“It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you.” Susan RoAne.
Guy Kawasaki opens his blog entry "The Art of Schmoozing" with that quote. I’ve included the full list of his points, and have added in a few comments about how it relates to my work as a community liaison. Enjoy!
That is such an incredibly perfect quote. Working with community is all about the mantra "everybody goes home happy". And what makes you, the company rep, happy is seeing people do more with your product, being brand ambassadors. So that means your task as the community rep is helping them to stay interested and identify opportunities you know they will enjoy. You meet your goals by ensuring their goals are priority 1.
In the more than 5 years I was at LEGO, I racked up 450,000 American Airlines miles. I attended events all over the world, from large 40,000 people event hall events to small 4 person garage events. Much of this is simply showing "I’m here – the company is, in fact interested in you". You loose much of the "big company" stigma and stink when you willingly go have chips and salsa and beers at some fan’s house while looking over his LEGO creations.
Spot on. I’ve taken a few colleagues with me to events who have spent most of their time there trying to correct misconceptions that fans may have about certain issues. One tactic I always try first is to ask leading questions and let the fans get to the answer on their own. Tends to work more times than not.
For me, there’s two pieces to this. Yes, you need to ensure that the community members see you as a human rather than a community rep. But it is also extremely important to know your game. If you show up in front of hobbyists and don’t know as much or more about the hobby than they do, then it’s way to easy to write you off as a "marketing schmoo". Don’t talk about only company business, but be really ready when the subject comes up. Which leads to the next point….
As in the point above, it’s absolutely good to have a rounded knowledge. But ensure that you’re keeping up with all community activity and discussions. Even if one part of the hobby interests you more than another, you’d better be fully versed in all aspects of the hobby.
My colleagues always ask me: "How can you give out your cards? Aren’t you worried you’ll get a flood of emails or phone calls?" The answer is a simple: no.
First off, I had some methods I employee to combat any possible contact overflow. First, I had two sets of business cards – one with my full contact details, and one with only my email address. Both worked equally well for getting the point across that I was interested in hearing from the fans. But while 90% of the fans were respectful of my weekend time, 10% weren’t. So giving out my cell phone or desk phone was not something I did much. There was a sliding scale of contact. Everyone had my email, some had my instant messenger, and very few had my phone.
But over the years, I too have given out my contact info a great many times. And it resulted in nearly 17,000 incoming emails from fans. But as strange as this may sound, that was fairly managable.
From a practical standpoint, make your "community friendly" email address easy. I had to fight the LEGO IT tooth and nail to get firstname.lastname@example.org in addition to my standard email@example.com, and it was well worth it. People can actually remember the first off the top of their head, even if they completely forget it. The second one…well…..
When talking about community, it’s also a culture thing. You have to make it clear that it’s OK to contact you. One of the reasons I had 17,000 incoming emails is because I made it clear over and over and over that it was OK to contact me. That 90% of fans are completely polite and respectful and don’t want to bother you while you’re working… even if your job is to be bothered.
This has come in so very handy over the years. This is as much about having the favors returned as it is creating a culture of support. You do something nice for community Web site A, then when they received leaked photos of your new products, they’re much less inclinded to post them without asking you if it’s OK. Favors are the juice that makes your job possible.
This is also how a relationship is formed. And since relationships are the core of a community person’s activities, you can’t wait to start building them.