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On being a Community Manager in the eLearning Space


An Interview with Bonnie Henthorn, Manager, Brandon Hall Group

Bonnie Henthorn
With over 20 years of experience in various legal, research, administrative, and management roles, Bonnie Henthorn has been an integral part of Brandon Hall Group’s operations for the past 12 years in areas such as social marketing, staffing and human resources, research, KnowledgeBase management, and event management. She currently serves as an operations manager at Brandon Hall Group continuing with responsibilities across several areas including client services, project management, member center management, KnowledgeBase management, and marketing.

Q:  You are the main community manager for Brandon Hall Group, right? How did you become the person doing this?

Bonnie:  Yes, this is one of my responsibilities; I do provide oversight of our social marketing activities. Social media came onto the scene and just exploded. Brandon Hall Group began using these services and, along with other organizations, has recognized the value – everybody’s learning as we go. Lorie Watson has come on board at Brandon Hall Group to help with social marketing and I’m serving as a mentor and coach as she learns the ropes. That being said, the entire team at Brandon Hall Group contributes to the effort. It’s important for everyone to interact with our customers, followers and friends. Otherwise people feel like they’re just being marketed to, and we want to avoid that – people want to talk about a specific topic.

Q:  How much time does it entail?

Bonnie:  My guestimate would be about 10-15 hours per week, but that is, of course, supplemented by the entire team being involved, so the number of hours actually would be significantly higher. Brandon Hall Group employees all play an active role and work as a team engaging socially with their own social media networks – this could result in 100’s of hours per week, collectively.

Q:  Describe the different types of content you put on different sites…Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn…do you contribute to the blog as well? Do you prefer certain types of content on the different sites? Do you use an auto-posting to help cross-post to different sites?

Bonnie:  Our content varies quite a bit, and includes events, industry announcements, research items, and promotions. We also have several blogs related to different categories of research and related content is posted on each. For posting management, we use Tweetdeck for Twitter, as well as Facebook tracking tools.

In terms of content, we developed a plan for social media: We determined what our goals were for social marketing and then implemented it – tweaking it over time – and wrapped it into our overall business processes for different types of projects. For example, a webinar takes several weeks or months of promotion to ensure good attendance. We have, therefore, designed our overall planning process for webinars to ensure that we have ample promotion time, and set specific expectations of when and where these items should be posted. We do try to post at specific time intervals on all the different social locations. These include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, our News Blog, and other Facebook and LinkedIn groups that we may individually belong to that relate to the event or topic.

Editor’s Note: Links for Brandon Hall Group Blogs

Q:  Do you think Community Managers are more prone to burnout than individuals in other positions?  What are your keys for staving off and managing burnout?

Bonnie:  When you’re the only person doing it, sometimes you can get a little tired or fatigued. Having more people involved helps alleviate this type of fatigue. Working with a team of contributors alleviates stress and eliminates the feeling that “I have to do it all.” And having more voices makes the information more interesting to the reader. It allows readers to feel like they are getting to know the entire organization, not just the voice of one designated person. From a logistical standpoint, since it is important to have postings regularly, preferably daily on our social sites, and obviously we are not all available to monitor these items daily, we can tag-team our efforts to ensure that there is activity daily or as often as possible. Also, when you work remotely, you’re never turned off and sometimes feel that you always need to be online answering responses or posting something. The world is not on fire if you don’t post at 2 a.m. your local time.

As I mentioned, Brandon Hall Group prefers the approach that, even though we’ve designated someone to work in this capacity, the team works as a whole. That being said, for those who are responsible for most of the activity, the best advice is to avoid posting all at one time during the day. Space out the postings by visiting different sites a few times per day. This will help avoid burnout and writer’s block.

When I first started out, I would try to do it all at once, first thing in the morning, and I would end up with writer’s block. I needed to find a creative way to post about events and draw people in but in a creative way to make it interesting. Trying to do this all at one time was difficult, so varying the time of day can give you fresh insight as to what you’d like to say. Blindly posting the same thing over and over makes things redundant for the readers. If your followers/friends on Facebook and Twitter find that you post everything on Monday at 9:00 am, it becomes predictable. Varying the time of day with different content makes it much more interesting. Your readers never know when they might hear from you – it keeps things fresh.

In addition to our social media marketing, we have a regular newsletter where our readers expect to hear from us on a more regular basis.

Q:  What are the most important skills for a community manager?

Bonnie:  I would say the top four would be: social media savvy (knowledge of the social networks); business acumen; attention to detail; and creativity.

Your social media person needs to know about your business and industry. That being said, a person can grow into the role, but they should have a mentor or coach to guide them. The knowledge of the social networks is not enough in and of itself. I think it is important to look for all of these skills and those skills working together will make the best community manager or social media marketer. Hiring someone solely based on their ability to navigate the social networks can be dangerous to your business without being sure they hold the other skills as well. The person posting for your company should also be able to put some personality into their posts and be at ease with sharing themselves with the readers – it’s not just about posting dates and times.

A good social media marketer is able to draw people into the story with very little text. They may be posting about the same item multiple times and it is important to include ‘pieces’ of the information so that each time, the reader gets a little more information creating the desire for more. The readers need to think about the topic in a different way each time they read about it.

Computer savvy and knowledge of the social networking sites comes into play so that the social media manager can help answer a reader’s technical questions. For example, a reader may not understand why they receive an email from Facebook every time something is posted – and the social marketer may need to explain how the reader needs to modify their own email notification setting. It’s best if you know the platform better than your readers.

Q:  Do you think a community manager is born with the aptitude or can be made? Do you think someone new to an organization could make an effective community manager?

Bonnie:  Certainly! New employees can bring a fresh perspective to what has always been done in terms of social marketing and managing online social communities within a certain company. We all use social media in our personal lives and we know what we like and don’t like in terms of notifications and being bothered by posts that we aren’t interested in reading. These skills transfer directly to business community management. After all, people can always join your groups and they can also leave too!

I’m a firm believer in learning by doing – if someone has an interest in learning something they probably can do it. For me personally, I learned to do what I do at Brandon Hall Group based upon the desire to learn. My background as a legal secretary for 15 years, and an executive assistant for 2 years, gave me some good basic skills, which I have now been able to hone as time progressed based on my interest in learning. The Brandon Hall Group company culture has also encouraged this type of work environment.

If your organization has employees who wish to learn the skill, give them a shot – give them a coach to help out and see what develops. It’s not for everyone, but you may find the best person possible for the job is already on your team!

Personality plays into the success of a community manager or social media marketer. For some who may be quiet and reserved, they might not be able to break out of their shell enough for this type of work. Or on the other hand, it may just be what they need to shine. The readers need to get to know you. When they get to know you, they will read a lot more about what you post. You want readers to know that you know something about the field you are covering and so you definitely want to post things that are of interest to you and your industry. A good marketer will grow into the position and get better over time.

Probably the best motivator for the community organizer or social media marketer is to see the effectiveness of their efforts. Trying to determine what particular outreach works is a difficult task, but when you can see the results of that effort in for example, more registrations for event, or significant participation in a research survey, it motivates the poster to strive to be even better.

A new community organizer or social media marketer needs to be  sufficiently onboarded into the organization so that they know exactly what the company is about, what is the culture, what is the goal and expectation for the community.

Please add your comments below, share this post with your organization’s own Community Manager, and mark your calendar for next year’s Community Manager Appreciation Day. Now 5 years strong, it’s celebrated each year on the 4th Monday of January.

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