Building Engaged Communities – Traackr Interview

Recently, I have enjoyed being interviewed by my fellow content marketers in the industry. Here’s my interview originally posted on Traackr.

Amy Higgins is the Content Marketing & Social Media Manager for Concur’s Small Business Division. She’s built all sorts of communities including uniting teenagers, Opera lovers, food photographers and most recently small business experts.

Amy, you’ve created communities of influencers and advocates for consumer- and business- facing organizations of all sizes. What types of business goals have these communities helped achieve?

That’s a tough question to answer since all of the communities I’ve developed have taken a life of their own, sometimes along the business goal path and other times creating new journeys.

Some of the communities are easily tied directly to the overall business goals — from general awareness to product adoption and retention. Yet, other communities seem to naturally develop on their own with unseen end goals, which later can tie directly to the business.

For example, one community was developed to help customer adoption and retention and ended up also helping with product development and customer service. I learned that you have to let the community tell you what to do and not the other way around.

You have an interesting position that combines content marketing & social media. Tell us how you leverage content as a way to engage your potential customers.

The saying goes that content is king; however, I say that context is king, content is queen and social is your knight. You can produce content and promote it through social media until you turn blue in the face, but your content will never have any engagement if it doesn’t resonate with your audience.

As the knight, social can help amplify any content. Through social, your content can reach not only current customers but prospects as well. But remember, only after you fully understand your audience’s pain points, both known and unknown, can you first create content that your audience will want to engage with, either by sharing it with their networks or reaching out to you.

In online engagement, there’s a lot of crossover between marketing and public relations. You firmly sit on the marketing side but you take a very relationship-focused approach. Do you think marketing and PR need to work together? Are the lines becoming totally blurred?

Yes! Totally. A brand can hurt itself more than help itself by having marketing and PR work independently of one another. On the marketing side, I can find customer stories that are not only great for blogs, but they can also be used for PR stories.

For example, say we have a new study out about the usage of our product, how it’s changing the way people do business. That story will not only help potential customers along the decision making process, but it might interest a reporter writing about new technologies. If marketing and PR don’t work together, the traction and reach of that story might be lost.

When you’re new to a space and you don’t know the influencers personally, what does your game plan look like? In other words, how do you go from stranger to engaged?

I would turn this question around and ask you, “How do you go from stranger to ‘engaged’ with anyone?” Influencers are people too. I reach out to them the same way I would reach out to anyone.

Learn what they do, their interests and their hobbies by reading their blogs, following them on Twitter and other social networks. Yes, in some circles, you might call this “stalking”, I call it education.

Next, I just start engaging with them on social — retweet them, comment on their blogs, join their Twitter chats, etc… Eventually, like with most online engagements, a relationship develops.

Then, you have a foot to stand on when you reach out to them for help with your marketing campaigns. If at all possible, try to meet them in person. Just remember not to pitch them, become their friend first. You’ll end up getting more out of it for yourself and your business. Relationships matter.

I imagine you can’t always succeed on your first try. Tell us about a time you tried to outreach to a new group, but it didn’t quite work out. How did you course correct?

When I worked at Google as their Bay Area Community Manager for Google Local, I had a difficult time at first creating a user group of the product. I was concentrating on people who used the product already and not new users.

I ended up looking outside the product for people who were avid Google+ users and engagers — ones who shared their personal lives, not just articles on the platform. I ended up finding a great community of photographers, many of whom were also foodies. With their love of photography and food, they made the perfect community group to help grow Google Local.

You recently served as the Director of Marketing for the San Francisco Opera’s BRAVO! CLUB. When I think of the opera, I don’t think social media savvy people. How on Earth did you manage to engage young people and get them interested?

Most of BRAVO’s members are in fact avid social media users. The trick was finding them and talking to them on their terms, not on yours. BRAVO! Club is a young professional group, ages 21 – 40, dedicated to developing a younger generation of opera lovers.

People join the group for a variety of reasons, either to use the Club’s great opera discounts or meet other opera lovers in their age range. But most importantly, it’s all about the community for them.

So, preaching to them about opera or cramming opera facts down their throat will never work. BRAVO! takes a community approach — build on that community to get others interested, the word of mouth.

We shared photos of members and their friends on Facebook. That way members can tag themselves and share the fashion and excitement of others in their social network. We also created programs that help engagement, such as quizzes and contests. That way members engage not only with the Club but with their friends, thus helping spread the community.

Actually, I met you, Evy, through that approach. A common friend introduced us because she knew we both loved opera. And then, I introduced you to other opera lovers, alas the cycle continues…

If there really was a team of superheroes named the Engagers and you were on it, what name would you give yourself?

Betty Blaster Bomber (aka Ms. 3B) – Just like a great photobomb, you never know how great it is until it’s fully developed.

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.

Han Solo

3 Fun Ways to Respond on Social Media

My social media use can sometimes be compulsive and an uncontrolled consumption on a daily basis. What can I say, I’m a social mediaholic.

But for others, responding to social media isn’t always that easy. What if you have nothing to say? What if you can’t think of a witty response to tweet? Well, who says you have to say anything? Why not let pictures say what you can’t? After all, pictures can say 1000 words+.

Here are a fun examples of how you to respond on  social media:

1. Respond with a selfie

The Oxford Dictionary defines a selfie as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media.”

Don’t know what to say? Respond with a selfie, and show others what you think!

My favorite example is how my pal, Spencer, uses a selfie diptic to express his feelings. Like this one:

2. Respond with a meme

I know this is another oldie, but goodie. Memes have taken over the innerwebz, especially with pop culture, politics, kids and of course cats! So, there’s not a shortage of memes to pick from, but if you can’t find one, just make one — try Cheezburger or MemeGenerator.


3. Respond with a song

Well, of course you could record a song and send it to them. However, I always like to send a link to song as a response. It can create a funny dialog, and you get to know each other’s musical tastes in a hurry.

For example, here’s the dialog I recently had on Twitter with an event company in Seattle:

What fun ways do you respond to others on social media? Let me know by commenting below our respond to me on Twitter.

How To Pick a SXSW Panel

It’s that time of year again when all your friends start pleading for SXSW panel votes.
They need your vote since voting counts for 30% of the overall vote for each panel being chosen to be at SXSW. I know 30% doesn’t sound like a lot, but it certainly does help.

First things first, a SXSW Panel Picker Primer . With three simple tips:

1. Get registered – In order to vote, you have to register. This means you must go to THIS LINK and sign up. It’s simple. Just your name and an email address – but it is a two-step process. You fill that form out, hit “submit” and then they send you an email with a verification code that you must click in order to activate your account and be able to vote.

2. No it doesn’t carry over 
– If you registered last year that doesn’t matter. The system does not save profiles year to year so even if you voted/registered last year you must still register this year to vote.

3. It’s not just about volume – yes, getting tons of “thumbs up” votes is important. It is equally if not more important to get *quality* votes. What does that mean? It means you need to (and encourage others to) post comments on the submission indicating WHY you think it’s a great addition to the program. Things like – you’ve seen the speaker before, you are interested in the content etc… IMPORTANT TO NOTE: the commenting system on the SXSW site is run by a company called Disqus (pronounced – Discuss). In order to post a comment you need to log in via one of the myriad social network options there. Easiest is probably Facebook though the Twitter integration is solid too.

Instructions above thanks to the lovely Cathy Brooks.

If you need help deciding, here are my favorite panels: (Of course, I’ll start with my own)
Hey A-hole, Stop Calling Yourself a Guru

Panel: Amy HigginsEvan Hamilton, & Erin Robbins O’Brien

And here are a few of my  favorites that I have voted for so far:

Shut Up & Breathe: Meditation & Storytelling FTW! This panel is presented by the rhythmic and lovely Cathy Brooks. Watch her video below to see what I mean:

From Crowdsourced Film to Social Movement

Curation + Crowdsourcing + Creation = Love

PR for Startups

Three’s Not a Crowd for Startup Founding Teams

Distribution or Death: How Publishers Can Survive

The End of Trolls? New Ideas of Online Identity

Exit Fragmentation, Here Comes The New Social

Tactics of App Distribution Hackers & Cartels

Real Talk: The Social Customer Shift

DIY App Publishing and the SXSW Community Cookbook

A few more to add to the list…

The X Factor: Women Innovators

Connective Consciousness: Influencer Back Channels

The Future of Porn

The Alchemy Economy: A $300B Craving for Change

Open Sourcing Accelerator for Social Impact

Chicks Making Out: Monetizing Niche Content

How to Find the Co-Founder of Your Dreams

Super Fly Super Fans. Super Success Stories.

Solving the Pandora Problem.

Social Discovery or Online Dating, Who Will Win?

Social Surgery: Live Streaming the Operating Room

Edited August 22nd.

Check out these awesome Community Manager focused panels (of course in addition to my own listed above):

People and things: Why visual social networks work

Panel: Matthew Knell, Katy Kelley, Katie Richman, & Katie Morse

Are Community Managers the New Influencers?

Panel: Christina Hug, Saul Colt, Justin Isaf, & Tine Thygesen

Community Management: Beyond the News Feed

Panel: Spencer Rinkus, Peter Slutsky, Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, & Laura Gluhanich

When Sh*t Hits the Fan: An Online Crisis Drill

Panel: David Krejci, Aaron Miller, & Lauren Melcher

Myth Busting: Creating a Viral Video

Panel: Bettina Hein, Eduardo Tobon, & John Duffield

Tricks of the Trade: Grow Unity in Your Community

Panel: Kat Mandelstein, Jessica Murray, Joyce Davis, Michael Bepko

Edited August 28th
Open Sourcing Accelerators for Social Impact

Panel: Diane Bisgeier and Pascal Finette

Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

SF Opera Tweeters in Da Haus!

If I told you that I just watched a three-hour opera, and live tweeted during the entire time– you’d think that I was nuts! Right? Well, what’s even more nuts is that it was allowed. Cray! Cray!

San Francisco Opera invited 10 people out of 30 applicants to live tweet yesterday during the final dress rehearsal of John Adam’s opera, Nixon In China. They spread the news via their blog, Facebook Post and Tweets. San Francisco Opera BRAVO! Club also joined in spreading the news over their social channels. The application asked for the basics – Name, Email, Twitter and Blog. Plus, they wanted to know if you were part of an arts  organization. As soon as I knew about the program, I filled out my application — about an hour before the deadline. I received an email that evening that I was accepted and instructions on what to do on Tuesday afternoon at the dress rehearsal.

Even though I applaud the SF Opera for doing their Tweet Seat program, it needs a few improvements to reach a larger fan base.

1. Announcement of program:

There are many tech savvy opera-goers who don’t frequently read the SF Opera’s blog or social posts that would have liked to go. Historically, the SF Opera has used print and email marketing as their primary forms of communicating with their patrons. By only publishing the invite on their social media channels, they limited the program’s overall reach. Maybe this was their goal –  limit the reach of the program so they could have a smaller group to work with this time. But, I’m just guessing.

2. What you could or could not share:

Honestly, it played with my mind a lil’ to be able to tweet during a live performance. I usually go to an art performance to simply unplug. The very fact that I was live tweeting inside THE SF Opera house took some time to get accustomed to. However, once the novelty wore off, the tweets took flight. But once that bird had flown, it was hard to restrain it. And, unfortunately I had to show a lot of restraint. We were not allowed to post any photos or videos once the opera started. It took all of my will power not to Instagram or Social Cam during the performance. Apparently, the SF Opera could have been sued if we posted any multimedia of the sets. It’s really too bad that they restricted us to text only. Photos and videos have a greater chance of being shared throughout social networks. This would have helped their overall reach – their main promotional goal. In full disclosure, I did post one photo during the performance and then erased it after some scolding from my online networks. *facepalm*

Once I did get used to this Tweet Seat social experiment, I noticed a few things:

1. Paying attention:

It was difficult to really pay attention to the opera. I was looking for things to tweet, not sitting back to soak in the opera. You can tell in the tweet stream  when all of us were really involved in what was going on stage, because we all stopped tweeting. Madame Mao Tse-tung, played by Hye Jung Lee, had a very powerful and almost pissed off aria during Act 11. All of us stopped tweeting until the aria ended. During the Beijing Opera scene in Act 11, our tweeting stopped in it’s tracks. The dancing was so mesmerizing that I completely forgot everything except the beauty on stage. It’s a good thing it was a final dress rehearsal because I can always go back and see the opera again.

2. Online dialog:

Once we all got over the novelty of tweeting at the opera, we started tweeting with each other. Nixon In China has moments that reminded us of Phillip Glass. Even though John Adams and Phillip Glass are not exactly friends, it made us wonder where else his influence could come from if not his enemy. I personally also tweeted with my online friends about what I was experiencing.

With all that being said, I really enjoyed my Tweet Seats at the opera. They placed us in box seats – smack dab in the middle  – where we could see all the action. I even spotted John Adams and Donato Cabrera in the orchestra watching the performance.

It was also great meeting all my fellow tweeters- Christopher D. Lewis @NewHarpsichord, Alicia Johnson @UrbanAreaAlicia, David Newman @dnsf, John Boitnott @jboitnott, Michael Owens @mko, Susan McConkey @smcconkey, Nancy Roberts @leapingotter, Joseph M. Colombo @JMColombo, Jean Shirk @bean, @SFCV, and Steve Rhodes @tigerbeat.

I was tweeting from my own handle @amywhiggins and for the San Francisco BRAVO! Club @SFOBravoClub.

For a full twitter report- check out #NixonInSF on my Storify here.

Freely Manage Your Social Media Analytics

People ask me all the time how to manage social media. Yes, even people who are social media managers themselves just like me ask. Many think that it has to cost you money. Well, it doesn’t! Here are two of my favorite social media tools that I use for free! Of course, I have tons of tools in my social media tool belt, but this is just a taste…

Are you taking notes?

Crowdbooster: “Measure and optimize your social media marketing”

This is a great service to track your impressions, engagement and growth over time. You can sign up two of your social profiles (like Twitter and Facebook) for free. All of us post a plethora of things to our brand’s social sites. But which ones are resonating the most with our fans? Quickly use Crowdbooster to see which posts are receiving the most amount of RTs, impressions, likes, comments, and replies. This way you can effectively change your posts to fit your community’s taste, and not just shoot blankly into the interwebs.

Don’t know what time to post? Fret no longer. Crowdbooster recommends that for you. The site also shows you when key influencers with high a Klout score follows you. That way you can interact with them on the spot. Crowdbooster also has a killer #FF feature. Personally, I look at who RTed me the most– and then send the #FF out to them with a huge Thank you.

Topsy is another great free service– mainly for tracking your social mentions over time.

Did you just release a product and want to see just how much your reach increased– use Topsy. Have a bug in your app and want to see just how many people mentioned you online – use Topsy. Just make sure to click on their analytics feature. It’s a small image on the right hand side of the screen. Then, you can search for only yourself or yourself compared to two of your competitors. For sh*ts and giggles, I searched just myself. Today, I did an awesome tweet chat, and my social mentions went from their normal 50/day to 80 for the day. You can also see your top tweet as per its traction. Just click on the top peak of each day to view it in Topsy’s Analytics.

On the main website (out of the analytics page) you can also look at the RTs for each tweet about your search term.

Wanna know more about the person who tweeted you? Just click on their avatar and/or handle. How cool is that?

It does have some limitations though. It tracks mainly tweets– Facebook and blog posts are not calculated. It also doesn’t show sentiment, gender, or list the tweets by anything other than the time they were tweeted. That being said, it’s a great tool to freely track your mentions and your competitors.

Hope these two tools help increase your awesome social media powers.