Information builds communities Communitech January 26, 2012 Communitech, Startups Most of the content and discussion you see about community management focuses on people, which makes sense. They’re essential to a company’s development: as customers, sources of feedback, sources of influence, etc. But I would argue that information is as much a part of community management as people are. After all, what are we learning from those people? What are we providing to them? What are we analyzing about them? A significant part of the community manager’s role is moving around information from where it is to where it needs to be, editing and shaping and making stories of it. Which information and how much a community manager is responsible for managing depends a lot on the size of the company, community, and the direction of the role. At a startup, the community may be smaller, as may the number of products the company has, for example, but the community manager is also quite possibly the only main point of contact for external people. Under those circumstances, the community manager would be responsible for bugs and other support issues, education and training of new customers to some degree, marketing the company and its wares, documenting company and product information, and documenting customer issues, interactions, and feedback. In a larger company, the focus of the role could be a lot more specialized. Of course, it’s not just necessary to gather or disseminate that information; it needs to be in a clean, relevant format. You may glean invaluable feedback from customers via social media channels, but the rest of the team isn’t going to be able to do much with a bunch of tweets, Facebook posts, blog comments, etc. Information needs to be organized. For product feedback, perhaps by product and feature. For external product information, perhaps by business need and level of expertise. It also needs to be available when the team needs it, else you’re unlikely to get a whole lot of attention on it. The language of the information is going to be different depending on the audience, too. This is why it’s not necessarily a good idea to re-purpose internal documentation as user documentation. A company’s employees have their own language and level of expertise. Their own ways of referring to the company, products, features, etc. And this language often doesn’t reflect how customers, and, perhaps more importantly, prospective customers think or talk about the company and its products. In fact, using the wrong language externally can hurt the company. If someone googles widgets, and your website refers to grommets, but the physical item is the same thing, they’re not going to end up on your site. If a prospective customer says they’re looking for X to do Y, and you simply repeat your marketing speak that makes the person think that your company has P that does Q, they’re probably not going to sign up. Or if an existing customer is trying to accomplish A, but your explanation makes it sound like she needs to do B, she may well end up with an impression of bad user experience or a faulty product. Fortunately, to learn how the market, competitors, analysts, influencers, prospective customers, and customers refer to your company, products, and their features, all you have to do is listen. And social media makes that much easier to do these days. Everything’s there in print, usually including who said it, so if you have a question for the person you can follow up. (Or determine how much reach they have to see how many other people they might be talking to as well.) And, as noted, it’s a good idea not only to follow what’s being said about your company, but the industry and your competitors as well. Store these snippets in Evernote, or a spreadsheet. Make word clouds or pie charts to share with others in the company. Or just start small and keep them handy when writing documentation or blog posts or just talking with folks. It’s important to remember that you can bust your butt all you want to build your brand. At the end of the day, though, your brand becomes what other people decide that it is. If you’re smart you’ll work with them as much as possible to be a part of making sure that impression is accurate and enticing. Beyond the words, to haul out that McLuhan chestnut one more time: the medium is the message. How you present your company’s messages and information is as important as the nomeclature. It depends a lot on audience. Much in the same way as your social media strategy will have a lot to do with who your audience is and where they are active, the media your company uses to market itself will depend on who your audience is and how they like to consume information. Old fogies like myself often still like to read things, but many years online have ruined my attention span, so if all your information is long-form, like white papers and such, I’m going to have a hard time getting into what you do. Blog posts? Short articles? Much better. Respect my time and attention span and I will be back. As for the younger crowd? Oftentimes, “pics or it didn’t happen”. So how can you effectively use graphics or video to get your message across? If you have a lot of information to get across, is it something people need to see, or perhaps just hear? Podcasts are a viable option, too. Now, of course, your own company and its products will be the easiest to write about (eventually), but that’s by no means the limit to the information a community manager can share with the world. You and your company don’t exist in a vacuum. You’re part of an ecosystem, and part of what can make you valuable is your thoughts on and curation of relevant information in that ecosystem. Fascinating new research in related technology. An interesting survey a competitor released. A synopsis of a paper about the kinds of folks who make up your audience. Maybe even the occasional cat meme as it relates to your day. (Hey, launches are stressful. Anything to break the tension.) And, of course, where it makes sense, adding your your thoughts on these types of third-party information is a good idea, too. It can help bring the information down to a practical level, offer a perspective that perhaps the original content didn’t include, or even just relate the work back to your company and products, which is something any good marketer wants to accomplish. Smart, thoughtful, and a good source of interesting things are all good associations to have with yourself and your company’s brand. It sounds like a lot to take on on a daily basis, but it all fits together, I promise. While the community manager is out there taking care of people, you’ll learn what interests them about your company and industry, what they need and want to know, and how they define and refer to it. Those lovely community members will provide you with the framework of much of the information you will need and want to share. Be creative with it, get it out there and easy to find, and it’ll go a long way toward making your company look mature and professional, and making and keeping happy customers. Posted by Melanie Baker.