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Who manages a community these days?

08/18/2014 1 comment

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University libraries have a unique role in the landscape of higher education.  Once the stoic archives of ancient tomes and precious manuscripts; modern libraries offer more and more user services for both faculty and students alike.  Some of these services are adopted once the need is identified while others are introduced from other departments in the university hierarchy.  We spend countless hours and resources honing and manning these services but all too many of them remain just outside the scope of the target users’ awareness. I for one wish I had a penny for every time someone in a library planning meeting yearned for  “better communication with our community” or “improved outreach” or “increased awareness”.  If so I would have already been able to comfortably retire.

So why is there a gap in service and awareness in the library? One could argue that libraries have struggled to stay in the view of their users through traditional and not fully modern techniques.  The traditional methods are sometimes adapted as times and technologies changed but all too often relied on limited roles to manage these changes.  New monikers are often attached to already existing job titles, but this is not often enough to urge them into the correct mindset to properly create the connections and interest needed to facilitate the needs of the campus. What then is the role we should be asking them to fill? Instead of juggling these responsibilities between several people or committees, or heaping it upon someone with other responsibilities; should we not start allowing someone to manage the library persona as a full time job?  Can we treat our initiatives like marketing campaigns so that we can more effectively measure their impact as well as entice new or existing users to give them a try?  What should our voice be in the realm of social media and future media?  How will we know if the university community is aware of what we do? 

As a purveyor of video games and gaming culture, I recognized a role that exists in that industry; which I believe would fill this gap.  That role is a community manager.  Many companies and development teams utilize community managers to span the gaps in multiple processes and areas of the business cycle.  At the onset of a new project the community manager keeps their proverbial ear to the ground to see not only what the target audience is hoping for, but for what other companies and related sources see as their future trends to watch.  The community manager works to inform their colleagues on what possibilities they could include in their development.

Once the development process has started moving forward, the communication manager works to keep the vision of the project clear in the minds of the target community; as well as the stakeholders, developers, and media.  At the same time they collect and attune the feedback from each of these sources as to weigh positive and negative reactions to the message.  However; this is not to say that the sequence of communication is as archaic as in times gone by.  Community managers engage in conversations through social media, direct messages, conference attendance, and publicity events. As the development continues the community manager must cleverly gauge how often to update the public and internal audiences so as not to let the project slide away or become an annoyance via inconsequential reminders. 

Once the development of the product nears either testing or release, the community manager begins to entice an often select set of the public to become “informed experts” on what they have seen.  This allows for them to organically share their input within their own communication hubs.  This sort of organic advertisement is then buffered by key points that are echoed in advertisements and official communications.  This continues in even more venues than before; community forums, reddit, You Tube, etc. 

As the product releases the community manager maintains their role of feedback shepherd so that any immediate oversights can be corrected.  They also work to assure any long-term changes that have been built into the product will be properly understood with timing, cost, and impact effectively described. Depending on the frequency of the company’s release timetables, the community manager may have already begun to shift gears into the next project while still assisting in the marketing and management of the previous campaign.  At all points in the process the community manager gives a voice to the answers the public wants to hear.

Beyond the chess game that is marketing and communication, a community manager puts a face and voice to a constant stream of new ideas and strategic changes.  Not everyone follows what is new by checking an organization’s main webpage, but if they catch that tweet from the same company’s community manager; it just might peak their interests.  Did someone complain about a feature missing in a new service? A community manager’s direct message to them would be valued much higher than a redirect to a URL by a faceless customer service representative.  We all have many things that steal away our attention each day.  A community manager is the person that reminds you of the important facts and pays attention to the cacophony of feedback.  Their job is to provide your organization with attention, information, and conversation; to everyone you wish to reach.

Update: Here’s Knol-ly

Google has finally unveiled their Wikipedia competition, called Knol. There are a good number of articles already written and the authorship of articles remains a very impressive feature. The ability to have closed collaboration and feedback from users that can be taken into consideration, allows for a much less volatile system for editing.

I will be curious to see how far this project goes towards attaining the role of a timely and peer reviewed collaborative encyclopedia.

Related posts of mine:

Knol’s Fair in Love and Wikis

User Feedback Model from Starbucks

java is good

Michael from Tame the Web posted his thoughts on the new Starbucks user driven idea site.  Basically users can share their ideas for more effective services and products, vote on other people’s ideas, and see the results made by the company.  This is done in one site, and seems to have a general turn around time of 1 week or less.

For those of us who have seen good ideas in libraries get swamped under the mountains of bureaucratic posturing, all to often found in libraries, wouldn’t it be nice to utilize a system such as this to gather external, expedient information?  The ability for the user to be a part of their own environment gathers their trust in the library and can then lead to a stronger connection for future needs. Though there is a growing concern for students having too much sway in their educational practices, I think implementing something like this could transform many stagnant areas of library services. (But not all, as I would hate to leave things such as collection development and circulation policies hinging primarily on student feedback alone.)

I may be putting this on my plate soon, as this is a form of assessment and planning.  We shall see.

Social Media in Plain English

06/05/2008 1 comment

Thanks to Cliff for sharing this with me. The group over at CommonCraft have done it once again with their original and informative manner of explaining concepts. (You may remember them from their other popular video, “RSS in Plain English.”)

I may have seen a library who tried to mimic this style of presentation for some of their library instruction videos. Making the message simple doesn’t have to be tied to this form, as making your point in a clear and understandable way is the key to effective communication. Metaphors and allegories work too.

Cloudy days for searching?

01/07/2008 1 comment

cloudy field

In the competition for online search dominance, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has unveiled a new way to search the web in Search Wikia.   For a full description of this revelation you may want to read the PC World article from Monday, January 7th.

For those who don’t know, Wikia is a socially driven collection of topic based community wikis.  Or in layman’s terms–people talking about the same thing and editing the information about that thing in a shared web site. About Wikia.
The search side of Wikia is meant to remain true to the aims of open-source and provide free information, controlled by the people who know it best.  It also rests  on the concept of user generated feedback being a force in crafting the content; thereby removing the reins of some proprietary company (insert corporate name here: Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.)  The concept is sound but requires quite a bit of input before any acknowledgeable results are seen.

The results are displayed with a “mini-article” at the top, if there is one created.  (Though they seem to frown on personal blogs and individual mini-articles.)  In essence, the “mini-article” is a light version of a Wikipedia entry and may be edited by those associated or with some factual knowledge.  The information also may contain images, which can be uploaded and applied by individuals.  To the right a result box for people matching your search terms appears.  This information is generated through the Wikia profiles you create in order to use the system to its fullest.  For instance, if someone typed in Google as a search term, then the “People matching “google” results may include a programmer who works at Google or maybe someone who really loves GoogleMaps, and put that in their profile.

I really like the social aspect being brought into the mix, but fear that it will only get so far as it takes so much to get input from  the public at large.  Of course all great concepts have to start somewhere, so if you have the time give it a whirl and see what you think.

I did want to mention how much this move reminds me of the Google Knol project and the possibilities I hinted at for Google searching with Knol.  (See my other post here.)

Libraries and Organizations in Facebook

tacks

As reported by the LibrarianInBlack, Facebook recently began to provide an outlet for the institutions many of the student members had been associated with.  Their new “pages” section allows for universities and, more importantly for us, libraries to have a space dedicated to reach out to the community.  The amount of useful applications for the “pages” is still rather small (in comparison to the typical profile offerings) but the few libraries who have taken the first steps are providing some wonderful examples.

Facebook pages for libraries:

{The Engineering & Science Library page for Carnegie Mellon will be on this list soon enough.}

I called it…

dartboard

From BBCnews:

MySpace has agreed to join OpenSocial, Google’s new platform designed to allow developers to build applications that will work on any website.

MySpace joins other sites including Bebo, LinkedIn and Orkut in signing up to OpenSocial.

I guess when there are only two leading social networking sites and two major companies competing for markets, when someone picks a dance partner the other is left either sitting like a wallflower or tearing up the rug.

See my previous posts to catch up and hear my thoughts on each service.