I completely enjoyed joining Lawerence Liu for the Telligent webinar and one of the questions after the webinar really sparked an interest in a longer explanation.  The question was:

Q: Have you ever had to censor and/or censure community members? If so, what were the violations and how did you handle the member?

I had previously drafted a blog post that covers some of the answer to this question:


I could almost hear the dragnet theme music when I posted the title to this section.  Don’t worry, it is not nearly that bad.  As a whole, you will find that community users are a great bunch that rarely break the rules.  The rules are important and it is equally important for you to enforce them.  Without this enforcement you will promptly find a loss of most of your repeat user base.  So we set out the rules in the terms of service… right?  Well mostly.  Some rules are more of good behavior guidelines.  These might include how to ask a question that includes enough information to be answerable.  Or perhaps it might explain that being rude is not tolerated.  These additional guidelines should be in a prominent position that will ensure they are read and should be referenced when violated.

There are a handfull of enforcement best practices that will get you started.  Most importantly DO NOT DELETE ANYTHING.  Let me explain.  You should remove violations from publically viewable areas, but I never recommend removing them.  You might need to review them later if the user continues to be a problem.  Many companies use a hidden space to store these removed content items and to keep them in archive status.

If a user violates the rules, they are generally either unaware of the rule, or are actively disregarding the rules.  For the first violation, I generally assume most everyone is unaware of the rules.  Now I am sure you noticed the “most” everyone in that statement.  There will always be someone that comes to your websites and posts something truly over the top.  That person does not deserve the nice first warning.  Generally the first warning will go like this:

Dear Name,

We noticed that a recent post on the (insert community name) site was in violation of our Terms of Use.  We had to remove the post, however, we would love to have you repost it without the offending <insert rule broken here>.  Here is the link to the Terms of Use for our community <link here> Here is the post text to make it easier to edit and repost

<Post Text>

We are glad to have had you as a member for the past 6 months and hope you understand the need for us to maintain a professional site.


Name, Site Moderator

With the second notice, the niceness dials down and you should add a statement about what happens if you violate the terms again.  The third time you should send notice that you are deleting the account.  In addition, consider blocking the IP address as well.  While this is not fool proof, it will slow down some users.  These letters should be pseudo form letters and should include the same basic components for all violators.  Being able to produce consistent enforcement of clearly published rules will keep you out of most trouble.

Please do note, that this is not a one size fits all process.  Some things will of course fall outside of this process and should be considered as one off situations.  If for example a continuously high participating and valuable community member gets really mad and posts three curse words in a day, don’t ban the user…  call them.  Hear them out and diffuse.  Find a way to mention that you “do have to take those posts down” because you have to be equal and fair.

The most important components of enforcement are treating all participants equally, using consistent practices and telling them why and what you are doing.  In most cases the first couple of responses will stop most people… really.


Hiring for Social Media Part 3: Community Moderator

This is part three in a series on hiring a social media person or company.

Part 1:  Strategist

Part 2:  Faceman

Part 3:  Moderator

Part 4:  Technologist

Part 5:  Vendor/Company

This is the entry level position within the social media team.  This person is the first interaction that most of your community will have, so this is a critical hire.  First, what kind of community do you have?  A support community?  If so, this moderator needs to be technical enough to answer basic questions and to triage the rest of the questions.  Another example, if your community is based on an interest group of say fly fisherman that buy your custom flies, you would want to hire someone with passion for fishing.  If at all possible find someone that your demographic will click with.  Maybe you just have to be close, like someone who fishes, but not specifically fly fishing.  This person does not need to have previous social media experience, but needs a set of specific other skills.

Start with personality, specifically on-line personality.  This is an interesting distinction and one that is hard to identify.  People that often have much personality in real-life, can struggle with the on-line space.   Likewise one of the best online personalities I have ever seen was so shy she couldn’t even sit in a staff meeting.  So define online personality…  First and most important, it has to be your real personality.  Second, you have to actually show it.  Many of us have spent years learning to write professionally… this is a departure from that training.  The “voice” while still professional, should be much less formal.  Remember the goal is to connect with the people in your community.  It is hard to connect with someone that sounds like the robotic voice from the National Weather Service.

Warning:  I know I have said this before… but let me say it again… don’t create a personality that either does not exist or is not you.  What if the community is an overwhelming success and your characters are invited to go to a speaking engagement?  Your community will be crushed to know this person does not exist.

Other skills that I think are needed for this position: Organizational skills, follow through, good crisis management thought processes, ability to interact with people at a variety of levels, company and product knowledge.

Interviewing for this position:

Screening a candidate for the skills I mention above is fairly routine.  The places that become more challenging are around their interest in the subject area, their writing skills and on-line personality.  There are several resources to help in this process.  Picking the right screening criteria before you even interview is a big help.  Start by requiring writing samples with the resumes.  People that are actually fearful of writing will drop out here.  Next consider creating a couple of scenarios for your candidate to demonstrate their abilities.  I recommend that you use this for both the writing screening as well as the personality (although you don’t have to tell them about the personality part).

Writing Sample:

Let’s break this down to the simplest components.  You want to see how someone writes as well as how they interact with the world.  Create a couple of scenarios.  The first is a “how to” scenario.  If the role is technical, consider making this a technical topic.  If not, select something generic.  For example you might ask someone to submit how to instructions for determining what kind of sandwich someone wants and making it for them.  By giving them a simple topic you can see how detailed they are and match that to what you need for the role.

The next step for me would be creating a scenario to see how our candidate does under pressure.  Create a fictitious angry person on the community and through email send the first post as that person.  The candidate then responds to the email as they would as the moderator.  You continue the back and forth until there is a resolution.  The beauty of this kind of screening is that you get to see them under pressure and feel from a customer’s perspective how they interact.

Interviewing the candidates

So you found a candidate that meets the skills list and even passes the writing portion (sounds like the events in a beauty pageant).  How do you ask the right questions in an interview?  Start with the questions that you would always ask a prospect to gauge company and position fit.  Here are some additional questions specifically for the social media components.

Interview topics and questions:

Comfort with social media technologies:

What social media platforms do you use?  (Personal or professional)  You are looking for someone that uses forums, blogs, makes comments, uses myspace or facebook, etc.  This gives them a base understanding of the space.  Someone that has none should be a red flag.

Comfort interacting with customers in all venues:

I liked the way you handled the scenario of the angry customer.  When and why would you consider actually calling the customer?  In this instance I am looking for comfort in talking with customers as a method for diffusion of the anger.

I would also include a question about travel.  Often very successful moderators become mini celebrities that you might want to bring to events.  Good to gauge their comfort in public and public speaking along with their willingness to travel.  This is also a consideration if you are planning to globalize the community and might have training needs.

Community Channels (tools)

While chatting with the team here at Google this week, they asked what I consider the tools within the Community space.  Here is a synopsis of what I shared with them:

Ideas/ Ideation Sites
Group of sites that ask for user ideas.  Sites range from open ended give us any idea to specific brainstorm sessions that are focused on topics provided by the company.  Example: http://www.ideastorm.com
Traditional user boards that allow for questions and answers or dialogues by users posting responses to threaded discussions.    Example:  http://www.google.com/support/forum/
Blogs (with comments)
Informal information sharing platform that focuses on a publisher of information and users that are able to comment on the content.    Example: http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/
Content Exchanges
Site that allows users to generate content (documents, templates, reports, code, etc) and share it with others in the community via upload and download.  Often includes voting on content quality and comments on the content.    Example:  http://thwack.com/media/

Webinars and Videos
(with interaction)
Video based content that is offered as training or demonstration.  Generally has some interaction via comment or content rating.    Example:  http://cnettv.cnet.com/2000-1_53-1.html?name=Product%20Videos&type=videoProfileId&value=11,19,18

Ratings and Reviews

Generally a rating is a 1-5 star (or other simple mechanism) while a review is a more in depth and descriptive review of the product or service.  Example:  http://www.amazon.com
3rd Party Sites
This is the participation of the company (or representative of the company) on sites that are used by their target audience.  The goal is to provide a positive brand experience by demonstrating expertise.  Requires company users to add value to the community vs. push selling.    Example:  http://www.facebook.com  or http://www.ittoolbox.com
Monitoring and Listening
Using one of many tools ranging from Google alerts to Radian 6 to monitor brand mentions as a way to understand the nature of the discussions.  This might be for research only or can be as a driver for interaction on what you find.    Example products:  radian 6 or Visible technologies or Meltwater Buzz
Closed Communities
These are often used for marketing research and are often paid.  These are communities that are by invitation only and have a “question a week” and require response to get paid/rewarded.
These are subdivisions of the community by commonality.  Might be by product or use.  Will often include several channels within a group.  Combines “people like me”.  Example:  http://en.community.dell.com/topics/home.aspx?tid=fe33d491-78a8-46e3-8e05-eedb35c3cae4&top=fe33d491-78a8-46e3-8e05-eedb35c3cae4
Loyalty Programs
This is a program that tracks and rewards the users for their activity.  Can be “surprise and delight” rewards or an actual points based rewards system.
Asks the community a question, allows a user to vote and then displays the vote percents.  Great tool to drive the “light contributions” that move the watchers into creators.  Example:  http://espn.go.com/
Tool that is for document creation.  Allows users to create a document and then edit each other’s documents.  Very flexible collaboration tool.  Can be very labor intensive particularly at the beginning before you gain high end contributors.    Example:  http://www.wikipedia.com

Profiles and Searching Profiles

Profiles allow people to find users like themselves and to follow/interact with those users.  Can be difficult to get the masses to populate the information.  Example:  http://help.yahoo.com/l/ca/yahoo/profiles/
Event calendars
Displays happenings/events in a calendar that shows “more information” and can allow people to register within the calendar.  Helps to drive continued engagement within the community.  Example:  http://www.austin360.com/calendar/content/events/index.html

PLEASE note:  This is not a comprehensive list, only the most common.  Many companies use a hybrid or custom solution to deliver the business value they want.  Please DO NOT base your strategy on a tool, but rather, make sure your strategy leads to the right tool!

6705 U.S. 290

Austin, TX 78735-8408

Hiring a Social Media Professional Part 2: Faceman (person)

This is part two in a series on hiring a social media person or company.

Part 1:  Strategist

Part 2:  Faceman

Part 3:  Moderator

Part 4:  Technologist

Part 5:  Vendor/Company

This may be the least recognized and one of the most important roles for someone creating community to understand: the Faceman.  The Faceman (person) is a person that is intended to connect with the customers by being one of them.  Your users should understand and connect with this person.  The Faceman is often the one who blogs and creates videos.  This person needs to be an expert in the subject matter of the community.  Often this will come from within the company, or if from outside, then it needs to be chosen very carefully.


Dell:  Lionel@Dell

eBay personalities:  http://www.ebaychatter.com/

Walmart: http://www.checkoutblog.com/

SolarWinds Head Geek:

Cisco: http://blogs.cisco.com/news

Great personalities on Blogher: http://www.blogher.com/


As I mentioned above, the most important thing this person needs to have is a complete knowledge of your subject.  In addition, they need to be approachable.  Someone that is too much of a know-it-all will not play well to an audience.  This person needs to be confident but always be ready to learn and work with the others.  They need to have a bold personality.  This comes through in all the mediums and makes them memorable.  If you meet the person in an interview and they bore you to tears… imagine watching them speak on purpose…

This person does not HAVE TO BE an expert in social media or communities.  I think that one of the challenges companies have had in finding the right person is that they insist that this role and the strategist above have to be found all in a single person.  I have seen many instances where a split plan works great.

Finding the right candidates should start within your company.  Look carefully… most often you will find someone right under your noses.  Is it a support person with a great nose for business and a passion for twitter?  Is it someone from the sales team?  Ideally this person will be very active in community on their own… personal or other.  Take this passion and translate it into a great front person.  (see the interview questions for a moderator)

Online Community Resources

I believe that, although there are many commonalities between Social Media Marketing and building online communities, they are very different.  First, a few of the commonalities: execution of either is almost bound to fail if there isn’t transparency and employees aren’t empowered to communicate to each other and with other stakeholders, not to mention that if there’s no strategy behind either, they’re destined to fail.  The difference can seem subtle at first, but really, it takes a different skillset to manage each and generally, the purpose and goals are different.  More on differences in another post.

I read a lot of blogs and a few books on both Social Media Marketing as well as Online Communities.  I also follow folks on twitter so that I can learn from others and find out what the latest buzz is about.  I’ve found that there are lots and lots of people writing blogs and books and tweeting about Social Media Marketing but not nearly enough on building and managing communities.  Simply put, Marketers (Social Media Marketers) have a lot more to gain from blogging about their industry than do community managers.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that getting a list of community management resources together was difficult.  That is one of the main reasons Dawn started this blog and why I am happy to contribute.  Aside from this blog, I recommend the following resources to teach you and keep you updated on Online Communities:

The Community Roundtable blog
Bill Johnston’s Online Community Strategy
Martin Reed’s Community Spark
Richard Millington’s Fever Bee
Rachel Happe’s The Social Organization

I also read a couple that cover both online community and Social Media Marketing:
Social Media Musings by Tom Humbarger (Talks more about Social Media lately but knows about community)
Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang (Talks a lot about industry trends and posts Case Studies and stats)

Twitter follows:
Take a look at the folks The Community Roundtable has listed on their Social Media list

The Cluetrain Manifesto
The Wisdom of Crowds

The Community Roundtable is a private peer network for community managers and social media practitioners.

Forum One brings great Community Managers together

I am sure I’ve missed a few great reads/follows. If you have recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

What should be in your Community Terms?

** disclaimer** this is not a fool proof list and needs to be customized by a legal professional before any program is started.  The following are some guidelines to start with.

Legal considerations are one of the commonly cited reasons to not undertake a community adventure… so I thought I would start off directly.  Depending on the program you decide to implement… there are specific considerations for each tool below.  Overall there are several key components needed for an overall community.  The first and most basic is a terms of service/terms of use for the site.  This document should outline the following key items:

Who can use the site and to what extent.  Can anyone view the site, but only some people can participate?  What do you have to do to participate?  What limitations are there on who can participate (ie do they have to be a customer?).

  1. What is the purpose of the site and the acceptable uses.
  2. What are not acceptable activities and uses and how you will enforce them
  3. Who owns the content created (Intellectual Property considerations).
  4. Limiting the liability for policing all of the content on the site (use at your own risk)

In addition, you can add additional restrictions as people enhance their participation that ensures you keep the bases covered.  For example, you might want to ask for specific agreements before allowing a community member to participate in a closed beta test of new products.

Of course… your legal person will add a ton of mostly incomprehensible legal language to it… but you get the idea!

You can see examples of these documents on most any community.  Two I am familiar with are eBay and thwack documents.

Hiring for Social Media: Part 1

This is part one in a series on hiring a social media person or company.

One of the most challenging parts of this field I love is finding experts.  I have seen people that look great on paper, but when you talk with them, their knowledge is only paper deep.  I am going to tell you a story about John.  John was absolutely fascinated with social media and worked at a company that did some in the space.  He managed to get to work on a project!  He listened and absorbed.  In his next career move, he elaborated on his resume.  Perhaps he was not just a participant on that single project.  Perhaps he was the mastermind.  Sure he knows all he needs to, he lands a position as a strategist for a medium sized company.  Now that he is in the position, he is struggling because he is not the social media professional the claimed to be.  There are plenty of “Johns” out there.  Beware.

Ok, so at this point, you are like, ok Dawn. So how the heck do I know?  Well let’s start with what kind of social media professional you are looking to hire.

Part 1:  Strategist

Part 2:  Faceman

Part 3:  Moderator

Part 4:  Technologist

Part 5:  Vendor/Company

Community Strategist

This is a professional position that will manage the strategies, implementation and projects for your community.  This person needs to be a seasoned professional with demonstrable successful projects to share with their resume.  Ask for examples.  When I say samples of their work, I am not meaning a personal blog where they explore their expertise area, but actual projects on behalf of a company.  While a personal blog in the area of expertise might be a way to demonstrate their knowledge, it doesn’t show success.  I could do enough research to have a medical advice blog, but that doesn’t mean I am capable of actually practicing medicine.  Some of the people in this industry that I admire most are almost completely behind the scenes.  The high participation members of their communities will know them, but from a passing glance, you would not necessarily.  This person does not need to, necessarily, be an expert in your business area.  You will have experts within the business.  This person needs to be an expert in communities.

You should research this person.  Look carefully at their implemented sites and see if they are actually successful.  Are people participating?  Is the site itself nicely done?  Is the company participating?  Use this research to drive questions for the interview.  Ask to see the scorecard from there existing community. (there will be a future post on scorecards and metrics)

Other skills attributes and abilities: (in addition to the Social Media/Communiy skills above)

  1. Organized with Project Management skills
  2. Passion for Social Media/Community
  3. Process oriented
  4. Manages up well- comfort talking with, selling concepts to, etc.
  5. Can lead a team from various departments that may or may not actually report to you.
  6. Diplomatic
  7. Creative thinker.

Interviewing questions:

Use the interview to do a deep dive into the sites they have done before.  Ask the hard questions.  If no one is participating… ask why,.  Ask why they chose the tool that they did.  Ask about corporate support for the effort.  Ask what the budget was.  Ask about the technology vendor.  If you ask specific enough questions, even “John” should stumble and show his true colors.

Give a real life scenario that is currently happening at your company.  Like say you are trying to engage a new audience and are not sure where to start.  Ask how they would begin and the first several actions.  It will give you a window into their skills.

Ask a scenario question (you make up) about an exec that doesn’t buy into the social media effort and the candidate has to convince them to join the movement.  See if their ideas are close to your corporate culture and if the candidate has the right thought processes to sell and idea.

If there is no current social media program, ask them where they would start to create one.  If they answer with a tool (before they even found out the corporate goals) this should be a big red flag.

Ask how they keep up with social media.  If they don’t list several of the industry blogs and books, be concerned.

Finally and critically important… check the references carefully.  I have found that while many companies don’t want their managers to recommend people, they will still verify the role and scope.  I had a conversation recently about a candidate with a manager that readily told me he couldn’t talk about performance of the person.  I asked if he would just verify the magnitude of the role.  It turned out that when I read the role description from the resume, it was grossly over stated.  The manager was HAPPY to tell me that.