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Posted by: Becky Gaylord

Community Managers: Do This - Not That

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Social media invites all kinds of conversations, sharing and engagement. The “rules” about the social web could be described like this:

# 1.  There are no rules.

# 2.  See #1.

community management guidelines

Yet, while I am a fan of fewer don’ts than dos for the social web, some broad guidelines should apply — especially when it comes to community managers, who are the voice behind a brand or organization.

It comes down to this: from the outside, the community managers sharing on behalf of a brand are the brand.

Like it or not, the role of community manager comes with obligations. The bigger the community, the bigger the responsibilities to the community. This means that, depending on the situation, community managers might also be filling the role of nurse, teacher, police officer, helpful neighbor, mail carrier or ambulance driver. Really.

In other words, this is a position that requires humor, resourcefulness, grace, fast reflexes, patience and empathy. Because community managers are so visible (virtually, anyway) they are held to high standards. Their interactions get observed and assessed by all of their customers and other public audiences, such as media, investors, potential customers and so on. Their actions and responses are being watched by all of us, all the time. In this way, customer interactions through social media are totally different than in person, on the phone or through an email.

Recognition of this crucial link between community manager and brand reputation is growing, according to a 2013 study about community managers done by Social Fresh. The average age of folks with that title is increasing. It’s now in the 30s, the report by the social media training company found. The pay is rising, too. Average pay of community managers is almost $60,000 according to the data this study collected. (An infographic, which accompanies the report, appears at the bottom of this post.)

A real life example of what NOT to do

how to manage online community

The idea for this post has been brewing awhile, as I’ve witnessed community managers do amazingly helpful things [Among some others, these brands nail it: BufferDirect TV,TwylahSirius XMZapposChobani.]

Unfortunately, others have blown it. Here’s an example of what not to do.

Over the Labor Day weekend, I saw a frustrated Tweet from JD Andrews, who has incredible reach on the social web. He had Tweeted to American Airlines and wasn’t getting anywhere. Some of his 138,000 followers, who were watching the customer service donnybrook play out on Twitter, joined the conversation. Whoever was staffing the account started defending the Airline’s actions — to 620,000 followers and other folks in the virtual crowd on Twitter that had gathered to watch.

As you can see, from the series of reposted Tweets, below, there was a lot to watch.

social media management

community management best practices

Real Consequences

One of the many reasons social media is so powerful is that the data generated are so accessible and trackable. It’s possible to see who saw what, when. I used a great tool, Tweet Reach, to plug in American’s frequent flyer Twitter account and look at data on impressions during the exchange.

JD’s Tweets had twice the impressions of any other Twitter account in the time period this search spanned. Six out of ten impressions for the @AAdvantage Twitter handle were Tweets from JD’s account. And, as the screen shot of my TweetReach search shows, among the most ReTweeted Tweets is this one: “Customer Loyalty? None.”

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 1.08.15 PM

 

Ouch! That’s hardly the kind of impression any brand wants to display to its followers.

In this case, it seems the hope was that anyone following the incident would just forget the whole thing. What’s behind my hunch? Each of the Tweets related to the exchange was deleted that afternoon from American Airlines’ Twitter accounts.

Of course, on the Internet, nothing is truly deleted. Exhibit A: the Tweets included in this blog post. And, when Tweets resurface, after being sunk by a brand’s account, it tends to look worse than it did, initially. Teenagers could be forgiven for trying to cover their tracks after a cringe-worthy Twitter exchange. But, community managers for huge social accounts? Not so much.

Now, several fliers loyal to American Airlines have Tweeted and written blog posts that laud the airline and its staff for incredible responsiveness, offering examples of great customer service. That’s wonderful exposure for American. And it’s proof that it rocks community management — some of the time.

Still, the example here demonstrates that consistency across a brand’s community management matters, too.

This is especially true for a major brand that serves customers with issues that warrant attention outside of the 9 to 5 weekday. Yes, this example occurred over America’s Labor Day holiday — a long weekend. It’s no surprise many folks travel then. What’s more, the Twitter account for American Airlines has sent more than 290,000 tweets and has 620,000 followers. It’s not new to social media or its power and possibilities. Clearly, it should know that consistent, responsive and helpful community management is vital.

What follows is not a list of ironclad rules for community managers and brands. What they are is this:  recommendations, drawn from observations of what the best social brands tend to do, and also what they tend not to do. Some (maybe many) readers will disagree. I’ll welcome the discussion — especially if you can give an example to help illustrate the instance.

This list does expect high standards of the people behind a brand’s social presence. And that’s because they truly can enhance brand reputation. On the other hand, community managers who veer from these basic guidelines risk inflicting damage, instead.

Do this

  • Monitor very regularly
  • Converse
  • Follow members of community
  • Interact by ReTweeting, responding and showing some love
  • Show personality
  • Be friendly
  • Ask to talk offline or send a direct message, if need be. Or communicate by email
  • But, then aim to truly resolve the issue. If the request to go offline is just to shield exposure, this will backfire
  • Follow up and see if the question or problem remains
  • Ask if there is anything else that can be done that willl help
  • Thank customers

Not that

  • Delete messages (nothing ever dies on the Internet, plus it looks sneaky)
  • Be sarcastic
  • Ignore those who are asking you to solve a problem or help them
  • Use “corporate speak” that doesn’t directly address the issue
  • Be profane
  • Be defensive or whiney
  • Assume an intern can handle the job
  • Forget that millions of eyeballs are on you

Please comment or send me a Tweet if you think I’ve missed a couple or am being too picky. I won’t delete any (that aren’t spam) I promise!

Here’s an infographic that gives an interesting look at 2013 data about community managers, included in the report by Social Fresh.

cm-report-2013

 


Authored by:

Becky Gaylord

Becky worked as a journalist for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including the New York Times, Salon.com, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and was Associate Editor of the Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations ...

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September 13, 2013

Lisa Woody says:

One thing you don't mention is that Admiral's Club access is not for everyone who flies first class. My husband, who flies several times a week, always first class, pays hundreds of dollars per year to use the Admiral's Club. And it's worth it, because it makes his job easier and more comfortable.

Addressing Rebel Brown's first comment, why is it "just plain wrong" for a first class passenger not to be admitted into the Admiral's Club for free?

If American Airlines starts granting access because someone flew first class, then why would anyone pay for a membership? At that point, the Admiral's Club begins to be a cost center, not a profit center. I totally agree that AA could have handled the issue better on this guy's Twitter exchange. But would anything other than Admiral's Club access have made him happy?

I dunno, maybe it's because I'm a business owner, but I've seen consumers get carried away, threatening social media boycotts and smear campaigns to coerce companies into giving them more than they paid for. As our culture becomes more rights-centered and less responsibilities-centered, it's going to become harder and harder for companies to live up to our demands.

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September 9, 2013

Paul Schaefer says:

Becky, While I too was disturbed by your impression that Tweets were deleted, I think I've established that they weren't. So, I'd like to get more of your perspective on the lack of customer service. First, here is full original exchange https://twitter.com/search?q=from%3Aamericanair%20to%3Aearthxplorer. You'll need to click on the second result to expand the entire conversation. Since this is a Twitter search, it will not show deleted posts. Are there deleted posts you're aware of? If not, none of your "Not that" bullets seems to apply.

 

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September 8, 2013

Paul Schaefer says:

I'm curious what Tweets were deleted? I'm continue to see all the Tweets that are referenced in this blog post as well as the exchange with @earthxplorer. What's the controversial content that we're missing or was deleted?

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September 8, 2013

Becky Gaylord says:

Paul, 

On the afternoon the exchange took place, within two hours (when I checked, as I started writing the post), the tweets were no longer visible in the Twitter feed of @AAdvantage or @AmericanAir. No evidence of the exchange could be found on those account streams by their followers at that time. Yet, the Tweets remained, of course. I just used screen shots from the accounts of others involved in the exchange.

As such, my blog post, picked up by Social Media Today, does include them all. Nothing is missing, here. It was missing for viewers of American Airlines accounts later on the day it occurred. 

Out of curiousity, just now -- a week later -- I checked to see what was visible on @AAdvantage for Sept. 1, which was the day the conversation on Twitter took place. It's not there. In fact, the stream shows no Tweets from Aug. 30 until Sept. 3. Here's a link: https://twitter.com/AAdvantage/with_replies

 

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September 9, 2013

Paul Schaefer says:

I also see the Tweets mentioned in your posts, https://twitter.com/search?q=from%3Aamericanair%20to%3Arebelbrown still on Twitter search. Do posts still show up in Twitter search if they have been deleted?

 

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September 9, 2013

Becky Gaylord says:

Right, Paul, deleting a Tweet from one user's account doesn't also & automatically make the Tweet disappear from the Twitter feeds of other accounts that were mentioned in the "deleted" Tweet. That's why my position is to counsel against community managers "deleting" Tweets; it doesn't truly erase them, anyway. Hope that helps.

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September 9, 2013

Paul Schaefer says:

Becky, Again, thanks for the quick reply, but it seemed contratictory to what I had previously understood, so I did some additional fact-finding. While I agree Tweets can 'live beyond the delete' I had understood that applies to third party apps and if someone RTs, then it will, of course, live on within Twitter.

In this case I was able to do a test and verfified that deleted Tweets are deleted from both the original timeline and the timeline of the other account. In the case of a reply, it's basically orphaned, showing it was a reply to a conversation, but does not show the original Tweet.  There for, if you did a screen grab from the other account and the original post was still there, it had not been deleted.

Additionally, a deleted Tweet does not appear in Twitter Search (although Twitter states it can "hang around" for a while, in my test it disappeared in seconds). The conversation you reference is still available in search seven days laters, so it hasn't been deleted.

So, while I agree with your counsel for community managers to not delete Tweets, your example here appears to be misrepresented or maybe just misunderstood. I suspect, based on your earlier reply, you were just looking in the wrong account and jumped to the conclusion they were deleted. All of the conversation took place on @AmericanAir, not @AAdvantage. I hope this better helps in the understanding of deleted Tweets and is clear that while your counsel is valid, the example here is not.  Thanks, Paul

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September 9, 2013

Paul Schaefer says:

Hi Becky,

Thanks for the reply. It looks like the posts were mostly directed to @AmericanAir. Still today I was able to see the original posts by https://twitter.com/search?q=from%3Aamericanair%20to%3Aearthxplorer which appears to be the original conversation.

 

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September 9, 2013

Becky Gaylord says:

The message of the post was: Be helpful on social media. Your employer, Paul, American Airlines, was perceived as not being helpful on Twitter, in this instance. There's nothing else to say.  

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September 9, 2013

Paul Schaefer says:

There were two messages and one was 'don't delete Tweets like these guys.' On this issue your facts (not your opinions) appear to be wrong and, if so, typically journalistic integrity leads one to either retract or apologize for the mistatement of fact. 

My profile clearly states who I am employed by and states that the opinions here are my own. I was motivated to do my own research on my own time because I wanted to learn more about your example, but was surprised when I realized it was flawed.

So, what's left to say? How's this?

  • Correct the facts about the deleted Tweets
  • Post the original exchange
  • Use the correct Twitter account for your Tweet Reach example, @AmericanAir

Perhaps your point about 'being helpful' will still be valid, but at least your facts will be accurate and contribute to a helpful example. 

 

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September 7, 2013

Ella Buitenman says:

I would suggest to change the point of view.


In the first place I represent the customers. Not the brand. The brand/business comes in second place.
And I think any social media manager/moderator should be a strong customer advocate, not a brand advocate.
Some businesses have roles like 'listening officer'. That's a very good title in my opinion. Because it entails what someone should actually do. Listen and don't defend.

Does this make sense?

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September 7, 2013

Becky Gaylord says:

Ella, 

This post uses phrases such as, "the voice behind a brand or organization" and "link between community manager and brand reputation." It doesn't address representing or advocating.

It does declare that community managers link. They are a bridge between brands and the public. The post describes roles, as that link, that they might have to play: "nurse, teacher, police officer, helpful neighbor, mail carrier or ambulance driver." To help explain, I'll offer some examples, here:

Soothing a customer's dissatisfaction = nurse.

Offering a how-to tip = teacher.

Moderating comments or deleting posts with personal attacks or that are wildly inappropriate = police officer.

Offering a link to a video or post that answers a customer's question in more detail = helpful neighbor.  

Relaying the customer's issue to precisely the right person for an answer = mail carrier.

Knowing when a problem is urgent and dealing with it in that way = ambulance driver. Perfect example: Tweets sent during the 2013 NCAA Championship Game. Here's a link to the exchange with our satellite provider. It's worth a look.

A community manager's main responsibility is to be the go-between. Done well, it feeds useful information about customers, service, products, etc. back to the brand. But, it also helps keep customers satisfied, gives them a voice and lets them reach a human contact.

Bottom line: There's no need to rank who comes first -- it's not a competition. Being an advocate of one group or another is an entirely different thing than being a skilled community manager.

 

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September 6, 2013

Becky Gaylord says:

Thanks, Shell. More businesses are showing awareness of the importance of social media management. It really does need to be integrated into many functions, not shunted aside as a separate entity. The more up-to-speed the social media team is about issues that could or will affect their organization, externally, the better able they'll be to respond and communicate when the queries come.

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September 6, 2013

Shell Robshaw-Bryan says:

Great article Bceky.  I totally agree with you that deleting Tweets afterwards just makes a brand look stupid and can often be the worst thing to do.

As well as everything on your lists, i'd add not to take things personally and provide emotional responses.  Of course we all feel strongly about the brands and businesses that we represent, but being defensive and getting angry should always be avoided.  Sticking to plain facts is good and being helpful is imporant.  If you are unable to resolve a situation then at least being understanding and showing empathy "I understand how frustrated you must feel...." makes absolute sense.

There are so many businesses who are mistakenly placing too little value on social media management.  Social media managers are on the front line of the sales, marketing and customer service departments and as such need to be multi disciplined and an excellent communicator in order to do a good job.

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