Community Developers (evangelists, advocates, whatevers) are in the spotlight lately, thanks to the likes of Seth Godin and Jeremiah Owyang, to name a few. In the last week alone, I’ve had four conversations with people about community programs for their organizations, and how they might better leverage all the various online tools including social media, social networks, and presence apps like Twitter. I’ve been thinking about this even more so than normal, and so here are some ideas for you to consider, should you be interested in either A.) engaging in a Community Development strategy, or B.) becoming a community developer yourself.
Have a Strategy
This sounds chiding, but it’s true. If you’re going to hire a community evangelist type, understand why you’re hiring them. Because the role isn’t exactly sales (though it is somewhat business development-oriented). The role isn’t marketing (though there’s a certain “rah rah” aspect to what we do). We aren’t going to guarantee X sales, X new contracts, etc. And yet, if you’re an employer considering hiring someone for this role, you have to measure their efforts somehow, right?
What if you used the following measurements to drive community around a product or service:
- Social network group membership #
- Social network group activity – are you able to motivate your group with regards to the product/service?
- Write-ups on blogs, podcasts, videoblogs – how many a month would be reasonable?
- Invites to business meetings, conferences, partnership opportunities
- New registrations for product/service (after all, that’s the point, right?)
Not all organizations will be the same, obviously, and the uses for this role are ubiquitous. In my company, I’m paid to do everything from write the conference program (all the sessions), to invite the speakers, to talk with the exhibitors about why they should come, and to drive awareness and attendance. After all, it’s a conference, and I need to find revenue to stay paid and to keep my company growing.
The “Friendly Face” Role
In lots of companies, the Community Developer is the “Friendly Face” of the organization to the outside world. One of the most famous versions of this is Robert Scoble for his work with Microsoft. Before Scoble, Microsoft was just Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and to a lesser extent Ray Ozzie. No one really “knew” anyone working there, and for the most part, the language out on the web was “Microsoft is evil.” I’d offer that Scoble pretty much cracked that nut, got us all to give Redmond a chance, and then went on to an even larger role evangelizing.
Other great community types I can think of without breaking a sweat: Scott Simpson at iTunes, Gina Bianchini at Ning, Eric Olson at FeedBurner (okay, Eric’s bizdev but he acts like a community guy!), Drew Olanoff at Plugg’d, and probably YOU if you’re a community type and read this site (forgive my memory lately).
What NOT to Do
A caution to community types: don’t be THAT GUY. I could name names here, but I won’t. No matter how amazing your product/service/website is, please don’t plug your product all the time. Please don’t prattle on about it, hide it in blog posts, or otherwise do things to make me annoyed with you. Be cool. Be someone interesting and someone who’s not MARRIED to the product.
The best community people I hang out with are the ones who talk about YOU, and who talk about cool things going on, and who talk about the common interests of our overall ecosystem, whatever that might be. They’re not blunt instruments. We all know you’re the community guy. Just stay calm, and when there’s that perfect moment of obvious mention, then make your bit.
What TO Do
Always have business cards so you can carry on conversations. Seek out ways to be helpful to your community at large. Look for partnerships and relationships. Offer something above and beyond what I can get from the bare bones system, if you’re looking for more than my baseline support (as a customer, I’m saying). Think up ways that your user base can be your partners in parts of the operation. Can we have an open blog? Can we do something to spread the love? Have you made buttons and widgets and blog outreach tools? Are you courting the people who make a passion out of building audience?
All things to consider.
Should Community Developers Blog “OFFICIALLY”?
I tried keeping a blog at Network2. I hated it. I just couldn’t get into blogging topically that way. Should companies blog? Yes. But I think that in our case, Jeff Pulver and I were getting the job done via our primary blogs. We were talking video, just not on the official site.
I think there should be an official blog, but that it shouldn’t be the community developer’s primary “home” on the Net. I think instead that the community developer can contribute to that blog, but should keep their own. We could probably slice this a few ways, because maybe some people aren’t as married to what they do between their day job and their night activities. For instance, if I’m community guy for a soft drink company, it might be okay to blog about rock bands. But would a health care company want me to blog about goth bands or some similar disconnect?
What’s your take on this one?
Developing Community Means Being There
It’s great to be on Facebook and Twitter and MySpace and Ning and a blog and all these social constructs, but being there in person is very much part of the deal. I say with pride that I’ve bought beers (with Jeff Pulver’s money) for several hundred video producers all over the US, Canada, and parts of Sweden. I LOVE meeting people at social events. I’m encouraged to continue my work with PodCamp because it develops community as well.
If you’re a company considering hiring a Community Developer, there has to be a budget there for real live, in the flesh promotions and hanging out time. It’s social. There isn’t an end goal to this. It’s meant to build a relationship, because one learns really quickly who one is dealing with face to face over coffee or beers.
Which Online Services Do What for You?
Should you set up a product/service account on Twitter? I’ll tell you right now that I never add them. Even services that I like don’t get an add if all you’re doing is pointing me back to your stuff over and over and over. Unless it’s useful. I really like how Ustream represents itself on Twitter, because in a way, it’s a live-time TV guide for what Internet TV shows I could be watching live.
If you’re going to Twitter as a company, make it as a human, and respond. Twitter is two-way. It’s not ‘what are you doing.’ It’s ‘what has your attention?’ Make that answer other users from time to time, and it goes a long way.
** What about Jaiku and Pownce? I’m not sold. That’s a personal opinion. You decide. Thoughts?
I’ve written a lot about how I’m upset that Facebook doesn’t use RSS and that their Terms Of Service are set up to suck in content and not share. I still think you should be on Facebook if you’re out there looking to reach the online community. Why? Because it’s hot and people are going there. There are LOTS of people on Facebook and you should even consider building an application to plug into the network.
** What about Ning and MySpace and other social networks? I love NING from my experience. Not so much MySpace, unless you’re reaching the youth markets. What’s YOUR take?
BLOGGING/PODCASTING/VIDEOBLOGGING – Blogging is a must for most organizations, because it gives a voice to your community efforts. Do NOT just let any old marketing person do this. Don’t make the C-levels do it if they don’t have soul. Find the person who is the heart and soul and easy-to-approach person in your org (or hire them) and give them the blog. Podcasting in audio format can be useful (I usually shy away from this, but why not try something live via TalkShoe or BlogTalkRadio?) Videoblogging is a lot hotter these days, and fairly easy to set up. Or again, you could go live with Ustream or BlogTV or several other new live companies.
I think new media community tools like those above are a must for the toolkit, but each requires some though as to how one might properly get the most out of it.
Lots of people ask me how to go about getting a community development job. For one, I know that Seth Godin will post something on Thursday showing a lot of job offerings. I just posted one today for the Boston area. And you could always ask around via the Grasshoppers group on Ning (I started the group, but it’s got 250 great members so far).
The job isn’t all fun and games. There are times when you’re out there to face the disappointment of a community for something that went wrong. There are times when you’ll be asked internally to do something that’s not exactly Kosher, and at those points, if you’re the community person, you have to advocate for your community and stand up. You never want to be on the stinky end of something like that later on. Credibility and trust are fairly important currencies for a community evangelist.
Why Community Builds Business
It’s not all sales. It’s not all search engine optimization. There is a human element to all companies. At the end of the day, we like doing business with people we like. We prefer it. So there’s an obvious long-term reward to having someone in place at your organization to be a community-facing component. Not customer service, not marketing, not sales, but someone that connects all the vital facets of the organization / service / product to the outside world.
We react to this. Having a name to turn to when there’s something going on is so much more comforting than filling out an online form or waiting in a queue at a website. I believe it brings real, measurable business advantage to the game, and companies not considering their strategy with regards to building community are doing so at their own risk. (Okay, maybe not ALL companies need this: any ideas who wouldn’t?)
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