The field of leveraging and fostering these individual relationships via the Web is often called Community Management. Many people vow to be experts in the space, but very few of them have been involved in social
media as heavily and early as ReadWriteWeb’s Content Editor Marshall Kirkpatrick. I asked for his advice on how companies who may be struggling with social media can get started or become more effective with it:
MICHELLE: When did you first get involved in social media? How has the social media space evolved since you first engaged in it?
MARSHALL: I’ve only been doing this for about five years. I came from the nonprofit world and thought social media tools would be good to learn about so I could help bring them into that sector. I blogged as I learned and eventually started getting work blogging, more than the consulting I originally envisioned. When I got involved in all this it was a lot more marginal, we were all very scrappy. There were a surplus of freaks all trying to get or create a relatively small number of jobs in the field. Now social media is far, far more mainstream. Everyone’s more professional and there are far more marketing and PR people involved. On the up side, I did get to meet Neil Young once because of all this. I didn’t see that coming. So I guess you could say it was always weird, but now it’s getting really weird.
MICHELLE: Blogs and Twitter are integrating marketing, product development, customer service roles for companies into one Community Manager role. In a large company, what is the most efficient way for a Community Manager or Managers to delegate these tasks so as to make the customer happy?
MARSHALL: I think it’s best for all the traditional roles to stay intact and for a new position to be created that bridges all the different departments with social media as the glue. The Community Manager contributes to almost every department in a company but needs unique social-media specific skills and experience.
MICHELLE: What steps should companies take to best empower their Online Community Managers to make the best decisions?
MARSHALL: Let them speak freely in public. Let them spend their time however they see fit, as long as they are getting results. Expect a lot from them but understand the way they are being pulled in many directions on both sides of a wall – inside and outside the company. Understanding their job is helpful. Reading our Guide to Online Community Management is a good way to accomplish that.
MICHELLE: I find a lot of larger companies’ social media efforts to be somewhat “gilded”, where the negative comments get ignored and the positive comments get rewarded. What are your thoughts on this?
MARSHALL: That’s probably not a sustainable strategy for too long. Even if you can maintain it for a while – it’s no way to make the most of your engagement with social media. That requires as much authenticity as you can muster, in order to build relationships, in order to harvest the gains. This isn’t just another broadcast medium to push your marketing message through – this is people baring their hearts and minds to each other. (Really!) There’s good business development opportunities there, but only if you connect meaningfully with other people.
MICHELLE: Can you name a great example of how a company capitalized on an opportunity presented in the social media sphere?
MARSHALL: Smart people strengthen relationships between themselves and sales leads, vendors, possible hires, analysts, press and other people of business interest through social media all day every day. One of my favorite stories is about Lucia Willow, Community Manager at Pandora. Twitter is larger than Pandora now, but for most of the time she was on the site that wasn’t the case. Lucia says that she’s used every social network out there but Twitter offers her “the best bang for the buck.” When Pandora was facing a possible end to their business because of rising licensing fees, Lucia was able to mobilize scores of people on Twitter to engage with Congress over the matter and pass it on to their friends. It ended up saving not just that business, but potentially many other innovative small companies at risk as well. Twitter users are unusually fast-acting and engaged, Lucia told us. That’s just one of a number of case studies included in our Guide to Online Community Management.
Michelle Greer is a Web marketing strategist/geek in Austin, Texas. Case studies of her work have been featured in Mashable, Yahoo News, O’Reilly Radar, and the Austin American Statesman. You can find her tips on marketing and social media at michellesblog.net.