Tag Archives: engagement

Online Community Management – Art or Science?

Art-Science-773522

One day a month ago, an acquaintance from NUS’s Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) asked me if I would be interested in doing a presentation at a conference on teaching. I said, as someone teaching social media engagement, I wasn’t exactly sure if I could contribute. I said that my approach isn’t as “academic” or pedagogical as a conference of educators might expect. Although, the fact is I’ve been trying to address the issue of teaching something inherently unteachable. I.e. community engagement.

That sounds interesting, he said. So I continued. The problem with trying to teach human engagement is that it is full of “soft”, indefinable things like creating trust through sustained exchange and engaging a person’s interest through content. I’ve tried to define them in terms of frameworks, but that in itself is always tinged with futility.  My acquaintance nodded knowingly, and said that that’s precisely what needs to be done – “framing” something that resists definition. Even in the business of education, the same problem applies – how do you scientifically define the process of “teaching”? In doing so, do you lose its essence?

The simple answer is that online community management is an art and a science. An art because it has to deal with human behaviour – particularly the irrational kind. Even employees can be (positively) irrational. Because it has to deal with nuances of language, emotion and atmosphere; because it takes leaps of faith and educated guesses – stuff that a pure scientist would either balk at or become confused with.

But we cannot ignore the science part, because at the end of the day, online community management makes use of technology. This means two things:

1) It, as well as social media in general, is a product of computing – specifically social computing. Meaning, if computing (and computers) didn’t exist, social media wouldn’t exist either. We do not know of a better tool that powers online virality or ambient awareness or asynchronous communication.

2) It is measurable, because it is computerized – it is a creature of numbers. It is also becoming increasingly sophisticated. While it can still be argued that web technology measures the quantitative better than it measures the qualitative, the fact is there are many computer scientists out there who are trying to create better ways to measure social media – be it in terms of sentiment analysis or social engagement.

Coming back to online community management, it may be some time (if ever) before one can truly measure such qualities as trust and negative comments. When it comes to defining and teaching the subject, the need to portray both “art” and “science” aspects of the field is immediate. For example, the topic of developing a community from start to sustainability needs a framework to help define it in a “step-by-step” manner.

As my acquaintance puts it: it may be a difficult and perhaps futile thing to do, but someone’s gotta do it. I can only say I will try.

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“SG” are two letters in Instagram – Singapore businesses #caughtgramming

Video by JinnyboyTV of Malaysia. (Of course they’re on Instagram)

Considering how obsessed Asians – especially Singaporeans – are with taking photos of everything, especially food – it’s no surprise that a low-participation-cost tool like Instagram has gradually and fairly quietly gained immense popularity here. It is said from July 2011- July 2012, the growth in the share of visits to Instagram, for Singapore, was 8121%. (Though, frustratingly, it is not clear it is 8121% of what figure.)

instagram_logo_smallInstagram is owned by Facebook, and it would seem that the recent trend of youths abandoning Facebook has been partly because they’ve been drawn to Instagram instead. Unlike Facebook, Instagram is more focused in its agenda and simpler to participate in – snap, filter, tag, share.

In designing my Online Community Management for Social Media #issocm course, one of my foci is Singapore case studies. Specifically, case studies of Singapore companies using social media to drive community and engagement. During my research and in the course of using Instagram myself, I’ve found companies using Instagram to connect with customers, and quite effectively too. It’s a pleasure to see these companies find success in a way which is still not quite commonplace in Singapore. Here are some of the ones I’ve encountered:

Instagram G2000

G2000 Singapore (http://instagram.com/g2000singapore)

On their Facebook Page, G2000 Singapore showcases their Instagram feed in an app. First ‘gram went up on 28 Feb, 2013, and they currently have 412 followers. G2000’s Instagram features an attractive and colourful variety of photos, from fashion statements (both professionally taken as well as informally posed), glimpses of lifestyle and modern living, humour as well as the occasional inspiring quote. (“Being male is a matter of birth, being a man is a matter of age, but being a gentleman is a matter of choice.”). All in all, an impressive presence on Instagram. #g2000

G2000’s social media presence is handled by Vocanic, Singapore.

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Instagram obolosg

Obolo Cafe (http://instagram.com/obolosg)

Sometime in September 2012, I sat down at Obolo Cafe, and ordered a Yuzu Cheesecake. My friend had a Cassis. It was while we were both instagramming our cakes, as any true Singaporean would, that I noticed Obolo had an Instagram presence. “Tag us #obolosg to get featured” is the instruction. With nearly 1600 followers, Obolo has been ‘gramming since then in September 2012 (though one notes that their follower:following ratio is inverse, with some 5 times more following). Besides the usual food photos (lots of macaroons), Obolo also features customers and staff, and discount deals as well as job openings. There’s also a quaint Instagram of their humble beginnings. #obolosg

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Instagram nutrifirst

Nutrifirst Pte Ltd (http://instagram.com/nutrifirst)

Nutrifirst, a health & fitness supplements company, calls upon customers to “tag us @nutrifirst if you wish us to repost your photo and stand a chance to get a one time sponsorship!” A win-win scenario taken up by mostly men, apparently, involved in bodybuilding/training, as seen on their Instagram feed. Instagrammers get to show off their muscles, receive gifts from Nutrifirst, and advertise the company’s product at the same time. Their first Instagram was posted on 24 April 2013, but the account currently has over 500 followers, which is not bad for a month’s work. #nutrifirst

Nutrifirst also has an impressive Facebook page boasting over 30,000 fans.

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Instagram NLB PLS

Public Library Services, National Library Board (http://instagram.com/publiclibrarysg)

(Not a commercial business, but worthy of mention). I used to work at the NLB, a member of the Digital and Knowledge Services division where I worked on social media/online engagement and knowledge sharing services. Their Marketing folks have always been proactive on social media and it is with no surprise that I found them on Instagram. The Public Library Services, which handle all the libraries except the National Library at Bugis, have 616 followers to-date and post a great variety of Instagrams, from featured books to various promotions, events, happenings involving the public libraries, visitors young and old, and even art. Among the very useful things they post are notices on the days the libraries are closed. All in all, a very lively and useful account to follow if you’re a frequent library visitor. Tag @publiclibrarysg to get their attention.

The NLB is also responsible for the Singapore Memory Project, also on Instagram (below) with the handle and hashtag #iremembersg.

instagram iremembersg

I’m pretty sure I’ve only scratched the surface.  I feel that in Singapore, where many smaller businesses may not have taken full advantage of social media yet, Instagram is a viable opportunity, or at the very least, a good platform for testing the waters.  For one thing, it’s a heck of a lot easier to explain than Twitter! Instagram is:

  • Free
  • Lost cost of participation – for both yourself and for followers.
  • Already popular among Singaporeans, especially the 18-29 demographic.
  • Relatively “light” and clean engagement. Compared to Facebook or Twitter, Instagram crises are almost unheard of.
  • Attractive, being entirely focused on the visual.
  • With diligent hashtagging and geotagging, you can quickly build up content and engagement around your social as well as physical “locations”.

All you need is someone among your staff who has a good taste in filters.

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instagram logo small

Follow me on Instagram: http://instagram.com/dustofhue

Online Community Management for Social Media Course (Jul/Sep/Dec 2013) #issocm

I’m developing an Online Community Management course at the Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore. Do check it out – if you find yourself attending, we’ll be certainly playing with Instagram hands-on. #issocm.

Online Community Management for Social Media Short Course at the Institute of Systems Science, NUS

10 Reasons Why Social Media Community Managers Are Like Common Sense

obviously-common-senseOne 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.

  1. Like common sense, social media community managers are actually (you guessed it) uncommon.
  2. The more you try to wrap rules around them, the more they break down.
  3. You can count on common sense, but you can’t count it.
  4. Often when you try to count it, it makes no sense.
  5. Best learned through making mistakes. (That’s common sense).
  6. When you meet someone else who gets it, it feels surreal, like realizing you aren’t actually the last of your species.
  7. Everyone believes they are an expert in common sense. But the moment you call yourself a guru, you lose it.
  8.  When you attend a talk on it, you find that it’s all – common sense.
  9. You get it, and then you have to deal with people who don’t get it.
  10. When a social media community manager dies, there is no funeral, because everyone knew common sense died long ago.

(Hey but we’re still here, right? :)

Curiosity Engages – how big is a full-sized Gundam?

What on earth is that?
What on earth is that?

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:

Smashing Magazine Facebook post
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 &nbsp” 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:

  1. Teasers. A picture tells a thousand words, but don’t show them all at once. Here is a gallery of the full-scale Gundam statue built in Japan.

  2. Stories. Prof. Ip’s student, whom he took in despite her unimpressive grades, became an eminent Professor of Oncology herself. It is a classic story of “rags to riches”, professionally speaking. The story that people want to finish reading is the key.(Though, be aware that many of the highly shareable stories you see on Facebook of late are generally of dubious origin; some are unsubstantiatedsome have good intentions but aren’t exactly true; some are funny but still untrue.)
  3. Questions. Ask questions that allow others to fulfill your curiosity, and yourself to fulfill others’ curiosities.

By no means the only ways to leverage curiosity in engagement and content development, but certainly among the consistently effective.

The Inexplicable Like: is there a minimum population for an online community?

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.

90-10-1-rule-online-community-participation
Diagram from “Is the 90-9-1 Rule for Online Community Engagement Dead?”
Posted by Paul Schneider (click image for link to his article).

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.

This sounds like it should not just generate 20 active users, but 1000 (10%). But you know of course that Facebook pages don’t work that way. There are theories and reports that Facebook’s Edgerank “hides” fanpage posts from the majority of your fans, either in the name of filtering newsfeeds for relevance….. or because they want brands to pay for eyeballs. There are also more considered suggestions that despite the lower quantitative reach, the qualitative reach (or real engagement) is preserved or higher.

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).

skittles camel post
The ultimate in Inexplicable Likes. Don’t try this at hom… I mean, unless you have the clout of the Skittles Facebook Page.

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?