Aggregated: The Hottest Blog Posts in
If you don’t want to visit this page daily, you can subscribe to the articles
by email or RSS.
We’ve also included a search box where you can search the full archive of
all of these top sources we’ve listed. Think of this as a dynamic reference
book made up of the written wisdom of top sources in the field.
Finally, you’ll find links to profiles on Twitter and the most recent messages
there from our selected top sources in the field and some important
community managers worth following. This is a great way to jump into the
conversation that is taking place on a daily basis.
Informed support is one of the most important resources a community
manager can use to meet the challenges of this work. We hope the written
part of this guide will help companies and community managers become
better informed, and that the online part will provide peer support and
ongoing professional development.
Thanks for purchasing the ReadWriteWeb Guide to Online Community
Management. We think the resources here will help pay for themselves
many times over.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 6
Step 1: The Basics
Companies can ask a handful of questions these
days as they start thinking about engaging in
online community management. Questions like,
“Should our company be on Facebook?” and
“Should our company have a blog?” Before
we dive into some of the deeper strategic
considerations, we offer our advice below on
some of these initial tactical questions. We’ve
tried to pack as much advice into as little space
as possible with these recommendations.
defInItIOns: What Is an OnlIne cOmmunIty
“My definition of a community manager is simply: A community manager
is the voice of the company externally and the voice of the customers
-Community Management Consultant Connie Bensen
“A community manager is someone who communicates with a company’s
users/customers, development team and executives, and other
stakeholders in order to clarify and amplify the work of all parties. They
probably provide customer service, highlight best use cases of a product,
make first contact in some potential business partnerships, and increase
the public visibility of the company they work for.”
-from our article “Do Startups Need Community Managers?” reprinted in
full later in this report.
QuestIOn: dO We need a fOrum sectIOn On
Our recommendation: Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on how much
your customers have to say. If you are in a business in which you can
realistically expect a lot of communication directly with your company or
between your customers on your site, then an on-site forum would be good
If you expect less conversation directly with your customers on your site, or
if the primary reason they would communicate with you would be to solve
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relatively infrequent problems or offer occasional suggestions, then you
might be better served with a service like GetSatisfaction or UserVoice.
QuestIOn: dOes Our cOmPany need a blOG?
Our recommendation: Probably, yes. It’s a rare company that wouldn’t
see a net benefit from including a section on its website that is easy for
approved team members to update, to offer company news to the public,
to engage in public discussion about that news, and to offer various
methods of subscription to that news. That’s what a blog is, fundamentally.
A blog can be a great marketing outlet, but it can also be a simple matter
of customer and media relations.
We recommend installing WordPress.org on your company’s server if it can
handle PHP. Some companies don’t like dealing with PHP, and so you’ll
have to find another solution. Installing a blog on your company’s own site,
instead of hosting it elsewhere, is the preferred solution because its value
to the company is thus maximized and maintained.
You may choose to “moderate” comments on your blog or require your
explicit permission before comments appear on the site. But it is preferable
to allow comments to appear automatically, and to use Akismet for spam
control, and to keep a close eye on email notifications of new comments.
This leeway may not be possible for some companies, but it is consistent
with the spirit of free communication that social media is based on.
Your company blog could include both company news and your thoughts
about other industry matters. Linking to other blogs in your field is an
essential practice if you aim to use your blog to bring in new customers.
You can find the best blogs in your field by using the methods described
in our article “Comparing Six Ways to Find the Best Blogs in Any Niche.”
More sophisticated advice can be found in our article “How to Create a
Social Media Cheat Sheet on Any Topic.”
One reason you may not want to have a company blog is because of the
time commitment. If you can’t post to your blog at least once every week
or two -- preferably far more often than that, and definitely during public
crises -- then not having a blog at all is probably better. Showing up for
a conversation and then being completely absent only makes you look
If you can live up to that minimal commitment, then you should have a
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QuestIOn: shOuld Our cOmPany sPend tIme
Our recommendation: Without a doubt, you should. To the untrained
eye, Twitter may seem like a waste of time. It certainly did to us before
we started using it. In fact, every community manager we talked to in
researching this report said that Twitter was delivering important value to
their work, and some very successful community managers told us it was
the single most effective venue in which to engage with the public.
Twitter is a very easy way for people to communicate publicly and for you
to communicate with them.
We recommend that you register one account on Twitter with your
company’s name and that at least one of your employees engage with the
public using an account under their own name but identify themselves as
working at the company in his or her account description.
You could publish your company’s blog feed through the company’s official
Twitter account, but engaging with people directly as well is a good idea.
We recommend finding people relevant to your industry by searching on
Twitter directory sites like Twellow and Tweeplz with relevant keywords.
You’ll be surprised who in your industry is available to follow and converse
with. We also recommend running the usernames of key industry people
through a service called Mailana, where you’ll discover the people they
converse with publicly the most. Start by following 20 to 40 people who
you discover this way, and you’ll quickly find value in the service. We
recommend using the desktop application Tweetdeck to monitor your
conversations on Twitter.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 9
Two good resources to assist in maximizing the ROI of company use of
Twitter are Laura Fitton, a consultant in the field, and the XYZ Guide to
QuestIOn: shOuld Our cOmPany have a
Presence On facebOOk?
Our recommendation: Be careful how much time you put into Facebook.
Some companies have created company pages or customer support
groups on the site and have seen a lot of results. Many other companies
have not. Lines of communication are not as clear on Facebook as they
are by email, on Twitter, and on blogs. Customers are less accessible on
AllFacebook.com and Forester analyst Jeremiah Owyang’s Web-Strategist
blog are two good places to learn about best practices in making effective
use of Facebook. Given the size of the site, though, it’s surprisingly
difficult to derive value from it. It is much slower than Twitter. The absence
of site-wide keyword search and other limitations imposed by privacy
requirements make it a challenging environment for companies to operate
That said, there is a worthwhile Facebook group for community managers.
People in the field can share support with each other there, and
conversation is relatively active. That resource is included in the Further
Resources section of this report.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 10
QuestIOn: What else shOuld I be dOInG?
Our recommendation: One of the other key methods of engagement with
the online community but outside of your own website is monitoring RSS
feeds for search terms like your company and product names. If you’re
not familiar with RSS, it’s a lot like Google Alerts but more powerful and
delivered to a dedicated application (or inside Outlook). See the video
“RSS in Plain English” to get a good short introduction to the concept, and
see subsequent recommendations in this report for details on what RSS
feeds to subscribe to.
QuestIOn: shOuld I hIre sOmeOne tO be Our
Our recommendation: Community manager is one of the hottest job titles
that people are being hired for online right now. It’s not a bad idea to hire
someone to specialize in these responsibilities. You may have someone in
marketing or customer service who can do community work half-time, and
we discuss issues with that strategy in this report as well.
If you decide to hire a full-time community manager, you can get a good
one for $5000 to $7000 per month. You may be able to find a good one for
less, and you can certainly find some who expect to be paid more. We offer
detailed numbers on compensation elsewhere in this report.
If your company can afford to, it would also serve you well to hire an
established consultant in online community management for a short time to
help your community staff get started.
Those are some of our recommendations in response to some of the most
common questions about community management online. Now let’s look a
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Do Startup Companies Need Community Managers?
You know what little startup companies need these
days? They need to hire more people! It may be a
frightening thought, but in an increasingly social world,
being social is becoming an important full-time job.
“Community Manager” is a position being hired for at
a good number of large corporations (see Jeremiah
Owyang’s growing list of people with that kind of
job) but what about smaller companies? We asked a
number of people what they think, and the following
discussion offers some great things to think about,
both pros and cons.
• Many people believe this is one of the first positions a company should fill,
• Leaving community work to your PR agency can mean it gets neglected
• Dedicated specialists are more effective than company founders or many
traditional marketing people
• Companies based on user generated content need to recognize that users
are their most valuable asset
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What Is a cOmmunIty manaGer?
A community manager (CM) can do many things (see below), but the
most succinct definition of the role that we can offer is this. A community
manager is someone who communicates with a company’s users/
customers, development team and executives, and other stakeholders
in order to clarify and amplify the work of all parties. They often provide
customer service, highlight best-usage cases of a product, make first
contact in some potential business partnerships, and increase the public
visibility of the company they work for.
True believers can’t emphasize the importance of the role enough. John
Mark Walker, the Community Manager at CollabNet articulates this
“ “I firmly believe that the community manager should be one of
the first hires, right after a solid engineering group and before
you invest in corporate marketing people.”
Not everyone sees it that way, something that causes substantial distress
for people in the supply chain who are advocates of the CM role. “Start
ups and all companies that exist online need to be looking at a community
manager as a salaried position,” says Dylan Boyd of eROI.
“ “We have been working with big brands, and it kills me when
they just give ‘social media’ to someone who already has 10
other roles... At Omma Social last month in NYC, that topic
came up, asking all the people in the room from big brands
if they had a community manager. 90% of them did not and
are still trying to find out how to spec out a job description in
order to hire for it.”
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dIssenters: cOmmunIty manaGement dOes
nOt need tO be a full tIme JOb
Others think community management doesn’t need to be a full-time job.
“Community management is essentially a public relationship issue, so
whoever picks up that gauntlet is on point for representing their company
to the rest of us,” consultant Peat Bakke told us. “It doesn’t have to be
a specific person or a full-time job, but it is part of starting and running
a business, almost by definition: if you’re in business, you’re doing
community management whether you like it or not.”
Some would go so far as to call an explicit community manager position a
bad idea in the early days of a startup. Darius A Monsef IV, Executive Editor
& Creator, COLOURlovers.com told us he thinks that in the early days,
founders need to be in the thick of managing their own communities.
Jonas Anderson voiced concern about community managers being caught
between loyalties to the company and its users, while being tripped up by
employer non-disclosure agreements. (Others though, such as former BBC
blog producer Robin Hamman, point out that having a community manager
can greatly reduce legal risk when a company engages extensively with its
Startup founder Sachin Agarwal splits his time between community and
other work. Though he wishes he had more time for this kind of work, a full
timer isn’t necessary, he says.
“ Our Contact Us page encourages people to ask each other and
post on other sites before coming to us. We’re happy to help,
but I’d wager that other users know how to get the most out of
our site better than even we do.
Similarly, Twine’s Candice Nobles says that after some consideration
was given to the position, her company found that its users have been
incredibly self-organized and self-regulating so far.
While these thoughts may be valid, consultant Dawn Foster emphasized
that for some companies - making one person ultimately responsible for
community work can be essential.
For startups where community is a critical element of the
product or service,” she told us, “I think that a community
manager should be an early hire. Without a community
manager, the frantic pace of the startup environment can
mean that the community gets neglected simply because no
single person is tasked with being responsible for it. This
neglect could result in failure for the startup if the community
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can fOunders manaGe theIr cOmmunItIes?
We talk to a lot of CEOs on the phone here at ReadWriteWeb and we’ll
try to be polite in answering this question. Andraz Tori, CTO at Zemanta
answers this question diplomatically.
“The [community manager] role can be played
by one of the founders early on, but as the proj-
ect grows, you need a person who knows how
to listen,” he told us. “Founders have a vision
and might be a bit stubborn about what their
product represents and offers (that’s why they
are founders). Someone a bit more distanced
might be much better community manager
Andraz Tori since he has a lot more empathy for users and
their problems and can relay that to developers
and managers. And vice versa.”
Pete Burgeson, director of marketing for online marketplace crowdSPRING
says that a good community manager can help raise the voice of the users
“ We want to be able to build a platform for our community
to have a voice, showcase their talent, and become as active
in speaking for crowdSPRING as we are in speaking for
Still others believe that users may not want to talk to the founder or a
community manager, but rather someone with tech chops and focus. “I
think a startup should put a developer in the community as opposed to a
‘community manager’”, Rob Diana told us.
“ Even though the developer may not be as good a
communicator as a marketing guy, he or she has a different
type of understanding of what people want.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 15
What dOes a cOmmunIty manaGer dO?
There are many ways that a community manager can benefit a startup
company, and they often vary from company to company. Eva Schweber,
co-founder of CubeSpace says:
“It depends on the community and what needs to
be managed... the style and distractability of the
folks in the startup, how they like to collaborate
with peers, and how they define their peers.”
It’s a complicated job, but one that can help bring cohesiveness to the life
of a company. “Any opportunity to interact with the community forces one
to think about the product/feature considerations and ramifications of one
choice over another,” says Nagaraju Bandaru of SmartWebBlog.
“ In many ways, the community manager is the evangelist
for the company’s products and the voice of the customer in
internal discussions. It’s critical to react to online discussions
with skill, consistency, and aptitude; The role is hard to
understand from the outside but impossible to miss once a
startup is in execution mode.
This coherent communication can have business development benefits
as well. This seems to us to be one of the most important benefits of the
position. Graeme Thickins, VP of Marketing at doapp explains:
“ Their world includes the online community that represents
both prospective customers/users, as well as strategic partner
companies, possible future investors, future employees, and
more. Perhaps thinking in terms of a ‘listening manager’
would help a lot of startup founders better come to grips with
what this job is all about.
Carol Leaman from AideRSS says investing in a community manager
position has helped her company “gain maximum benefit from our early
adopters and growing base of users, as it’s a key link between them and
our development team. Not having someone on this full-time would impede
our growth and success. We consider ourselves fortunate to have both
realized this need early and to have found an amazing Community Manager
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 16
to fill the role.”
Does it have to be one person in particular? AideRSS’s Melanie Baker
explains that specialization is as appropriate for this role as it is for others.
“While especially at startups there’s a shortage of bodies and it’s all hands
on deck, not all hands are best suited to all activities,” she said.
“ No one would want me writing code, and I wouldn’t
necessarily want just anyone talking to frustrated users,
for example. It’s also a totally hybrid role. My background
involves marketing, Web, QA, and writing, and I use all of it
as a community manager. Someone with a more specialized
background can certainly learn what it takes but might have
a hard time wrapping his or her head around the customer
service, marketing, business analysis, tech support, software
testing, documentation, and journalist needs of the role.
“You need someone who understands the fundamental distinction that
while you want to grow your user base, a user base does not equal a
community,” Baker said. “The best success involves growing the former
while making every effort to evolve it into the latter. Because communities
grow themselves organically a lot more easily than user bases do.”
Isn’t it ultimately about marketing? Kim Bardakian, Sr. Communications
Manager, at the wonderful music site Pandora put it this way:
“ Pandora just created this position about four months ago and
it’s been INVALUABLE to our company in such a short time!
It’s opened a whole new world of communications for us!
Lucia Willow fills that role for us, and she’s great. With the
iPhone/Pandora launch on Friday, the Twitter network and
followers were making tons of buzz! It was very exciting.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 17
Is cOmmunIty manaGement the neW Pr?
Hutch Carpenter points to an example of community management leading
to extensive new media press coverage and saving money on PR.
Others see PR evolving towards a community management type of role in
this increasingly social world.
“ I particularly liked the reference to PR as ‘public
relationships,’” interjected Kathleen Mazzocco ClearPR. “[That]
conveys the directness and transparency of today’s new PR.
How can it not be, given the open conversations going on?
That’s why community managers are the critical new PR
PR has long had a bad rap, though, and if PR pros are going to get into
social media (they are already here in large quantities), then there may be
some challenges to their ability to play a community management role.
“ The idea of a ‘community manager’ is a good one as long as
that person has the freedom to discuss the negatives as well
as the positives of the company’s efforts,” says Dave Allen of
Nemo Design. “If we consider all the aspects of social media as
PR 2.0, then I would argue that it is a very important position,
given that companies would hardly have gone without PR 1.0.
I posted a top 10 list of what the activities might be like here of
what you might call a ‘community manager.’
(Disclosure: the author has a consulting relationship with Nemo)
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 18
Is thIs WOrth PayInG fOr?
Why would a busy little startup spend precious money on this kind of role?
“ While a community manager isn’t the same as a traditional
PR role, ideally they should work together,” says Meredith
from A Little Clarity. “Startups are in a blur; often they’re
being run by engineers with VCs looking over their shoulders
-- they don’t know from community managers; so there should
be some accountability, and that’s the tricky part. Do you
measure connections? Responsiveness? Transparent ‘public
relationships’? Whatever it is that your company will value,
get it out there and agree on it, because one thing startups
don’t always have is time to do it right after getting burned.
You want tangible? Semantic web researcher Yihong Ding will give you
tangible! He says that community managers are tasked with tending to the
most precious asset that many startups have staked their future on: user
“ As we know, most Web 2.0 companies are built on user-
generated content,” he told us. “Philosophically, user-
generated content is embodied human mind. This embodied
mind is generally the fundamental asset of the company.
Maintaining a proper community so that users may embody
their mind with high quality is thus a central issue for the
growth of the company. The duty of community managers is
to supervise and maintain the high-quality production of the
fundamental mind asset used by the company. Therefore, I
would say that community manager is a critical job title for
most of the Web 2.0 companies.
We agree with Yihong. User data and community content are the
foundation that Web 2.0-style innovation and company valuations rest on.
Failing to tend meaningfully to those assets is foolish.
Thanks to everyone who participated in this conversation. We hope readers
will contribute their thoughts in comments below.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 19
Selected Comments in Response to Our Post
1. My definition of a community manager is simply: A community manager
is the voice of the company externally and the voice of the customers
internally. The value lies in the community manager serving as a hub and
having the ability to personally connect with the customers (humanize the
company), and serving with all departments internally (development, PR,
marketiing, customer service, tech support, etc).
Posted by: Connie Bensen
2. I didn’t really understand what a community manager did, then I hired a
really good one. I think its a bit like other forms of PR and marketing: soft,
often intangible, full of bullsh!t arstists, but when you see it done well, it all
Posted by: Paul Deane
3. My two cents: At the very beginning, when the startup consists only of
founders, you can select CM out of them. If you don’t have a person that
can pull it (meaning someone with marketing, PR, and BDM skills) your
startup is going to be in trouble anyway; it means you have only engineers
on the team.
Another issue: CM is not a PR 2.0: it’s CRM 2.0; back in the day, CRM
was about getting input from one customer, processing it, and giving
output. Now, as customers sort of manage themselves in a group (thus
forming communities), you have to manage the community, not individual
customers. And as business and products are becoming more interactive
(towards customers), it’s a read/write relationship: customers are changing
businesses (by proposing features, blocking the cancellation of other
features, criticizing, and praising).
Posted by: Marcin Grodzicki
4. Whether or not a startup needs a community manager is an excellent
question, especially as companies struggle with how much social media
they should be using. Having done community management/development
a time or two, whether a startup has one definitely depends on the startup.
Can the startup get by with just a blog, where the content creator is
engaged in the comments? Do they really need a Twitter account if their
customers might not be there (and, believe me, a whole lot of people aren’t
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 20
even on Twitter)? When the types of social media needed by a business
are figured out, then they can figure out if they need a community manager,
and if that community manager should be part-time or full-time.
But if the startup is clueless about what’s needed in social media, a
consultant who can manage community for them for awhile could also
work. The consultant can help them get an idea about what the startup
needs first with social media, so that they’re not overloaded and stressed
about keeping up with everything, then fill in on the management, if that’s
part of a services package. As things grow, the consultant can, and
probably should, train someone internally or help find a dedicated CM for
the amount of time necessary to do the job.
As for PR people handling community... yikes! I’ve seen that one backfire a
bit. Community management is a task better suited to folks who know how
to listen and respond, not just dole out the company message.
Posted by: Tish Grier
5. I said a long time ago, I would only leave freelancing if my dream job came
along. That is, a job incorporating blogging with social networking and
talking with people all day. This happened a month ago when I was hired
by BlogTalkRadio to be their Community Manager.
I think whether or not a business needs a full-time CM all depends on the
company. At BTR, we have thousands of radio shows, thousands of hosts,
and thousands of listeners. That’s a lot of people to bring together. It only
makes sense to bring a full-time CM on board.
In addition to handling the blog, my job is to promote the segments,
promote BTR, promote the hosts, and bring the community together. I
listen to hosts and offer tips for bringing traffic to their segments. I talk with
listeners to learn how to make their BTR experience more user-friendly, and
I help the BTR team find solutions that benefit everyone involved. I also
encourage bloggers to start their own radio shows, which is as simple as
owning a phone.
Do all businesses need a CM? I’m not sure. I think any company with a
heavy Web presence would do well to have someone to spread the word
and find out what makes its audience or client base happy. CM’s establish
personal relationships and are more invested in the product or service than
your usual publicist for hire. Plus, we know the social networks, we know
the Web, and we know the bloggers. BlogTalkRadio wouldn’t have hired me
if I was just Joe off the street. Being a pro blogger and being able to speak
with other bloggers put me ahead of the other candidates.
I don’t know that all businesses need CMs. For businesses with a heavy
Web presence, however, it’s in their best interest to at least look into it.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 21
Posted by: Deborah Ng
6. Something important that is very important yet often overlooked in my
Expect your CM not just to socialize/evangelize, but to show up with
feature requests and bug reports. Give them the ability to be heard
and considered. CM is a social role, yes, but the point of those social
interactions is to collect valuable feedback and translate it into actions.
On the flipside, a good CM takes the time to understand the dev team’s
priorities and timelines and works WITH them to find the best ways to
implement new features.
Thanks again for a great article (and the great comments!)
Posted by: Thaumata from A.viary
7. I look at community managers as the faces of the corporation. People don’t
interact with companies, they interact with people who work at companies.
And these people have personalities (hopefully).
I manage Intel’s Open Port, a site that congregates several technical
communities. Each community, organized by different product segments
like PCs or Servers, is managed by a technical expert who can interact on
the same level with their community. Community members in this sense
do not want marketing talking heads managing their communities, but real
engineers they can connect with and ask questions.
Since it is the person that counts, one of the greatest challenges I believe is
finding a dynamic enough personality to engage your community; someone
who is also technical enough to speak on the same level as the community.
In essence, he or she needs some level of street cred.
Posted by: Kelly Feller
8. We’re admittedly not a commercial startup (we’re an NPO) but it’s become
apparent that for our kind of organization this kind of position is crucial. We
have a lot of things we do that could be seen as more traditional products
- I’m not worried about them as much. We see the role of the community
manager is to actually foster community, to bring these people together.
This might be users for these more conventional ‘products’ (which is likely
to be the focus for a new startup with one product).
But there is also community as product. A lot of the ideas we have are
simple ones like, “wouldn’t it be valuable if we had a certain group of
people talking about a certain thing in a certain way.” In this case, the
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 22
role of the community manager is about actually forming this community,
keeping it healthy and valuable for all of the constituents. It’s some of the
key elements of Liza’s comments, but replace users with people.
For us, these people might be academics, industry leaders, or even
students. For a commercial entity this is just as important, but it might be
easier to overlook. Someone who buys a product or signs on for a service
is already invested in some way, and they could be an active part of a
community around that product. A really great community manager could
bring other people in to that community and expand it, focus the direction,
and make it a community around the things that are behind that product.
Posted by: Matthew Hockenberry
9. Very interesting concept. Since VCs and startups seem today to be more
interested in audience than a real business model; it seems like a smart
move to have a community manager.
In the long run, I think what really matters though is how you can harness
the potential of the community. IMHO, that is what differentiate a
successful project from a fashionable project. Can you find the lead users
(cf. definition at the end) in your community ? Can you use crowd-sourcing
as a competitive advantage ? Is your community strongly connected?
Tightly-coupled to your project? etc...
But in the end, as said before, it’s based on the objectives of each startup
and its current position in its development phases.
From Wikipedia :
Lead user is a term developed by Eric von Hippel in 1986. His definition for
lead user is:
1. Lead users face needs that will be general in a marketplace ‚Äì but face
them months or years before the bulk of that marketplace encounters
2. Lead users are positioned to benefit significantly by obtaining a solution
to those needs.
More at http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/
Posted by: Utopiah
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 23
10. Community Managers play different roles for different companies. It’s
an evolutionary process, and it’s being defined as more community
managers appear. On a daily basis, I work closely with an external advisory
board, community members, my sales, marketing, and PR teams... I also
execute on a lot of partnerships, cross-promotion opportunities, program
development and oversight...
The jobs are endless... but the role is fluid.
Community managers do not replace any more traditional roles - we add
value to existing ones.
My two cents,
~ Janetti Chon
Community Manager, Web 2.0 Expo
Posted by: Janetti Chon
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 24
What’s the return on investment (ROI) for
online community management? That’s a very
important question for a number of reasons. First,
it’s a question that advocates for community
management are almost always asked by those
holding the purse strings at their workplace.
Secondly, engaging with the question helps
illuminate the nature of the job.
• Many of the benefits of community are intangible
• There are hard number studies available, from Cisco’s 2004 finding
that “43% of visits to online support forums are in lieu of opening up
a support case through standard methods” through Dell’s tale of $1
million in sales through Twitter last year
• Community managers should establish methods to measure their
own impact on other departments’ bottom lines
• For every person you interact with publicly, far more watch that inter-
action and are impacted
• Community management can be another form of networking, deliv-
ering the same kinds of value that conference attendance, presenta-
tions and related activities deliver
If you read one link from this section: Jeremiah Owyang’s “Com-
munity Managers Must Deliver ROI: Commandments For Surviving a
Recession” http://www web-strategist com/blog/2009/01/28/commu-
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 25
the fleshIness Of cOmmunIty
Some people believe that ROI is impossible to measure in community
management because the benefits of community are intangible. We
disagree with this argument, but it’s a worthwhile position to consider.
Consultant Jason Falls, for example, says
that ROI is the wrong question to ask about
social media in general. In an article titled
“What is the ROI for Social Media1”, Falls
argues that evaluating ROI in social media
in general is like trying to “assign multiple
choice scoring to an essay question... trying
to put numeric quantities around human
Aggregated: The Hottest Blog interactions and conversations, which are
Posts in Community Management
Falls quotes the well-known PR pro Katie Paine:
“ Ultimately, the key question to ask when measuring
engagement is, ‘Are we getting what we want out of the
conversation?’ And, as stubborn as it sounds, Mr. CEO, you
don’t get money out of a conversation.
yOu’ll knOW It When yOu see It
Of course, such perspectives have an important element of truth to them.
Once good community management is in effect, the intangible benefits
it delivers make the effective returns easily evident, even if they aren’t
quantifiable. In other words, once it’s working, you’ll have no doubt it’s
worth is. For example, Pandora community manager Lucia Willow told us
that Pandora users regularly email her moving stories and photos depicting
the impact that the music recommendation service has had on their lives.
She shares those in full staff meetings and posts the photos on the office
refrigerator. That’s a powerful staff motivator.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 26
Dave Hersch of Jive Software puts it this way :
“ Trying to determine if the savings and revenue increase are
worth the expense is like trying to measure whether the view
from atop Everest is worth the climb: it’s exceedingly hard to
measure, and it should be painfully obvious.
here are the numbers ”
Trying to quantify a well-run community may be “a fool’s exercise,” as Dave
Hersch argues, but there are some pretty compelling numbers available if
you’d like to be one of those fools.
In 2007, Joe Cothrel, Chief Community Officer at enterprise online
community vendor Lithium, gathered together the most compelling
publicly available statistics on the ROI of community that you’ll find
anywhere. Some of the highlights include:
• A Cisco study in 2004 found that 43% of visits to online support
forum are in lieu of opening up a support case through standard
• Cost per interaction in customer support averages $12 via the contact
center versus $0.25 via self-service options. (Forrester, 2006 )
• Jupiter Research reported in 2006 that customers report good
experiences in forums more than twice as often as they do via calls or
• Ebay found in 2006 that participants in online communities spend
54% more than non-community users.
Those numbers are a few years old, but we find that they paint a picture
that’s still true to the experience of community managers now. The blogs
on the Lithium company site , where Cothrel (who aggregated those
studies) works, are an excellent resource to learn more about corporate
“Managing Support Forums,” The Association of Support Professionals (ASP), 2004
“Support transactions according to complexity and cost” (table), Forrester Research, 2006
“Online Support Forums: Evaluating Opportunity for Community-Based Support,” Jupiter Research, June 21,
“Do Customer Communities Pay Off?” René Algesheimer and Paul M. Dholakia, Harvard Business Review, Nov.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 27
real WOrld case studIes
What does ROI look like for community managers in the wild? One
great place to start getting an idea is analyst Peter Kim’s list of over 300
corporate social media campaigns .
Dell Computers is one of the best examples of a company that has made a
major investment in online community and claims to have found immediate
financial benefits. The juiciest story is that Dell says it has generated more
than $1 million in sales by publishing discount alerts through its Twitter
account. We’re not sure how “community engaged” that is, but it’s certainly
going where people already are and delivering value to them. According to
a recent Financial Times profile of the company’s efforts, the company’s
VP of Communities and Conversation Bob Pearson has 45 people
working for him. The core of the crew searches for dissatisfied customers
complaining around the Web and tries to reach out to them to resolve
things. The company has 80 Twitter accounts, 20 Facebook pages and a
high profile user-voted suggestion and feedback site called IdeaStorm.
Zappos, Whole Foods, and WineLibrary.tv are other examples of
companies that have generated revenue directly from the communities
they’ve built up on Twitter. ReadWriteWeb recently wrote about a Gartner
report on four distinct ways that companies are using Twitter in particular.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 28
buIld yOur OWn rOI case study
Dell’s tracking of Twitter-driven sales is the type of thing that just about
anyone could do. Jeremiah Owyang offers this advice .
“ Community Managers should start to measure how clicks from
the community directly impact e-commerce, go to product
pages (perhaps if you’re B2B) or to affiliate marketing to
demonstrate how community interaction increases revenue.
If you can demonstrate this (like Dell’s million dollar sales in
Twitter) tout it loudly to management.
Lithium’s Cothrel offers some great tips along the same lines that could
work well for some companies.
“Ask the people who run your company’s customer surveys to
add a question about community use. That will allow you to see
how community users compare to those who haven’t used the
community. And/or, run a survey yourself in your community and
ask about your users’ purchase and support history. Use this data
to tell a story about how every registration, every visit, every view,
and every post to your community adds something to the bottom
“Begin to figure out how you can do a real ROI analysis in the
future. That means tying community data to customer data and/or
other web data — meaning you’ll need to forge some partnerships
with the people in your organization who own that data. In some
organizations, there’s someone who can take the email addresses
from your registration database and give you back all sorts of
useful info about the value of your community members. That would
be a good thing to do. Better would be to have that information
continuously by integrating your community with those other
systems. But you gotta start somewhere!”
Left in comments at http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/01/28/community-managers-must-deliver-roi-
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 29
Does the work of a community manager have to remain active in order
for a community to make a tangible difference to the bottom line? Tom
Humbarger studied the numbers before and after one community he
managed cut the budget for a community manager position. He concluded
that “active management contributes significantly to the health of a
professional community.” Comparing the period of active vs. inactive
management: membership growth slowed significantly, a fall-off of more
than 63% on a week-to-week basis. Number of visits dropped 60%,
number of pages viewed per visit drops 22%, and time on site decreased
communIty WIth It might not be intuitively clear to
non-participants that a company
representative’s consistent high-
tom humBarger quality engagement in community
(also known as with and without
is necessary to reap the benefits
active community management)
of community, but for community
managers, the relationships they are
Membership growth: Down 63%
building make it very clear. Those
week to week
relationships would go cold without
Website visits: Down 60%
The above should provide you with
Page views per visit: Down 22%
some of the type of data you can
use, some methods to capture
Time on site: Down 33%
it, and some evidence that your
active engagement is required to
capture those benefits. The fact
of the matter is, though, that the non-financial benefits of community
management are potentially much more important.
yOur WOrld Is a staGe
The number of participants, much less visibly active participants, in
most online communities is almost always tiny compared to a successful
company’s total number of customers. It would be easy to feel frustrated
by this, to feel like the resources spent engaging with these communities
aren’t worth it. We discuss engagement and marketing more in a later
section of this report, but in terms of ROI, some clear tangible benefits
come out of management of the subset of customers you’ll find in an
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 30
Squeaky wheels get the grease, so it may feel like there’s an even smaller
number of people yet that a community manager is interacting with
regularly. Michael Mace of Rubicon Consulting points out that a much
larger group of silent community members are watching those interactions,
and that’s where a lot of the payoff will come from.
“Because most Web users are voyeurs
more than contributors, you should
think of an online discussion as
theater; it’s a performance in which
the community leader(s) interact with
a small group of contributors for the
education and amusement of the rest
of us. All the Web’s a stage, but we’re
not all players in it... This means
companies that turn away from Web
communities because they’re populated
by only enthusiasts are missing the
point. You’ve mistaken your fellow
actors for the audience. Take care of
the active participants in a community,
and the audience will watch and
That said, even the relatively small number of people you will likely engage
with in an online community can offer a lot of value to a company.
custOmer cOmPlaInts yIeld PrOduct
Sometimes in a small business, the long list of customer complaints can
feel like a distraction from getting work done and moving forward with
development plans. In a post on the Dell community board, Dell staff
member “Robert P.” argues that close communication with customers
about the constraints they face can lead to product development
opportunities to solve those problems. Dell’s social media efforts aren’t
just a way to “push a message” on community members, Robert writes,
but a way to find problems that can only be solved by innovation, product
development, and sales. It almost sounds obvious when he says that “an
innovative business model helps you do the job [of solving customers’
problems] in a new, novel way that will make the business more agile and
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 31
cOmmunIty manaGers can delIver value
frOm cOmmunItIes tO Other dePartments
Product development insights are just one of many tangible things that a
community manager can take to other departments. Community managers
should prioritize building connections with other departments because
failing to do so would leave clear value untapped. Community management
expert Bill Johnston puts it well in a conversation on Jeremiah Owyang’s
blog . “Reach out to other departments. Online communities offer value
to almost every department in the organization, from HR (recruiting), to
support (call avoidance), to marketing (awareness/reach), to the product
team (feedback, customer-led innovation). Now is the time to reach out to
other teams and create cross-organizational ties, and involve other teams
in community-building and engagement activities.”
Almost all of the community
From a communIty managers we talked to for this
manager to report brought up one or more
other departments of these same benefits. By
helping to hire the most active
Customer support: Call avoidance community members, community
managers can deliver tangible
Product development: Feedback, value to HR; a well-managed
customer led innovation community captures and reuses
troubleshooting knowledge and
Marketing: Awareness, research sees active members coming to
each others’ aid, thus decreasing
HR: Recruiting support costs for the company,
the same rOI as many Of the mOst
tradItIOnal busIness actIvItIes
Participating in communities like social networks can deliver value to a
whole network of different departments inside any company. That makes
the community manager an important person. It also puts them in a key
position to foster a social network-type consciousness within the company.
More on that later.
But there’s one more traditional business deliverable that can come from
community management. We’re talking about “networking” -- like you’d
do in any business setting, but amplified by the space-busting powers of
online social media.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 32
Business communication trainer Heidi Miller tells an illustrative story about
how this works, in an article titled “Social Media Isn’t Marketing - It’s
[PR consultant Michael Sommermeyer] was making the case that, while
updating your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or what-have-you status isn’t
a marketing strategy, it is an excellent way to expand your network and
make connections you wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. He relates
the story of Jeremy Epstein, who through a relatively random social media
connection, discovered that the person he’d been corresponding with was
the Chief Privacy Officer at AOL, a great business connection for him.
“So in this sense, no, social media isn’t marketing. It’s networking.
It’s the equivalent of going to those Chamber of Commerce events
and getting to know your fellow business people. It’s the equivalent
of joining your national trade organization so you can get to know,
mentor, and connect with people in your industry. It’s the equivalent
of throwing a cocktail party at the industry’s big yearly trade show
so you can meet, connect, and converse with associates, prospects,
and partners from all over the world.”
It’s also a lot less expensive than many of those activities, though some
people do it all day long. While social networking can never fully replace
face-to-face networking, it can capture a lot of the same value at a fraction
of the cost of travel and conference attendance, and it’s much easier to
schedule. There’s literally no way you could network in person the way
you can online. People knew that was going to happen at the beginning
of the Web, but then for several years there weren’t people doing business
in online social networks. Now there are... many people. Thus, from a
business development perspective as well, the return on investment of a
good online community manager’s job seems clear.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 33
What Kinds of Animals Are These?
What’s the difference between community
management and more traditional positions like
customer service and marketing? That depends
on who you ask. There isn’t much consensus.
Most people agree, though, that online community
management incorporates some of both of these
types of work. It also presents unique challenges
and opportunities because of the newly public
nature of conversations, the variety of people now
able to discuss things publicly, the scale of the
Web, and the speed of communication.
• Social media is different than anything that’s happened before be-
cause of several unique qualities of the internet
• Community management takes a particular kind of personality: a
mixture of passion and compassion
• This is a demanding job with long, hard hours and high public ex-
• Skill in working with social media tools is important
• Management assumptions need to be questioned
• Good community management will change the business it’s per-
• There are established norms for pay (we list them below)
If you read one link in this section: Interview with consultant Nancy
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 34
thIngs that make socIal Community manager and expert
medIa dIFFerent: on the field Connie Benson
bristled when we used the
Communication is public, im- marketing word “campaigns”
pacting passive site visitors, in our interview with her. She
search traffic and others believes community management
should tilt away from marketing,
Blogs will challenge you towards customer service
and thus achieve what could
Customers can help each other be called “passive business
development.” As the innovators
Conversation happens much behind the popular forum site
faster GetSatisfaction.com said in their
slogan for a recent conference:
Use cases are public, customers “Customer service is the new
create content marketing.” That means that
making your existing customers
Your claims are verifiable by happy, in a public way, is the best
Google kind of marketing you can have.
“ the Ideal communIty manager personalIty:
“Passionate, but without letting it get out of control.
Thick-skinned, but not cruel or insensitive. Driven, but
still interested in helping others. Personable, but always
professional.” - Dan Gray
Marketing consultant Rick Turoczy says it’s a matter of skill sets and
authenticity. “I think community management is better handled by
customer service for the majority of companies,” he told us. “Most
marketing people don’t get it. They’re broadcast only. The best
community managers I’ve ever worked with (including before the days of
social media) were always in customer service or professional services.”
While such high-minded ideals are, well, ideal, marketing and community
management will probably always have a close, if at times uncomfortable,
relationship. Some of the more “marketing” type of work that community
managers do includes the creation of original content, highlighting
selected customer-created content, and engaging in conversations off-
site on blogs, Twitter, etc. about the company and issues relevant to its
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 35
If you’re looking for an explicit example of a job description, Connie
Benson has posted a good long one that was adapted from Mark
Andreeson’s company Ning.
brInGInG data back tO the mOthershIP
Even the customer service/marketing dichotomy can’t capture everything
a community manager does, however. Jeremiah Owyang discusses
another important part of the work - bringing customer feedback to the
development and management teams.
“Community managers are responsible for gathering the
requirements of the community in a responsible way and
presenting it to product teams. This may involve formal product
requirements methods from surveys to focus groups, to facilitating
the relationships between product teams and customers. The
opportunities to build better products and services through this real-
time live focus group are ripe; in many cases, customer communities
have been waiting for a chance to give feedback.”
Owyang draws back and spells out the big picture in a couple of different
“ “We’ve found there are five major objectives found in any
social computing effort: Listening, Talking, Energizing,
Supporting, and Embracing.”
Elsewhere, Owyang puts it in another way that’s helpful. In nearly all
the many community manager job descriptions he’s seen, there are four
common responsibilities rolled up into the job: “1) a community advocate
2) brand evangelist 3) savvy communication skills, shapes editorial 4)
gathers community input for future product and services.”
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 36
FlIckr’s ten poInts to lIve By
1. Engage your community.
2. Enforce decorum.
3. Take responsibility for failures.
4. Step back and let the community support
itself where appropriate.
5. Give freely.
6. Be patient.
7. Hire fans.
8. Stay calm.
9. Be flexible but focus on what matters.
10. Be visible.
From Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 37
the fun dOesn’t stOP
Those are some nice job descriptions, but even a list of responsibilities
can fall short of describing the less tangible parts of the position. Deb Ng
reminds us that while community management may not be a 24/7 job, it’s
not best done as a 9-to-5 job either.
“What happens to your community on the weekend? Do you just leave it
and come back on Monday spending a frenzied day trying to catch up, or
do you drop by here and there on the weekend just checking to make sure
the joint hasn’t been taken over by trolls?....Rather than have a frustrated
community, it’s probably in your best interest to make sure there’s some
sort of presence during the non-business hours.”
Community management may be your day job, but most of the people
in your communities will have different jobs and will be active in your
community outside of regular work hours. Given that, it’s surprising how
much interaction in online communities does go on during regular business
What does the work look like day to day and night to night? Check out
long-time gaming community manager Sanya M. Weathers’ epic post titled,
“Why Does it Take So Long to Answer Simple Questions? ” Weathers’
weaves together anecdotes from industry colleagues to tell the story of a
single all-too-typical day in the life of a gaming community manager. It’s a
lot of work.
We would summarize the most important parts of the story Weathers
writes, but it’s the non-stop insanity she describes that makes it so
remarkable. There really aren’t any parts of it that are more important than
others; you should read the whole thing. May your business have as many
demands on your time as successful online game companies have on their
The Online Community Research Network asked hundreds of
community managers what the most important factors are in
establishing and maintaining a community’s culture .
The top three responses (in order) were:
Quality, up-to-date content.
Have a clear objective/value statement.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 38
keePInG It In PersPectIve
Jeremiah Owyang sounds a rallying cry : you are not alone, work smart,
and remember your priorities.
“There are thousands of other community managers who are
pushing the membrane of the corporation to reach to customers;
the list grows longer every day... Start by focusing on objectives,
chart a road map, assemble the right team, and plan to be flexible...
Above all, remember that control is in the hands of the members, so
put their needs first, build trust, and become an active part of the
The importance of remembering that no community manager is alone
cannot be overstated. As long-time open-source community manager
Stormy Peters told Dawn Foster in a recent podcast interview that going
out of your way to connect with others in the same field can be very
helpful. See our list of resources in the final section of this report for ways
to connect with other community managers.
Okay, but how long is this going to take? How long will it take to build a
sustainable community? Mary Lou Roberts writes that even with the help
of professional consultants and outsourcing, community management
requires a meaningful investment of time and resources. Her estimates, in
fact, seem low to us.
“It takes three to six months of serious effort to build a sustainable
community. It’s not a silver bullet, and good consultants help
managers understand that and have patience. Monitoring does
seem to be a real issue. [LiveWorld.com’s Brian Person] says they
usually monitor communities for their customers. They require
the customer to invest at least 10 hours each week in community
management. This is not an activity to just be outsourced and then
wash your (corporate) hands of the operations. It’s your brand;
continuous involvement is necessary even if you hire management
We think that 10 hours a week for three to six months sounds like the kind
of strategy that would only work with the help of outside consultants doing
much of the work. If you can afford such consultants, it’s probably a good
idea to hire a more affordable full-time community manager to do the work
after they’ve left.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 39
let’s Get hIP tO the scene
Much like a good consultant, a community manager is going to help the
company understand the real benefits of participating in the community.
FutureLab’s Matt Rhodes writes that a community manager should
“advocate [for] the community within the organization [as well as for] the
organization within the community. You translate what goes on in the
community and make it relevant for the organization and different people
within it. You can explain to a CEO why the community is important and
show the value they can personally get.”
In order to do that, Rhodes says that you “need to be a trusted and
transparent source within the community. I see too many communities
where the community manager is face-less, has a generic name, and
never really interacts with members. Honesty and transparency are really
important online, and your community manager should be a member of the
community like any other.”
hOW tO nOt lOse yOur mInd
How do you keep one foot in the basics of your business, and the other
foot in the world of early adopters, with all it has to offer? Social media
“true believers” run the risk of going off the deep end and losing the ability
to communicate with their co-workers who are trying to run a business. On
the other hand, focusing on the business interests too much in the short
term can mean losing out on the emergent value of online community.
Connie Bensen offers the following advice .
“Identify and offer solutions for breaking down barriers between
customers and corporate. This includes identifying needs that aren’t
being met from the customer’s perspective and being involved in the
discussion as to whether the needs are valid, if they can be met, and
if they will benefit the organization as a whole.”
Paying attention to unmet needs that surface through the channel of online
community, then taking part in corporate conversations about which of
those needs or concerns are valid and require a response, will help keep
one foot in the traditional business world and its concerns. Bensen goes
on to explain the second half of the process:
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 40
“Be available to staff across the company to assist them in
identifying and using online tools if it can help them achieve their
goals related to their position. Teach, guide, encourage them, and
provide support if they are new to Web 2.0 tools and culture... Stay
up to date on new tools, best practices, and how other organizations
and companies are using them, so that the company can continue to
be an early adopter of these technologies.”
hOW tO lIsten tO the Internet
Much of social media is all about
We recommend that you subscribe listening to what people have to
to search feeds for your company’s say, and community management
name and your competitors on the is no different. You’ll want to
following sites, as a minimum: make sure you are comfortable
with an RSS reader and use it to
1. Multi-media search with EveryZ- subscribe to persistent searches
ing (see http://bit.ly/everyzing for for your company name, your
example). competitors, and related
2. Blog search with Icerocket, keywords. Once you set up
Google Blogsearch. those searches, Connie Benson
3.Microblogging search via search. says there’s some simple
twitter.com and twingly.com. logic to think through when you
4.News search with Yahoo! News compare the conversation going
and Topix.net. on online about your competitors
5.Social media search with Friend- to the conversation about your
Feed (see http://bit.ly/searchfriend- own company.
feed for example).
6.Google web search RSS (see If the brand has more
http://bit.ly/googlealertsrss for conversation around it, then:
instructions). Doesn’t the brand want to
maintain its lead online?
If a competitor has more conversations around it, then:
Shouldn’t the brand get busy and consider its strategy?
If neither the brand nor competitors have any conversations around
Shouldn’t the brand get a head start on its competition?
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 41
What are you going to do with the information you find through those
monitoring feeds and other sources? We discuss engagement with
your community in the next section of this report, but a key part of the
job description is reporting the information that you glean to company
management. Jeremiah Owyang has a great framework for reporting back
that he suggests .
During incidents, the community manager should report in real-time to key
stakeholders. Secondly, they should provide weekly updates that can be
quickly scanned in 30 seconds. Each month, they should provide a detailed
report, and initiate a 30- to 60-minute meeting with key stakeholders to
chrIs Brogan’s recommended crIterIa For
evaluatIon oF communIty managers16
• Responsiveness to communications with the community: less than
24 hours max.
• Number of QUALITY blog posts read and shared via Google Reader.
• Number of meaningful comments left on appropriate blogs, videos,
and other media per month.
• Overall quality of her Twitter stream (maybe a 60/30/10 mix of
industry-related / personal @ comments / and off-topic).
• Engagement on our blog/community/network. (Number of
subscribers, number of comments, number of links out to other blogs
from our community site).
• Number of quality blog posts and linking posts (probably a 40/60
split between original and linked, though some would argue for 30/70).
• Eventually, number of links from other sites to our blogs and media.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 42
the exIstentIal dIlemmas Of cOmmunIty
So this job is a grind and a juggling act. What’s the best attitude to aim
for in dealing with it all, as a company representative participating in an
online community? Dion Hinchcliffe offers some good perspective : it’s
about humility and mutual respect.
“Making sure the community has truly free rein to serve itself —
even if it ends up recommending competitor’s products in some
cases or becoming a venting zone for customer’s complaints — is
essential for the community to thrive through open conversation,
honesty, trust, and candor. This back-seat position can be a
very difficult thing for some organizations to accept, much less
encourage, but the best organizations manage to do this with
humility and a sense of mutual respect.”
If you’re ready to get “touchy feely,”
(and this is “community” we’re talking
about, so that makes sense) then it’s a
good idea to check in about our most
basic assumptions about the position.
Consultant Nancy White, who is one
of the smartest and most experienced
people in this field, asserts that the
term “community management” might
not be as appropriate as “network
facilitation.” She beautifully articulates
some things to consider when framing
the job of community management.
“Are we talking about communities, or are we embarking on the era
of network facilitation? When we move to the network, a couple
of things happen. The notion of managing becomes even more of
an illusion than managing that herd of cats called ‘community.’ ...
Instead we are talking about scanning for things important for our
organizations: conversations about us, niches or needs we can fill,
feedback and suggestions for improving what we do. It is filtering
and redirecting those messages to where they can do good. It is a
little bit like listening to the universe.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 43
“Instead of managing conflict or spammers in a walled community,
we are seeking to make connections between people that advance
our organization’s learning and goals. That includes between dis-
gruntled people and the people who might address that problem,
between ideas, links and content to people who might use them, and
between communities that exist within the humus of the network
“Instead of spawning or archiving threads, we are tagging and re-
mixing. Instead of inviting in or kicking out members, we are map-
ping the network of relationships, looking for where to respond, and
where to catalyze action.”
From an earlier interview with White again:
“As I get older, sometimes I wonder if the world ‘help’ is actually
a very big trap. So I think by helping make things discussable, by
convening, holding space for exploration, we can avoid assuming
we know what is best, speaking for others where they did not ask to
be spoken for, and assuming that anyone WANTS our help.
“So maybe here we are more mirrors than candles, eh? Reflecting
what we see and seeing if others see the same thing. Then figuring
out what’s next.”
We really like the way Nancy White puts it, but we recognize it won’t
resonate with everyone. A more straightforward way to look at the
relationship between a community manager and a company’s users/
customers is well articulated by ClearSpring Developer Community
Manager Justin Thorp . “Your users are the lifeblood of your community.
You want to treat them like you’d treat guests in your house. Otherwise, like
me, they’re going to make their way to the exits and not come back. One
of the benefits of the Web 2.0 era we live in is that there are lots of places
I could spend my time.” That’s the kind of plain-spoken, utility-based
approach that all parties could probably agree with. That’s language that
other people in a company could likely hear from a community manager
and agree with.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 44
cOmmunIty manaGement Is ImPOrtant WOrk
If you’ve already done some work as a community manager or done
any advocating for social media inside an organization, you know that
convincing unfamiliar co-workers that these tools and strategies are
important can be a big challenge. Sonny Gill wrote a good post titled “What
Makes A Great Community Manager,” and new community manager
Scott Drummond left a very insightful comment about this challenge there.
Drummond argues that community managers are an important internal
force for openness.
“I’d add that I think CMs are also internal organizational advocates
for the art of powerful conversation. I see a large part of my
(soon-to-be) role as championing not just THE community, but
also championing community as a concept in our own business.
I drive excitement about embracing transparency and authentic
communications among the development team, the C-level, and all
areas of the business.
I think it’s potentially an issue if the only person embracing
conversations in your business is the community manager. Chris
Brogan’s excellent post on the scalability of social media and
community communications (http://www.chrisbrogan.com/the-
matter-of-scale/) and the comments on that post demonstrate
that for social media to be successful at scale, partners need to be
brought on board from within the organization as well as from
within the community.”
The first part of that comment in particular is one of our favorite quotes
in this whole guide. We suspect that the best community managers are
interested in more than just a job: they are hoping to change the world.
One of the areas where one has a key opportunity to do that is in the
neW aPPrOaches are needed fOr a neW
In some ways, though, Drummond’s comments above read like a rookie
cop talking about joining the force so that he can rescue kittens from trees.
With time, it’s easy to get cynical in this business of community. Social
media veteran Heidi Miller has published one of the best podcasts on the
subject in years. In one blog post she offers a check-list of “tips” on
how to mess up social media. It’s sarcastic of course, but also insightful.
Here’s a selection of some of our favorite tips from her list.
For your more fearful clients who have an inclination to use social media
like it’s a spambot, a list:
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 45
“hoW to Frak up socIal medIa and guarantee It’s a
Waste oF your tIme”
Treat people in your new social networks as prospects, not friends.
Make sure that you constantly bombard them with one-way
messages about how great your product is.
Be in a hurry to show “results.” Forget that “Connections over time
equal trust” (--Tara Hunt); insist on showing immediate sales, hits,
and click-throughs from your blog, podcast, Twitter, or Facebook
page with no concern for building relationships with your friends and
Keep it impersonal; sounds like a corporation. Avoid speaking in
a human voice; always “regret any inconvenience we may have
caused you,” instead of saying “sorry we messed up.” People love
to interact with stale, sterile impersonal corporations, right?
Be the same. Never change. Keep on doing what you’re doing. Don’t
bother to differentiate yourself from your competition; just stick with
what you know. Never reach out.
Be afraid. Let your fear of loss of control of the conversation cause
you to treat social media like traditional media.
That’s a great list of ways in which people more familiar with older
ways of doing business regularly engage with new online communities.
Changing the workplace is much easier said than done. Especially in
larger organizations, middle management can be a big stumbling block to
advancing the use of community tools with the public, internally, and in
places where public and company communication intersect.
Karen Monks summarizes an eWeek article on the topic nicely as follows:
“In short, it suggests they are not comfortable with the tools and
can’t see how it benefits their day-to-day operation. They need
education on not only how to use the tools but also to see the results
that they bring to the business in terms of savings in time, re-use
of information, and creation of new unique artifacts. It seems
they may be a rather crucial cog in the wheel. If prominent and
respected managers in a business are seen to be participating, it
sends a signal to users that this is accepted and supported by the
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 46
Miki Szikszai offers some great advice for tackling this challenge in
discussing Monk’s post. It’s similar to advice that many people offer in
talking about promoting adoption of social technologies in general, but
Szikszai fashions it well to middle managers in particular.
“I think part of the issue with middle management and Enterprise
2.0 take-up occurs because of the way the conversation starts.
I observe that middle management is quite often recommended
‘We need a blog/wiki/RSS,’ as opposed to ‘ We need to share
information better with our colleagues to make everyone’s life
easier’. The most sustainable way to make this stick is to take a
user-centered design approach:
- Observe the middle managers,
- Understand what their problems are,
- Get them to participate in creating solutions.
Involve them so that they are part of the solution as opposed to
part of the problem. Any competent middle manager will always
recognize that there is value is learning new stuff. And your
analogy about middle management being the trunk is a really good
one to use with them! The downside of this is that it takes a LOT of
time and energy. Upside is that you get a sustainable result.”
A community manager’s job is never done. After a full day of dealing with
the community at large, you’re probably going to need to tackle an even
more obstinate crowd: the reticent folks on your own company’s staff.
It may not be necessary to bring everyone along for the ride, but some
minimal amount of meaningful participation is essential.
communIty management JoBs: demographIcs and
The Online Community Research Network did a survey last year of
225 people holding CM positions .
• A majority were female (55%, vs. male, 45%),
• The majority (61%) were 31 to 50 years of age.
• Most had more than 5 years of experience, completed a Bachelors
degree, and worked 41 to 50 hours per week.
• Average salary was $81,000, with a median of $72,500. There
were peaks on both the low ($0-$25,000) and high ends (more than
$150,000), and then also at $60,000 to $65,000.
• Women are earning only 91% of what men are earning; women
averaged $77,000, and men averaged $85,000. The average annual
salary for all participants was almost $81,000.
• Most were satisfied with their jobs, with an average satisfaction
score of 4.2 and a median score of 4 (on a scale of 1-5).
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 47
Community Management: Maybe Marketing,
Is community management marketing? Are there
marketing benefits that can come from it? What’s
the role of customer “engagement” in it all?
These are the questions we tackle in this section
of our guide.
• People prefer to be talked with, not too, numbers and anecdotes say
• Microsoft has done a particularly good job of engaging their most ef-
fective users effectively.
• You need to be consistently present, both physically and online, with
• Don’t spread yourself too thin on too many social media platforms.
If you read one link in this section: Dawn Foster’s Communication
Issues and Corporate Blogs http://fastwonderblog.com/2009/01/21/
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 48
There is reason to be cautious when thinking about marketing and
community. Church of the Customer invokes survey data to argue for
engagement over advertising in online social networks.
“ Advertising doesn’t work on social networks...A survey of
500 Americans found that 62% of them prefer direct and
personal communication with a company’s online brand
representative [over] ads or promotional materials.
We’re surprised that the preference for personal communication was that
low. The point, though, is that most people don’t like being marketed to
as much as they like being able to communicate with a company. That’s
especially true with existing customers, as tempting as it may be to keep
communicating with them in a “marketing voice.”
Gaming community pro Sanya M. Weathers puts it well in a long post of
venting and advice titled “Community Management Is, In Fact, Not That
“The secret to making friends out of board warriors [critics in
forums], and lasting for more than eight months on the front line, is
sincerity. If you can fake sincerity, you belong on the publishing side
of the business. You can’t fake it as a community manager. You have
to like the people you’re dealing with or you’ll burn out. You have to
BE one of the people you’re supporting or you’ll burn out. (And you
need support from the company that employs you or you’ll burn out
publicly, but that’s another rant.)
I never went to a player or press gathering where I didn’t feel like
I’d come home. If you don’t feel that buzz, if you don’t see your
friends in the people who traveled miles just to talk to you, get out.
You don’t have what it takes.”
Those are strong words. While it’s ideal, and probably essential in the gam-
ing industry, for community marketers to be “one of us” may not be real-
istic for all people in all companies. Good solid community skills can be
cross-applied from one context to another.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 49
Fedora Project community manager Max Spevack, for example, does a
great job explaining how to win the trust and respect of community mem-
bers with more experience in the field that you’re trying to manage than
you have yourself. (Spevack’s wisdom is included in our attached list of
the best community management podcasts to listen to.)
“ “I don’t hate marketing. I hate poorly thought-out, knee-
jerk, disco-era marketing perpetuated by people who don’t
understand massively multi-player games. Or the Internet.
Oh, and I hate hype-based marketing done without consulting
anyone who is actually implementing the features.”
- Sanya M. Weathers
enGaGInG yOur mOst actIve users
Gaming, open-source projects
like Fedora and other large online
communities present both their own
challenges and unique possibilities for
problem resolution. Lessons can be
learned from large communities that
are applicable anywhere, however.
Lawrence Liu shares a great story
about managing Microsoft’s SharePoint
forums in the early days there .
Lawrence found out that the “cost
Microsoft’s Lawrence Liu per incident” each time a customer
problem was dealt with in the forum
was about 90% lower than it was for commercial phone support. That’s
a great number to know in his case, and similar savings can probably be
found anywhere where customer support can be provided online. For one
thing, it’s much faster to read someone’s complaints or questions than it is
to listen to them on the phone.
In order to extend these savings to a greater number of customer
interactions, though, Lawrence Liu knew he needed to scale up the number
of people available to respond to issues and questions. His approach was
two-part and quite interesting.
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 50
To draw from his own community to expand the ranks of those who could
reply to incidents, Liu “leveraged the MVP (or Most Valuable Professional)
program, which is funded by our Customer Support Services organization...
[That program] provides MVPs with free stuff (worth thousands of dollars),
with invaluable opportunities to speak at Microsoft-hosted conferences and
to engage with Microsoft product groups during all phases of the product
cycle.” With the help of the MVPs, Liu was able to increase the number of
forum incidents that the company responded to substantially over a period
of three or four months. That’s just the first part of the story.
“But as SharePoint continued to gain momentum in the market,
even with the MVPs’ help, the number of unanswered questions
in the forums far exceeded answered questions. So, with a single
report that showed this growing trend over a few months, I was
able to convince my management that the problem was getting
worse and that we needed to dedicate some support engineers to
monitor the forums and answer questions. And the rest, as they say,
is history... It was critical that I had leveraged the MVPs prior to
asking my management for support resources because I was able to
answer, ‘Yes!’ to the question, ‘Are you sure that the real answer rate
isn’t higher because many replies of acceptable answer quality to
questions simply aren’t marked as answers?’”
To summarize Liu’s story: he incentivized community members to help with
community management by offering them opportunities for professional
development. Then when the company’s community grew, he was able to
tell management that there was a trackable group of community members
helping with incident response but who could clearly be shown were
being overwhelmed. Thus he was able to secure more resources from the
company to spend on community management. That’s a success story
that we’d guess any community manager would be envious of.
Active users are one of your best assets, and you can never learn too much
about how to treat them well. In an interview with OnlineJournalismBlog.
com , Angela Connor, Managing Editor of User-Generated Content at North
Carolina TV station WRAL.com, offers some good advice on interacting
with active users “Acknowledge good work,” she says simply.
“As a community manager, it is important to make your members
feel valued and appreciated. When you come across a great blog,
interesting comment, or great photo, send your compliments to the
author, and do it publicly on their profile page or directly on the
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 51
“Remember, you’re the community leader and your opinion matters
a great deal. So don’t be stingy with it. Positive reinforcement goes
a long way, and it will make that member feel valued and vested.
Once that happens, they’re in for the long haul... Ask for help. As the
person responsible for the well-being and growth of the community,
it’s easy to feel and operate like an island, putting all of that work
on your own shoulders. But as the community grows, so does the
number of stakeholders. Use them to your advantage.
“Contact your top posters and most involved members and ask
them to greet and reach out to new members. Ask them to work on
a community-driven FAQ. Tell them what kind of content you’d like
to see more of and ask them to help you build it. Not everyone will
jump right in, but you may be pleasantly surprised by the level of
tIps From tIpd.com on groWIng your communIty7
Refine your new user registration and content submission processes.
User experience makes a huge difference in “conversion” and
There should be new content featured prominently on the site every
Use other social platforms.
Engage and respect your current users, and don’t forget to directly
communicate with them.
Advertise (but be frugal and track results).
If you can, get some social media vets on board. They can make sure
you don’t make any huge mistakes, and they can connect you to the
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 52
Responding on site to your most active contributors is a good start, but
what does it look like to take this to the next level? Andrew Warner, of
event organizing consultancy Mixenergy, discusses the very popular
podcast Keith and the Girl as a case study and draws the following
“Keith and Chemda don’t have the
budget to pay evangelists, but if
they see that someone is creating
an event around their show, they
sometimes surprise them with free
Keith and the Girl merchandise to
help them... I keep hearing about the
importance of in-person meetings
when I interview online community
organizers. They make a Web-based
Keith and the Girl, photo: Michael Nagle community feel real. Keith and
Chemda encourage their listeners to
organize meet-ups on their forums... They read every single email
they get. Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s former evangelist, says to build a
community, you have to support your ‘thunder lizards,’ your most
passionate people. If someone takes the time to write in, they’re
signaling that they’re probably a thunder lizard.”
dOInG the leGWOrk tO maIntaIn cOnnectIOns
Encourage your fans and community to organize meet-ups themselves?
People often say, “Don’t expect your community to come to you; go to
where they already are.” ClearSpring Developer Community Manager Justin
Thorp takes that thinking a step further and says it’s time to go offline. And
not to the usual places.
“Visit your users where they’re at. Don’t force them to go to trade
shows. If you’re a company and you want to build community
with and have relationships with your users, a trade show is the
LAST place you should look. Instead of spending lots and lots of
money on a booth, go visit your users where they’re at... I’ve been
really impressed by Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress and
founder of Automattic. He travels around the world to WordCamp,
the WordPress user conferences.”
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 53
Even if you don’t have a whole forum full of Microsoft SharePoint users,
or a sprawling network of bloggers like WordPress does, a small network
inside a user community can help deliver value if it’s strengthened enough.
Scientists that study networks in general (outside the Internet) say that
a network is strongest when its most connected nodes have the highest
number of connections to otherwise unconnected points in that network.
As a community manager, you can be the most connected node in the
network, but some of the most important value will be delivered by some of
the least connected members.
Matt Rhodes writes on the FreshNetworks blog about building value,
cross-network jumps, and the cycle of value that can be built.
“When a brand launches an online community it should be thought
of as [a place where the brand’s representatives will be] playing a
central role in this ecosystem. Of course it’s not just the community
manager who does this, as was shown this week. The growth came
from the constant and ongoing growth work that the community
management team has been doing. But the final push came when
another community member picked up on some of this activity and
started to talk about our community on another site.
We didn’t ask them to do this, they just thought we were offering
something of interest to members of a very well-read forum in the
UK. The result was immediate and notable. Overnight, our member-
ship base increased five-fold, and by the weekend we had a much
larger number of members than we might have expected by the end
of a full year of the community. And what was perhaps more im-
portant was that these new members joined the conversations and
discussions on the site. Increasing number of members is fine, but
what we really want to do is increase the value of the community to
all members. And this only really happens when people take part.”
When you get down to the nitty gritty, personal relationships form. Gaming
community manager Dan Gray has this particularly helpful advice to offer :
”Never show (or even remotely imply) favoritism. In the long run,
fairness and consistency will be valued a lot higher than making
exceptions for people. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do
people favors. Occasionally going above and beyond to help out
a community member with something specific will demonstrate
that you do in fact care and aren’t just a glorified PA [public
announcement] system for your company.”
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 54
This advice concerns the relationship between a community manager and
individual members of the community, but sometimes community members
just want to be left alone. That’s okay. Francois Gossieaux argues that
“active engagement” is not only the wrong metric to use, it is actively
detrimental to the health of communities.
Another interesting wrong-headed metric-related finding from
the study is that a majority of respondents found that ‘getting
people to engage’ was one of the biggest obstacles to making a
community work. Now if you have a small community, chances are
that you could get a fairly high engagement rate. The larger your
community becomes, however, the more its profile will resemble
that of large public communities: 1% of hardcore contributors, 10%
of active users, and 80 to 90% of lurkers. Now does that mean that
the lurkers do not get value from your community? In the case of
the customer support community, lurkers who do not contribute
could still find the help they need and feel better about you than if
they had not found it, and they also save you the cost of a call to the
call center. So measuring community effectiveness by measuring
engagement is just not a representative metric of community
Now the real issue with all this is that if you have a community
development team that is being measured by those wrong-headed
metrics, it will invariably develop bad behaviors in order to
maximize these metrics. It could in fact develop community features
that stand in the way of success for your communities, or close down
communities that are in fact doing really well.”
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 55
daWn Foster’s checklIst For company BloggIng13
Can you commit to at least one post per week? (2-3 is better)
Do you have people who have interesting things to say and with good
Is someone available to manage the process and make sure that the
blog never gets neglected?
It is better not to have a blog than to have a blog that hasn’t been
updated in months.
Have you included disclaimers in the sidebars for blogs that contain
opinions and not official statements?
Have you trained your bloggers to think about how their posts might
be perceived outside the company?
Have you considered a very lightweight set of social media guidelines?
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 56
let’s Get sOcIal WIth Our medIa
When it comes to external community, the community outside your
company’s own website, the options can sometimes seem overwhelming.
Janetti Chon, community manager at Tech Web, points out that not all
tools need to be used in all situations. It’s quite common for people to aim
their energy at online communities where their kind of content gets little
traction, and that’s a mistake. Being selective is important. Janetti offers
multi-step advice, beginning with:
Step 1: Audit all of your brand’s current social media tools.
Step 2: Streamline and consolidate.
- Develop a social media road map. Brainstorm on the tools that you
think have most relevance for the communities you serve.
- Eliminate the dead weight. Discontinue all the tools/sites/pages
that don’t bring you value based on the time it takes to keep them
- Keep in mind that too many avenues of ‘social networking’ can
dilute your audience, at least in the beginning. Less is more if
you are trying to build a really robust online community because
this takes time, energy, and fresh content. If you’ve got limited
manpower, focus on a few tools/outlets that you can really own.
That’s a good way to wrap up our engagement and marketing section:
“Less is more if you are trying to build a really robust online community
because this takes time, energy, and fresh content.”
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 57
About Those Barbarians
Community is an emotional thing for everyone.
People who love community tend to love it a lot,
and people who don’t love it suspect it’s made
up of a small number of people who love it so
much they are out of touch with business realities
and a large number of people who are nasty,
• Consistency is important.
• Punishment doesn’t have to be your response to misbehavior.
• Setting up guidelines ahead of time, for community members and
employees, is important.
• Those rules can be very loose, sometimes things work better that
If you read one link in this section: Flickr’s George Oates “Commu-
nity: From Little Things, Big Things Grow” http://www.alistapart.com/
ReadWriteWeb Premium Report 2009 page 58
There is no need to panic when thinking about disruptive community
members. They are much smaller in number than you might think, and
there are level-headed strategies for dealing with them. There are also
practical reasons to consider taking a relatively hands-off approach to
dealing with them.
It’s a good idea to prepare a working plan for engaging with unhelpful
community members so that you bring some consistency to the task.
Alison Michalk discusses this well in the following paragraphs:
“Define your rules and responses. Communicate
effectively. Will you PM [permanently moderate/
delete] members who misbehave? Will you edit
part of their post? Will you note it was edited by
Mods? Will you remove it in total? Will you put
them on post approval, or ban them? Will you tell
other members what happened?
Alison Michalk “Moderator consistency is key to good community
management. Notifying members of rules being
broken might be great in the early stages, but is it
sustainable? Decide how breaches will be dealt with, and this will
save everyone a lot of time to-ing and fro-ing.”
“We have trialled periods where we did not notify anyone, and
where we have. Both throw up a lot of response and questions. In
sum, I think it is most effective to notify the OP [offending party] but
not engage in open discussion with other members. If the member
wants, they can answer others.”
You might have answers to some of these questions at the tip of your
tongue, but consider first that there isn’t consensus on the best way to
tackle many of these problems. There’s quite a diversity of opinions, in
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hOldInG the hOrses
For example, are hostile community members a serious threat, properly
dealt with only by permanent banishment? Not necessarily. Derek Powazek
cites the example of wildly popular site Metafilter.com, which uses a
probationary system to communicate with noxious users.
“My experience, and that of friends and colleagues, suggests that
the permanent boot should be your nuclear option, only for when
all hope is lost. Here are some other things you can try first… We
humans are social creatures, and sometimes just knowing that
someone is paying attention will result in better behavior... Why not
build a probation feature into your community tools?
“While on probation, members should be able to read, but not
participate. Tell them that they’re on probation and why. Be kind,
but firm: ‘We look forward to having you back in a few days.’
“Administrators of MetaFilter can put a member on probation for
a day or a week. During this time, they can read, but not post or
comment. ‘Most of the time or more, the response is ‘I’m sorry; I’ll
cool it. Things have been tough at work,’ says Matt Haughey. And
they go on to be great members.”
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keeP yOur feet On the GrOund
Taking steps like suspending users is pretty heavy duty; there are smaller
decisions that have to be made more regularly about the appropriateness
of content posted to community sites. It may be small, but content
moderation is not something to take lightly. The Distributed Research Wiki
offers some common-sense advice that you may not have considered.
“React quickly to reported content. One of the keys is how you react
to reported content and also your day-to-day moderation. React
quickly to reported content and be seen to take it seriously. That
doesn’t mean immediately removing it (we know people abuse this
feature), but if the guidelines are applied in a fair and consistent
manner and actions are visible, then it reinforces the guidelines
and the knowledge that there is someone behind the scenes who will
react when called on.
Make your moderation actions visible if possible either on the site
or, if not possible due to the nature of the UGC [user generated
content], ensure they know why something’s been removed; e.g.
email response, auto-response, note in the submission itself. If
content is removed without a user knowing why (or worse, the user
is banned), how will they be able to learn ‘better behavior’ in order
to be accepted back into that community?”
There are a whole lot of ways to handle content and member moderation
online, of course. Probably as many as there are people online doing this
kind of work. Martin Reed, for example, takes a more masculine approach
than we’d advise in an article titled “Never Forget Who is In Charge of Your
Online Community ”
He writes: “If your members sense you are a weak leader, they will test you
and take an increasing number of liberties to see what they can get away
with. Abusive members will become increasingly troublesome as soon as
they sense a leader who lacks confidence.”
Intel has published some of the most lengthy “Social Media Guidlines”
you’ll find anywhere. Check them out at http://bit.ly/intelsocial
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let’s take a steP back
There are alternative approaches. Community management doesn’t have
to be about “being in charge.” Long-time community consultant Nancy
White offers a check list of questions to ask yourself . We’ve excerpted
some of our favorites below. These aren’t really yes or no questions; they
are thinking tools.
guIdelInes, rules and governance
Is there a need for rules, agreements, or governance for online
Will there be strong and defined rules, or more general and/or casual
How will you communicate this to members?
Will there be problem resolution processes? How will you share that
If this is a work team, what processes and agreements will you need?
Do members have to agree to a “Terms of Service” or other form of
agreement before becoming members?
Do you feel like you should lay down the law right away, so that people
will relate to each other respectfully? Flickr’s George Oates says that
in her experience, quite the opposite is the best strategy. It’s about
communication, not strict rules. Flickr has long had one of the most
successful models of online community, and the company was acquired for
a tidy sum, so take what Oates has to say seriously.
”Given fewer rules, people actually behaved in more creative,
co-operative, and collaborative (or competitive, as the case may
be) ways... At FlickrHQ we never mediate group dynamics:
our members must be left to their own devices. Any time you
construct specific rules of engagement, they are instantly open to
interpretation and circumvention, and we want our members to
negotiate their place with each other, not with The Authority.
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Any community -- online or off -- must start slowly and be
nurtured. You cannot ‘just add community’... It takes time and
people with great communication skills to set the tone and tend
the conversation... Take advantage of what we learned: hire a
community manager. Or two. You’ll need a clever communicator
with a lot of experience being online to help welcome people and
provide ongoing support as your community grows.”
That’s some of our favorite advice for dealing with the troubles of an online
community. Take a deep breath and lead by example.
“ another perspectIve: don’t Be aFraId to tell
users to ‘get lost’
I know that many of my colleagues and peers will disagree
with me here, but I believe there can come a time when you,
the community manager, have to enforce your guidelines
publicly. I am going to go further by saying that you may even
have to use someone as an example for all to witness... This is
not Romper Room.
I cannot spend all of my time vetting personal arguments and
rummaging through abuse reports that were submitted out of
I will soon stop vetting and start banning. If you want to be
here, act like it. If not, go somewhere else. The Internet is
huge. Find your niche. It’s out there.
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cOmmunIty manaGement at a maJOr medIa
Mathew Ingram is the Communities Editor at
the Toronto-based Globe And Mail, Canada’s
biggest newspaper. He’s a mainstream media
reporter, but he’s got years of experience
blogging and using experimental new services,
so he has one foot planted firmly in each world.
He’s an active participant in conversations
on Twitter about international media and
technology; you can connect with him at @
mathewi. We talked to him on the phone in
“The transition from one-way to two-way media is not something that
newspapers are used to doing,” he told us. “It’s a big change.”
“The earliest version of community we had was comments on news stories.
For anyone who runs a blog, you take that for granted; but for us, that was
a big step. We were the first newspaper to do that in 2005. It crept up for
us; there weren’t that many people commenting. Now we’re getting five,
six, seven thousand comments a day. On good or bad days we can get up
to ten thousand comments.
“I like to call that community 1.0 or 1.5, because they all just sit in a big
heap at the bottom of the story. It’s like a petri dish of a community; it’s
little micro-organisms that could become community. You see people
who reply to each other, good and bad commenters who return, people
who assist each other. One thing I want to encourage more is writers
responding to comments and using comments as a resource. That’s
commenting 2.0, I think.
“ “Community is great because it makes people feel good,
democratizes the proccess, but also delivers value.
“One of our writers wrote a story, and the comments pointed out that she
only talked to one guy about one aspect of the story. She said ‘I read the
comments and thought F*!@ you. I wrote a story. Go write your own.’ But
then she admited it was true, phoned someone else, and updated the
story. For me, that’s a gigantic win for us and for readers as well. That’s
where the feedback should be.
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“I’ve also seen a noticable change in tone in comments and other
interactive forums, like Coveritlive.com. As soon as someone from the
paper steps in and makes a comment, the whole tone changes. If you
just give people a blank wall and a spray paint can, you get a predictable
outcome. But as soon as anyone says we should stick to the topic or
knock off the personal attacks, it has a noticable effect.
“ “Comments are the base level of interaction. I’ve been thinking
of other ways to enhance that. We’ve got live blog, a wiki
project, and hopefully we’ve got groups and forums around a
“One of the biggest things we need to do is identify and encourage
members of the community who are thoughtful, intelligent, and produce
comments of value -- encouraging them to contribute more, elevating
what they do and supressing some of the noise. I’m hoping our new
Web publishing system that lets people vote on comments will help with
that. I’m trying to think of more ways to use the volunteer fire department
principle. Identify key memebers, ask them to contribute more, and
incentivize them. Making their comments look different, giving them a
title, giving them different tools. There’s no way we can moderate all these
comments every day, and the only way to do it is take advantage of our
community. I think a task or a goal helps a community gel.”
We asked Mathew whether and why he thought that comments from
newspaper readers tended to be longer and more thoughtful.
“I would say that we do get a noticable number of longer, thoughtful
comments. I think it’s because we are a newspaper and a big national
newspaper; people still try to step up their game a little in comments. They
have a national platform, and they think of this as a letter to the editor.
“The biggest issue for us is repeat trolls and crazy people. The problem
with open forums of any kind is the ‘Call In Radio Show’ phenomenon: the
people who have the time to comment are insane, live in their basements,
are on a lot of medication, have conspiracy theories they feel compelled to
share with everyone. We can’t block based on IP because of other people,
but we just can’t block a person. It’s a game of wackamole; I don’t know
how to deal with that. Luckily, it’s not a huge problem. The other end is the
letter from the lawyers; we have had to do that in a few cases when people
were becoming violent and threatening and crazy. Luckily, it hasn’t been a
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does the gloBe use tWItter? It sure does.
“I have been using it as a way to connect with people and push out
features. You can pull Twitter feeds into Coveritlive.com. We did an Oscar
one, an Obama visit, covered a shooting in the subway. I was looking for
people commenting on Twitter on those topics, pulling in what people say.
I’ve retweeted, approved users, or approved with hashtags. There is a
surprising number of everyday people on Twitter; the Mayor of Toronto is
on it. But something like that for raw information delivery is always going to
be valuable. You may be touching only 1% or .1% of the population, but
they are reaching ten times that many people.”
Ingram’s closing thoughts on the changing media landscape:
“Sometimes you do things, like the policy wiki we set up to get people’s
input on serious issues, the first issue we got a lot of input on and the
second one we got a lot less input on. It’s the ghost-town phenomenon.
Or they are talking about what you want them to talk about but someplace
else. You can build a cool night club and tell people about it, but if people
don’t want to come, if they want to go to an empty warehouse, then that’s
what they are going to do. As a big media entity, we used to have the
audience; now you have to win over an audience to pay attention to you. I
don’t know how to solve that one either.”
cOmmunIty manaGement at a cOnsumer
Lucia Willow is the Community Manager
for Pandora, a streaming music
recommendation service with 25 million
registered users. Pandora doesn’t have its
own user forum. Lucia communicates with
the site’s users by email and across a lot of
other social networking services. Twitter has
proven the most effective for her. She’s the
#1 most-followed Community Manager on
Twitter at @Pandora_radio. She talks about
her interaction with users and her use of
Photo taken by Jane Tyska
Twitter in the following interview.
“My work is a combination of customer service and marketing
communications. Most of it falls on the side of customer service. I’m part
of the listener advocate team. We help people get the most out of Pandora.
We help people by having an open dialog, sharing stations, but also
answering questions people have about Pandora. The marketing follows.
If people see that Pandora is responsive to listener feedback, that’s good
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communication. People find me genuine and not too salesy, and that
seems to be part of why they enjoy my Twitter stream.
“ “I’ve worked at Pandora for years but the company didn’t
create a community manager position until a year ago.
“When I took that position, I had some goals, like this many followers on
Twitter and conversations on Facebook, but I was the only one who cared
about that. When something positive happens, I share the information with
the rest of the team, and the value of having someone in this role has been
pretty obvious. It’s like participating in an online town hall meeting, but with
more listening than talking on my part.
“Last I heard, we had 25 million registered users. Some listeners I interact
with more on Facebook, etc. and some only interact on our blog. I basically
go out and find our listeners online and interact with them, answer their
questions, and engage them in a dialog. I used to do daily blog searches
and comment on the posts that were very positive or very negative. I report
back from our listeners and read specific tweets at staff meetings when
all 150 of our employees are there. We answer every listener email we
receive, even if someone just emailed to say the word ‘thanks.’ We’re very
responsive and we’re proud of that.
“We regularly get email from people in their 80s and 90s who say the only
reason they use the Internet is to use email and Pandora. They will keep
conversations going with us and they will send pictures. We’ve got a photo
board in our office where we post photos listeners have sent us. We love
that stuff, and share it in company meetings. People regularly seek me out
from every department and ask me to ‘tell me more about that person.
That’s so intriguing that someone would send us their photo.’ We get
emails saying, ‘I’m in the hospital with cancer, and Pandora is the only
thing that keeps me going.’ That will motivate you to do your job and keep
making Pandora better.”
on usIng tWItter
“For me personally, as a community manager, I spend much of my time
on Twitter. I get the most bang for my buck there. I’m also on FriendFeed,
Facebook, and Myspace, but I find that Twitter has been the best. I didn’t
choose Twitter; it chose me. I had been using Twitter personally, and
saw that Obama was using the site. On a whim, I created an account for
Pandora. It was obvious that we needed to be on Facebook and Myspace,
but Twitter was the runaway hit. First thing in the morning, I scan my email,
and then I immediately go to search.twitter.com and see what people are
saying. I’m always impressed with the quality of questions on Twitter. The
stereotype is that it’s mostly early adopters on Twitter, but that’s changed
a lot. I communicate with Ministers, studio artists, moms at home, older
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people. There are more people over 50 or 60 on Twitter than people think.
“I used to use the Pandora logo as my Twitter icon. I put a fair amount of
thought into that decision, but was always open to other opinions. I liked
using the logo, as it stood out in the Twitter stream and it was clear who I
worked for and what I was going to talk about. One day, two people in a
row made jokes about how boring it was. I switched to a picture of me as a
lark, and I got a huge response. I was always open about who I was behind
the Twitter stream, but when people see a photo, it’s more clear to them
that it’s not a faceless company doing the twittering, but rather a human.
“ “I got more messages in response to my changing picture than
to anything else. People said, ‘It’s nice to meet you. It’s nice to
see the person behind the tweets.’ I imagine that when people
want to write hateful things about Pandora, it might make
them less likely to do so, seeing a photo of the human they’re
“I’ve seen a couple of companies using social media only as a way to push
messages to people. My approach is different. I’m a human, and I like the
interaction. I like it when people make me laugh. I think a lot about keeping
my Twitter stream interesting. I intentionally respond to most customer
service messages with private direct messages. If it’s a question that a
lot of people have, then I answer back publicly with an @ message. I put
my email out there periodically, as a lot of questions take more than 140
“Companies should know that Twitter and other services like that are an
excellent early warning system. Most community managers know that
by now. If we launch a new feature or ad and people don’t like it, we’ll
get emails about it, but Twitter is much faster. If I see several complaints
on Twitter, I communicate that to the team right away. Knowing what our
audience likes or doesn’t like is very important to us.
“In October, when we wanted people to call their Congressional
Representatives to help us with the royalty rate situation, using Twitter and
FriendFeed was very satisfying.
“People retweeted calls to action, and it’s such a fast way to make that
happen. I stayed on FriendFeed all hours of the night because people
kept having more questions. People spread that information out beyond
FriendFeed. When Congressional action happened, I was able to use social
media to spread the news much faster than news websites. The Wall Street
Journal, for example, doesn’t update up to the minute, and people spread
that info around without updates, but I was able to spread our up-to-the-
minute info quickly using social media. One thing that should always be
kept in mind: you don’t want to cry wolf. You want to use your network in a
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responsible and respectful way.
“If it weren’t for Twitter and FriendFeed, we would not have had as good a
response to our representatives. The users on those sites are a quick and
cOmmunIty manaGement fOr develOPer
Dawn Foster is a widely known online
community and marketing consultant.
She tends to work in developer-centric
communities, especially open-source ones. We
asked Dawn to share some experiences she’s
had at various companies that were particularly
She told us one unhappy story, one story that
started out rough but ended up being resolved
well, and one story that was happy right from
the start. Her stories resonate well with many
of the other developer community managers we’ve heard from in the rest of
Dawn can be found at her blog, FastWonderBlog.com and on Twitter at @
the Bad story: the company that hated the communIty
“I was working for a company that had a community where the community
and company were at extreme odds. The relationship was honestly
adversarial. People at the company were talking about how stupid the
community was, and the community was talking about how unhelpful
the company was. They brought me in to help with that, but I probably
shouldn’t have. The founders and execs were the ones being hostile!
“ “What I learned from that is that no amount of community
mangment skills or work will overcome a situation where
company executives don’t like the community. Had these execs
been more eager to participate, if it had been people lower
in the company causing the problems, then that might have
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“I think you see it more in open-source communities because there is
an expectation that you will take code from others, but the founders of a
company can be arrogant about other people’s code.”
a happIer story: movIng out oF marketIng
“I was managing a developer community at another company, while
working under marketing. The end result of that was that the people I was
working with didn’t understand what I did and why certain things I did were
important. Developers are a different beast. They are a lot more technical:
you have to deal with source code, bug tracking, and other things you
don’t have to deal with in a consumer community. I talked to other
people in the company and ended up working under the CTO instead. He
understood developers and understood that community work better than
marketing ever would.
“If you’re talking about a product community, then marketing could be a
good fit. Developer communities belong under the technical part of the
company. It’s important to look at the goals of the community and put it
in the right place, not just put it under marketing. If you treat community
mangment as marketing, you don’t end up with a strong community.”
the happIest story: startIng From scratch
“The best experience I’ve had as a community manager has been building
a brand new community from scratch. That was at Jive. The Clearspace
community was new. They wanted a developer community built with the
“ “That was a phenomenal experience, to build from scratch and
see it launch quickly. The product was in beta in May. Then
we launched the community in July. So many times you’re
brought in after the community has been defined.
“The first thing I did was a lot of content development, including a regular
video podcast series, regular developer blog posts by me and others.
Having a really heavy focus on content provided by the company worked
well for a developer community. We did a lot of developer training-type
content. Monthly newsletters worked really well; we featured the things
going on in the community and sent it out to all subscribers.
“Initially, not having content made us invisible in search engines. But by
putting how-to content up, people tend to find you a lot more easily. It’s
helpful in getting people up to speed too, since we were asking people to
make plugins, etc. Along with a lot of documentation, all of this worked a
lot better than just answering questions in forums. There was one person
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whose full-time job was to write technical documentation for products, and
I turned a lot of that into blog posts.”
b2b cOmmunIty manaGement
When you say online community management,
one of the first names that comes to mind
these days for many people is Connie Benson.
Connie is a prolific blogger on the subject and
has worked at a wide variety of companies.
Most recently she’s become the community
manager at Techriggy, a B2B company that
sells social media monitoring software.
You can find Connie on her personal blog at
ConnieBenson.com or on Twitter at @CBenson.
Connie started our interview with a horror story about a relationship
between management and a community gone wrong.
“With my very first community manager position, one of the first things
we did was switch the customer forum from one technology platform to
another. We were using PHPbb and we switched to BBPress. PHPbb
was a little archaic, but it served the customers, so it was fine. Customers
were 40- to 50-year-old males so they didn’t need all the flash, and it was
“The decision was made to switch to BBPress for the wrong reasons. The
reviews of BBPress said it was in Alpha. I asked specifically, Can you
migrate the users and their profile information, and the management said,
‘That doesn’t matter.’
“ “I have a post recently about being a change agent, and people
have commented that I need to be careful and not lose my job.
But to that I’ve said, ‘The quickest way to lose a community
manager is to quit listening to them. In that case, they never
listened to the community.
“There was so much unhappiness: the community kept asking for the other
system back. They even said, ‘You took our smilies away!’ This customer
segment of men missed their smilies. The moral is that you need to be
cognizant of the needs of the community; it’s not a case of going for the
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shiny object. In this case, the desinger liked to work in that platform. I’m
not sure if companies realize how much of an impact they have. They need
to remember that customers are #1. My philosophy is that if you build a
site, you have an obligation to be present. If you create a presence, you
have an obligation to be present.”
Next, Connie shared some thoughts about the relationship between
community manament and sales and marketing. She articulates well
the leading school of thought among some of the smartest social media
marketers, though she’s resistent to lump community management in with
marketing in general.
“Right now, I’m in B2B. I truly believe that if you provide resources and
information, then a sale will happen by nature of that relationship.
“ “As a community manager, it’s as much my work to train my
co-workers internally about this, because they come from
a traditional sales world. That’s the change agent thing:
you have to gently and continually remind people about the
importance of sharing resources and information.
“At Techrigy, one of our sales guys came in and said, ‘I’m going to have
a crisp message.’ And I said, ‘No, you’re not.’ He was very skeptical
of Twitter, and now he loves it. He loves talking about his music. It’s a
lifestyle thing; it’s about being real. He’s also amazed though by what a
lead-generation source Twitter is. For us, Twitter is a portal. We could be
buying AdSense, but the key for us is that people need to have achieved
a certain skill set before they are ready for social media monitoring. If
they’ve gotten comfortable using Twitter then they are ready for the
next step. My sales person is also building relationships with potential
customers, making friends. Last Friday night, after we got written up on
TechCrunch, it was really harried and I wrote, ‘I am going out to grab some
dinner,’ and a customer who I promised something over the weekend
freaked out and called my sales guy.
“Most companies are not set up internally to talk to customers on this level.
“They aren’t set up to scale it, and they don’t have the IT infrastructure.
Cultural change is where the communities come into place. The
companies that have access to Forrester and have support from Jeremiah,
that’s fabulous. The smaller companies that are able to bridge this gap will
go light years ahead really quickly. The Web has leveled the playing field
between small business and corporate.”
What does all of this look like in the long run? A very different business
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We’re very transparent with our product. So many of our competitors
are proprietary. As people sign up with us, they provide us with some
information. Over a period of time, I saw one certain company, and I
reached out to the community manager, and they said, “Oh, we have a
system internally.” They said, “We have a list of tools here.” When we
connected, we had a really great talk. It was two community managers
meeting and saying, “How can I help you?” That’s the future that I see.
The community people are the evangelists, the advocates, the people in
the public creating these partnerships, these relationships, ranging from
customer support all the way up to business partnerships, especially in
the B2B world. My prediction is that it will change the face of how B2B is
going to look.
I saw a competitor do a traditional email push campaign recently, and I
found out about it because people were complaining about the email blast
on Twitter! If we’re going to be on the edge, we need to be careful to
practice what we preach.
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the best cOmmunIty manaGement POdcasts
tO lIsten tO
We’ve listened to piles of podcasts about community management, and
these are the three you don’t want to miss:
HiveLive’s interview with Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang (12 mins)
A great big-picture look at the present and possible future of community
management. Focuses on numbers and big companies. Transcript also
available via the same link.
Fashion PR Interview: Jaclyn Johnson, Community Manager at Pronto.
dom (45 mins)
Exuberant young women excited about fashion blogging, but lots of great
information and perspective about community management at a growing
Fedora’s Max Spevack chat’s about Community Management (22 mins)
Great conversation about building credibility in a large open-source
developer community as a less technically experienced community
manager. The first few minutes are very specific to the Fedora community,
but after that the conversation turns to information that anyone will find
OnlIne cOmmunItIes fOr cOmmunIty
The Community Manager, Advocate, and Evangelist Group on
Nearly 2600 members, administered by Sascha A. Carlin, Connie Benson,
and Jeremiah Owyang.
“Twitter Pack” of Community Managers on Twitter (large list)
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The Community 2.0 Conference
A well attended conference with big names. Shares good resources on
Twitter as well at http://twitter.com/community20
Five sessions from the 2008 conference are archived and viewable at
Online Communities UnConference East
An event held annually. The 2008 sessions were well documented in a
wiki linked to above. Session notes and participants may be of value to
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