Episode #90: Zen and the Art of Social Community Management

Your community managers are a critical piece of your social media efforts; they’re the nexus between your customers and your brand. Today we explore the unique value of your community managers, and how a Customer Experience Center (CXC) can supercharge that value. We’ll also look at how to handle social “graffiti,” and take a glimpse into the future of community management, when the entire organization is engaging with customers.

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All right, welcome to the CXM Experience. As usual, I’m your host Grad Conn CXO, or chief experience officer at Sprinklr. And today, I want to talk a little bit about community management. We haven’t actually talked about this a lot recently. I’ll do a little bit of background on my model of community management. What I’ve executed in my previous roles. What I executed at Sprinklr, or what we do execute at Sprinklr is probably a better way to put it. And what we’re seeing out there.

There’s a specific issue that comes up a lot, which is what do I do with offensive language or things that are off brand in communities, groups, or on pages on social platforms that are part of my brand? Do I delete them? Do I edit them? Do I hide them? What’s the current best practice? I’m going to talk a little bit about that.

But first, let me give you a bit of background on community management in general, the CXC model in general, which I would say, I’ve seen executed more often, but still think is under executed overall, and is a big opportunity. And then we’ll wrap up.

Let’s talk a little bit about community management. So, community management started in the 2009/2010 era. Social platforms had been out for a few years at that point. Facebook coming out in 2002, and Twitter coming out in 2004. So they were starting to get some momentum. Brands who had only just established themselves on the web, within the previous decade, we’re now beginning to set up their own pages. Or individuals on a somewhat rogue basis would setup pages for the brands as well. And so now brand conversations were beginning to happen as well.

And what would happen is that when a brand conversation would occur, people would talk to the brand and expect some kind of reply. And if they didn’t get a reply, then… kind of weird, right? So, you had to have somebody doing it. And these became community managers. Community managers also took on a role of managing and maintaining the page, updating it, putting up new brand news, making sure that the images are correct, staying within brand guidelines, and generally making it a brand experience.

And I would say that for all of us… I mean, I plunged into this in about 2011. And for all of us at the time… I don’t know… I like to think I was really prescient and saw it all. But I think initially, it was just like, we should probably be talking to people who are trying to talk to us. It was just that simple. But what was interesting in community management… and I remember my head of the CXC came to me one day and he said to me, he said, Grad, I really believe in people. I’m like, that’s great. I believe in people too. And he said, I really like people. I’m like, Yeah, I like people too. Where are you going with this? And he says, I don’t know if I can think about people the same way anymore now that I’ve been cleaning off the “graffiti” that are on all these pages.

And it was actually kind of funny, he showed me a few examples. But the depths of depravity that humanity can express, even in words alone, is quite stunning. And of course, they would post these on the brand pages. And then we would delete them. Some brands hide them. Very few edit them. Almost no one responds because you want them to fall to the bottom as quickly as possible. But I’ll come back to this in a minute.

The way we did it, though, is that classically, what was happening is that a lot of… I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here, by the way. This is just more of an observation. Slightly more innovative business leaders were grabbing the reins and setting up these little community management pods. I’m not trying to say that I’m like, super innovative or anything, I just have a tendency to try new things. That’s just the way my brain works. There’s nothing particularly special about that. But I would be one of those people, which is like, let’s get into this. And a lot of other people were like, Let’s wait and see. Right?

So, what would happen is you’d see an innovative brand manager at P&G, and that person would start community management, and they would start managing their brand, and many other brands would not be managed. And then of course, as it started to kind of take hold, it became obvious that we did need to do more community management. Because sometimes brand sites are being set up by consumers who wanted to have a site about their favorite brand. That’s obviously not acceptable, and we can’t let that happen. So we we’re being dragged into it almost. You had to do something with it, you couldn’t just completely ignore it.

And then what would happen is you’d have, potentially a reasonable number of community managers in an organization. 50, 60, 70 community managers. But they were all sitting in siloed pockets in separate brands, separate countries, separate regions, etc. And it was very hard to get your hands around what they were doing and how they were doing it. And it was very hard for them to learn from each other.

So, at Microsoft we were just a little behind the curve, generally, as a company in this space. It’s a conservative company, for good reasons. There’s a lot of really good reasons why Microsoft should be conservative. And we were working under a DOJ injunction at the time because of the case we lost with Netscape. It was a complicated time. So, 2011/2012, when we started into this, we were tiptoeing, okay? We were very, very careful, which is actually why we ended up buying Sprinklr. Because the Sprinklr team came in and they were like, we’re all about governance and security and privacy. GDPR and the California Privacy Act didn’t exist at the time. But there were many, many privacy rules evolving around the world. And they were clearly on top of all that stuff.

And so I had a sense that the Sprinklr team, because of the way that they’d architected the product from a governance standpoint, I had the lowest likelihood of being fired due to some kind of an untoward incident, right? And there have been some super famous ones. At the time, there was a brutal one on American Airlines where a community manager thought that she was posting to her personal feed, her personal Twitter feed. But instead, she was posting to the corporate Twitter feed. And she posted a very pornographic image that included an airplane. Let’s just leave it at that. And, of course, another great thing about Sprinklr is that’s impossible. You can’t be signed in to two different things at the same time. That can’t happen. So there’s another great reason why I wanted to have Sprinklr.

I do, every once in a while when I see this happen, because it actually continues to happen still, today. There are just a few companies out there, not many left, that don’t use Sprinklr. But there’s a few companies out there that are still doing some native posting and stuff like that. And when I see the offensive image that was posted, and the excuse is, they thought they were going to post it to their personal page. I’m always like, you post that to your personal page? What party am I missing? I wouldn’t post that anywhere. What are you doing?

Anyway, so what we decided to do, because we were working with a number of different brands, and we were, like I said, a little bit later to the party. So we had the advantage of seeing what had been evolving elsewhere, is we thought, why don’t we centralize the community management function. So that led to the creation of this Customer Experience Center model at Microsoft, which is now a model being used by many companies around the world, like Samsung and Nike, and many, many others. But, it’s a great model, because what it allows you to do is it allows you to have, let’s say, 50 to 100, community managers in one place. They learn from each other, they see breaking trends, they can jump on memes together, they can load balance, right? Things start to get really hot on a brand, you can move a few people over. For example, products like an Xbox would have a burst at the holidays, because a lot of people are buying Xboxes for the holidays, it’s not particularly shocking. Or if there was a Windows release, we would over load balance on Windows to make sure that if any issues came up, we could be the frontline to being able to solve those things really quickly for customers so people weren’t inconvenienced, and didn’t have to wait in line for customer care, phone calls, and all that stuff.

So, it was a pretty interesting model. Particularly the load balancing, I actually think was really good, because it also would work in reverse where a newer brand that was maybe newer to the party, wanted to try it out. What they could do is they could get a half a community manager, they didn’t need to buy a whole person. Or a quarter. They could say I just want to have this person do stuff for me on Monday and Tuesday morning. And we’ll see what we get out of that. And then we can maybe decide to invest more based on how that works, or back it off, or whatever.

And so, the model, I would say, what made it work really well — and this is obviously challenging in the COVID era. But when it worked really well then, and we were on a steep learning curve, was the ability for all the community managers to learn from each other. That was super duper interesting, super powerful. And so that is the model for the CXC. Today, I think that there’s a new step, which is, you have a CXC… and I think the other interesting advantage of a CXC Is that you also somewhat centralize consumer insight. And so you essentially plant a virus in the company, that consumer voice is coming into this place. And you can go here and you can be customer centric, and we can hear what’s happening. And we can see how this unstructured, unsolicited commentary is coming in from all these different data sources. That’s powerful. It’s powerful to have that bright light in the company that people know to go towards.

However, you are seeing companies like L’Oreal, and I did a really interesting webinar with Lubomira Rochet, who’s the CDO there, they’re actually moving to the next level. And I think the next level is… I’m not sure you get rid of the CXC, it’s always good to have some centralized motion. But the next level is everybody in the company needs to be engaging with customers. And we need to coordinate across multiple silos, and multiple regions and business units and functions. And so that’s where the collaboration feature Sprinklr has become really important. The content marketing platform, that everyone can draw from the same content has become really important. And you’re seeing now thousands and thousands of licenses, as companies work to essentially become customer-centric as a full organization.

So those are the… stage one, people all over the place. Stage two, centralized, in one location. Stage three, mass adoption across the entire company, as the entire company becomes a modern enterprise. And I think that it’s not insane to imagine that those three models can also exist at the same time. So the there’s nothing wrong with maybe having some people attached to brands, who maybe are taking a very specific lens on that brand. Have a large central group, which is managing the technology and managing the overall customer input and feedback and routing. And then start to incorporate a broader scale democratization of the customer engagement, but with some insight from what the other groups have been doing. It all works. It depends really on your company and what you’re trying to do.

So, the specific question that comes up over and over again, is, what do I do with all this graffiti? So I’m gonna go back to the quick story I had the beginning, which is, shaken faith in humanity based on the vehemence of commentary that people put into these brand pages. And it really is shocking. I mean, it really is shocking the kinds of things that people say, with their name attached to it. Or maybe its acronym, or pseudonym, or something like that, but you’re still kind of attached to it. It’s amazing what people will say, actually.

But I do have a specific point of view on it. A lot of people hide them. A number of very large brands, hide them. There’s profanity hate speech, you get a lot of really bad stuff in terms of racism, and politics, and all that kind of stuff. I just delete it. I think those comments should just be deleted. And I don’t think anyone is going to feel like the brand isn’t listening to them. When the brands just simply getting rid of stuff that is offensive.

CNN used to have comments on all their articles. They don’t really anymore. I think they had to stop it because the articles would have this really interesting article. Then there’s comments, and the first one or two comments would be okay. And then they would rapidly devolve into people calling each other Hitler… this progression of commentary. And it was sort of stupid and pointless. And so I think when you see stuff like that on your brand page, you should clean it off. I would actually call it graffiti. I would think of it like graffiti and use the model that Rudy Giuliani — when the time when he was America’s mayor — Rudy Giuliani inherited a New York subway system that was covered in graffiti. And it was very hard to manage and maintain. And the idea was they made sure that they always wiped all the graffiti off and so the trains were pristine as they are today. And if even one piece of graffiti was left to stand, it would soon attract more graffiti. Just like if you leave one piece of paper on the ground, it soon attracts more litter. And so I would say remove all graffiti from your handles, and from your commentary and sites. And if it’s completely out of control, eventually maybe turn off comments.

So that’s the CXC model. Community management. Some thoughts on how do you manage posts within your community. And if you’ve got any questions, you can always DM me on Twitter. I’m @GradConn. Try to say something nice.

Alright, so, for the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn. And I’ll see you next time.