Community Management: Failing to Connect Panel


These are my notes from the Community Management: Failing to Connect panel at FailCon 2010. The panel was moderated by David Spark; Founder, Spark Media Solutions.

The other panel members were:

  • Heather Champ; Co-Founder, Fertile Medium
  • Dmitry Dragilev; Marketing Lead, ZURB
  • Thomas Knoll; Community Architect, Zappos
  • Chrysanthe Tenentes; Community Manager, Foursquare

Chrysanthe: We had some recent downtime; the last time, I was on an airplane coming back to San Francisco, and I tweeted that we were going back up "ASAP" but people got angry at my word choice, because they thought it meant "immediately."

Thomas: I don't have a big story, we just have a lot of little things where I thought I was being very helpful and welcoming and the problem was I was preventing people who were a part of the community by connecting with each other since I was right there on the ball, trying to connect before they did.

Dmitry: We were building this company called CrossLoop, which is a tech support marketplace consisting of geeks and grandmothers. We got all these helpers on who were making great profits, and we really didn't monitor them. What happened is that they started getting impatient at the help-ees, and started yelling at them. The help-ees were shocked, and started blogging and spreading all this anger about the site.

Heather: I was director of community at Flickr for five years, and the biggest story I took out of there was managing change. After 2005, we changed so that new users had to sign in with Yahoo IDs. 18 months later when we switched to requiring Yahoo IDs, there was hellfire and damnation. When you have to make a change, come up with the strategy and execute it in a reasonable amount of time. 18 months is too long.

How do you Adapt?

Heather: Once we got with the program and realized we need to manage change better, we started soliciting a lot of feedback. The first 24-48 hours is not about the feature and the effect that it will have, it's just about something changing. 48 hours to 2 weeks is where you start to get feedback that is substantial, about encountering real bugs and that may affect your service. It's really important to be present, even to just have someone there who is listening. Otherwise they can just take it out on each other, which can get pretty ugly.

Thomas: A previous company of mine went through a change where we laid off 25% of the staff. We had a great community and a lot of them took it very personally and went to town letting us know how much they hated it. The next day we went on live video and listened to all their feelings and allowed them a chance to ask questions.

How Do You Start From Nothing?

Dmitry: Blogging and having a social presence is key. We started giving out tips about our industry and what we're doing every day. We shared cool CSS and jQuery techniques, and we had the whole team on the blog. That complements our tools and apps, and gets people interested in them. It's a powerful way to start when you don't have anybody. For some of our blog posts, like CSS buttons, we're still getting tons of hits years and years later.

Heather: We would get out and meet the people in person whenever I was on a trip, and go on photo walks, and send schwag to our local user groups.

How Do You Deal With Anger?

Dmitry: When an email comes in and it's got 10 paragraphs and he's super pissed, he's going to sue you and kill you, he's coming over with a knife, then that's going to be your evangelist in the years to come. You call them and listen, acknowledge their anger, show your concern, and do a halfway solution.

Heather: Flickr typically doesn't do telephone support, it's help by email. Through a series of circumstances, I ended up having a phone conversation with someone whose account I had previously had to delete for TOS reasons. I talked with him for 45 minutes, and it was interesting because it was putting a human voice to some of these concerns. He's now a member again, and we now follow each other on Twitter. As small nimble companies grow, they reach a point where they need to figure out how to scale some of the human aspects, and that's difficult especially if you're working with people who see customer care from a bean-counter level. At that level it's hard to discuss community management.

Thomas: Absolutely. For Zappos, a phone is a commitment to the relationship with the customer. Our only real measurement on how well the phone center is doing is can we answer the phone in 20 seconds. Whereas, a lot of places want to know how many resolutions were arrived at, or those type of things. For us, we want to build a personal connection with that customer.

Chrysanthe: I think the people who complain the most really want validation, and usually if someone from the company gets involved they shut up and get much more sheepish.

Can You Fire Community Members?

Chrysanthe: We have one visitor who has been very loud for a very long time, and he likes to talk about how he has been around the internet for a long time [laughter] and for a long time it really got to me, it felt like he was a negative part of our community. Then I realized that the only reason he's such a big part of the community is that he really likes it. Sometimes we have to delete his posts, and sometimes we have to warn him, but he responds and he's great. One time, someone posted my land-line in a chat room. That was weird.

Heather: In Flickr's help forum, people began to understand what was and was not appropriate behavior. A big threat right now to any community is spam. As a site gets to a certain size and scale, older content is an incredible area for spammers to get a foothold. The community became very good at finding this content and feeding that information back to the community. Different communities have different kind of threats, and that telegraphs through the community.

Thomas: One of the things that always comes up is coupons, coupons, coupons. We'll actually help them find it on another site if they want a better deal, because we know they won't provide the same great customer service experience.

Heather: So, community is a long play. People see it as short term changes and solutions, but you're really going for the super long play.

Influencer Relations

Dmitry: We're doing the top 100 websites tests, just to see what people remember from the top 100 sites. We know a people who are interested in that, and we want them to be a part of our community. We're going to collect five things for each 100 website and run the trends algorithm on it. That makes a more interesting conversation than just showing the product to them.

David: What about advocates vs. influencers?

Thomas: My first question about influencer programs is, can you tell me which one of my customers is not influential to their friends and family?

Dmitry: To me it means someone with thousands of people paying attention to their tweets and blog posts, so having them share it is much more interesting than having my buddy tell ten of his friends.

Chrysanthe: But it's also about each pocket of influence.

Heather: One issue is that community is so disparate. It's important to come up with a number that shows that this really need to support this.

Last Points and Summary

Heather: Humor is difficult.

Dmitry: Have a blog presence and a social presence, get your colleagues involved, and monitor conversations and add value.

Thomas: Fall in love with everyone.

Chrysanthe: Honesty and communication are important. If you're not honest with your users, they can tell.

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