One of the most frustrating things about being a social media or online community manager is trying to define what is the set of rules, framework, or principles by which you work with. You can do two things: you can attempt to “legislate” all that encompasses community management in some sort of rule library or bible; or you can just put it down as common sense.
“Common sense”? “That’s not acceptable – it’s too short an answer!” comes the retort, sometimes from yourself. If you can’t define it, you can’t possibly have it….. yes?
So that’s the trouble. Online community management is made up of a lot of healthy ingredients. 25% Trust, 20% Credibility, 12% Leaps of Faith, 15% Just Do It and 24% (at least) Common Sense, with 5% trace elements.
Wait, isn’t that more than 100%? Yeah, because it feels that way most of the time.
So here they are:
10 reasons why social media community managers are like common sense.
Like common sense, social media community managers are actually (you guessed it) uncommon.
The more you try to wrap rules around them, the more they break down.
You can count on common sense, but you can’t count it.
Often when you try to count it, it makes no sense.
Best learned through making mistakes. (That’s common sense).
When you meet someone else who gets it, it feels surreal, like realizing you aren’t actually the last of your species.
Everyone believes they are an expert in common sense. But the moment you call yourself a guru, you lose it.
When you attend a talk on it, you find that it’s all – common sense.
You get it, and then you have to deal with people who don’t get it.
When a social media community manager dies, there is no funeral, because everyone knew common sense died long ago.
I was munching on my lunch while reading this io9.com article – “Nuclear power will kill fewer people than natural gas“. Basically, NASA scientists Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen say that nuclear energy leads to fewer pollution-related deaths and greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil-fuel sources.
The argument is simple: the ongoing pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is much more dangerous than the problems caused by nuclear power, objectively speaking. Using nuclear power prevents more fossil fuel-related deaths than fossil fuel pollution causes.
WAIT! This article is not about whether this is true.
This article is about how nuclear power is like social media. Both hold great promises for their proponents and users. Both promise to generate tremendous results. Fossil fuels are like traditional marketing – you can generate results too and you can’t live without them, but the cost is high and there’s a lot of wastage.
Nuclear power has its inherent risks – that core meltdown that one hopes never happens. Social media crises are often also described with the same term, a meltdown. It seems the promise of quick wins also holds the risk of a major crisis.
In theory, if handled properly, such a meltdown is very rare. The benefits of social media are worth it in the long term. Nuclear power advocates say the same thing. The argument in the above article is that fossil fuel pollution is far worse – in part because the damage is guaranteed and sustained.
Societies use fossil fuels because it is an old habit. Same with traditional marketing. Nuclear power is used by those who are maybe considered more risk-averse, forward-thinking, or plain desperate for energy – but viewed by others as risky. Social media? Same – companies that use social media are often considered more forward-thinking, more willing to experiment, or they simply must have the attention.
You can stick with fossil fuels, but the long-term future is catastrophic for the environment. Traditional marketing too – you can continue to use it, and it will still be helpful to your bottom line, but it is arguably less competitive compared to social media marketing.
So which makes more sense? A powerful modern solution with a rare chance of disaster, or a costly solution that is tried-and-tested but cost-inefficient?
I’m not, actually. Foldable screens is something that I’ve predicted will happen. Yes, it’s something that you and I have seen in science fiction, and in recent years it has become reality, not just in a foldable form (2009), but a bendable form (2012), courtesy of Samsung.
But, far from just a fancy city-night lighting toy, it will solve a number of problems, such as the limitations to the size of smartphones.
The fixed factor is the size of the human hand. It’s this size that makes most phones about the size of an iPhone, and the Samsung big phones “comically large“. We’re forced to design it for that size, and that is ergonomics. Anything larger is uncomfortable. For a long time, the thinking is that we can’t make phones any bigger without making them uncomfortable to hold. That’s why some said in the past that the iPhone will never have a screen larger than 3.5″.
But we know today that that’s not true. Not only has the iPhone stretched to 4″, there are Samsung’s galactic screens as well. All’s well for people with big hands, for people whose need for a large screen outweigh discomfort, for people who don’t make many phone calls (or people who don’t mind holding a big tablet to the ear to make phone calls), and for those (i.e.women) who keep their phones in their handbags.
Since we can’t evolve larger hands soon, but we still want larger screens, one solution would be to make the phone collapsible or foldable. That way one can hold it like a phone when making calls, and still transform it into a bigger screen when needed.
Foldable phones and computers already exist, so to speak – clamshells. But those are still awkward because of the relative bulk, and that half the device is keypad. But with the coming of foldable screens + existing touchscreen technology… maybe what we need is truly a foldable screen with no hinges. That would make more sense, something flat like a typical smartphone today, that unfolds without hinges into a larger tablet.
Don’t get thrown off by the above horribly congested “prototype” shown at Forrester – one thing one should bear in mind is that, when one paradigm (in this case the concept of the screen) changes, other paradigms will shift and change as well, so we should not expect to see a wall of icons. The phone OS for a bendable screen won’t be the same as that for a fixed screen,
George Colony admits he has no inside knowledge of what Apple is planning, but I do agree that this is a viable future. Coincidentally, Apple recently patented a curious “iPhone with wrap-around display and seamless glass housing” that seems to be using a folded screen in some way, though it doesn’t seem to unwrap, so to speak.
Do check out the Samsung videos demonstrating their bendable screen prototypes and ideas – some people may not agree with the size of their smartphones (it’s the main reason I don’t want one, too big for my pocket), but their daring ideas and quick innovation is admirable.
We talk about assessing social media performance. But it’s not like we’re assessing a motor engine. We’re assessing the activity, the interactions and even the sentiments of what sentient people are saying.
We’re assessing people and they probably don’t realize it. Our dashboards are saying so-and-so are “influencers” because the system looked at their public blog, Flickr and Twitter accounts and see that there’s a connection and they talk a lot about our brand. Fine if it’s positive, troublesome if not.
I might be over-reacting. Of course when people praise or complain about a brand, there’s a good chance they do want to be noticed. But for them it’s a sort of social, transient interaction on the surface. I bet most of these people do not realize many companies and their social media vendors are also putting down their postings and identities in reports to management. For good, or for whatever.
Did I say it’s ok to assess me?
As social media enthusiasts and workers in this field, we sometimes forget we are also being archived and examined. This post will soon be visited by search engine bots and archived at some point, for example. Personally I don’t mind that, I even intend it. I’m consciously aware it will happen. Whereas many people out there don’t think about this aspect of being on social media – that you’re not just being read on the page, but also turned into insights, analysed for sentiment, counted for virality and even put into monthly reports.
The standard argument is that – you posted it in public, so it’s free for companies to data-mine. Is it? Maybe the terms are in the TOS I never read. :)
I personally think 70% is not only not accurate, but it’s also just a number. A number trying to measure the accuracy of something trying to objectively measure something subjective. In other words, I am highly tempted to say this number is just as airy.
OK, but that’s actually not the point here. The point is this: if say sentiment analysis and other social media measurement tools are not entirely accurate, just how much of the assessment of what people say or do online is “accurate”?
What if a sarcastically positive tweet I made is interpreted as positive in sentiment when I meant it to be negative, and this is reported in some brand’s report to management as “positive”? And product/service decisions are made based on this reading? The end result is that the company might believe it is doing a good job, whereas customers do not think so. Is this not unlike how some middle managers filter their reports to upper management to make it look like they’re doing a good job?
Sentiment Analyzing Self
Let’s bring this back to us: so we who have to prepare social media assessment reports to our managers need to take care. You are not just handling computerized insights – you are handling real people, and their sentiments. You are an agent of sentiment and veracity – what you report can be construed as putting words in people’s mouth and that’s a huge responsibility. So, when you put on your assessor glasses, don’t forget to assess yourself.
At a recent training programme for trainers, i.e. teaching teachers to teach better, every participant was asked to do micro-teaching. Basically we had to do a short presentation and be critiqued about our teaching ability. Most of my class chose to teach their existing subject in the university, which ranged from cancer research to performance studies. I decided, since my courseware wasn’t ready, to do something a little different. I talked about a pet subject of mine, the Japanese cultural phenomenon known as Gundam.
But Gundam isn’t the topic of this post. Curiosity is. When my little talk about this 30-year-old franchise ended, one of the participants commented about the above photo, which I included in a slide about Gundam as a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Among the various pictures of Gundam artwork, packaging, cosplay and merchandise, I had included the above shot as a teaser to something bigger. She felt that this was very effective in keeping the audience’s attention. They were curious.
Earlier in the programme, we had the opportunity to hear Professor Alex Ip from the Department of Biological Sciences speak about life as academic in the NUS. He is a multi-award-winning teacher and his talk proved why. He teased us right from the beginning about the story of one his students who began as an average-grade pupil. We were curious.
Curiosity and Engagement Curiosity killed the cat? Have you ever wondered what that means? Well, you can google it to find its literary roots. But this post isn’t about cats getting “killed” (unless you can’t stand kitten videos), it’s about engaging people.
When you are in the business of engaging people online, you have quite a few advantages on hand. For one, information is in a sense just a click, google or comment away. This morning, for example, I was waiting for the bus and surfing my Facebook feed when I saw this:
Despite my horrible 3G connection, I couldn’t help looking through the comments (which involved loading “View previous comments”, i.e. more waiting time) because I wanted to learn. I was curious. And I willingly paid precious time in anticipation of it. (Still wondering if “[space] instead of  ” was meant as a joke).
It was engaging because it got me curious. So, when you are designing content to engage your audience, do bear this in mind. The examples in this post can be described as:
Around 2003-2004 (i.e. a few years before social media took off), I helped start and run a forum for hobbies and entertainment in Singapore – Katoots. By 2007, it reached 5000 registered members and was one of the largest and most active of its kind in Singapore. It is now defunct, but the experience taught me quite a few things. One of the observations I made was that it takes about 20 active users for an online community to truly come and feel alive. Regardless of the number of registered members you have in your online community, the important number is this active user number.
If I recall correctly, we had something like 200 registered members, of which the key, or core, 20 active users are part of. This means that 10% of the membership was active. Interestingly, this conforms to the rather old 1:9:90 rule – that is, 10% of the total community are the ones that actively create and contribute. More recently, there are also observations that the post-2010 ratio should be 10:20:70 now that people are generally more active online.
It could be said that in the end, it’s still the 10% that matters, in either case.
Below 20 active users, your site may not display enough activity to pique the interest of new visitors, i.e. potential new members. It will probably display No Reply Syndrome. Below 20 active users, the site may not feel alive, and in this way does not encourage revisits.
You will notice that based on the old 1:9:90 rule, you should theoretically need 100 registered members to get your 1st active creator user. Let me tell you that that’s not really enough. You see, that active creator user is likely to be none other than you. :)
Working backwards, to achieve 20 active users, you would need to get at least 200 registered members. At least. Your mileage will vary according to the nature of your community, especially its topic and focus.
The Active Threshold
Anyway, in the above example, the 200 figure is what I call Active Threshold. It is the minimum number of registered (in whatever form) members needed for the community to come alive. Once you achieve this number, you have to observe if your Active User Group has manifested, i.e. 20 active users. If it doesn’t seem like it has appeared, your Active Threshold may be bigger.
In modern, i.e Facebook, times, I have learned, consulted about, and observed the Active Threshold for Facebook Pages on a handful of occasions. PR/Marketing agency Conversion Hub once observed to me that the figure to aim for is 10,000 fans.
That aside, the point is that Facebook Pages have their own form of Active Threshold, a much higher number than forums. In a recent conversation I had with Damien Cummings, Regional Marketing Director, Digital & Social Media at Samsung Asia – he cited a range of 5000 to 10,000 fans as the active threshold. It’s a range that I nodded in agreement with.
But it still depends on the nature of your community’s topic or interest. For example, a page that I worked with which had no product, but sold an ideology, did not come alive at 10,000 fans. I observed that its active threshold was closer to 16,000. The less apparent your product offering or value to the fan, the more fans you need to gain traction.
The Inexplicable Like What was it that I observed actually? I mean, how do you determine when you’ve reached the active threshold? My answer would be: when everything that you post on the page gets a response without prompting. Sometimes within minutes. Say, when posting even a somewhat bland status post on the page, on a lazy Monday afternoon, gets an inexplicable like (yes the sort that makes you wonder why a fan liked the post, even though you’re grateful for it).
This means you have a target
What all this means is that you now have a target, if you’re still in the journey of building an online community. You have a target to tell/show/commit/over-promise (haha) to your management, which is really a good thing. You shouldn’t be growing a community without a target, even a quantitative one like this is helpful as a reference milestone.
Would anyone like to share what your active threshold experiences are/were?
Yes, yes, I know. Now, it’s clear that measurement is always good, if you can manage it (irony intended). I don’t deny that. And increasingly, the measurement of social media and online engagement is becoming more and more sophisticated. About 3 weeks ago I attended a social media for businesses conference and one of the talks was about social media measurement. I confess openly that I don’t remember much of it. It was so sophisticated, that within 15 minutes I was utterly lost in technobabble. Admittedly, the speaker was in quite a challenging position himself, having the task of explaining his entire life’s work in one hour.
Social media measurement (SMM) is a descendant of the web metrics of the 1990s/2000s. Its grandparents are pageviews and unique visitors. In the early days of SMM, say around 2010, this particular area seemed more like a poorly equipped wannabe trying to borrow some tools and tactics from its much older web metrics 師父 (shifu, or master). SSM was the proverbial poor boy servant who hid behind the walls secretly watching the kungfu students training with their master in the training yard, and tried to practise on his own in his little shed at night. Eventually, he would become very skilled, and even discover his own techniques.
That seems to be the story of SMM in very recent times. Empowered by ever-improving technology, the onward advance of sentiment analysis, no matter how far from 100% accuracy; with the constant tweaking of Facebook insights as a sign they aren’t satisfied yet, SMM is without doubt, growing and evolving, become more and more clever.
I suspect one day it will even defeat its former master.
I wrote recently about measuring community in non-technical ways. When I read exhortations like the one at the start of this post, I can’t help but feel a bit apologetic. The thing about technical, scientific, data-driven and data-producing measurements is that it always looks more accurate and defined than non-technical, anecdotal, subjective, emotive measurements. But of course, that’s the point. That’s why they were invented. Even if sometimes they give false impressions, they strike at the truth in terms we can measure and define.
I have no doubt that scientific SMM is important. If you can’t measure it, true, you probably can’t manage it. But what if you can’t even manage SMM? Or in some cases, social media itself? I’m afraid there is one other issue about SMM in Singapore – it’s being spoken in front of people who haven’t quite figured out social media itself. Many of us at the conference were confused. And I’m generally considered ahead of most. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I want to learn.
But in the meantime, businesses still have to survive. They have goals to meet. There is no point trying to tell businesses to adopt sophisticated SMM when they are still new at social media. It could – and probably more often than I care to admit – simply be a case of having management that doesn’t understand. Management that’s still bo(b)sessed with Big (Almost) Meaningless Numbers. Sorry, they exist, they really do.
Singapore is hardly at the forefront of social media. More and more people I meet have awakened to the reality that we are some 3-odd years behind the US. Everything from harnessing geolocation for business to mobile payments to webpage design, we are behind. Point: there may not be much point in measuring unsophisticated technology with sophisticated measures. Unless your management is ready and demands it.
I’m not trying to make Singapore social media sound bad. I’m just trying to figure out how best to help businesses and organizations move along. If you confuse your boss when you’re reporting your social media performance using sophistication, you’re playing with fire – a confused boss is often a frustrated boss. A frustrated boss will constantly ask you to justify and re-justify your social media plans and budget. Sound familiar yet? It’s my own personal experience. That’s why you must do your best to put your reporting in terms your boss understands.
Just as I said in that previous post, by all means learn about all these powerful SMM techniques, but don’t forget the language of the bosses: English.
Over the last handful of years, social media platforms have been busy trying to make measurements more meaningful. Just like the progress from hits to pageviews, we have seen social media move from fans/followers to impressions, interactions and virality.
But guess what, very often, your boss in all His Busyness, really only pays attention to “The Number”.
Of fans, that is.
Now the experienced social media manager/marketer may frown and go, “I’ve worked so hard deciphering and digging up all these insights and analytics, and all the boss cares about is the number of Facebook fans.”
I say: work it to your advantage. It doesn’t mean your valuable, meaningful Insights numbers are now useless – they will always help you make informed decisions and be prepared to answer the occasional “That’s a good question” question during the monthly meeting. In fact, consider the fact that this makes your job easier.
What are some of the signs that your boss is just a “Numbers” person (and by “Numbers” I refer to simple ones like fan base numbers, followers, membership numbers and the like) ? Here are a few:
His face lights up when the number increases. (For other numbers, like impressions and all that, he nods approvingly. But for fan base increases, his face lights up).
When he is chatting with you in passing about your community, he says things like, “We’ve got 24,600 fans now right?”. They basically don’t really remember any other number.
The number he remembers is almost always a little higher than reality. Sometimes by a thousand.
OK, so let’s say you’ve got a boss like that, so what should you do?
Well, for a start, always have the number ready. Check it every morning and evening (like you don’t already). Be always ready to say, calmly, “24, 712 as of this morning, actually” and be rewarded with the smile. Put the number up front in the first slide during your presentation report. If it has gone down, have the explanation ready in the same slide. If it’s gone up, have… actually if it’s gone up your job is done, everything else is extra icing.
Just kidding, be aware why it went up of course. Your FB insights, your Google analytics, your virality figures, impressions, etc. – know all these so you know how to explain things and give examples. These figures, as you know, are often confusing, subjective and misleading. So, the fact that your boss is NOT bo(b)ssessed with them is actually sort of a good thing. You can speculate, interpret, approximate on all these statistics, but the one that you need to wield like a holy glowing sword +5 is the The Number.
My point: if all your boss really is concerned about is The Number, then make sure whatever measurement you do on you channels, always make sure you know how to relate it to that number. This way, you will always know how to report to your boss (and make him smile), and you needn’t worry too much about subjective stats. Your job becomes easier.
Now, if you have a boss who likes to examine, interpret and strategize around virality, sentiments, impressions and other woozy numbers.. then we have to work a little differently…
If, in this(still) number-obssessed – bo(b)sessed – world, someone asks, how would you measure a community’s success in non-technical ways, what would I say?
Not a new idea, but still worth looking at. Partly because sometimes we have no choice.
Proxy measurement is the measure of some other indicator to reflect on the performance of the social media campaign under scrutiny. Say for example, you have sales figure X before you start a new social media campaign. Note that down. After the campaign, check out the figure again. Is it X+Y now? Then Y is the ap-proxy-mate gain the campaign caused. May. Have caused.
Look at it with common sense. During the social media campaign, did you post something of note that caused a big change/spike in sales? On that day, did sales/pageviews go up? It’s quite often we say that “The photo post on Tuesday attracted a lot of comments and likes, and that appeared to have boosted sales. We made 15 more sales that day then usual.” Common sense says the stars are aligned and something nice happened. So, might as well make it a little bit more powerpoint-presentable and state that:
12 comments and 80 likes resulted in 15 more sales.
Do this multiple times and you’ll have more and more data, and begin to see patterns.
Not precise enough? Speculative? Rubbish? Hey, remember, there was a time when computers and Google Analytics and even Excel did not exist. How did businesses measure sales performance then?
“I had my guy stand in the street giving out flyers at 6pm and I made about 10 more sales than usual on a Monday evening.”
“Our newspaper ad went up on Thursday and traffic in the store increased by 100-150 people, resulting in 15 more sales than usual.”
“Over 2012 our fan page increased its fan base by 10,000 likes. 8000 likes were amassed during our social media campaign. The average number of likes and comments on our posts have gone up by about 25% comparing from one year ago. “
It’s common sense logic. It looks speculative at first when you have just started, so you have a very small sample size. Do this over years and you’ll have 100, 500 samples to form clear patterns. It’s worth a shot.
You’re in a meeting and your boss asks you how’s the website/Facebook page doing. You can report the numbers, month after month. But you know there’s one thing far more powerful, effective and memorable – a customer’s compliment.
No one really remembers actual numbers (only that they are going up. Or worse, down). But if you show customers being happy with the company’s services, showing positive sentiments, or recommending your product – that sticks in the minds of people (like da boss), because it is a source of great satisfaction and pride. Every business wants the comfort of knowing their customers are happy.
So, collect these like the rare artifacts they are: customers’ positive feedback. Embed their quotes on your presentation slides, tag them with real names. Even if your numbers are not impressive, a single compliment from a customer can cause wonders. Even if you have a complaint from a customer, use it as an opportunity to show how you handle a crisis.
Businesses regularly do surveys to collect both numbers as well as “Any Other Comments” – you’re doing the same thing, without incurring the cost of running a physical survey. So collect these comments, categorize them (positive, negative, suggestions, opportunities) and report them. You might even be surprised how many approving nods you can get from a screenshot from a nice comment on a Facebook page.