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!

 

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!

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?

When strategy matters: Defining successful communication campaigns

This week I’ve been thinking about how we define success in our communication campaigns.

A successful campaign is one that achieves its objectives.  This emphasizes the importance of thinking about evaluating our campaigns when we are in the planning stages. One of the companies for which I’ve done consulting work is often so busy trying to align campaign objectives with their strategic goals (because this alignment makes the board happy) that they don’t always think about aligning the outcomes. Thinking about desired outcomes very early in the campaign design process seems essential for reaching those outcomes.

Sure, we have great art, and maybe we have a fabulous story to tell, but to what end? What do we want the audience to do?

At the outset of campaign design, I like to list my desired outcomes across a page and then brainstorm ways that those outcomes can be measured. Thinking about the evaluation of the campaign at this stage helps me to hone my messages and keeps me focused. Here’s an example of my outcome and measurement brainstorming:

Evaluating campaigns

This was created as part of my graduate studies in risk communication at Johns Hopkins University and is not endorsed by Cleveland Clinic

The High Cost of Ignoring Social Media

The rise of social media has changed not only the speed of news, but also necessitates a change in PR strategy.

The traditional press release announcing that your company was well-prepared for a disaster and able to minimize its effects might not reach all reporters in a timely manner.  First, press releases take time to prepare (hopefully you’ve mocked that up ahead of time as part of your crisis communication planning and just have to fill in the blanks).  Second, traditional releases may ignore or undervalue citizen reporters who use social media.

According to the CDC, not engaging with publics on social media can have the same negative effects as not returning a reporter’s call.  If your agency isn’t representing itself on social media, chances are high that someone is commenting on your disaster somewhere in cyberspace, and the CDC warns that citizen reporters and possibly even mainstream reporters will seek out content on social media whether or not it is an agency-sanctioned source.

Establish Credibility Before a Crisis.  It’s important to establish your agency’s credibility on social media, with official Facebook and Twitter pages that contain your logo and contact information.  Your social media credibility should be developed before a crisis if possible, with regular updates to your Facebook and Twitter feeds.  This will allow reporters (both citizen and traditional) to gain a sense of what your agency is really about and have a way to contact you with questions.

Listen, Listen, Listen! It’s important to monitor conversations about your brand or agency online.  This will allow you to address questions or correct assumptions as they come up.

Parents of Teens: Beware the Vine (When Viral Marketing Goes Awry)

Just when you thought it was safe to give your kids an iPhone: adolescents have a new, potentially viral, way of making a name for themselves (and landing in jail, the emergency room, or on your local news).  Vine, an app that allows you to record and loop six seconds of video (and only six) all from your iPhone, requires a steep ramp in creativity as it helps savvy brands (and teens) to reach fans.

How much can you do in six seconds? GE’s six second science fair is perhaps one of the most inspirational, strategic, and targeted use of Vine I’ve seen:

It’s a fast, relatively inexpensive way to reach a lot of people with a condensed message.  And, the social media kickback doesn’t hurt either – a few popular, company-generated vines can inspire crowds to make their own, using your hashtag to increase their reach.

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 10.07.59 AM

Unfortunately, Vine’s become an inexpensive way for today’s teens to record and amplify their antics as well.

Matt Espinosa, a 16 year-old Virgina boy, has amassed quite a following of (mostly) younger adolescent girls through his Vines.  This past weekend, he organized a meet-up with his fans at a mall in Fairfax, Va.  The screaming pre-teens created such riotous chaos that other shoppers and security guards thought there was a shooting.  Espinosa is cute, no doubt, but this new ability to organize crowds via smartphones can lead to trouble, costing taxpayers and businesses money, and may not be the sort of fame he’s proud of in 20 years or so.

Last week, another teenage boy, Obi Nwosu, attempted to film himself jumping over an oncoming car for Vine.  He was hit by the car – and it was all caught on film.  Nwosu posted it to Vine originally, but then deleted it realizing that he shouldn’t “do it for Vine.”

The thing most teens (and many adults) still don’t seem to understand is that nothing is ever permanently deleted from the Internet.  It didn’t take long for the video to resurface and quickly gain cringe popularity.

Socialmediaphobe’s bottom line is, once again: parents, talk to your kids!  The speed of social media fame is incredibly fast; stunt videos that they may think make them cool can be dangerous and permanent, and have long-lasting implications on their health, their future college and job opportunities.  Many of today’s youth only access the Internet from their smartphones, making it even harder for parents to track their activities – and more important!  Know what your kids are doing, filming, and viewing online, and talk to them about making good choices.

This is something BatDad captures quite well – in a rather big-brotheresque way sure to make most parents smile.

Blogger Ethics: The Quest for a Genuine “Like”

My blogs have been discovered by a group of Internet users who claim to be making so more than $120,000 per month working very little, all online, from beautiful, remote locations.  While I appreciate the readership, I want to feel as though people are actually “liking” my posts, not just blindly clicking the button in an effort to grow their network.

All the “likes” come from apparent wordpress users, but they all link to Project AWOL and advertise making easy money. It reminds me of the signs you sometimes see on roads with high traffic telling you you can work from home and make thousands of dollars per month. Times infinity.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about blogging online.  Growing readership is not easy or necessarily organic.  When I get new readers, I find it exciting, and I visit their sites and see what they are about.  I don’t follow sites I’m not interested in. I don’t follow sites to get follow-backs.  Maybe I’m too old-school for this game.

Unlike the 19 year-olds who claim to run Project AWOL.  This is NOT an endorsement of their work, but the YouTube video is interesting.  Somehow, it seems more like a cult than a business.