Why I Didn’t Wish Anyone a Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day

This is a post I started to write last weekend, but talked myself out of it. It might be too snarky. It might offend some social media thought leaders and front-line workers. It might not be good for my long-term career success.

But, I keep coming back to it and still feel an urge to get it off my chest. And what’s the point of having a blog if you don’t speak your mind on it? So please bear with me and I’ll try to explain my thoughts as best I can.

This past Monday was Community Manager Appreciation Day. It’s not quite as well-known as some other special days because it’s fairly new.  Industry analyst and former community manager Jeremiah Owyang is championing it as a “time to pause, recognize, and celebrate the efforts community managers around the world to improve customer experiences.”

That’s very admirable and I certainly agree with the sentiment. But, let’s think a moment. Who else gets their own “appreciation day?”

What do all of those groups have in common (except maybe squirrels)?

They are underpaid in comparison to their impact on lives and businesses, and generally not respected as they should be. We’ve all heard the “those who can’t, teach” phrase, right? And isn’t the celebrated success story that of someone who started as a secretary and became CEO, not someone who remained secretary?

So, if someone is overworked, underpaid and deserving of more respect, why not give them an appreciation day?

Because it’s too easy.

It’s too tempting to buy someone a “World’s Best Community Manager” coffee mug and think you’re done. Oh, it’s the fourth Monday in January? Just ask your assistant to send some flowers to that intern you’ve assigned to manage your company’s online engagement with customers and forget about it. Or, let’s post a one-sentence thank you on the blog and all’s good, right?

No.

I have the utmost respect for everyone who plays a role in managing a community (including myself) and for that reason I didn’t wish anyone a happy Community Manager Appreciation Day. It’s my hope instead that community managers will achieve equality in respect and pay with other social media professionals with titles like strategist, consultant or analyst.

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The Next Digital Divide: Customer Service

As we started a new year and everyone got both reflective and predictive, something began nagging at me regarding social media and customer service. As more companies begin to listen to their customers online and more customers realize they can use their social networks to reach them, what happens to those who don’t actively participate in social media when they seek assistance? It’s a multi-angle issue that offers promise and peril.

From the Business Side

As a communicator and a marketer, there’s no greater knowledge than to know your audience. Everything we do in these professions should begin with the audience in mind, so the more we know about them the better.

Many companies are trying to incorporate social network information into their customer relationship management (CRM) programs, thus creating a fairly new acronym – SCRM.

I was fortunate to have some great conversations this past year with a leader in the field, Brent Leary, and he thinks 2011 the year companies go beyond focusing on marketing and promotion and start using SCRM for other aspects of engagement like customer service.

At a course Brent recently observed at the University of Toronto Greg Gianforte, founder and CEO of customer experience solutions provider RightNow, had this to say about it:

“The good news is that true Social CRM offers companies a seamless and real-time view across the many different channels that customers converse in, new and old alike (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, chat, phone), Gianforte says.  ‘With this view, companies can truly get to know and proactively care for their customers, ultimately fulfilling their brand promises, the social way.'”

Implementing a CRM program can be a massive IT project – one I’m happy to say I was only briefly involved with in a past part of my career. Getting multiple systems across a large organization to talk to each other and then figuring out how to make sense of the information stored within them is a challenge best left for someone with different skills than I possess.

SCRM can be just as large and involved; or, a version of it can be as simple as getting all your customer service agents using Outlook’s Social Connector. This feature, announced more than a year ago, is still making its way into many organizations and surprising individuals when they open an email and see the sender’s Facebook updates in a pane of their Outlook.
I thought I was comfortable knowing that those updates were public and anyone searching for me online could find them; but, I have to admit I’m not sure I’m comfortable knowing the person I’m talking to about my broken appliance or mis-shipped shoes might not only be looking at my account information with their company, but also my holiday photos or 140-character review of the movie I saw last night.

It gets back to danah boyd’s SXSWi keynote I blogged about last year regarding the difference in public information and publicity, and it’s where the SCRM line starts to get a bit fuzzy. Knowing more about your audience can be a great asset not only to marketers and communicators, but also to front-line employees who speak with your customers every day.

“It’s the ability to capture this unstructured and also structured customer data e.g. transaction information, then measure it and identify both key trends and key individuals that is one of the distinguishing features of Social CRM from just social media,” Paul Greenberg wrote on Brian Solis’ blog.

From the Customer Side

The ability to reach an online audience with your opinions regarding products and services is very empowering to us as consumers. The old adage that one unhappy customer is likely to tell 10 people about it has been blown away. We can now tell 10,000 people about it if our network is large enough and passes it along to their networks.

And businesses are taking note. They’re rushing to address customer issues everywhere from Yelp to Twitter and Facebook to Google. It’s great to get attention when you feel like traditional customer service channels aren’t working for you. But, Adam Keats is not the first to ponder the downside:
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He was referring to a New York Times article about how travelers stranded by a recent snowstorm on the east coast of the U.S. used social media to try to reach airlines and make new travel plans. The same thing happened last spring when volcanic ash from Iceland disrupted European travel. It was noted then that while “the airlines’ reservation lines required hours of waiting — if people could get through at all — savvy travelers were able to book new reservations, get flight information and track lost luggage. And they could complain, too.”

More than two years ago bloggers like Shana Albert of Blissfully Domestic were encouraging their readers to use the power of social media for good via product reviews or suggestions for improvement.  According to the Pew Internet Project the percentage of online adults over thirty who were bloggers was only 11% in 2009, but 47% of online adults used a social networking website.

All indications are that the social networking number will continue to increase, meaning more and more people coming online to flex their consumer muscle. You don’t even have to go to the trouble of setting up a blog.

Why press 1, press 2, press 3 and spend many minutes on hold or being transferred when you can instantly tweet or post on a company’s Facebook page, then sit back and wait for someone to notice?

And Somewhere Between

Then things like Klout come into the picture. Klout uses over 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter to boil your overall online influence down to a number on a scale from 1 to 100.

I’m not going to say Klout is good or bad. And I can buy Christian Gonzales’ assertion that they have admirable intentions and are trying to genuinely measure our influence within social media. And, as a marketing communications professional I can certainly appreciate the ability to locate influential people online.

What’s nagging me has been what happens with that when more consumers find their voice online and more companies start listening? Brent says that he believes the area that will make the biggest impact in the mainstreaming of SCRM is customer service and I know many working on that have the goal of true collaborative relationships between companies and customers.

But think about it. If you’ve got a handful of mentions of your company to monitor online, you can take the time to respond to all of them that need a response. What happens when the number of mentions requiring response jumps into the thousands, tens of thousands or more?

If you’re a large organization that already staffs a call center for customer service, maybe it’s just a re-purposing of resources from phones to social networks. But if you don’t, or possibly even in that instant, there’s going to have to be a bit of triage involved to decide who needs response first. Like battlefield doctors deciding which patient needs attention first based on their wounds, will customer service agents analyze your online influence and reach out to those with the largest online reach first?

SCRM can be about getting the voice of the customer closer to every employee for the intent of stronger long-term relationships between companies and their customers.  But can it also lead to a division of customers? Will influential online people get better treatment than the person dialing the outsourced call center?

Geoff Livingston and Olivier Blanchard may be right that personal branding is an ego trap, and The Awl may poke good fun at “personal branding disorders,” but in the coming years, I ponder … will we need a good online reputation or network in order to get good customer service?