Archive for February, 2011
Whilst listening to Heather Taylor (@heatherAtaylor) last night at the Digital Surrey event talk about the way giffgaff goes about it’s community activities she made a couple of comments that really struck home with me. One of those related to legacy and how with all the best will in the world if you’ve got legacy software being utilised for housing your community, or legacy in terms of internal business structure it can be really difficult to make those changes you know need making.
I’ve found myself in that position on more than one occasion. There are loads of things I’d love to try and do to improve the levels of engagement in the community, get them contributing more content and generally being more active but a lot of this would require some serious tech work and potential overhaul of everything that is there. For those in the process of starting communities or developing strategy mark this down as something to consider. Future-proofing your community is something that needs to be done in order to keep your community evolving and growing. If you are a CM that’s operating on a legacy platform with little support to change it then I feel your pain. What I would like to do though is propose a few ideas based on what occured to me following Heather’s talk last night.
If you are using a legacy platform and haven’t got the technical support to make those sweeping changes can you make processes easier instead? Can you tweak the way certain elements of the community work so that your users can get more out of them? This could be the structure you have for your forum areas, it may be the way they submit comments to your published content or the way they interact with you as the CM. Even the little changes can potentially have a big impact even if they don’t quite equate to the blue sky thinking of where you’d like the community to be.
For me looking from the perspective of the particular community I’m managing at the moment I’d love to be able to reward users for their contributions with a measured system for providing those rewards. I’d like to create new areas of the forum with extended functionality to more easily share content. I’d like to extend the experience by drawing stats elements from their profiles across other sites on the network into their forum profiles where they spend the most time. Pretty much all of this would require extensive dev work but there might be a few “quick wins” I could get away with. What I’m trying to say is that while legacy platforms can hamper continued and future growth always look for ways to overcome that and show the community that you are trying to provide them with a better experience.
Honesty and Transparency should be two cornerstones of how a CM operates in order to build those relationships with users and a level of trust. It can however be quite tricky to achieve a state of openness or at least a measure you feel comfortable working with. Whether it be new product information, issue support, community development or a host of other areas you as the CM may be privvy to internal information that keeps you in the loop but you’ve been given a briefing along the lines of “this isn’t ready for the public yet”. And so you have to sit there and accept and to the best of your ability answer questions and engage with users without giving out those vital pieces of information that you really really want to.
How can we turn this around? Shouldn’t a CM be free to communicate pretty much everything in order to maintain that relationship with what could be classed as the most important users / customers? Or should we only receive information when it can go public so that we sit in a position of “when we know you know” and there is that level of honesty and transparency, albeit a bit fabricated. It’s something I struggle with on a regular basis working with a passionate and vocal community. If I gave out all the information I had available I’d quickly be out of a job and it’s a fine balancing act to try and assist users.
Should businesses be looking to be more transparent across the board, admit any failings and take it on the chin in order to keep customers onboard rather than play to the shareholders? Where is the line drawn and are there specific circumstances where the shareholders or customers should take priority? Lots of questions again (I seem to be good at that) but if it helps shape your thinking or makes you take a second look at the way your business operates then hopefully that’s a good thing.
As Community Managers continually look at ways to increase engagement and activity levels having a forum or a discussion area as part of your community is a good way of achieving this. It gives users the opportunity to exchange ideas, comment on the latest happenings, provide feedback and a host of other things. Fromthe point of view of a CM or Forum Manager who has to manage this sort of environment here are 10 essential admin tools that will make life easier and enable you to manage more effectively.
- Global Announcement Area; How this looks and functions can be tweaked depending on the community but having an area where you can get messages or information across to the whole community quickly and easily can be invaluable.
- Ability To IP Ban; Not something you should always turn to but for those cases of multiple accounts of troublemakers or spam destroying your community this can be something to turn to.
- Pre-Moderation Options; Being able to create pre-moderated areas of your forum can lead to specific types of discussion such as Q&As. Might not be widely used but good to have in your arsenal.
- Profanity Filter For Personal Messages; You might already have a profanity filter for the general forum area but what about in PMs?
- Tools To Read Personal Messages; Again, not something you might use that widely but if users can report PMs then you need to be able to respond and read the PMs in question.
- Metrics Tools For Determining Most Active Users; Something I’ve found invaluable is a set of bespoke metrics tools for finding out who the top posters are in each forum section for any given date range.
- Tools To Edit User Profiles; As an admin it’s useful to be able to edit anything on a user profile in case they select an inappropriate avatar or content.
- Robust Moderation Tools; Hide, delete, move, merge, close, and everything else you can think of will make it easier for both you and your moderation team to handle the day-to-day duties.
I’m sure people will have their own tools that they’ve found really useful when managing their environments but I think the 8 above provide a base platform that enables effective and timely management of a forum environment. The above tools are certainly things I’ve found have helped me in my daily activities.
Chances are we’ve all fallen into the trap where a common issue or topic is met with a standard scripted response that we send to users. With this post I’d like to urge CMs to ditch those scripted messages and if you can’t do that then tailor each response to have a little personal touch. A large part of the role of a CM is to build relationships with users and increase engagement and this should work across all elements of the community, including Personal Messages or through a Contact Form.
Opt for a boring scripted response to something and you won’t get that user feeling good about the situation, about you as a CM or the brand you are representing. Even if you have a script change it up for each user whilst maintaining the core line that you need to provide. This personal approach can pay dividends in the long run as users feel like they are being listened to and assisted where possible.
I’ve had numerous occasions in the community I’m currently working on that users will PM me and their closing line will be “please reply” or something similar. I’ll reply with a personal response that relates to their query in a language that’s suitable for the community and more often than not I’ll get a “thank you” message later on. Granted some issues I have to pass on to Customer Support as they are technical issues, account related queries or something else but on the whole I’ll try and assist users where possible as I know the power of this personal approach.
So, ditch the script and start listening and talking to your users.