My Wife the Community Manager

It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. As someone that has worked in the digital/mobile/social space for the last 20 years, I’ve always spent my fair share of time exploring what’s new on the Internet. Testing out new technologies. Embracing new mobile apps and even writing a book on the phenomena that is location-based marketing. The same could not be said about my wife, Melanie Strout, up until six years ago.

No, this post isn’t about how as a wife and mom that she is the “community manager” of our family (although she certainly is that and a good one to boot). She is in fact a real life community manager. She’s worked with big brands and small brands. She’s done community management, forum and Facebook moderation and even some social media marketing. Five years ago, however, I can remember a conversation we had about blogging. Let’s just say that she wasn’t the biggest fan at the time. But all that has changed.melanie

Rather than put it in my words, I’ve decided to interview her. Below you will find five questions about how she got started, what she’s learned along the way and what wisdom she might impart to others that are considering the same line of work.

  1. [Aaron] How did you get started with social media?
    [Melanie] About six years ago, I took the plunge and jumped on Facebook. At first it made me a little nervous putting myself out there for the world to see. But over time, reconnecting with old friends from high school and college made me realize that the value of Facebook far outweighed any of the downside of living my life more publicly.
  2. [Aaron] Tell us about your first job as a moderator.
    [Melanie] It’s funny, I had been out of the work force for about 11 years raising our three kids. But once they were all in school, it felt like it might be time to find a part time job to earn a little mad money for the family. My last job before having children was running an incoming call center for a customer service department so I felt comfortable dealing with customer questions, comments and complaints. It just happened to be over the phone versus online. It was a little bit of a stretch but between my comfort level with social channels and past experience with customer service, I took a shot and applied online for a job with Canadian moderation company called ICUC. Imagine how surprised I was the day I got a call back from ICUC six weeks later to do a short-term moderation project. It wasn’t particularly exciting — just approving or rejecting pictures of Toyota’s NASCAR that had been customized by fans and uploaded to NASCAR’s site. But, that job lead to other moderation jobs for ICUC’s client brand pages. I learned a ton in a short period of time.
  3. [Aaron] How did you parlay your content moderation job into a community manager role?
    [Melanie] After ICUC, a friend named Sylvia Marino saw that I was looking for my next gig and she connected with me a company she was working with called GenConnect. They were a content company that was looking to grow their social presences. That was a real roll up your sleeves kind of opportunity with just the three of us creating content, marketing the site and managing their social presences. Not long after the GenConnect job started, Sylvia also connected me with Edmunds.com. That led to a forum moderation job that helped me hone my skills.
  4. [Aaron] What was one of your most challenging moments as a moderator/community manager?
    [Melanie] Hmmm, there have been a few of those. I remember when I was managing Halls Cough Drop’s Facebook page and someone lashed out at the brand. For one, it’s always hard not to take those comments personally as an ambassador for the brand. You also are hyper-focused on making sure you are making good recommendations to your brand partners and stay in constant communication with the team (including legal).
  5. [Aaron] Your last job was as the community manager for California Restaurant Month. Tell us a little about that.
    [Melanie] That was a fun project working with Jay Baer and Lisa Loeffler. We had to create a brand new Facebook page along with several other new social channels. Fortunately, fine dining is a passion area for many folks so driving interest and engagement wasn’t as hard as it was with some of my past opportunities. One of the highlights of the job was leading/moderating Facebook chats with several celebrity chefs like Cindy Pawlson, Roy Choi and Tanya Holland. Not only was it fun to get to know those chefs but the conversations they created on Dine in CA’s Facebook page drove tons of comments, likes and shares which is always a good thing.

As luck would have it, my wife, Melanie, is currently looking for her next community manager job. Ideally, it’s a 20-30 hour/work-from-home opportunity. She is open to both short-term and long-term project work. You can find out more about Melanie on LinkedIn here.

2013 Predictions from a Bunch of “Dummies”

As we roll into the new year, it’s always a great time for us marketers to look ahead to what is in store for us. This year, I wanted to take a unique approach to my predictions of 2013 by asking some of my fellow Dummies book authors to provide their perspective within their specific areas of expertise. In most of the cases below, these predictions fall into the realm of social media/social media marketing (Marsha Collier is unique in the fact that she’s written several books including one on eBay for Dummies).

I do plan to do a predictions post on mobile/location-based marketing which will appear in my monthly MarketingLand column. You can also find thoughts by several industry experts on the state of the state in location-based marketing in this post I put together for my friend, Jason Keath, of Social Fresh here.

Without further adieu, here are the predictions by several very smart “Dummy” authors:

Marsha Collier (too many Dummies titles to list)

I think this is a great idea for a post – especially because “For Dummies” authors examine their topics so deeply. Seeing as I cover three areas in Dummies books…. you can find a fairly complete list of current books here:

eBay:
eBay will further to shed it’s “garage sale” persona (yes, there are still plenty of people who do not shop the site on a regular basis). Major brands will finally see eBay as a profitable and legitimate venue for end of season and liquidation selling. Buyers will realize that much of the merchandise bought on the site is covered under the same warranties as alsewhere – and are covered by eBay’s customer buyer protection policy.

Seniors and social media:
By exposing themselves more and more to social media, seniors will see through the myths that fostered fears of social media. It will become an accepted communication venue across the generations.

Social media commerce:
I first predicted this in 2009, but it is finally coming to reality. Consumer brands will realize that online/social powered customer service is far more expedient than phone for first contact. Brands that adapt in 2013 have the opportunity of learning from very public mistakes and create their own voice to their customers – without broadcasting. New relationships with the customer have proven to build sales.

Paul DunayFacebook Marketing for Dummies

Retailers Get Smart using Facebook Data
Major Retail Companies have failed at creating commerce on Facebook because they approached the channel as another outlet for their wares when in actual fact they need to be leveraging the data within the Facebook channel to provide the ideal customer experience on their site. Next year we will see this shift begin.

 

Laura Fitton | Twitter for Dummies

I see 2013 could be a really interesting turning point for Twitter, especially as IPO speculation heats up and business model clarity is needed. You have some of your most intense early adopters already trying to pronounce it dead or dying just because they’ve moved their more intense sharing onto other platforms like Path and Facebook. While that’s true there’s just no way to discount the upside potential of a truly mainstream Twitter. With 200 million monthly active users and nearly constant mainstream media exposure on television, print and radio, continued growth is almost guaranteed. On the other hand, the DM spam problems are getting terrible and I seriously wonder what the future of that feature will be, given how poorly they support it. Mainstream small businesses are really just getting exposed now to how they could use Twitter to better connect to their existing customers, let alone to grow their base of new ones.

The platform continues to suffer from terrible DM spam, and a lot of the early adopters are shifting their more personal interactions to other platforms

Kyle Lacy | Twitter Marketing for Dummies

The year will be forever remembered as the year of consolidation and leadership in the world of interactive marketing. Organizations will start to deconstruct marketing departments to cater to the need of cross-channel communication with consumers. Leadership will be defined as the organizations who listen to the customer and deliver personal messages via all channels – email, mobile, and social.

Deb Ng | Online Community Management for Dummies

Community management is going to be a more strategic role moving forward. While less brands will see community managers as glorified tweeters, I think the role will evolve into more a social media strategist role than specifically a community building role. It will be less about growing a community and giving a warm, fuzzy vibe, than it is about getting the right messaging out. Because of this, I also see community managers handling content distribution.

Note: Deb is also the co-author of Social Media Marketing for Dummies. 

Michael Schneider | Location-Based Marketing for Dummies (Mike and I are co-authors of this book)

I don’t see the “stitching data together” problem getting any easier in 2013 as more niche apps and new graphs emerge. The hot thing will be mood / wellbeing. Apps that use relationships and data to make us healthier and happier will be huge. We saw a lot on the fitness front in 2012 with Nike Fuel Band, the Nike+ suite, Larklife and the incumbent Fitbit. Garmin integrated with Strava for serious cyclists to build community, competition and virality. I see apps like InFlow, Happier, Superbetter, Happify and Hmmm that try to combine semantics, science, location and social to make us feel better being big.

Lori Randall Stradtman | Online Reputation Management For Dummies

When I think about which social media tools, trends or ideas I am most excited about as we head into 2013, I’m thinking big data tools. I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on a social media monitoring tool that can dive deeper than we’ve ever seen before into the dark waters of Big Data and surface with real-time treasures that show segmented information so that brands can find “their people” and create approaches that appeal to them specifically. This will also be huge for crisis management. The best way to deal with a social media meltdown is to nip it in the bud by paying attention to what’s happening around your brand.

 

I may have another 1-2 predictions coming from some other Dummies authors who are in the process of polishing their crystal balls. But in the meantime, if you have a prediction of your own (or one that you’d like to see, please include it below in the comments).

SXSW Interactive 2012: Key Takeaways

Originally published on WCG’s blog.

What is SXSW?

If you haven’t ever been to South by Southwest interactive (SXSWi), it’s somewhat of a surreal experience. For anyone in the digital/social media space, it has become “the” conference to attend due to the sheer number of startups, brands, thought leaders and level of networking that goes on during the course of the event. This year, nearly 25,000 paid attendees descended on Austin, TX — many more attend without a badge — to network, attend sessions, drink and eat good BBQ (and not necessarily in that order).

Given that this was my fifth SXSWi and it’s been interesting to see the changes that have taken place with the event since 2008. The biggest shift in the event over the years has been the involvement of big brands and a transition of mostly blogger and social media types to folks that do PR and marketing as their full time jobs. It’s also meant more corporate sponsorships, more hype and more traditional media coverage. None of these things are good or bad, they just change the vibe of the event significantly. And while some people who have been attending SXSWi for a while feel like the conference has lost its mojo, I see it as part of the maturation process of social and digital media in the corporate world.

SXSW Dashboard

This year, our agency, WCG, pulled together a dashboard* to track some of the conversations and activity happening at SXSWi (pictured above). One of the things we wanted to measure was the overall share of conversation of some of the SXSWi sponsors based on Twitter conversations… and more importantly, how some of those sponsors stood up to popular Austin phrases like breakfast tacos, cowboy hats and boots. Our search query looked for the presence of a #SXSW hashtag with one of the keywords on Twitter. Not surprisingly, we saw breakfast tacos overtake the likes of Apple and Samsung a day into the event. We also tracked things like:

  • Twitter velocity – how many tweets mentioning #sxsw #sxswi or #precommerce, the tag for our own pre-SXSW client event
  • Check-in activity around downtown Austin
  • Top words mentioned in conjunction with #sxsw (in a word cloud)
  • Top mentions of @wcgworld (one of our Agency’s Twitter handles)
  • Most active Twitterers mentioning #sxsw

While part of building the dashboard was for fun, we also wanted to get a better sense of what the macro activity around SXSW would look like this year. The two big take aways for us were 1) spending large sums of money at SXSW doesn’t necessarily get your brand talked about (unless the name of your company happens to include the words “breakfast tacos”) and the volume of conversation on Twitter grew over the conference demonstrating that Verizon, AT&T and Sprint did their part this year to keep the data connectivity up and running this year (years past, not so much). Understanding how your brand can participate meaningfully in these conversations is a huge opportunity that many companies ignore.

Other Key Take Aways from SXSW

  • Location-based services are here to stay (read: foursquare) but they are starting to evolve into a new flavor that includes something called proximity services. The big players in this space are companies like Highlight, Sonar and Ban.jo. In a nutshell, these services connect you to those people nearby that are either in your social graph or should be by looking at your similarities. While these services do provide a value to some, their ultimate utility to the mainstream user is still questionable.
  • Customer engagement is top of mind for many brands that have moved from the ad hoc to strategic use of social media. This means putting more thought and energy into mainstream channels like Twitter and Facebook is critical. It also means paying attention to emerging channels like Google + and Pinterest to evaluate the utility for customers and enthusiasts.
  • Big data is big and getting bigger. For anyone that doesn’t know what “big data” is, it’s essentially the ability to collect, store, process and analyze Terabytes or even Pedabytes of data (think customer conversations, search, location-based activity, census, etc.) Historically, this has been difficult due to lack of affordable storage and processing power. This is quickly changing and spells a whole new way for companies to look at trends and insights.

What did you see at SXSW this year? My colleague, Chuck Hemann, shared his take aways here. If you have a post or observations you’d like to share, please include in the comments below.

 

*Normally when we build these types of dashboards, we use a broader set of channel data (blogs, forums, Facebook, news) but in this case, we knew a lot of the real-time activity flows across Twitter (we also wanted to keep development cost/time down to a minimum).

 

Digby Localpoint: The Future of Location-based Marketing?

As an enthusiast about the mobile/location-based services space, I’m always excited to hear about ground-breaking new technologies and services, particularly those that are built with businesses in mind. To that end, I couldn’t resist sitting down (virtually) with my friend and director of product and development at Digby, Doug Wick. During our conversation, Doug and I discussed Digby’s latest location-based offering called Localpoint.

<Aaron> What is Localpoint?
<Doug> Digby Localpoint is a SaaS mobile technology platform designed to help retailers deliver a best-in-class mobile app experience for their loyal customers, focused on location-based marketing, analytics, and commerce. It has four components: Venue, Outreach, Analytics, and Storefront. A mobile team simply drops our libraries into their existing app and can then deploy geofence-based notification and rich message campaigns through Localpoint Venue and Localpoint Outreach, and derive powerful insight through Localpoint Analytics. If a retailer doesn’t have a mobile team, we can help them build an app using Localpoint Storefront, which comes pre-wired with the other three components of Localpoint.

<Aaron> Tell me more about Localpoint’s four modules.
<Doug> Sure, let’s start with Venue. This is the ability to drop a geofence around a specific store or public venue like a park, airport, or sports stadium and use that geofence to identify and communicate with people who are there. Campaigns can be set up to either be triggered by an event (like a check-in, product scan, store entry, or store exit) or can be set up to launch at specific times to one or more specific locations. We call those messages “announcements.” Think “blue light special” but much more powerful.

<Aaron> Localpoint Venue is essentially the ability to create your own white label location-based app ala foursquare or Shopkick. Why should retailers do this instead of spending with one of those apps, which have pre-built audiences?
<Doug> Ideally they would do both. Network apps like foursquare and Shopkick are paid media opportunities, which allow retailers to potentially access new audiences. However, a retailer’s own app represents an opportunity to get much closer – literally in the pocket – of their best customers. Retailers who invest in this way won’t be disintermediated and won’t face repeat acquisition costs, lowered share of voice, and lack of data ownership. The best mobile strategies will access new audiences through mediums like network apps, mobile SEM, mobile ads, and other paid opportunities, and convert them to app owners.

<Aaron> What does Outreach Do?
<Doug> The idea with Outreach is large-scale or “market size” geofences that allow you to localize a push notification to drive app engagement and store traffic to a local store. This is to activate loyalists, and can be used in a very complementary fashion with Venue. This particular component is especially interesting for local high-frequency retail models like grocery, convenience, and drug stores as well as quick-serve restaurants. But really, every app should have the ability to get your attention with a message that is location-based.

<Aaron> What about something that is also near and dear to my heart, i.e. analytics?
<Doug> Most mobile analytics out there treat an app like a website and simply track user activity to the app – download, opens, clicks. The true opportunity for mobile analytics is the ability to measure app activity relative to location. Localpoint Analytics allows you to set up geofences that give you web-style analytics for the physical world. Imagine knowing the same things about your retail stores that you do about your website – how many people visited, how long they stayed, what they did on the app while they were there. These are the types of insights that simply aren’t available through any other technology, and will lead to extremely powerful, business-changing insight.

<Aaron> Doesn’t this have the potential to be a little Big Brother-esque?
<Doug> An excellent point and touches on a unique characteristic of Digby’s technology. First, Localpoint Analytics only uses venue-sized geofences for measurement, and our technology only measures the activity of an app installed by an opted-in user in and around those geofences. The rest of the time, the device knows where it is but we don’t. Localpoint simply waits for the device to tell us when it’s close to something we care about. We’ve spent a lot of time and resources investing in patent-pending location detection technology that maximizes accuracy while protecting users by keeping power-draining GPS use at a minimum and ensuring user privacy.

<Aaron> Loaded question here but why do you believe location is such an important part of consumer mobile?
<Doug> We feel that no other single thing you can learn about a mobile user unlocks the unique power of the mobile platform like location. Not only does it help you be contextually relevant, but location also tells you more about a consumer’s intent than anything else. Our goal is simply to help retailers be “where their customers are.” This statement is meant to be taken literally and figuratively.

<Aaron> Tell me more about the Storefront module.
<Doug> Storefront is our most retail-specific Localpoint module, and allows us to quickly bring to life an app that features everything a consumer expects from a retailer: Rich, full-featured product catalog, commerce, and store locator. It is a best-in-class search, browse, and buy experience. And out of the box it is wired to communicate with and leverage the other three Localpoint modules. Many retailers still don’t have apps, and we feel like they might want one when they see what the entire Localpoint platform can allow them to do.

<Aaron> Yes, many retailers still don’t have their own apps. Why should they?
<Doug> I think many business, especially retailers, approach building an app like they are building a website. That is why many retail apps that do exist, even some of the most well-designed ones, look a lot like a miniature version of the full web experience. The fact is that the most important thing that apps can do is something most of them aren’t doing: communicate with the consumer. Communication is still the primary purpose of the phone, and by downloading an app the consumer has already told you they want you to be a part of their daily life. By not taking advantage of that opportunity, businesses are missing out. Our goal is not only to put that opportunity within arms reach, but also do it the right way, with the highly relevant location context that consumers expect.

<Aaron> Doug, Localpoint sounds really interesting, I look forward to seeing a demo soon!
<Doug> My pleasure Aaron. Anyone that’s interested can see more details on our website but I’d be happy to give you a demo soon! And thanks for taking the time to learn more about Localpoint.