Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Category Archives: Community Management
UNICEF has launched a bold advertising campaign that takes direct aim at perhaps the most ubiquitous form of online activism — the Facebook “like.” Late last month, UNICEF Sweden released three commercials that urge viewers to support humanitarian aid not through posts or shares on social media, but monetary donations.
Congrats to UNICEF for having the guts to say this.
Here’s a problem Community Management and Social Media hasn’t really come to grips with. We focus on metrics that really don’t mean much, and forget the larger goals — and sometimes, those numbers hurt your ability to reach chose goals.
The “like’ seems harmless, but is it? You give people a chance to make an “easy commit” to your cause. It gives you a nice, big (and meaningless) number you can put in press releases and tweets. but because it’s so easy — frictionless — it’s a meaningless commitment. There’s no cost to a person to “like” something, so ultimately, there’s no value in that like. It’s a worthless, meaningless number.
And worse, you give that person a very easy act to do — and that act can let them feel like they accomplished something. They helped. By giving them a frictionless action that lets them feel they’ve helped, does that encourage them to take the next step and (for instance) join the organization, or commit funds to the cause.
It would be an interesting experiment (I can’t find any research on this) whether these easy “likes” help or hurt fundraising efforts. Does asking them to make their first step a “like” make them more or less likely to commit funds in a later step compared to a campaign that focuses on the fundraising itself?
I’m willing to bet that the like is in fact a disincentive, because it allows people to convince themselves they’ve helped the cause, without actually costing themselves anything.
From March 7 â€“ April 7, I documented everything blatantly sexist anyone has said to me. None of these comments were provoked, none of them were replies to something I said, none of them were at all out of the ordinary and the vast majority of them (an original count of 77 images) have been taken out so that this post isnâ€™t as long as it probably should be. This is a 10-picture indication of what itâ€™s like to be a woman who endorses game culture, every single month
Isn’t it sad things are still like this? But is it surprising? unfortunately, no.
Okay, you’re a community manager, and this starts happening in your forums or in the comments section. Are your site rules and T&Cs set up to let you fix the problem? And — how do you define “fix the problem?”
How do you handle it? Well, if you’re Youtube, you evidently stick carrots in your ears and pretend nothing’s wrongâ€¦Â
(hint: WRONG ANSWER)
I’ve just signed myself up to go to the Online Community Unconference in May. It looks like an interesting event with some interesting people in it. If you’re here in the greater Silicon Valley region and interested in Community Management, you ought to consider going. If you are going and want to meet up during the day, drop me a note and we can figure out the details.
If you’ve never heard that term before, an Unconference is difference from a typical conference where you show up and people talk at you. In an Unconference, the organizers set up the event and reserve the space, and then don’t create any programming. Instead, it’s a blank slate where the attendees get together and create a program on among themselves. This may sound scary (and it can be for some) but what it really does is give people an opportunity to get together, network and share with each other what they know on interests they find to be in common.
The unconference came out of the O’Reilly Foo Camps. I was allowed to go to the first of those, and it was a blast. Intimidating? definitely. But a blast. And it’s weird to think that was ten years ago, because that Foo Camp turns out to be where I first recognized some things going on in my life that turned into some major changes, including leaving Apple and making a shift out of writing code into Community Management. The first Foo Camp is where we saw the beginnings of the people organizing around the Maker movement, for instance, and out of that came Make Magazine — and in many ways, it was just because Tim pulled a bunch of people together, and some of those people realized they all had common interests and were hacking on those types of things in isolation, and it started a lot of talking and collaboration.
So who knows what’ll come out of this unconference? At the very least — you can meet and interact with a whole bunch of people who are likely going to make you think you’re only qualified to bring the bagels. And in reality, most of the people there will feel that way, too…
I may try, if I find the time, to build up some possible talking points for the unconference. One that comes to mind might be to talk about what it was like doing community management before anyone used that term. Or had invented HTML and the web and web sites… It might be fun to see if people want to talk about the good old days of USENET, too, and how today’s modern communities grew out of the things we were trying to build there, and what things we based some of the USENET design on…
Or maybe I’ll just sit back and listen to everyone else… What I do know is I expect to come away with a whole lot to think about and see how to make happen in the communities I run…
Last November, our friends at Infoworld reported that Apple’s iCloud email system silently blocks emails containing certain phrases. And that hasn’t changed in the intervening months, as Macworld UK reports. Granted, the phrases in question may not be the kind that you’re likely to exchange with your correspondents. Through our own rigorous testing, we’ve managed to confirm that emails containing the phrase “barely legal teen” are simply never delivered to iCloud inboxes. In fact, we found that even emails with the offending phrase contained in an attached PDF—even a zipped PDF—were blocked. Even if you, like us, would almost never receive a legitimate email with such a phrase, this could still be problematic.
Back in the day when I was designing and building the original lists.apple.com (oh my god…. see note below), one of the things I wanted to do was try to limit the ability of those occasional disagreements from flaring up into full-fledged flamefests (this is, of course, still one of the holy grails of community management). I decided to try to see if we could catch them as they escalated by adding a “PG-13″ filter to the incoming email; the idea being that when the language started escalating into profanities that things were probably getting out of hand. The hope was that if users got their nasty words bounced back it’d make them back off and think twice. Or at least give the admins some warning and time to wander in and see what was going on and intercede.
The filter was pretty simple regex checks, looking primarily for the “seven deadlies”. And it worked pretty well, except when it didn’t.
I soon got to know a great Mac programmer by the name of Igor Livshits. We had a number of great conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of simplistic pattern matching in spam filtering. I started tweaking the filters so that Igor could actually use the mailing lists again (you DO see the problem, right?) — and spent time over the next few months testing and tweaking and tuning. And ultimately, I removed all filters except for the Big One, because there were just too many false positives.
And that’s the problem. Users hate spam, and want it to go away. Until their email starts disappearing or being rejected by over-aggressive filters. And then everyone learns that the only thing worse than spam are false positives. So if there’s any questions about legitimacy, the email needs to be let through — and honestly, reputation systems have really solved this problem to a couple of decimal points.
So filters like this seem like a good idea, but if they start trapping real email, they need to be turned off. And blackholing emails makes it even worse. Yes, it’s a hassle and a resource suck to reject and return as bounced spam emails, but if you don’t, then you lose any chance of a feedback loop to let you know when your system is throwing these false positives. And that’s bad.
And the bottom line? be really, really careful building systems where there aren’t good metrics on accuracy and feedback loops that can tell you if the system is misbehaving. Even if this filter is 99% effective in trapping spam, blackholing that other 1% is a really bad thing because it impacts the reputation of your entire service. And since you don’t have feedback loops in place, you don’t know, until way too late…
(note below: taking a look at lists.apple.com for the first time in many years, I see — it’s still basically the setup I built and handed off, including using Mailman 2.x. Part of that is sad, because the reality is email systems simply haven’t been innovating much over the last 15 years or so, but mostly, I think this is neat, because it’s rare and awesome to see a system you built still humming away years later where nobody saw any big urgency to rearchitect or throw it out and replace it — when stuff just works, that’s the best result you can hope for…)
When I was interviewing for the Community Manager job with Palm’s Developer Relations, I found myself sitting in a conference room with the person who would ultimately be my boss, and we were talking over various aspects of the job and the usual interview questions and chatter.
And then she got a smile on her face and the question came out of left field: What would you do if I asked you to lie to the developers?
It’s actually an easy answer. I said I’d lie.
Because I would. And did. Because for all I tried to be the internal advocate for my developers and promote their needs and comments around the company, I was also the representative of the company out into the real world, and my primary role was presenting and protecting the company interests. (any developer I worked with who never realized this at the time, I’m sorry to break it to you now, but really, it shouldn’t be a surprise….)
And then we went into a 45 minute discussion about the implications of lying, and all of the complicated issues surrounding it, such as damage control when we got caught (no IF we got caught. ultimately, you will), and how part of my role was helping advise the company to try to make sure we never got to the point of having to lie (a good idea in theory, but people need to listen to your advice for you to influence decisions).
And to me, that’s at least the theoretical purpose of the Developer Advocate role, no matter what job description it’s tied to. It’s the person who not only interacts with the developers, but synthesizes down what the developers are saying and spreads that condensed version of the developer into the different part of the organization so that people planning products and making decisions that impact the developer can understand what they’re saying and what they need to be successful. (this, of course, assumes that people within the organization actually want to hear what the developers are saying. To the degree you have people deciding what developers should have, vs figuring out how to give developers what they’re asking for and saying they need, you have a conflict. Which in my experience is handled by finding out about meetings where decisions are made well after they actually happen….)
These are the kinds of questions that ought to be asked when trying to hire this kind of role, or in trying to figure out if you want to be hired. It’s all well and good to get all touchy and feely about taking care of developers and working with them to be successful (and yes, we did all that, too), but where it gets real is when it hits the fan, and then everyone on all sides need to know how people are going to react because that’s the time when you least can afford surprises.
(the honest fact is, I think my parrot could be a develop advocate for a platform when things are going well. What defines a good one vs. a weak one is how things go down when things aren’t going so well. I just wish my time with webOS had had fewer of those times, and more of the “yeah, this is easy!” times…)
What defines these roles is how the people in them handle crisis and challenge. And the ones that handle crisis well tend to be the ones that know that crisis is inevitable and do as much planning and work ahead of time so that when it hits, there are already options in place to handle whatever comes at them. And hopefully, is watching both the inside and outside of a company closely enough to know the crisis is coming, even if they can’t prevent it…
On Twitter — James Duncan Davidson:
While Twitter has done a lot of things of late that may be disappointing or annoying or even infuriating—such as pulling the rug out of the 3rd party ecosystem that helped them get off the ground in the first place—most of those things haven’t been surprising. The writing was on the wall for a long time that Twitter would implement a business model based on eyeballs and while those of us that had been users from the beginning hoped that they’d find a different way, it’s not surprising that they chose to go down this path.
Remember kids, if you’re not paying for it, you’re probably the product.
Given that, remaking the native apps to be more inline with their website presentation and however they are going to shove ads into our attention span isn’t surprising. Putting limits and restrictions on how third-party clients can present timelines? Not surprising. Going so far to put limits on the number of third-party clients out there? Not surprising at all.
I am Twitter’s worst enemy, unless perhaps Twitter proves itself to be its own worst enemy. That wouldn’t surprise me a bit.
I’m Twitter’s product. To date, I’ve been mostly satisfied with most of Twitter, such that it’s the social media channel is the place I spend more of my time than any other service (#2 is Facebook; #3 is G+, 4 is Stack Exchange, and 5 is linkedin). I’m not a “draw” on Twitter. I’m not a trend setter. I don’t pretend to be, or particularly want to be one. I’m a user. And I’m exactly what Twitter is trying to monetize. And I don’t mind being monetized — within reason.
Twitter seems to have forgotten a key fact, though. I’m not there for Twitter, per se. I’m there because all of you other people are there, and I’m hanging out with you. Twitter is just the place I hang out at. The same is true of Facebook, but the crew at Facebook a different crew — Twitter is my geek hangout, Facebook is where my family, friends and etc hang out.
If the people I hang out with at Twitter go elsewhere, there’s zero reason for me to be on Twitter. And Twitter’s recently been on a “hey, thanks for building this into a huge network of people, we don’t need you any more” thing with many of the people who are the reasons I’m on Twitter. Twitter probably doesn’t need to care, but maybe they’re going to regret this some day.
The way I look at it, the geeks came, they created stuff around Twitter. That brought in people attracted by the geeks, and that grew a network big enough to get noticed. It because a trendy place to be, then it because an expected place to be. Along the way, that attracted the brands and celebrities, and those attracted the mainstream. Just like Facebook. Now, Twitter’s made it clear it cares about the brands and celebrities and the mainstream, and the geeks and founders and builders? They can stay, or they can go; it’s not that Twitter’s trying to get rid of them, merely that Twitter no longer cares what they do.
But what I keep thinking about is this: if that group does leave Twitter and go some other place, what’s left is — well, it’s going to be more or less indistinguishable from Facebook. And if Twitter turns itself into another form of Facebook — which is pretty clearly what it’s trying to do — do all of those people in the mainstream still need both?
While I see Twitter successfully trying to turn themselves into something that looks very like Facebook, what I don’t see if Twitter doing anything to answer the question “why am I on both Facebook and Twitter anyway?”, especially if Facebook tweaks things in a way that makes it easy for Twitter traffic to move on over. You don’t want to be the N+1 service in someone’s life with no special attraction to make you worth their time. Just ask Digg. or Slashdot.
The question Twitter doesn’t seem to be considering is this: as it continues the “Facebookification” of itself, what about Twitter makes it a place people like me will want to be involved in? And if everything on Twitter I care about is also on Facebook, or on Google+, or on (name whatever service you like), why do I need to put time into both places?
And what I’m not seeing out of Twitter is any answer to that question. They’re so busy trying to become Facebook they don’t seem to have considered how to stay different from Facebook that people are willing to spend time both places. If they don’t figure that out, at some point increasing numbers of people will start making choices to only be on one service again, and if Twitter goes up against Facebook to be “that place you spend time”, Twitter’s likely to lose.
Me? I’ll still be on Twitter — to the degree it’s interesting to me. And that’s tied directly to who’s on it. And that’s something Twitter doesn’t seem to be managing well, and doesn’t seem to care about. And it’s at risk of not figuring that out until it’s too late.
Fast-growing chicken chain Chick-fil-A has long been known for sticking to its conservative roots. In a 2010 interview with Ad Age, an exec said the restaurant would sell hamburgers before it would consider opening on a Sunday. But what was once seen as an almost charming quirk of a Southern restaurant is increasingly coming under fire as the franchise funnels money into political causes that are seen as retrograde by large numbers of consumers once willing to give it a pass.
Things came to a head last week when an interview that Chick-fil-A President-Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy did with the Baptist Press hit the internet. In short, Mr. Cathy, son of founder S. Truett Cathy, affirmed the company’s support of what he considers traditional marriage. “Guilty as charged,” Mr. Cathy told the magazine. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”
Unlike a lot of people, I’m going to congratulate the Chick-fil-A company for standing up for its values here, and defend their right to do so. If that’s an important core value to the company, they should.
Don’t mistake defending their decision with supporting it. I don’t. Nor do I plan on visiting one of their establishments any time soon. But at least they took an position. How many big companies do that?
But if you want the casebook reason why so many big companies and professional athletes master the skill of “cliche 101″ and never utter anything remotely non-generic, just look at the outfall from this. Chick-fil-A is a company that’s been in expansion mode, moving into new markets, working to take the company and brand nationwide with some success. And this is the sort of hard lesson you learn when you go from “what works in my home town” to “what works everywhere”.
The reason big companies go bland is because bland is what’s palatable everywhere. It’s a difficult thing to try to speak to a nationwide or global audience and not get tripped up here. Remember back in 2003 when Apple introduced iTunes for Windows and proclaimed that Hell had Frozen over with Apple shipping windows software? No, you probably don’t, actually. But it was a big deal — and the state of Virginia threatened to cancel all of its Apple educational contracts because, well, Steve Jobs used a cuss word. Apple changed the ad campaign, and it all mellowed out again.
I use that example because there’s been some complaining by the conservative groups the we shouldn’t be picking on Chick-fil-A for their beliefs. Well, heck, why not? This is a common pressure tactic, and effective. It’s just this time it’s being aimed in the other direction.
The fact is, if you want to influence others with your position, you have my blessing. Please do. But realize that the flip side of that is that people will react to you and your position, and not all of them will be positive. And what may work in your home town or with your core group may not work so well in other regions, or in groups you’re hoping to attract to your brand.
THAT is why big companies go bland and cliche-ridden. And that’s a lesson Chick-fil-A is now learning. And they’re going to have to make a decision, do they want to hold to their values and promote them, and be willing to take the hit in lost customers or sales it might create? Or are you really interested in becoming a national brand and grow in the market?
Most companies choose growth. Honestly, there’s rarely a lot of upside to pushing your agenda. A better strategy is to shut up, take the money you make, and quietly funnel it to support the causes you believe in. That tends to be a lot less controversial; take a look at Curves as an example the Chick-fil-A management can emulate. Don’t think choosing to isolate yourself from the company management will completely protect you, though. Just ask the GoDaddy folks.
This would have likely been a quick and soon forgotten kerfluffle, if it weren’t for the Muppet toy crisis, and here’s where I think Chick-fil-A screwed up. One side effect of this was that the Muppets cancelled their relationship with the company, and that ended a promotion of a toy giveaway. Chick-fil-A announced this as a safety recall, which only gave fresh ammunition to those looking for reasons to criticize them.
For all I know, the claim is true, too. Whether it is or not is irrelevant. The perception here is that they’re covering this up, and no matter how Chick-fil-A tries, the critics will jump on them for this. And it frankly looks bad because they seem to be trying to blame the Muppets for this. If they had simply put up signs saying “because of circumstances beyond our control, we’ve had to cancel this promotion”, nobody would be posting photos of the signs to Facebook and beating them up for this.
To me, it looks like a sour grapes reaction, no matter what the truth is. And by doing it, they give their critics fresh ammunition to sustain the criticism. If they’d used a simpler response that avoided naming the Muppets, they wouldn’t have rebooted this controversy. Unfortunately, they did, and gave it a second wind. Someone in their marketing or PR group should have caught this and short-circuited those signs to something safer.
In the grand scheme of things, this is minor — assuming they don’t pour more gasoline on the fire. It’s a good time to be quiet and let things fade. It’s a good opportunity for a learning opportunity on when to keep your mouth shut, too, especially you’re a small company learning a lesson about what happens when you become a big one…
By now you have likely read the controversial article by Cathryn Sloane arguing that all social media managers should be under the age of 25. While most of the internet has strongly disagreed with this argument (especially those over the age of 25,) some older marketing experts are actually in agreement with Sloane, including Kevin Hillstrom of Seattle.
When I first read this piece by Sloane, I chuckled a little and thought to myself “here we go again”. And we did, and the article generated a bit of a kerfluffle, probably more than it deserved.
As one of those dinosaurs she’s kindly suggesting should not exist, my reaction to the article probably wasn’t what you think. In fact, what it reminded me of was me, when I was that age. Enthusiastic, full of energy, convinced of my opinions and able to see life as very white or very black, without much gray area in the middle. And frankly, more than a bit arrogant that I knew how this stuff should work better than everyone around me. Sometimes I was right, too.
The biggest problem I see in her article is the naive thought that social media and community management didn’t exist before Facebook, and therefore, people who didn’t grow up in the Facebook generation shouldn’t be doing this stuff. She kind of forgets that there are a lot of us old farts that were involved in actually building the stuff that led to the Facebook generation, or the tools that it was built on.
I’ve been involved in community management stuff going back to the 1980′s. That was long before anyone called it community management, and the kind of information sharing that became social media didn’t spring forth out of nothing, it was built on many systems and tools that were refined and improved over the years. Believe it or not, we’ve done this kind of stuff for a long time — it’s just we did it in black and white on kinescope film.
A good social media team needs both the enthusiasm of youth and the nuanced thoughtfulness of the graybeards. It’s not an either/or situation. If she had worked with me, and if she had shown me the article, I would have pointed out to her that she was setting herself up for a fairly emotional reaction that would obscure the point she was trying to make and leave her on the defensive — and then tried to work with her on how to mute those issues so the message came through without all of the heat.
And that’s my point for this piece; a good social media team needs both the exuberance and energy of youth but the perspective and thoughtfulness of experience. There is an value to the experience of “been there, done that, wore out the T-shirt”. There’s also a lot of value to the high energy of “let’s stop talking and try something”. Finding ways to mellow the raw edges of the enthusiasm with the tempering of experience gives a good team the best of both worlds.
When I was her age, I was a lot like her. Today, admittedly, I sometimes look back and who I was and wince, for tied up with the enthusiasm and skill I put into what I built, I also carried around a hunk of ego and a fair bit of arrogance to go with it, but it was easy to see what the right answer was, and nuance was for dummies. Today, the raw edges have been sanded smooth and where before there were black and white, easy decisions, I see immensely complicated, nuanced opportunities and challenges. There are times when I miss the simplicity of youth, but I have to admit I mostly prefer who I am today, and my ability to steer through the issues to a solution instead of shifting into overdrive and plowing over them to get to the next problem.
The one thing we graybeards need to remember, though, is that it’s important to keep working at it and stay relevant. Re-invent yourselves. You don’t have to be young, but you have to understand and be able to relate to them. If you don’t keep at it and keep upgrading your skills and attitude, you’ll end up one of those “get off my lawn” guys that nobody pays attention to any more. There’s no free lunch. the core truth of the “Facebook generation” gap is that this gap really does exist, and if you’re still arguing about how the good old days were better, you’ve made yourself ignorable. you have to stay up to date with your skills, and move with the world as it moves forward — and if you do, your experience and worldview from having gone through these generational changes a few times makes you more valuable to those who get it. But if you’re still riding on the skills you took from college and you’ve stopped innovating yourself, you have nobody to blame but yourself that people like Cathryn see you as expendable… Because you probably are…
And no, staying up to date isn’t easy, but if you want to stay relevant, it’s not optional.
Update: here’s another interesting take on this situation.