Community Management Advice from Mark Schwanke

Mark Schwanke specializes in running user trials, garnering feedback, crowdsourced support, and consumer advocacy. His clients have included large brands such as ADP and Motorola.

Below, Mark shares his insights on community managers’ top responsibilities, advice on setting up peer-to-peer support communities, and tips on translating feedback and complaints into concrete service, product, and feature improvements.

What takes up most of your time as a community manager- answering questions, creating content, developing campaigns, analyzing performance, or doing something else entirely?

Mark SchwankeDepending on the size of your community and your intended method of engagement, this could vary a lot. In my own experience I have run corporate sponsored peer-to-peer support and collaboration communities. I don’t typically get involved if the question can be responded to by members of the community. If the question is directed more at the company I work for or is above and beyond what the typical member or moderator is able to answer, then I typically step in.

Furthermore a Community Manager must gauge the sentiment and severity of the comments to determine if there is a reason to respond for a valid issue or if the person is being a troll and is trying to bait.

Creating content is a responsibility of some Community Managers dependent on how active the users themselves are in creating content. Blogs are probably the most common avenue for content creation on a community however documents/projects, videos and other content types can be found in a variety of the community platforms.

Developing campaigns may or may not be a responsibility of a Community Manager dependent on their relationship or existence of a Social Media team. In some cases, the Community Manager also serves as the Social Media Manager. Again, this may vary based on the community and the community members being served. Some communities require frequent campaigns and incentives to continue the conversation/interaction while other communities have minimal usage of campaigns. Campaigns can consist of educational projects to increase adoption, quests to complete a set of goals/missions or a raffle/prize giveaway. I’ve observed that providing contests/prizes can sometimes attract the wrong crowd to your community or set the wrong expectation. Any contests that are created should be well thought out and make the prize attractive but secondary to what you’re trying to accomplish.

Analyzing the community health is an important part of your time as a community manager. It helps you evaluate the approach you are taking. Analyzing the community performance and impact must be performed consistently over time. Analyzing the content should occur both through software that help you understand the information as a whole. This cannot be your only method however as there is a lot of value that may not be apparent in a weekly/monthly report.

Reading is a very important part of being a community manager. If you’re not spending a lot of time in your community with your members they won’t know who you are and you won’t know who they are. If you have a team of moderators, they are probably doing a majority of the reading for you and will be reporting into you daily or weekly on key findings. It will be your responsibility to be the voice of the community and convey these voices back into your community.

Administration/Enhancement: Your community not only requires engagement with the community members, but also there is a level of attention that needs to be paid to the tool itself that makes your community possible. While some community managers have a Community Admin that is responsible for the upkeep of their community, some community managers are also tasked with ensuring new functionality is added, upgrades are completed and bugs are fixed. I recommend having a place within your community that allows your users to communicate to you if they have an issue with the software or if they have enhancement requests or anything that isn’t covered in one of the sub-communities. Communities are dynamic, so it is best that you ensure that you are current to their needs so that you maintain a useful vibrant space where they can get together. If you don’t change with them you will end up alone.

Moderation: Depending on your community moderation may be minimal or it could be a full-time job. It can’t be ignored. If you don’t help the community police itself or actively address issues that arise and actively update your terms of use and community guidelines, your community will quickly be overrun by detractors and all the promoters will leave for a community that is more civil.

What tools do you like to use in your work (e.g. social media monitoring tools, measurement software, etc.)?

There are a variety of tools that standalone for monitoring social media and others that are fairly well integrated into your platform. No one platform does it all and paid tools don’t necessarily work better than free ones.

Determine what you want to measure and work with a couple tools both free and paid (if you have the money). Network with other community managers to ensure you stay on top of the latest tools. Finally, determine what works best for you both in getting the data you want and allows you to easily extract it.

I typically like to use Google Analytics and compare that data to the database files I pull directly from the platform to see if there is any difference in what is observed. If you don’t have a lot of man power or a designated metrics person, this may fall in your bucket. Spending a lot of time extracting and analyzing the data will ultimately take time away from your community. Find a good balance between monitoring metrics and taking action.

Much of your specialty as a community manager lies in creating systems of crowdsourced support. How might another community manager begin to encourage crowdsourced support for his or her employer’s product or service?

You have to determine if you have a potential for passionate users who want to share their knowledge.

Look for independent communities/groups on the internet and even in your local community that involve your products and services. If members are actively engaged, then you either have some opportunity to get involved with the independent community or sponsor your own.

You have to determine who your audience is.

If you have a call center and your clients/customers are traditionally calling to get support, then it might be more difficult than migrating users from online and self-service options (email/chat/knowledge base) to a community. There are typically three groups:

  1. Those who call and only call.
  2. Those who call and use the web.
  3. Those who predominantly use the web and will avoid calling at all costs.

You don’t have an opportunity to touch Group 1 unless you advertise to Group 1 when they call that a community exists. They will probably participate mostly as guests or registered lurkers. Group 2 you offers the biggest opportunity to change behavior. They will participate mostly as lurkers and participants. If they have positive experiences, they may become authors and convert into promoters. Group 3 is probably the group who will build most of your content. They will help you bring much of Group 2 on board and hopefully keep them coming back.

When customers bring up complaints about a product or service, how do you determine whether they are serious? How do you convince your employer to respond with real changes?

Depending on the amount of identifiable information you have on the customer, you may be able to confirm they have contacted you via other channels. Determining if they have done so can help you to understand what information they have provided to legitimize their claim.
If you are integrated with your support team, you are hopefully well aware of issues/complaints your products or services face. From there you will hopefully be able to determine on a case-by-case basis if a particular complaint is serious or not.

Severity is based on a lot of factors. Quality of the complaint vs. Quantity of the complaint. Regardless, you should be properly documenting complaints so that you can properly quantify them, but also be able to properly inform those who can use the information to create change. Inevitably there will always be someone trying to game the system, so you will get some bad apples amongst legitimate complaints. The challenge is to determine how you handle each complaint with some consistently and do something beneficial with it all. Often the most challenging complaints provide some of the most rewarding results. An inability to listen and denial will inhibit a successful transformation.

Being able to convince your employer will be contingent on their willingness to make the customer happy and their ownership over the customer experience. Organizations that are customer centric and are smaller are more likely to be reactive to making change where as larger older organizations might be challenged in the forward thinking that being reactive in a public space is positive for their brand.

How do you demonstrate to higher ups at your company that community management contributes to a company’s earnings?

If you’re able to track sales from your community showing that community participation leads to sales can make a big difference. Be very mindful to check whether your social media monitoring indicates that interactions lead to a transactional sale.

If your call volume is decreased, you can demonstrate cost savings. This can be a challenge to prove without a survey where you poll members of the community. Should you want to take a more direct, experimental approach, you can turn off your community to see if calls spike though people who don’t call won’t typically call.

You can also indicate a positive effect on the bottom line if you’re able to convert customer feedback into actionable results that creates/improves products and services.

What would you say is the most common misconception within companies about community management? What have you done to set people straight?

That there is transformative data there that will help improve one’s company.

Since so much of our past consumer insights have been gained from call centers, focus groups, and surveys it’s hard for some organizations to realize that a community is not a whole bunch of trolls. There are often many more good members than trolls, but without proper management, the trolls can take over. Communities are just another avenue where the customer can make us look bad in public.

Customers just really want to be heard. 90% want to let you know so you can do something about it and succeed. The other 10% are out there to pick fights and don’t really want to help. They just want to complain because they can. Detractors can be turned into promoters. It is your willingness to take the time and resources to make that happen.

How much might a community manager expect to earn in the first year of work? Do community managers’ incomes increase significantly over time, or have you found that your colleagues’ earnings are pretty fixed across the board and across time?

First year of work I would expect 35-45k based on the company.

Over time, community managers’ earning potential increases, often in proportion to the size of their community (members), their reach (domestic vs international), and their responsibilities (Community Manager only vs wearer of multiple hats and On call 24/7 vs 8-5 weekdays only vs 8-5 including weekends). Who the Community Manager reports to appears to have a role in determining the salary of the position as well. Other factors that may affect salary include whether the role was filled internally or externally. I’m not privy to the differences in salary comparing external and internal community managers. There are some reported salaries on payscale.com and glassdoor.com or Google it. Location may have some effect on your expected salary and if you are a local worker or working remote.

What other advice would you like to share with those interested in community management?

Don’t migrate your community from platform to platform frequently.

If you do migrate

  • Preserve as much user content as possible.
  • Ask users what is important to them.
  • Migrate thread subscriptions.

Additionally:

  • Adapt to your changing community. Re-evaluate every 3 months.
  • Have a disaster plan.
  • Work closely with Support and Marketing.
  • Update your rules no more than quarterly.
  • Use feedback to improve your functionality and products and services.
  • Don’t collect more information than necessary at registration.
  • Be mobile friendly.
  • Avoid deleting content, edit it to be community appropriate.
  • Put yourself in their shoes and be a customer advocate.
  • Be passionate.
  • Embrace change.
  • Be adaptable.