We recently had the chance to meet up with Stuart Waterman, Online Community Manager for AAT. AAT stands for The Association of Accounting Technicians. They’re a non-profit membership body offering accounting and finance qualifications and short courses. AAT’s qualifications enable people to gain the accounting skills and experience they need to enter the profession without going to university. Their head office is based in London, but they have over 130,000 members worldwide.
Here’s a scenario we’ve all seen a dozen times: a company Twitter page that consists of a series of totally unrelated tweets. No customer engagement, nothing to retweet or favourite, just boring, insipid questions or comments. “What’s your favourite way to eat Bongo’s Jelly Beans” “Why not start your day with some Bongo Jelly Beans?!?!?!”. Etc, etc. I don’t blame the employee for this. They’re undoubtedly swamped with other work to do and barely have the time to log in to Twitter, let alone to dedicate to crafting the perfect tweet every time. “Something about… eating Bongo Jelly Beans on a train. Bingo!”, followed by immediately crossing off Daily Social Media Marketing off their daily checklist.
The problem is, of course, that it doesn’t work. Building a brand takes a long time, and a lot of repetition. Marketers never feel like they have enough time or money to create the awareness that they need to succeed. That awareness certainly isn’t going to manifest as the result of a perfunctory daily tweet. So what’s to be done? The answer is to spend less time making Twitter and Facebook posts that no one reads, and more time building a relationship with your customers.
Even after all these years, the wild west of the internet hasn’t been completely tamed. There are still communities floating in the ether that are largely or completely rudderless. How does this happen? There are any number of ways, but some are more common than others. Some communities simply don’t require management. These are typically small, well-behaved, exclusive or completely private. Other communities see eschewing moderation as a conscious choice, and thrive on the anarchic atmosphere that results. These are the communities that regularly appear in the news due to their users doing something foul.
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One of the biggest problems facing modern companies is brand saturation. Every brand now has a mailing list, a Twitter, a Facebook and various other media channels dedicated to pushing their message onto consumers. For the consumer, this means a wall of noise that they can’t escape from. In a given week, they may see a dozen mail-outs. In a given day, they’ll see a dozen brand-related tweets or Facebook posts. How are they supposed to cope with this much information?
As a community manager, looking at a busy community can be daunting. With so many categories, discussions and users, it can seem like far too much information to take in. In extreme cases, this can even lead to Analysis Paralysis, where the amount of different options makes it impossible to pick an appropriate path.
Similarly, smaller communities that are growing fast can start to suffer due to their user-base outgrowing their management infrastructure. In an ideal world you’d be able to increase your staff levels to cope, but the chances of getting that kind of budget increase are slim. So what’s to be done? Should you simply start working weekends and evenings, making sure you’re always on top of things? Should you start trying to slow down your growth levels, to keep your traffic manageable? Or should you just accept that as a community grows, the quality inevitably declines?
None of the above, of course. It’s a cliche, but a community manager under pressure needs to work smarter, not harder. Successful communities grow, often unpredictably. A community I worked on once saw a spike of 3 million to its monthly pageviews effectively overnight. Situations like that have given me cause to find the best strategies for managing a community with limited time and effort.