Connie Bensen is a key voice amongst online Community Managers. Her blog is recognized as a leading resource for cultivating online communities and providing best practices for this emerging role. She also provides mentorship and inspires individuals to explore this new career. Connie is the Director of Social Media and Community Strategy at Alterian, which provides leading marketing products for the enterprise.
Please describe your personal evolution in becoming a community strategist and explain what that role is?
My community building started as a public librarian (even though I didn’t realize it). Outreach and community building was critical to staying relevant when we were competing against Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Google. A digital imaging company found me using their product in a new way. They allowed me great latitude to experiment with brand building, social networking, and social media marketing. I quickly realized the power that community offers in regard to word of mouth, organic SEO and human nature. Over the past three years I have been sharing my ideas on why a company needs someone focused on social media and what that role looks like as well as challenges, compensation, etc.
What’s the best thing about working with Techrigy and what has changed the most about your role there?
Techrigy was acquired in July, so it is Alterian SM2 now (I have to be true to my present role). The best thing about Techrigy was that it was an opportunity to take a brand from square one and build it as quickly as possible. The rate of change at a startup is incredible. When I started there were 4 people and 10 months later we had acquired Andiamo Systems, grown our customer base by 840% and had a staff of 10 people! My challenge was that I didn’t have a marketing budget, but sales & I put our heads together & learned from each other. by acquisition time I was ready to give up the many hats that I was wearing. That knowledge transfer is done and I now lead the social media efforts globally at Alterian (offers products for marketers: database, analytics, email, content management system and now Techrigy SM2). It’s exciting to have the opportunity to work in a global company!
The number of companies offering social media monitoring and analytics services has really mushroomed in the past year or two. Yet many companies really don’t have a sense for how monitoring and engagement fit within their social media efforts. What advice can you give about how best to use social monitoring tools? (pick whatever application, purpose or objective you like)
I don’t really see how anyone with an online presence can afford to not be monitoring their brand. I’ve been using Google alerts and RSS since 2006. It’s the only way to efficiently build your brand (personal and/or company). And it’s very helpful in identifying conversations to participate in which is huge for building SEO and driving traffic back to your site (what you call ‘Social SEO’ – great term by the way!). My favorite application is lead generation for sales. It’s simple: monitor for people expressing a need for your product, then provide information. At Techrigy it shortened our sales cycle, we quit cold calling after 3 months, and had lower acquisition costs (some Freemium users were converting directly).
For companies that are trying to wrap their arms around the digital space, especially when it comes to brand, influence and the media, what are some of the larger issues they should consider before engaging outside help? What can they do to take better advantage of digitally savvy PR consulting? Think of that scene from Jerry Maguire, “help me, help you”.
Our industry is in agreement that an organization needs to have a certain culture in order to sustain a social media engagement. Zappos, Dell, and Southwest Airlines are all very successful because they truly care about their customers. Companies will require various levels of organizational restructuring in order to embrace social media. Considering that aspect will make best use of the PR consulting (rather than considering it a separate entity). Social media requires an entwining and communication amongst many departments and that will be a challenge for many.
To me, listening is the precursor as well as the justification for social web engagement. Do you have a good example of a company that made business level changes based on social media monitoring?
Paula Berg has some great examples of how Southwest Airlines has responded to their customers requests. My favorite is the example of people complaining about the amount of color ink to print boarding passes. In only a few hours, a change was made so that they printed in black and white which saves their customers how much? (I keep hinting to United that they should do the same. Each leg of a flight requires a full sheet of paper to print and half is advertising! Too annoying! Northwest’s boarding passes are smart – one sheet of paper with all of the legs of the flight in one place!)
What are your thoughts on the intersection of search and social media? You and I Tweeted with Best Buy CMO, Barry Judge about this in the past and I’m curious what your current opinion is and if you’ve seen any specific examples of it in action worth noting?
It’s easy to say that search and social media are totally dependent. Having a site is one thing, having a presence and participating in channels takes it to the next level. Social media monitoring identifies which channels are best and where the influencers are at for your vertical. It allows you to build your search rank as quickly as possible. As we said in that conversation the community aspect and their contribution of user generated content results in building a level of word of mouth that is invaluable (others creating backlinks for you).
What practical tips can you share for getting a social media monitoring effort off the ground? If you can be unbiased about it, what recommendations can you give for selecting the right tools?
1. Everyone should start with free tools. Google Alerts, Tweetbeep, etc are great places to start. If you’d like to see the volume and the results aggregated then we have the Freemium of SM2 and Scoutlabs & Filterbox have 30 day trials.
2. Listen for awhile (1-3 months)
3. Identify a business objective and create a strategy
a. identify who in your organization should participate
b. Have HR put a social media strategy in place
c. Talk with legal and put together a crisis plan
4. Train staff on best practices for engaging
5. Benchmark and plan to measure the objective decided on in number 3
Tip – Start small and grow it
Do you have any creative models for ongoing cost justification associated with adding tools and community managers to a corporate social media program?
My advice to small companies is to find someone to do contract work to start with. Both parties will quickly realize if it’s a good fit or not. And the nature of the position will show its value very quickly if the person is suited (note that it’s really important for the position to be open ended enough to allow for growth). A larger entity can look internally and make it part of an existing person’s role to start with. Monitoring tools are relatively inexpensive and range from free to professional tools for $5 k a year.
What are 3-4 resources (blogs, books, podcasts, web sites, newsletters, conferences, etc) for staying on top of digital and social media public relations?
Minnesota is a treasure trove of companies and talent in the digital, interactive and social media space, yet a bit of a “best kept secret” compared to the coasts. Please describe some of what impresses you about the Twin Cities digital community?
The MPS SMB is the best! I’m appreciative that they adopted me even though I live 5 hours away. The group is diverse and I’m grateful for the friends I have met through Rick Mahn’s group.
Any predictions for hot applications, services or strategies in the social media space in 2010?
- More companies will invest in a Social Media Specialist (community manager) to guide their efforts internally & externally.
- Many companies are going to find a conflict when they try to extend their social media efforts across the board. They will need to have a culture shift in order to be successful in their social media efforts. Many will need considerable amount of organizational restructuring.
- The value of social media efforts will continue to be reinforced. Social media monitoring tools will make it easier to show ROI.