Tag Archive for 'corporate'

The Role of Listening as a Community Manager

Last week, I wrote a blog post about finding the right mix of listening and creating content for online communities or social media programs, and this week, I wanted to talk more specifically about the role of listening as a community manager. This post comes from my experience as a community manager and describes what has worked well for me over the years; however, there are many different types of communities and what works for one community doesn’t necessarily work for another.

There are also plenty of differing opinions about the role of community manager and how the job is defined. Here’s my take on the community manager role (related to the topic of this post – listening):

  • The community manager should not be the person  answering all of the questions or responding to almost every post; however, the community manager needs to make sure that someone is responding with good, solid information.
  • A community manager needs to spend a lot of time listening to all of the various opinions from the community. It will never be possible to please everyone with every decision, but knowing what people think can help you make the right decisions.
  • Corporate community managers (those being paid by a company) need to walk a delicate line between doing the right things for the community and their employer at the same time while acting as a communications conduit to make sure that the community has what they need from the company and to communicate community issues and trends back into the organization.

I generally take a listen first, talk later approach to community management for most things, especially initially. I’ve been managing the MeeGo community for a little more than a month, and I spent a lot of time listening in that first month to give myself time to understand the community dynamics, the people and the project. I spend a lot of time on IRC; I read every post on every mailing list and forum; I watch the recent changes on the wiki; and I try to spend some time listening to what people say about MeeGo outside of the community. I respond to only a small fraction of these discussions, but I try to make sure that someone responds. There are plenty of cases  where I could respond, but I like to give other people a chance to contribute. A healthy community has many people who will respond to questions or provide input, and an overly aggressive community manager who responds to everything can shut down the conversation.

This doesn’t mean that the community manager can just sit back and read all day. At some point, you need to take action by summarizing what has been said, making decisions or providing direction. The community manager can help set the tone for the community, and your interactions in the community will often be seen as a model for how you want people to behave. A community manager should be role modeling the type of behaviors that you want to see other community members display.

The community manager job is even more interesting for those of us who are being paid by a company to provide this service because of the delicate balance between providing information, maintaining company confidentiality and serving the interests of the community and the company at the same time. I spend a lot of my time working with people inside of my company to make sure that they know what is happening in the community and preparing them to interact with the community. This only works if I spend a lot of time listening to the community. As the community manager, I have a broad picture of what goes on across the entire community, and part of my job is to educate our employees to make sure that they have the information they need to have positive, productive conversations in the community. This involves a certain amount of nagging and arm twisting of everyone from developers to executives, but that is just part of the glamorous life of a community manager.

Photo by Aaron Hockley of Hockley Photography.

Tips for Using WordPress as a Corporate Blogging Platform

There are some big advantages to using a single blogging platform for all of your corporate blogging activities. In this case, I’m going to talk about how to use a single WordPress installation as your corporate blog, but similar tips probably apply to other platforms. Keep in mind that these tips are for corporate blogs, not individual bloggers.

Advantages

  • Gives people a single place to find blogs from the various groups or people within your organization.
  • Take advantage of having all of this together on your domain to get better Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your corporate website. Having blogs on sites like blogspot.com will probably have a negative impact on your SEO as people create links to content that is off your domain.
  • Centralized management of the blogs to make it easier for people to blog while maintaining branding that is consistent with your corporate branding guidelines.
  • You have one WordPress installation, but it can look like a single unified blog with multiple topic areas or it can look like multiple blogs depending on how you want to position it.

Tips for using WordPress

  • In most cases, you should be hosting it yourself using the WordPress.org download, and integrate it into the rest of your online presence.
  • Replace the built-in feeds with Feedburner feeds to get better analytics on your subscribers and don’t forget to integrate your analytics package to track traffic on your blog.
  • Use WordPress categories to separate the different topics into channels and allow people to subscribe to specific topics using the built-in category feeds to create Feedburner feeds.
  • Use full names as author’s display names and allow people to subscribe to specific people using the built-in author feeds to create Feedburner feeds.
  • Go easy on the plugins. As you add more plugins, the stability and performance will usually start to degrade, and you can end up with conflicts between plugins that generate strange behaviors. In general, if you can do what you need to do with a couple of lines of PHP, don’t use a plugin. For example, I always embed the Feedburner feeds and Google Analytics in the PHP header and footer files, instead of using plugins for those functions.
  • Use themes to make your blog look unique and to highlight high profile authors or important categories.

Webtrends Example

Webtrends is one of the best examples of using existing WordPress functionality to create a really great blog. All of the main functionality they are using is built into WordPress, but they have done some extensive design work on the theme to make it look unique.

http://blogs.webtrends.com/

  • Featured articles at the top of the page provide focus and highlight important blog posts.
  • Focused topics: Inside Webtrends, Best Practices, and Industry News. Behind the scenes, they are using categories to create channels or sub-blogs based on topics. Notice how you can get a feed for just a particular topic or for the entire blog.
  • Recent Posts: All of the most recent posts regardless of the category.

http://www.webtrends.com/blogs

This is just another view of the same blog as above, but it is focused on their executive bloggers using authors instead of categories to display posts (and feeds) for each of their executives. You might use something like this if you had a couple of high profile people blogging for your company.

  • The main blog is linked at the top.
  • The most recent post for each executive along with an RSS feed is displayed.

While they are using the default functionality in WordPress, they have some extensive work on the theme / design to make it look the way it does. However, the categories, users, and feeds are all built-in functionality existing in WordPress.

Summary

This blog post assumes that you’ve already selected WordPress, so I tried to focus on just a few tips, but there are many, many more tips for corporate blogging and using WordPress.

However, it is important to spend some time upfront thinking about your goals for the blog and the strategic topics that you want to be the focus of your blogging efforts. After you have your goals and strategy defined, then you should start thinking about picking a blogging platform and getting started.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Online Community Research and Social Media Planning

As I work with clients to build online communities, I find that external community sites like Twitter and Facebook are becoming an increasingly important part of the overall online community strategy. As a result, I was excited to read the results of Bill Johnston’s recent Online Community Research Network study on this topic. The study looked at how organizations are incorpating external communities and social media sites in their online strategies. Bill posted more information about the results in his post, but here are a few of the highlights.

Twitter and Facebook are the highest priority external community sites for most organizations followed by LinkedIn. This is consistent with what I have been hearing from clients. My clients also tend to ask about YouTube and occasionally MySpace.
social_media_sites
Each organization’s business goals for using external community sites are slightly different, but some of the most important goals included:

  • Educate and inform
  • Peer-to-peer evangelism
  • Retain customers / loyalty

The most surprising part of this research is the number of people who don’t think they need a plan for these efforts. I disagree.

soc_media_strategy

It’s important to approach your external community efforts (including social media) with clear goals and some thought (i.e. plans) for how you want to approach each site and how everything fits together. The plan should include objectives along with roles and responsibilities that clearly outline who will update each site, how often, and with what content. Without good planning, your corporate presence is likely to look either disorganized and scattered or abandoned and barren.

I think this helps highlight the difference between knowing how to use communities and social media for personal pursuits and knowing how to engage in them to meet the specific objectives of an organization. I don’t have a plan for how I use social media in my personal life, but I do work with clients to help them put together strategies, plans and content roadmaps for using external online community sites. If you don’t already have a plan for your external online community engagement, you should find someone (internal or external) who has experience building corporate online community strategies and plans to help you get organized. You don’t need to spend months on the plan, and it doesn’t need to be a 100 page document, but you should have some kind of written plan.

Does your organization have a plan for your external community efforts?

Twitter 101 for Business

Twitter recently posted a Twitter 101 guide for businesses. It is a great resource for companies considering using Twitter or who are just starting to use the service. Historically, Twitter’s documentation has been pretty weak, and I was a little skeptical, but this resource is very well put together. It does a nice job of highlighting what to do and not do with a strong focus on the social norms and user expectations on Twitter. I want to highlight a few specific sections, but you really should take some time to review the guide for more details.

The first three sections are targeted at people who have never used Twitter and really don’t understand how it works. If you’ve been using Twitter already, you can safely skip the What is Twitter, Getting started, and Learn the lingo sections. However, if you are working with people who are new to Twitter, this would be great background reading for them.

The Best practices section is where the social norms and user expectations are covered along with some ideas for measuring the impact of Twitter. While this is all very basic introductory information, I encourage you to read it. It contains useful information to help you understand how to make better use of the service without running afoul of the Twitter spam policies or violating their terms of service.

The Case studies section is the best part of the guide. It has the usual suspects, Dell and JetBlue, but it also has several less well known examples. They do a really nice job of covering many different types of businesses and different use cases. People always ask me for case studies for business users, and I can always cobble something together, but this is the most comprehensive set of case studies that I’ve seen for Twitter.

The guide also has a link to other resources with books and articles about using Twitter. I also wrote short guide about using Twitter for brands or corporate identities that you might find useful.

Overall, Twitter 101 for Business is very well done and is a great resource for organizations just jumping into Twitter for the first time. Having all of this information in one place is going to save me time when working with clients who are new to Twitter.

Companies and Communities Presentation Materials from WebVisions

Thank you to everyone who came to my presentation at WebVisions this morning! For anyone who missed my presentation or for people wanting a copy of the materials, I’ve uploaded them to SlideShare.

Ideas for Corporate Blog Posts

When I talk to clients about writing regular blog posts and coming up with a content roadmap, the most common question is this: “How am I going to come up with that many ideas for blog posts?”

People seem to think that only the most brilliant, creative people can consistently come up with new ideas for blog posts. The reality is that there are some tricks for finding good blog content that I wanted to share.

Keep it Short

Blog posts should be more like conversations, not dissertations. The shorter the post, the more likely it is that people will finish reading it and remember the content. You can even break large posts into shorter multi-part posts, which means less writing for you.

Reuse and Recycle

Look within your company for existing content. Documentation, memos, intranet content, emails and other internal content can frequently be repurposed into a blog post for an external audience. Keep your eyes peeled for existing content that you can tweak to quickly make it into a blog post.

Highlight Existing Content

Linking to some existing piece of content is a quick and easy way to make a blog post that people will find useful. This could be a video, webinar, white paper or any other content that your readers would want to see.

React and Participate in the Conversation

When you read content written by other bloggers or in the mainstream press, think about your reaction to what you are reading. Do you agree or disagree, and do you have experiences that relate to the topic? These reactions and information about your related experiences can make great blog posts.

Use Research

When you read industry research or studies that are conducted at your company, think about how you might be able to use the research in a blog post. Post a few pieces of data or your reactions to the research as a blog post.

Quotes and Interviews

This is where you can pass the buck and get other people to write content for you. Ask a co-worker or industry expert a question or two that you can use as all or part of the content for a blog post.

The List Post

Readers respond well to list posts like “the top 3 ways to do X” or “the 5 tools I use for Y”. These can be fairly easy to write, since you don’t need to go into very much detail on each item.

What tips and tricks do you use to come up with blog posts?

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Getting Started with Facebook for Companies and Organizations

An earlier Fast Wonder blog post with an introduction to Facebook for companies and organizations has been getting quite a bit of traffic lately, so I wanted to do a follow-up post with a few more details and updated information about Facebook. One of the reasons that I find Facebook so interesting is because it has a variety of features that are focused on community building and sharing information with friends and contacts. It is especially useful for smaller, lightweight community efforts.

While we tend to think of Facebook as something for college students, recent college graduates, and technology early adopters, the reality is that Facebook users in the 35 and older category are growing at a very fast rate. According to Inside Facebook, as of the end of March, 30% of Facebook users are over 35.

Facebook Demographics - Age

There are several primary ways to participate on Facebook: personal profiles (private), pages (public), groups, and applications. Each one of these is used differently, so I’ll cover each one of them individually. If you haven’t already read my guiding principles post, you might want to read it first, since it talks more about acceptable behavior in social media.

Personal Profiles (Private)

This is where you should start on Facebook, whether you are participating for fun or on behalf of a company. Facebook profiles are private by default – only the people that you add as contacts can view your personal profile, and they are designed to be used by individuals. You will use this as your account to log into Facebook, so you should work on building your personal profile before starting any other efforts on Facebook. This also gives you an opportunity to experiment with Facebook to learn what works for you and what doesn’t while participating as an individual, rather than jeopardizing your corporate brand image with costly mistakes and gaffes.

Here are a few things that you can do to get started:

  • Add a picture that helps people recognize you. There are many other people named Dawn Foster, so it is important for people to be able to tell for certain that they are looking at your account instead of a stranger with a similar name.
  • Spend a few minutes entering your information (personal info, education / work, etc.)
  • Post status updates and add a few extra pictures.
  • Add a few friends (personal, work, past lives)
  • Try to get a mix of personal and professional information to help people better understand the whole you with as much information as you feel comfortable sharing with people.
  • Go easy on your friends – save the poking, zombie requests, etc. for close personal friends.

Please do not create a personal profile for your company. These look weird and artificial, and they are designed to be private, which makes it difficult for people to interact with your company. We’ll talk about better ways to have a company presence on Facebook in the next section.

Pages (Public)

Facebook pages are publicly viewable, which makes them much better for a corporate presence, since anyone can become a fan of your company without any additional interaction or approvals. People are effectively using pages for companies, products, bands, shows, special interest groups, and much more. Facebook pages have many of the same features as profile pages, but with information that is geared toward companies rather than individuals. While profile pages have education / work information and interests, public pages have location, hours of operation, company overview, mission, date founded, and more. Some features include: wall with messages, events, video, pictures, notes, and more. Powell’s Books has a pretty good example of a company page.

Facebook also has a step-by-step guide and more information about creating a page for you company or product.

Groups

Groups are usually used to share information, collaborate or organize around a specific topic, and they can be public or private depending on what you want to achieve from the group. Groups can be a way to create a very simple, lightweight community around an effort, especially if most of your audience is already on Facebook. People can become members by joining the group, and then they can post information to the group. The features are similar to the profiles and pages described above with information, wall / discussions, events, photos, links, video and more. Corvallis Beer and Blog is an example of how you can use a Facebook group to organize a weekly event.

Applications

You might consider creating an application for your organization as a way for people to interact with your products. For example, companies like Nike and Intel have created Facebook applications.

Be cautious when using applications. Some applications have been linked to viruses and others spam all of your contacts in order to use the application. However, there are some great uses of applications. I use the Twitter application to feed my Twitter status to Facebook, and I use the Upcoming application to display a list of events that I’m attending. As I mentioned earlier, go easy on your friends – save the applications used for poking, zombie requests, etc. for close personal friends, not business acquaintences.

There are certainly other ways to use Facebook, but this covers the basic ways that most people use it. In general, remember to participate as a person first and a company second, and remember that the guiding principles that I have talked about so many times before on this blog still apply to using Facebook.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Maintaining a Successful Corporate Community

Apparently, this is corporate community week on the Fast Wonder Blog. I decided to follow up my post on Monday about Custom Corporate Communities: Planning and Getting Started with this post containing tips about what to do and what to avoid doing if you want to have a successful corporate community. While some of these tips are specific to corporate communities, most of them also apply to other types of communities as well.

The are many ways for a company to encourage or discourage participation in their community just by the way employees behave in the community, the way the community is facilitated, and how the infrastructure is maintained. There are a few things you can do to help ensure that the community successful, while other activities are likely to drive the community away. This post will cover both the do’s and don’ts along with some tips for maintaining a successful community.

What makes a community work

Being open and transparent. Being as open and transparent as possible will improve trust within the community. It often helps to explain the “why” behind some of your decisions to avoid being seen as closed or defensive. In general people are more understanding, especially about difficult topics if you can explain why the company responds in a certain way.

A company who listens (to good and bad). It is easy to listen and respond when people say nice things about you or your company, but you should also be responding when people complain or provide negative feedback. The key is to respond constructively with something helpful: a suggestion, information about upcoming changes, or just a simple thank you.

Actively engaged in the community. The company should not dominate the community, but they should be actively participating by creating new content, responding to feedback, and in general being visible in the community.

Encouraging new members. Whenever possible, welcome new members of the community, especially if they are particularly actively in the community.

Making it easy for people to participate. Reduce the barriers to entry for people to participate and make it as easy as possible to join the community. Allowing people to view content before joining and a simple sign-up form with very few required fields can go a long way toward reducing the barriers to participation.

Integration into other relevant areas of the site. In most cases, it is simple to pull information from your community into static areas of your website. This makes your static website seem less static, and it drives more people to your community when they see a piece of content that they are interested in reading. For example, if you have a static page describing your efforts in sustainability, you could pull the 5 most recent blog posts or discussions from the sustainability section of your community into a sidebar on the static page.

What to avoid

Community is lip service. People can tell when a company creates a community to give the appearance of listening, while not really considering it a serious endeavor. If you aren’t serious about engaging with your community, then you might be better off not spending the effort to create one.

Pushing marketing messages. When pushing marketing messages out to the community members takes precedence over 2-way conversations and collaboration, you will start to see your community disappear. A community is about conversations between people, and you can talk about your products, but it should be done in a relevant and conversational tone, instead of sounding like a pitch or advertisement.

Deleting the negative. You should be responding to criticism, not deleting it. Again, communities are about conversation. If people feel like you are putting duct tape over their mouths when they express anything negative about the company, these people will simply leave their negative comments somewhere else on the internet where it is likely more people will see the criticism and not hear your side of the story.

Barriers to collaboration. Community software, configuration, or policies can often create barriers to collaboration. Configure the software to make it easy for people to find content and sign up for the community. Your policies should create guidelines for use that help keep the community healthy without being so heavy handed that people aren’t interested in participating. Flickr’s community guidelines are a good example of how to write guidelines that are simple and even fun to read.

Neglected communities. Nobody wants to participate in a corporate community where no one in the company monitors or responds to questions or feedback. There are too many of these floating around the internet, so make sure that you have the resources to give your community care and feeding over the life of the community.

Dealing with the difficult

Every community has its fair share of difficulties. While you can never anticipate every difficult experience, many of them seem to fall into one of these four categories.

Negative Comments. As I mentioned earlier, do not delete negative feedback or negative comments. I generally hold off before responding to the negative feedback to see if other non-employee community members come to my rescue first. If not, you’ll need to respond constructively and honestly with as much information as you are able to provide, and you need to respond without getting defensive.

Spammers. Spammers are a huge, painful thorn in a community manager’s side. You should put aggressive, automated measures in place to deal with spam; however, also be prepared for them to find ways around your spam filters. Spammers are a creative group, and they will find ways to spam your community that you never thought was possible. Deal with the spam as quickly and completely as possible.

Pain in the ass. There are always those people who are just a pain. They complain that your documentation has a typo, you don’t file bugs quickly enough, or anything else that isn’t getting done to their exacting standards. In many cases, these are people who really do want to make things better. My advice in this case may sound counter-intuitive, but you should put them to work if possible and reward their efforts. If they complain about the documentation, see if you can convince them to re-write a section. If that works, you might find other ways to put them to work to channel that energy into fixing instead of complaining.

Don’t feed the trolls. These are the people who complain and act out because they want attention. They will take up as much of your time as you give them in pointless arguments and distractions. It can be difficult for many people not to take the bait. Ignore them and resist the urge to give them the attention they crave. If they don’t find someone to argue with, they will generally move on to another community where they can make trouble.

No community is perfect

You need to keep in mind that no community will ever be perfect: things will go wrong; your community software will have bugs; and people will get defensive or irate. In addition to the internal factors in the community, there are external influences that can creep into the community. Companies have PR nightmares that drive people into the community in droves to complain, but in great communities, the company responds effectively, addresses the issue, and works to resolve it quickly. When you have one of these crisis situations, keep the focus on summarizing and fixing, instead of blaming and justifying. Maintain open communication channels and deal with these imperfections and issues as quickly and openly as possible.

What are your favorite tips to help companies have great communities?

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Custom Corporate Communities: Planning and Getting Started

Corporate communities refer to any custom community created by an organization for the purpose of engaging with customers or other people who may be interested in the organization’s products and services. For the purpose of this post, custom corporate communities include communities created by corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and similar organizations. These corporate communities can take many different forms: support communities, developer communities to help developers work with your products, customer and enthusiast communities, and many others.

Before jumping in to create a new community, you should think carefully about the purpose of this new community including your goals and objectives, fitting your community efforts into your organization’s overall strategy, measuring success, and committing the resources required to make your community flourish.

Here are a few questions that can help you think through the process of planning for your new community:

What is your overall strategy and how does the community fit with it?

If your custom corporate community does not support the overall strategies of the organization, I give it about a 5% chance of being successful. Creating a new community can be a very large project with quite a bit of upfront work to create the community along with a large effort over the life of the community to manage and maintain it. If this time and effort is spent in support of the overall corporate strategy, then it will be much easier to justify keeping the community during the next planning cycle for your organization. On the other hand, when a community is built to support goals that are not clearly aligned with the overall strategy, people will look at it as a big expense that can be cut, and your community will die a quick death if you are lucky or a horrible slow death by neglect if you aren’t quite as fortunate.

Spend the time now to make sure that you can find a way to structure your community plans to support the overall strategy of your organization. If you can’t find a good way to align your plans with the strategy, you should think twice about whether a corporate community is an appropriate solution for you right now.

What do you hope to accomplish and what are your goals for the community?

Think very carefully about why you are creating a new community for your organization. Spend plenty of time upfront to clearly define the reasons for creating it and what you will accomplish by having the community. You might want to go back and read my earlier post on the benefits of having a community. You might want to consider some or all of those benefits when you think about the goals for your community:

  • People: gives people a place to engage with your company
  • Product Innovation: get product feedback and ideas
  • Evangelism: help you grow evangelists for your products from outside of your company
  • Brand Loyalty: engagement can drive a tremendous amount of loyalty for your products

After you have a good grasp on what you hope to accomplish, you need to set some specific goals for the project. When you get into the platform selection process and design phase later in the project, having clear goals will help ensure that you build the right kind of community to achieve these goals.

What are your plans for achieving your goals and how will you measure success?

Now that you have some goals for what you want to accomplish with your community, you need to figure out some specific steps required to achieve your goals along with the metrics you will use to measure whether or not you have been successful. The metrics that you select will depend on your specific goals, but common community metrics include page views or visits, new member sign ups, and participation (new posts or replies). It is easy to go overboard and measure everything; however, I recommend that you pick a couple (no more than 4 or 5) of the most important measurements to use to report to management on your success. You should have an analytics package or reporting tools that allow you to drill down for more details that you can use to help troubleshoot issues and understand the data, but use these as background materials for your team.

Do you need to build new or can you join an existing community?

This is the reality check portion of the process. If you can join an existing community and get the same or similar benefits for your organization without investing all of the resources to create something new, you should seriously consider joining rather than building. You should also look around your organization to see if you have any existing communities or other infrastructure that you can reuse instead of installing yet another piece of community software.

Do you have the resources (people and financing) to maintain it long-term?

As I mentioned earlier, building a new community is a big effort. It is not one of those projects that you complete and move onto the next one. Building the community and installing the software is the first step, and the real work comes in after the launch of the community. You will need to have people on board and ready to manage the day to day responsibilities from a community perspective and to administer and maintain the software. For a small community this could be a single person, but for a large corporate community, it usually takes a team of people.

You should also plan for frequent upgrades and adjustments to the community, especially right after the launch. You will find bugs in the software, areas of the community that the users find difficult to use for whatever reason, and other things that you will need to adjust once you have people actually using the community. Your organization should be ready to handle these ongoing costs and resource commitments over the life of the community. Nothing is worse than wasting time and money on something that won’t be maintained long enough to achieve your goals.

While this certainly isn’t everything that you need to consider when planning for your new community, hopefully, it will get you started on the right path. For more information, you might also want to read some of Jeremiah Owyang’s posts about community platforms or some of the online community research that Bill Johnston is doing at ForumOne.

I’d love to see you post comments with other things that you consider when planning for a new corporate community.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Using Twitter for Brands or Corporate Identities

As most of you know, we launched Shizzow last week, and we began using the Shizzow Twitter account with it. I’ve been doing most (but not all) of the tweeting from the Shizzow account, and I wanted to share some best practices for using a corporate Twitter account effectively without being spammy.

Starting points

This post assumes that you are already familiar with Twitter and are using it for a personal account, but if you are new to Twitter, you’ll want to start by reading Tara Hunt’s Tweeting for Companies 101.

I am also assuming that you have already read my post about Social Media and Social Networking Best Practices for Business. If not, you might want to start there. It has quite a few tips for how to interact with social media sites and online communities that apply to using Twitter, but are not covered explicitly or in any detail in this post.

Best Practices

  • Know what people are saying about you. After you create your Twitter account and have the name reserved, but before you start using it, set up some tracking tools. You will want to know when people are replying and what people are saying about you on Twitter. Yesterday, I released a Twitter Sniffer for Brands pipe that will help you keep track of the conversations about you on Twitter. I’ve found that the Twitter Search (was Summize) actually misses some Tweets that will be caught by this pipe. This is a copy of the pipe that I am using to keep track of the conversations about Shizzow. I monitor the RSS feeds most of the day when I have time, but no less than 2-3 times per day. For extra credit, you should also be monitoring what people say about you on other blogs (Google Blog Search with RSS feeds or alerts might help).
  • Respond frequently and sincerely. Knowing what people say is only helpful if you actually use the information and respond to people. You will want to keep the responses public by using @replies wherever possible instead of DMs unless you are exchanging non-public info. Going back to my Best Practices post, you also need to be sincere and remember that it is not all about you when you respond to people. Be honest about what isn’t working well and how you plan to improve your products or services. Help people find information when you see them struggling or asking questions on Twitter. Respond to the tough, critical questions in addition to the easy ones.
  • Follow back. You will want to follow people back when they follow you on Twitter. It will help you listen and respond while allowing people to send you direct messages. See the ‘don’t proactively follow people’ section below for some cautions about following people.
  • Have a personality. Companies are made up of people, and you’ll want to show some personality in your tweets. Nobody wants to listen to a corporate drone or regurgitated marketing messages. Personalize the information and act like a real person in your responses.
  • Variety is Important. Include a wide variety of information in your Twitter stream without focusing too heavily on any one element. I try to shoot for a mix of informational posts (new features, blog posts), links to other people’s blog posts or retweets, @replies to questions, alerts about any issues or downtime for maintenance, meetups, and fun posts.

Things to Avoid

  • Don’t be a link spam account. This one is a little controversial, and some people will disagree with me here; however, I don’t think that you should use your Twitter account just to post links to blog posts. If people want your blog posts, they can get them via RSS. It is OK to link to informational blog posts, but I always put some text around it so that people can decide whether or not to click through. You should also be linking to posts from other blogs that are relevant to your company or industry as a whole. These should be a fairly small portion of your overall Twitter posts (see the variety is important section above).
  • Don’t go overboard. You should be providing information and replying to people, but you shouldn’t go overboard. I would say that posting no more than 5-10 times a day on average is a pretty good goal. Some days will have more and others less depending on the situation; however, if you post too much, you’ll start to lose followers who can’t keep up with the volume.
  • Don’t be too self-promotional. You should use your Twitter account to promote your activities; however, it should be a part of what you do. If every post talks about how awesome your company is, people will lose interest fairly quickly.
  • Don’t proactively follow people. People will find your Twitter account when you @reply them, and you can use your website / blog to promote it. You don’t want to start by following a few hundred (or thousand) people who don’t care about you or your product. It seems creepy to be followed by a random brand that you aren’t already following, and it just makes you look spammy. See the follow back section above for how to do this right.

For more information

Jeremiah Owyang just wrote a couple of interesting posts about corporate usage of Twitter: Why Brands Are Unsuccessful in Twitter and Web Strategy: The Evolution of Brands on Twitter. They provide some additional information and a slightly different take on how brands use Twitter.

Related Fast Wonder blog posts