Setting up my Sponge powered Q&A community

Last week, 16-year old student Thulashika Nithiyananthan carried out work experience in the marketing department at Sponge. We wanted to get her thoughts on creating and managing her own Sponge powered Q&A community. Over to Thulashika for the rest of this article…

I set up my very own Sponge community today and I must say signing up for it was the quickest procedure ever. We’ve all been burdened by those life-long sign up procedures where we’re required to fill in every single detail there is to know about you – even your pet dog’s name. But with Sponge all I had to do was give my email address, create a password and I was good to go.

It was a bit tricky for me to come up with my Q&A community theme, but I went with an obvious idea – careers and I inventively called it  “Careers Advice”. I thought it would be a great way to easily communicate with the other employees in the office, plus friends and family. You can take a look at my community here: http://careersadvice.getsponge.com/ and feel free to join, so you can ask or answer any career related questions.

What do I think of Sponge?

I think the great thing about Sponge is that it isn’t just about asking questions like “when did dinosaurs go extinct?” that require factual answers.  You can use Sponge to ask for people’s opinions or open up a discussion and debate, which was my motive with my Careers Advice community. Even better, you get notified by e-mail as soon as a user answers one of your questions. So while I was waiting nervously to check whether anyone was even mildly interested to reply to the new intern’s questions, my inbox started filling up. I smiled as I clicked on the link to see the first answer I got when I noticed the two boxes underneath: comment and thank. Therefore it’s not just a Q&A, it’s a site that’s open to social interactions.

What attracts all those keen Facebookers to the multi-million dollar network is the individuality. The ability to create and personalise a page that represents you, add photos, control your privacy. Sponge conveniently give you two options: Logging in directly via your Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn account for those of you who don’t wish to go through the pain of signing up to your 50th social network; or for those of you who aren’t part of any of these online communities – making your own Sponge profile.

If you’re a community manager you can customise your Sponge powered Q&A site. And trust me; you can go as crazy as you want with the backgrounds, like Justin Bieber tiles crazy. Or if you’re plain and boring like me, you can choose basic colours and maybe add a photo as a banner.

So that’s a bit of what I’ve soaked up from Sponge.

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Why I heart SMM

Dear Diary,

I’ve had the most amazing day. I chatted for ages to my good friends, I shared my problems that have been bothering me for days on end and then I came up with some fantastic solutions. Not only that, I also had lots of laughs and jokes with some fabulously like-minded people. Sigh! Life is good and I never even saw another human being or left the house.

This, party people, is why I heart social media marketing. No, not because I am an anti-social beast, although it has been said before. Not because I want to live in my jogging bottoms and have a make-up free face and never leave the house. No, the reason I love social media is for all the positive solutions that it provides for me and my business. And, best of all, it’s all for free. These are good times.

The clearest way to look at the benefits of social media marketing is from my own experience. Having put on several events over the past few years I know for a fact that those events were populated as a result of online networking and largely, communicating via Twitter and Facebook. These platforms provided me with people, they provided me with answers to my questions about suppliers and technicalities and they also helped me reach out and talk to people I never would have had the opportunity to otherwise.

It’s an old cliché but it’s a true one; it’s good to talk. As the Creative Co-op use as their slogan; An Idea Shared is a Problem Halved and this is why in today’s online communities, we really are finding answers to problems through channels that were never available to us all four or so years before. This really is something to celebrate.

Using online forums and community powered feedback sites also empower us as consumers and customers. We are no longer the little people but rather, through people power, we have the capacity to make a difference and stand up for what we believe in. Every website now has the facility to create its own network and open door policy which gives added value back to its clients.

Sharing the love is another fantastic part of social media marketing. I can’t deny I do love a sneaky skive of reading the fashion pages in a well-know left wing online paper’s life and style section and often come across fabulous images that I want to share with people I know (people I know from being part of many different online communities) who would definitely be interested too. A quick simple share, tweet, like or pin and I am communicating with my niche world at large. And it’s not just me who benefits as also get to see what others share too.

And finally in my love letter to SMM I give you accessibility. Never before have so many people had the power to access this bountiful wealth of technology. Anyone can start something simple and straightforward online and anyone can succeed at it because we now have the tools to do so and that, dear diary, is powerful stuff.

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The Future of Marketing – Utopia or Dystopia? Discuss.

Having recently read Jennifer Egan’s fantastic novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, (recommend highly) I was struck by the author’s vision of the future of our society. In some ways Egan describes a beautiful and simplistic future where meaningful relationships still lie at the heart of happiness but in other, less optimistic character arcs, it sets a scene that sent shudders through me.

The author creates a prophecy of the world in which word of mouth marketing is key to the success of any business venture. Apt of course because, as we all know, this is true today, the most powerful form of marketing IS and always has been, word of mouth. A trusted recommendation (like mine for this particular novel perhaps?) is worth a hundred times more than a shop or website recommendation, suggesting something that you may or may not like. By taking on board word of mouth endorsements, you are cutting down the barrier between consumer and product and a trusted bond has already been established and an openness to suggestion already there.

In a dystopian future, seemingly good friends will become paid brand ambassadors and begin manipulating their trusted position and influence on others to push products secretly and slyly.  This is of course is not a new idea and has existed in many forms for years and years, but the potential sinister use of social media and online influence as described by the author, gave me a new outlook on how companies are changing the way we are marketed to on a daily basis.

Facebook of course is the main architect for this type of marketing. As we share more and more ‘likes’, we open ourselves up to more and more influence from companies who want to sell us things. Friends liking something will lead us to acknowledge this and then influence our own purchasing decisions whether or not we are aware of this or not.

Now, not wanting to be the harbinger of doom, it’s not all bad out there. By using social media networks to market to your customers you are of course provided with a free platform to communicate from. You get to know your clients, you learn about your customers’ needs and wants and as a result, you specialise your work and create niches and a bespoke service that benefits everyone.

And it’s fair to say, I truly believe in the advantages of word of mouth marketing. It is highly effective and I benefit from it myself through my own business but I would always push to maintain transparency to consumers in all respects. This is where forums and online communities come in to their own. By enabling word of mouth style marketing through an online and open community, you can create something incredibly powerful and useful for everyone. These tools have had a massively positive influence on how businesses operate their online work today and put everybody on a level playing field in an increasingly competitive market.

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#cmgr Q&A with Garick Chan

You might remember me mentioning Garick Chan in a recent post about the importance of rewarding effort not outcome. Garick is the senior community manager at Nimble – who provide social CRM tools to help manage your contacts, communications, activities and sales in one single place.

We’ve been chatting a bit via Skype IM about what it takes to succeed as a #cmgr after he shared his view that the role of the community manager as analyst is sometimes overlooked.  Since, we pretty keen on online Q&A here at Sponge, we decided to cut straight to the chase and ask Garick some questions to get to the bottom of his community analysis skills.

Q: How did you develop into the “analyst” part of your community manager role?

A: Often, life as a community manager means guessing what will work and what won’t… but you can’t leave it at that.  There comes a time when you have to start taking it further…

Delivering great customer service is an excellent goal for any #cmgr to aspire to but it’s just as important to focus on the basic issues – like how you are driving web traffic to your website.  What’s driving performance and which of your tactics are returning the best results?

By measuring and keeping track of the messaging you push out, you can start to spot trends which reveal what your audience likes and dislikes, what they are most likely to engage with and what’s most likely to get them hitting the RT or reply button.

Spotting trends is the hard bit.  Once you’ve uncovered some insights it’s easy to create and deliver content that’s relevant to what your community wants.  After all “if content is king, context is queen.”

Q:  Which metrics do you track day-to-day?

A: I look at how many messages we push out and which prompt RTs and replies.

I also watch how many people are mentioning us, re-posting content and I take care to track trends over time.  I want to know which types of messaging drive the highest click-through-rates (CTR) and why and, of course, I find Google Analytics indispensible when it comes to keeping track of our sources of web traffic.

Each time our visits spike, I try to track back and uncover what prompted that growth… and then I try hard to replicate that success.  I plan future content that’s similar and which will hopefully help audience figures to grow further.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a #cmgr?

A:  I love meeting people.  I love helping to solve problems and deliver a great customer experience.

As a community manager, I’m the one who gets to see all the praise first hand when the public is cheering us and who doesn’t like to feel loved and admired?  By being the spokesperson and cheerleader for a brand, you also become the brand champion and that’s a good place to be.

Watch out for more from Garick in a future post we have planned about what happens when good communities go bad…. and what it feels like when people complain rather than praise your brand.

P.S If you are a Community manager let us know your thoughts, comment below or tweet us.

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5S for online communities

What do Japanese cards, public health and online communities have in common?

One of my favourite things about writing a blog is the way it helps you discover new things.  Next comes the warm glow you get whenever someone shares a post or mentions your work.

So, it’s great when you get credited for inspiring another great blog and get to discover something new in the process.

I discovered What’s the PONT – a blog about learning (my favourite sort) – last weekend after its author wrote this post about Getting beyond the 1% rule – Intrinsic motivation and online communities.  It’s a highly thoughtful look at online participation which was good enough to reference a couple of articles from our blog here at Sponge.

After popping over to have a look, I got sucked in and ended up finding a post – way back near the beginning of the blog – about 5S methodology.

I’ve come across the 4P’s and, indeed, the 3 R’s but 5S was a new discovery.

5S methodology is based on a system that originated in Japan that used 5 ‘S’ words (which have now been transliterated into English) to provide a framework for workplace organisation that’s designed to produce maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

It consists of:

Seiri – Sorting

Seiton – Stabilizing or straightening out

Seiso – Sweeping or shining

Seiketsu – Standardizing

Shitsuke – Sustaining

5S came to life in Japan, developed by Hiroyunki Hirano, and had its roots in Japanese automobile industry.  These days, it’s found a home in public services, and hospitals in particular – which is what prompted What the Pont to write about it.

It’s easy to see the appeal of 5S for any organisation where productivity, quality and health and safety matter but it’s also surprisingly easy to take 5S to heart as a rulebook for community management.

So, here goes…

Seiri – Sorting

This one is all about eliminating unnecessary parts, getting rid of anything that is not absolutely essential.  Online communities live and breathe by the content within them but sometimes it’s not as easy as it should be to get to the crux of the issue.  If you invite people to contribute to your community make sure you provide some way of rating their content, helping good posts to rise to the top of the pile and bad ones to slide to the bottom.  The rate at which information is growing means that curation is just as important as generation when it comes to content – and it’s no different for User Generated Content (UGC) in online communities.

Seiton – Stabilizing or straightening out

Wikipedia has this to say:

“There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. The place for each item should be clearly indicated.”

Good signposting is crucial to keeping UGC useful and usable.  UGC works best when the people who want information can find that information easily and the people who want to contribute know exactly where the best place to do so is… so get straightening out…

Seiso – Sweeping or shining

In a hospital, this would mean cleaning up spills, fixing leaks and generally putting back everything you’ve used during the course of the day.  The key point is that:

“Maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work – not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.”

And so it should be online.  If you spend a few minutes each day replying to posts, engaging with users and removing poor content you’ll find it ten times easier to stay on top of a your role as a community manager.

Seiketsu – Standardizing

According to 5S, work practices should be consistent and standardized and everyone should know their responsibilities and how to comply with them.

This is what large organisations should aspire to when they experiment with social media.  Yes, it’s important to let employees or members develop their own voice, but if you have any sort of brand to protect – and most of us, even individuals, do – you need to lay out some ground rules first, and put some effort into making sure people follow them.

Shitsuke – Sustaining

And last, but not least, maintain and review standards.  Perhaps the most important of all for a #cmgr  – after all, analysis and self-improvement are integral parts of the role….

And that’s the focus of this week’s next post which features a Q&A with Nimble community manager, Garick Chan – about what it takes to succeed.  So, not one, but two posts this week that come straight from our own community… don’t wait to get in touch if you’d like to suggest a feature or offer some views, we’d love to hear from you.

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