Tag Archives: online community management

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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Online Community Management – the Unobvious Job

What’s the difference between “Social Media Management” and “Online Community Management”? Is it the same thing?

The term “online community management” is still relatively new in Singapore. And that’s one reason why I’m writing this.

Though perhaps the concept isn’t new – isn’t it basically social media management? Yes and no. Social media management is, simplistically, the running of social media channels, everything from setting up Pages and accounts, tweeting, curating and posting content to reporting   metrics. Its activities are centred around the channel – in a sense, it is channel-centric.

It is implicit in “social media management” that managing the fans, followers and members is involved. That’s where online community management has its focus. It’s in the people in your community, people whom you want to engage, people for whom you want to get a sustained positive response.  So, in a sense, online community management is a part of social media management, inasmuch as social media marketing is part of digital marketing.

I believe the main reason the term “online community manager” is only just beginning to take root in Singapore is that until recently, the focus of most organizations has really been exactly about social media as (marketing) channels, with community management as a secondary concern.

The Obvious vs the Un-Obvious Job

It is inevitable that as companies gain a better grasp of social media channels, they run into issues that are specifically more about online community management. Like the “webmaster” of the past, it will gain importance as the jack-of-all-trades character who is not just doing the obvious thing (“running the Facebook page”) but also the less obvious thing (“managing fans and driving engagement”)

Source: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2011/01/community-manager-appreciation-day-pros-and-cons-of-community-management/
The Online Community Manager is sometimes called a “one-man team” or “crazy madness”. Source: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2011/01/community-manager-appreciation-day-pros-and-cons-of-community-management/

We might argue that not every online community is on social media. For example, the discussion community around a popular blog might not be considered social media (especially since these existed before “social media” did).

Regardless, it’s fair to say that social media management and online community management have many things in common. But here are some ways to differentiate them.

Note: These are not exclusive differences. Social Media Management has some aspects of Online Community Management, and vice versa. The points below are an attempt to differentiate their foci, not to divide the two disciplines. They really do share a lot in common.

* * * * *

If you would like to learn more about my thoughts on
Online Community Management, do check out my OCM course
at the Institute of Systems Science, NUS. </end self-promo>

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Focus

  • Social Media Management focuses on the channel. “We want to grow our Facebook fanbase.”
  • Online Community Management (OCM) focuses on the people. “We want to make our Facebook fans happy and engaged.”

Consider: it’s possible to have a social media channel with tens of thousands of fans/followers, but little engagement.

Channel

  • Social Media Management is often channel-specific. “We engage fans on Facebook and Twitter.”
  • OCM is in principle channel-agnostic. “We engage fans. Wherever they are.”

Consider: Many companies start off by saying they want to “get on Facebook” (or the like), not “We must engage fans”.

Target Segment

  • Social Media Management uses marketing to gain new fans. The objective is to bring new fans in.
  • OCM “uses” its community to market to itself. It focuses on keeping fans within.

Consider: social media campaigns often use marketing tactics, such as marketing lingo and giveaways, to attract new fans, while the professionals involved (they could even be the same ones) are tasked to focus on content and engagement to keep existing fans engaged.

KPIs

  • Social Media Management ultimately is often designed to drive a hard business objective. E.g. sales
  • OCM wants to drive participation, interaction, discussion and other means of engagement. Typically these are considered a means to an end (the end being a business objective)

Consider: management often grills social media teams as to what is their ROI, and how do they benefit sales. When a crisis occurs online, management asks how the team will handle it – the latter is a matter of OCM since it involves pacifying a community; whereas the former is about marketing/bottom line.

…. and so on.

All points are entirely arguable. This is no attempt to define the two terms definitively. It’s just food for thought for those of us trying, perhaps, to make an un-obvious job a little more obvious, a little better appreciated.

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Thanks for reading to the end! Once again, allow me to introduce my
Online Community Management 2-day course starting from July,
at the Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore. Care to join up? 

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? :)