The Complex Role of Community Managers in Small Business Communications

Ever wonder just what exactly a community manager does?

Is it advertising? Social media strategy? Content production? Media relations? Business advising? Market research?

The easy answer is: yes to all.

community manager at work

Image courtesy of Flickr (CC)

Alison is a community manager for a local start-up. She has a masters degree in communications, and over 10 years of experience. Alison begins the day reading headlines, looking for stories that might be interesting to her employers, possible blog topics, or sharable in social media.

Because she works for a small company, Alison is more than a social media manager, more than a marketer: she’s an integral part of the daily business operations. She is the public relations rep, monitoring the brand’s image, expertly responding to customer comments and negative feedback. She is the media relations rep, pitching story ideas to overwhelmed journalists. She is responsible for blogger relations, reaching out to a list of bloggers to get influential eyeballs on your product. She is a researcher, always asking questions about who your next customers will be and how best to reach them. Alison is a writer, producing content and editing communications for your team.

Alison doesn’t work your typical 9-5. As most PR professionals are acutely aware, the rise of social media and digital journalism means that PR reps generally start their workday before 7am and see more of their smartphones than they do their spouses.

How much should you pay a community manager? According to Salary.com, Alison should draw a salary of $80,000-$150,000 depending on where she lives (the low end is for small towns like Cleveland, OH, the higher end for the big guns in New York and Silicon Valley). Many start-ups can’t afford to pay a salary this high. Some don’t think they need communications help. But when you look at the value community managers like Alison bring to a company, many start-ups won’t succeed without her. If it’s time to hire a community manager, make sure you find one who shares your companies values and is passionate about what you do.

The next time you speak with your community manager, say thank you. Thank you for your tireless efforts, many of which (especially all those media pitches) go unseen.

The next time you talk salary for that community manager, remember that it’s communications that builds your brand reputation, that secures donors and investors, and attracts customers.

If you’re a small business looking to hire a consultant to manage your community (and cut down on some costs), please visit http://www.i2icommunicationsltd.com and get started today!

 

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5 simple ways to unplug your marketing strategy

Let’s face it: social media marketing isn’t what it used to be.

In just a few years, we’ve gone from placing full-page ads in magazines and relying on email and direct mail pieces, to placing banners on blogs and interrupting every possible aspect of life. The phones don’t stop ringing. Those full-page ads, most magazines are sill full of them. My Facebook feed is a hot mess of sponsored posts, recommended content, and videos that play automatically. It’s harder and harder to tell if my Google search results are organic.

And yet, mobile ad spending is at an all-time high, with Facebook and Google leading the pack. How do small businesses compete – or even budget – in such a constantly changing marketing landscape?

Small business marketing – unplugged

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 5.01.27 PMThe answer for small businesses is to remember unplugged marketing as well. Consider the difference between browsing through LinkedIn for connections and attending a business conference. When you are in the same room with a group of like-minded people, you’re bound to share the story of your business, not just in an effort to increase sales, but because you never know when this new relationship may lead to a business partnership. The same is true with marketing. Here are some tips for unplugging your marketing strategy:

  • Greet people. Whether online or in-person, I’m always impressed when someone takes a minute to introduce themselves and tell me about their businesses. Saying “hello” is the first step, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in the grocery store line. If someone likes or favorites you, saying thank you will go a long way!
  • Listen. You’re in line at the neighborhood Starbucks and you overhear the people behind you discussing a business issue, their kids, or a sporting event. Whether you are a nanny, a consultant, or a landscaper, chances are you have something to contribute here. The same holds true in regard to Twitter conversations. Sometimes brands have the opportunity to jump in and contribute to trending conversations, and promote their brands in the process. But, if you’re not listening, you are deaf to the opportunities around you.
  • It’s not all about you.  If all you do is talk about how great you are, people will tune you out. If you talk about how great they are, suddenly you have an audience. For every 2 Tweets, Facebook updates, or sales pitches you give, you should be posting or pitching 8 interesting, informative, entertaining and/or educational information.
  • Do your due diligence. You wouldn’t go to a book discussion without at least reading the book jacket. Regardless of how busy you are, before you attend a webinar, a banquet, or networking event, do a little research. Find out what the topic will be, and be prepared with relevant questions. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to find out who’s going to be there, and even introduce yourself weeks before the event begins.
  • Be human. Smile. Make eye contact. If we apply Pareto’s 80/20 principle to business, 80% of our sales come from 20% of our customers. We should know those customers, and foster real, mutually beneficial relationships with them to secure their business for years to come.

Dear 20-Year-Old Me…

I met a group of college interns on the campus of my alma mater this afternoon. It didn’t take long for me to feel the distance of more than a decade away from campus. First, there is newness everywhere, restaurants, grocery stores, residence halls, apartment buildings, and brand spanking new, sleek computer labs that make the scary bowels that once housed the HUGE computers we fought over when I was in college seem more than a little gross.

Then, the strange realization that I didn’t even have a cell phone when I was in college, and these kids might not remember a time without theirs. But, more than anything, I realized how – as consumers of content – these writing students have very little idea how content is produced for the Internet, who puts it there, who pays for it, or why. Like other teachers of millennial students, I had to fight to keep their attention. If there was a lull in conversation, out came the smartphones.

I remember when DVRs first came out, and it was such a thrill to fast forward through commercials. I remember when we paid for our email service (AOL anyone?), and still had to put up with ads. I remember being plagued by pop-up ads, feeling interested and then annoyed when animated banner ads began to make it harder and harder to focus online.

Online ads have learned the art of camouflage. Does this mean that information consumers will become smarter? Surely they’ll eventually realize that content is sponsored. Here’s where my own bias about sponsored vs. unsponsored journalism gets me in trouble. I’m a brand journalist. A content marketer. I write quality content for brands all day. I always try to give readers something to walk away with besides just promoting the brands. Yet, I just skipped over all the promoted content on Mashable, turning up my nose because it was sponsored.

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 3.56.58 PM The thing is, I’m not an English major anymore. I have to make money. As writers, we all do. Next time I see sponsored content, I’m going to give it a try, just for kicks. If it’s bad, I’ll pitch the company with my services. If it’s good, then I’ll walk away reminded what good brand journalism is.

We’re all fighting for attention, all the time. We’re all trying to get paid for the work we do, to support our families.

Dear 20-year-old me: You will end up selling out more than once. Get over yourself. Then, find a way to make it art. Loosen up!

 

 

Nostalgic Nerd Alert: #Pi Day, Socialmediaphobe Style

Pi Day

At my grandmother’s house, the weeks leading up to holidays involved many conversations about pie. Who would be coming to dinner was directly related to the quantity and flavor of the pies to be made. On Pi Day, I can’t help but remember those three days or so of preparation as some of my favorite memories. As a communications strategist, I can see how several of my grandma’s pie baking rules apply to content strategy.

  1. One pie is never enough. Engaging branded content should leave people wanting more. Content leads not only to “likes” but to followers; it increases your searchability; it helps people to know and trust you. You should leave them wanting more.
  2. Always have more than one flavor to offer (i.e., don’t bake 2 apple pies if you can make and apple and a cherry). Not sure whether you should be producing video, writing blogs, snapping pictures, or sending well-crafted Tweets? What most connects with your audience? Chances are, it’s a little bit of everything. With new algorithms being rolled out almost daily, it can be hard to keep up with new media trends. If you don’t have time to keep up with the latest research, hire a team to do this for you. It’s important to measure the outcomes of your strategy (i.e., did your content increase traffic? leads? sales?) quarterly to reassess its efficacy.
  3. Some people like it a la mode, some like it plain. Some like it hot, some like it cold. With content, it’s not just about what you offer, but where and how you post it. Find out when and where your audience likes to consume information, and make sure you have a presence there. Good news: like a day-old slice of pie that is reheated to taste oven-fresh, content can often be tweaked and repurposed.
  4. It’s better to have leftovers than to run out. I remember once being so busy handing out slices at my birthday party that we ran out and I didn’t get any. Since then, it’s always seemed more important for us to make enough and freeze the leftovers for a rainy day. Content can be similarly stored for times when business picks up, or when you go on vacation. Your audience doesn’t take breaks with you: be prepared by thinking and writing ahead.

Happy Pi Day everyone!

Sebastian Thrun: Failure Is Beautiful

Sebastian ThrunWhen Sebastian Thrun approached the podium at Cleveland Clinic’s Ideas for Tomorrow Wednesday, I was both intrigued and put-off by his saunter and his eye-wear. It’s not his fault – I generally approach fame with a certain sense of skepticism. But when one of his opening lines was: “I hope to show you how often I fail,” I was hooked.

It turns out Thrun and I have a common passion for entrepreneurism, for experimenting with new processes in order to change our industries significantly. But, thinking and creating without boundaries involves a great deal of risk taking.

Thrun gave us a chronology of his successes by highlighting his failures because he claims “there is no learning without failure.” Health-tech entrepreneurs often risk everything – investing countless time and money developing ideas that may never work. Or they’ll get their gadget to work on Wednesday – only to find that someone else brought it to market late Tuesday night. These challenges are part of the process of innovation, which Thurn describes as a process of testing and failing.

Process of Innovation according to Sebastian Thrun

Each failure brings us a little closer to our goal – even reshapes the end goal, transforming it into something we wouldn’t have dreamed possible at the outset. If you told me 20 years ago that by 2012, approximately 76% of people would consult the Internet, Dr. Google, before calling their physician I never would’ve believed you.  But then computers became smaller and smaller, information more and more easily accessible, and it’s changed not only the way we ask questions but the very questions themselves.

Someday, someone is going to make health as addictive as video games – and make it lasting – and I want to be there to see it happen. Industries are changed by people who are fearless. Failure teaches us an important lesson: hard work is no substitute for vision. You have to have vision when the experiment you’ve been working on, the app you’ve been developing for years, or the pitch you’ve been researching for months, goes wrong. Without vision, we’d all throw in the towel and learn to love a 9-5 job. “In all these failures,” says Thrun, “there is some beautiful insight that drives us forward.”

Let’s cling to the vision.

The Ingredients of Innovation by Sebastian Thrun

Photo of slide from Sebastian Thrun’s Cleveland Clinic Ideas for Tomorrow presentation

What makes your heart race?

“In order to find happiness, we must be a part of something greater than ourselves – something we truly believe in.” ~Paul Roestzer, author of The Marketing Agency Blueprint

What makes your heart race? For me, it’s learning new things, thinking and implementing new ways of connecting people and ideas that can – eventually – improve our quality of life. My integrated communications firm, i2i Communications, Ltd., doesn’t just offer solutions for small businesses to make a few bucks. We work together with our clients to decide how we can solve their communications issues within their budgets. Our passion is our purpose.

The art of strategy

Most brands think there are two ways to deal with all the content bouncing around on social media.

crown

Content is King

  1. The content-is-king and I-want-to-be-in-the-king’s-court strategy. These content obsessed curators share everything, duplicating the content on all different channels. They spend their days (and nights, because you wouldn’t want to miss out on a really awesome cat video) trolling Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube looking for trends. It doesn’t matter if the trend is at all related to their industry. They tweet from church; they tweet from stoplights. The trouble is: no one wants to read these messages, regardless of their length.
  2. The I’ll-speak-up-only-when-I-have-something-earthshattering-to-share strategy. These are the perfectionists that wait until the inspiration hits; the ones that wait until they have something worthy of the 5:00 news to share. They think their readers will appreciate quality over quantity. But, if you don’t share often enough to be top of mind, chances are that you won’t show up in the newsfeed at all.

I’m a writer by trade. I think of content as art. But even the most abstract artists have strategies. When I took my daughter to the art museum for the first time (she was four and a half), we wandered through the galleries talking about what makes art art. We decided that it’s art if it makes us feel or think. We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to understand it. But something about art sticks with us long after we’ve viewed it.

Good content strategy isn’t about just throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s about knowing your audience, what inspires them, what they want from you, and providing it. It’s about telling your story again, for the first time. It’s not just words either. More and more, it’s images and video.

chess game

But strategy wins.

What is your content strategy?

Do you have different purposes for each individual channel?

Do you have a main hub that links them all together?