Ben Martin is Global Community Manager at AVG. Previously, Ben was a Communities Executive for an Online PR and Social agency called Content & Motion. Over the last six years he build his experience in managing online communities for large, multi-national brands across many different sectors. You can follow Ben on Twitter, Linkedin or his blog.
G: How did you build your experience as community manager?
B: My first foray into Community Management was back in 2005 when I set up a MySpace page for Download Festival (www.downloadfestival.co.uk), which I was going to that year. Although the page was unofficial, I had secured a good username for it and consciously did a good job of keeping it updated. In 2006, Live Nation (www.livenation.co.uk), the festival's organisers, spotted it and decided that since I was doing a good job of keeping it up-to-date and engaging, I might as well do it officially on their behalf. Shortly after that, Live Nation approached me to manage the MySpace communities of their other festival brands. I was at university at the time, so this was all on a freelance basis but it really helped me get to grips with the beginnings of community management. Download Festival, in particular, was an interesting one as the audience is incredibly loyal, passionate and vocal - if you can manage to keep that community happy then you're pretty much set for any other. Naturally, as the years went on, the shift moved over to Facebook and Twitter but at the same time I was pursuing my own career in online marketing. After a short stint as a Digital Account Manager at O&G in Sussex, I joined Content and Motion (www.contentandmotion.co.uk), doing mostly online PR stuff but also a fair bit of community management. This role expanded into solely community management and strategy over time which then led me to building up enough experience with large tech brands TomTom (www.tomtom.com) being the most notable) to become the Consumer Community Manager here at AVG (www.avg.com).
I sort of fell-into community management by accident, but I've built up nearly 7 years of experience now so it's been a good fit.
G: What are your top resources for community management?
B: This is going to sound cliché and contrived but the number one resource for any community manager should be the community that they are managing - get under their skin, find out EVERYTHING that you can about them, what interests them, what doesn't interest them, how they like to communicate, when they like to communicate etc - once you understand all of this, you'll find managing that community very easy.
As for actual blogs, SocialBakers.com is invaluable for taking a data-lead approach into Facebook insights and should be in the bookmark of absolutely any CM who manages a community on Facebook. I will gladly hold my hands up and say that I don't often read blogs by individual "thought leaders" because I prefer to hear from the guys that are doing it, not just talking about it. For that matter, Rich Millington (http://twitter.com/#!/richmillington) from FeverBee is well worth a follow as is Olivier Blanchard (aka "The Brand Builder http://twitter.com/#!/thebrandbuilder). That's not to say I don't read the "thinkers". Brian Solis, arguably the most famous social media philosopher, is very good at what he does but you have to take time in disseminating and applying his theories, and in the world of fast-paced community management, that time can often be tough to find.
G: Who are your favourite community managers/strategists or community management case studies?
B: I really admire what Garmin are doing with Jake, their CM. With Jake, Garmin are building up a community around the manager, not the brand, which is the way it should be, really, and something I'd like to look into doing in the near future. Of course it presents problems if Jake ever leaves, but I really like what they are doing with him.
UK-wise, I think O2 have a very good social media team, headed up by Alex Pearmain (https://twitter.com/#!/alexpearmain) and they're my personal favourite out of the UK network providers on Social Media, although 3 seem to do a very good job too.
On a smaller scale, and mainly because I'm such a big fan of their venues, I think the guys at Lucky Voice (https://twitter.com/#!/LuckyVoice) do an excellent job of managing their community - they're probably one of my most valued follows/likes from 2011.
G: Where is the best place to build the community?
B: It entirely depends on the community you are looking to attract. A business focussed community might not do so well on Facebook, but may perform better than a consumer-focussed community on LinkedIn.
As the Consumer CM at AVG, Facebook is obviously the best place for us as it is a consumer-led social network. Twitter is interesting in that it obviously appeals to both consumer and business audiences - in fact I have been known in the past to forgo setting up a Facebook community for a consumer brand to focus our efforts on Twitter as I saw it as having a better infrastructure for the type of community we wanted to create.
On-site communities (e.g. forums) are a bit of a question mark - it depends on the brand I guess. The risk you run of focussing too much on on-site communities and nothing else is that you shut yourself in to the wider world, who will still be talking about you elsewhere, whether you like it or not.
G: What do you have to provide the community to make it work?
B: Time. Regardless of size and intensity, community management is not a part-time job or something you can dip in and out of. It's not even a 9-5 job - it's a lifestyle job. If you're not spending time engaging with the community, then you should be spending that time doing your research and working out ways to improve it.
G: How do you attract new community members?
B: I'm very fortunate to be working for a well-known software brand so having that name behind us helps greatly. We also have a prominent link to our Facebook community within our actual product, which has been invaluable for attracting new members to it. Advertising helps, also. Methods like share-to-win contests are good for building up quick numbers but also very good for building up an unengaged audience. I have learnt this from experience.
G: What are the best ways to spark a discussion among your community members?
B: In my experience, I have found taking the "here is our view, what is yours?" approach works best. You need to give people something to spring board off, and also, people want to know that there is a human behind those pixels. In our Facebook posts, after posting as AVG, I sometimes go in and comment as myself, to really assure people that it's not just a large corporate machine behind these words, it's me.
G: What kinds of content do you share and post most often on the community platform?
B: For Facebook, multimedia content works the best, specifically if it's about something to do with Facebook (e.g. tips on how to keep your Facebook account secure), and often the most engaged with. Linking to blog posts (ours or someone else's) also work well as long as we frame it with context and have a clear call-to-action as to what we want people to do with this information.
On Twitter, usually links to our own blog posts do the best but what works really well for us is sharing Twitter-specific threat information such as a new DM spam doing the rounds or a useful blog post on keeping your account secure.
G: How do you reward your community stars?
B: We have a formalised community awards system wherein particularly helpful members of the community get rewarded for their help. These rewards are often licenses for our software and AVG "swag" such as t-shirts and stickers. They also get highlighted as award winners / VIPs on Facebook - I think this recognition and gratitude appeals to them the most actually, more than the actual material rewards. It's always nice when someone says "thank you".
I think it's really important for communities of any size to reward or at least acknowledge their "community stars" in some way, so I'm really pleased with how we're doing it.
G: Does the size matter?
B: Size always matters, but it shouldn't, engagement should matter more. Because of things like Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm and the "talking about this" metric, however, the size of a Facebook community is now directly responsible for how engaged a page is. The more Likes you have, the more likes or comments that a piece of content is likely to have, which will improve its EdgeRank score, making that piece or content more visible.
This is a far simpler analogy on Twitter - the more followers you have, the more visible your content becomes, which in theory means more re-tweets and conversations (as long as the content is shareable and engaging to your audience).
If you are growing your community in an organic (or at least paid-organic e.g. Facebook sponsored stories) way, then with growth should come engagement. If you are using the contest/share-to-win techniques I described earlier then you will get the numbers but not the engagement, as people have just Liked or Followed you to win something, they don't care what you are pushing out.
I'm rambling now but in short, you should be aiming to organically grow your numbers as much as possible to see gains in engagement, which is ultimately more important. Engagement and organic growth are intrinsically linked - take the time to keep your audience engaged and it will grow.
Finally, you need to be realistic in your targets. If your product or idea is niche, then you are probably not going to attract that large a community whereas if you are an FMCG brand, you should really be looking to get a big community together.
G: What are the most common mistakes in community management? What should companies do to avoid them?
B: One big one that CMs make is assuming that their members aren't also members of their competitor's communities. This is obviously not such an issue for entertainment brands but for goods or service based brands, it is. It's absolutely imperative for any CM to always be aware of how the competition is choosing to engage with its audience(s) - and do it better.
Another one is to assume that, if you have a community spread across multiple platforms, that the same content/conversations will apply to all those platforms. Too often I have seen brands with Facebook pages synced to push out to their Twitter users too and it just doesn't work like that - you have to approach each platform as a separate audience.
G: Do you have any social media crisis management experience? If yes, what is the best way to approach the problem?
B: Yes, I do, from my agency days. Obviously I can't go into too much detail about the who/what/where/when/why but suffice to say, it was certainly a learning experience!
The tips I would give would be: be prepared - nothing is plain sailing, something will go wrong at some point so be prepared to fight some fires; be quick - as soon as the crisis starts, don't sit back for too long to take stock to see how it's going to pan out, be more proactive at addressing the issues and start fighting problems straight away and; be honest - if something has gone wrong, admit it, you will still get flack but it will be less so than if you are vague and secretive about the problem - in fact, some people may even start to take your side as a result of your honesty.
G: How do you measure the ROI of your community?
B: Well, we're very fortunate in that our products are available online so we can see where the user came to us from when they downloaded or purchased (except through retail/resellers). Ultimately sales/downloads/sign-ups matter the most but ROI should also be judged on the additional value your community has provided to your company such as product ideas, audience insight and advocacy.