Robyn Tippins is a community manager at ReadWriteWeb with 15 years online marketing experience. Robyn is an author of Community 101 book. She has blogged for blog networks and corporations, podcasted for small and large businesses, advised social networking sites, and worked with Fortune 500 companies, including Yahoo!, Intel, MTV, ATT, Fleishman Hillard, Behr Paints, Current TV and Get Satisfaction. You can follow Robyn on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook.
G: How did you build your experience as community strategist?
R: I began as a volunteer on AOL back in 1996. My duties there were mostly board management related, though I also hosted and moderated online chats. In 1998 I launched a startup making cloth diapers. I had learned as a forum moderator that it was important to be a part of the community and to be an expert in your field. I laid both foundations before I started marketing my product. In our first month we did $30k in sales, which is more impressive if you realize I was 23 years old and had spent nothing on marketing.
Very soon thereafter the dotcom bubble burst, and so did my startup. However, I wasn’t out of work long as folks who had heard about my ‘grassroots marketing’ skills, as they were called then, wanted my help. Over the years I’ve worked with small companies and large ones, and have enjoyed every minute of it.
G: What are your top resources for community management?
R: I stalk Seth Godin and Andy Sernovitz fiercely. Otherwise I just watch my RSS feed for ‘community management’ and check out what people are discussing. I use these to propagate my newsletter. There are a few certification courses now for community professionals. I wrote and teach the one at Get Satisfaction. The Community Roundtable offers one and so does the Pillar Summit.
G: Where is the best place to build the community?
R: It really depends. Ideally, placing the community on your own site allows you to own your content and to be in complete control. However, control comes with headaches so if you know that this community is not always going to be a top priority for your company, I’d suggest an offsite community. It’s also easier and faster to build a community off of your own site, for most. But, you can leverage some of the social aspects by using social plugins/APIs in your community to connect to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (once they have a good API).
G: What do you have to provide the community to make it work?
R: At the bare minimum, you’ll need to provide tools that work and great documentation. If possible, add some seeded topics and conversations. I’d expect that the first few months most of the conversations in a new community will be from you and your friends. However, once a certain threshold is met, the community will start communicating more. With continued encouragement, soon they’ll make up the bulk of the conversations.
G: How do you attract new community members?
R: If your community has passion, they will share. That sharing will attract new members. If you’re not seeing enough sharing, you need to work on your passion levels.
G: What are the best ways to spark a discussion among your community members?
R: Use storytelling to paint a picture. Spotlight members with extraordinary circumstances. Encourage a debate over a political issue. Just make sure that whatever you do fits into your community. If I moderated a parenting site, I’d probably not ask for opinions on NAFTA, as that is off-topic. Also, any time you bring politics into a forum, you’ll increase both traffic and abuse at similar rates.
G: What kinds of content do you share and post most often on the community platform?
R: In my current position I am the community manager for a popular tech blog, ReadWriteWeb. Most of the posts I share are in reference to our articles.
G: How do you reward your community stars?
R: We occasionally give away Tshirts or event tickets. Over the holiday season we partnered with a geek toy provider, ThinkGeek, to give away some cool gifts to readers who answered trivia questions correctly.
G: Does the size matter?
R: Small communities are close knit and fun. I’d say you’ll probably struggle with selling the importance of the community to your bosses if it’s very small. In a small community you’re always going to be working to grow it. Large communities will keep you on your toes, but you probably won’t get to know everyone as you know them in small community. In a large community, your efforts will be focused on abuse and support. It really depends on what you want to do.
G: What are the most common mistakes in community management? What should companies do to avoid them?
R: How they handle negativity can be a big mistake. I never delete negative posts unless they violate our guidelines. It’s always best to admit mistakes, but if only one person has a problem with you, posting a blog post about your error is a mistake. Work with that person one on one for resolution.However, if dozens of people are clamouring for an answer, trying to hide discussion is a no-no. Answer quickly to stop the anger before it starts. Be honest, be frank and fix the problem.
G: How do you manage social media crisis?
R: When I was as a large company a few years ago, an event we sponsored got out of hand. Pictures and videos were distributed that made us look as if we condoned and encouraged bad behaviour. Though most of the people in my team wanted to address it, we were unable to do so because PR thought it would die down.In hindsight, I should have pushed harder for my own views. I regret that I didn’t make them understand just how important it is to quickly address such issues, especially when they have such a large impact on your brand.
G: How do you measure the ROI of your community?
R: I measure it by:
- Page Views
- Engagement (likes, shares, comments)
- Subscriptions (RSS, Newsletter)
- Edgerank Score