Tag Archive for 'listening'

Community Manager Tip: More Listening, Less Talking

The balance between listening and talking is a tricky one for many community managers, especially new ones. As community managers, we get excited when people participate, but if we start to jump into every conversation or reply to every thread it can be a little overbearing and can shut the conversation down too early. I try to listen first, and respond later to give more people a chance to participate.

A few tips for finding the right balance between listening and talking:

  • If you are consistently the top contributor as the community manager, take a hard look at whether you are posting too often.
  • Wait a bit before responding (unless the request is urgent) to see if someone else wants to chime in with a response or an answer.
  • Read the entire thread before responding to make sure that you are listening to all of the various opinions, especially before making a decision that impacts the community.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

Photo by Flickr user Ky used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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.

The Right Mix: Listening and Creating Content

Whether you are managing an online community or a social media program for your organization, having the right mix of listening and creating content is important. Without listening to feedback, you are just creating content in a vacuum without gaining any insights from other people. If you just listen and create nothing, you are all but invisible and aren’t contributing anything to the discussion or even acknowledging that you are listening. The right balance differs for each organization, and it will probably take some time to find the right balance for you and your organization.

Last week, I spoke on this topic as part of a panel session at the Portland Tech America Social Networks & the Enterprise Unite event. I used one slide to summarize my ideas, but I wanted to go into a little more depth here about the topic.

Listening and Creating Content

Listen First

Social media and online communities are all about the people, and people have conversations. They don’t share marketing messages. This means that people from traditional marketing backgrounds need to think a little differently about how they participate in communities by shifting the focus to conversations, and that initial focus should be much more heavily weighted to listening, rather than talking.

Spend some time initially focusing on learning what people are saying about you, your organization, your industry and your competition. By paying attention to these conversations, you can learn so many unexpected ideas.

  • People are probably using your products or services in new and innovative ways that you never intended.
  • People are sharing interesting new ideas about your industry that you can use to improve your personal knowledge or improve some aspect of your organization.
  • Your competition is probably sharing something that you want to know, and it can be worth the effort to see what individual employees at your competitors are saying online.

Listening Tools

One of the big questions is how to set up the right listening posts and filter the information down to something manageable that you can make sense of and process. The tools to monitor conversations range from free to fairly pricey depending on your situation.

  • Free and Easy: I recommend that you start with some free tools that require very little expertise to get a better feel for what you want to monitor. Use TweetDeck or a similar application for realtime monitoring of Twitter, and keep this even if you move to a more robust monitoring solution, since most of the existing solutions don’t do a great job of realtime monitoring. Start with some Twitter searches using advanced operators and set up some Google alerts or Google news / blog searches with RSS feeds. All of this will give you a better feel for the volume of results and some ideas for what you need to filter out of your standard keyword searches. For smaller companies, you might find that this is all you ever need.
  • Free with Knowledge Required:  There are also plenty of free tools or do it yourself approaches that are still free, but they require some time to set up and some specialized knowledge to use. My favorite DIY tool is Yahoo Pipes. If you know how to use it, you can do more advance filtering than you can with the large expensive packages. This requires some time and a bigger learning curve; however, the biggest downside to most of these DIY approaches is that they don’t do a good job of counting results, looking at trends over time or providing pretty charts for your management staff.
  • Paid Tools: The real benefit of these tools is that they are relatively easy to use, they do a good job of counting and charting mentions over time, and many of them provide additional workflow tools to help you manage responses. I have the most experience using Radian6, but there are many other available options. The cost can be worth it for many companies who have complex filtering needs, large volumes of responses, or who want something easy to use.

As a side note, I use Radian6 for monitoring some large volume projects, but I also use TweetDeck for realtime monitoring, and I use Yahoo Pipes to fill in the gaps for specialty monitoring needs. I also have large numbers of RSS feeds that I read regularly.

All of this information can also used as ideas for content, and to be more responsive to your customers or other people who have questions about your organization. You can answer questions or join those conversations, which brings us into creating content.

Creating Content

Creating content in online communities and social media should be so much more than just company messages and press releases. This is an opportunity to show how much your employees know and give them place to showcase their industry expertise where they can talk about industry trends, experiences, ideas and the topics they are passionate about. Writing this type of thought leadership content gets the attention of other people within your industry who link to your content and bring in additional potential customers, which can help improve search engine optimization over the longer term.

Much of this content will probably take the form of blog posts, and it can be daunting for people to have to come up with great content on a regular basis. This is why I recommend that organizations have group blogs where several people with different perspectives all contribute to make sure that one person isn’t bearing the whole load. There are also some tips and tricks for coming up with ideas for blog posts that include writing short posts, reusing other content, reacting to what others are saying, using research, doing interviews, and more.

One of the biggest ways to make sure your content makes an impact is to make it personal. Talk about how you or your job has been impacted by a particular trend or idea. The reality is that people will be reading and responding to whatever you write, and people react more forcefully when they see some kind of personal connection. You want to sound like a real person with thoughts and ideas, and not like a corporate drone.

Getting Started

After the talk someone asked me how she would know when she has done enough listening that she should start to participate and create content. You’ll know when you are ready because you’ll start to feel comfortable listening. You’ll know the language and abbreviations being used and will be eager to jump in. I recommend that you start small and participate gently at first. Start with one forum or one tool (like Twitter), and don’t do too much at first. Follow a couple of people (not hundreds or thousands) and start participating a little. After you really get started, then you’ll need to continue to find the right balance between listening and creating and make sure that you remember to continue to do both.

I did a longer presentation with similar content at WebVisions last year, so you might also find this presentation interesting if you want a little more information.