Getting on top of Social Networks


As community manager I should know better and regularly publish on the blog. Well, it’s been a very busy beginning of the year and taking over an existing community creates its own set of challenges. Besides community managers, I’d expect that many open source project leads which take over an existing project will face similar issues. The issue at hand this time: taking control of existing social networks.

Becoming manager of existing social networks, groups, etc.

The community I work has a presence in 40+ different social networks and other on-line services. Some support the concept of a group admin/manager. Others don’t and admin rights tend to be tied to a specific user ID. When you try and take over management of some social networks you can end up in a number of situations.

  • The easy one is where there is the concept of an admin or manager: all you need to do is to ask another admin/manager to promote you to manager. Now this works easily if you your existing manager cares and knows their log-in details. Which for me was luckily mostly true.
  • The more probematic case is where managing a group is tied to a specific account and manager ownership cannot be transferred: there are quite a few sites where this is the case. What you essentially need to do is: get the password and change the profile. If the profile was personal, e.g. Joe Bloggs, make it generic (i.e. changed it from Joe Bloggs to Xen Community Manager) otherwise the next person will face the same problems. I also changed the profile such that it mentioned that Joe Blogs was community manager during a specific time period. This was necessary because some of the history in comments refers to Joe Bloggs, which may confuse users.
  • The worst case scenario is where the management role is tied to a specific universal ID and cannot be changed (such as a Google, Twitter or Facebook ID). I was surprised to find out that there are a quite few such services. In this case, you are stuck if your predecessor has used a personal ID which he/she will want to continue to use.

It was a little bit surprised that a seemingly simple task like taking over the management of a few social networks was actually hard, tedious and rather inconvenient. Much harder than it should have beeen.

You can also run into other interesting problems:

  • A previous manager may have forgotton a password
  • Or their account was tied to an e-mail address which does not exist any more (because he left a few months back)
  • In the meantime the account may have been disabled because an e-mail to said account bounces

From my experience dealing with the support teams from some of the free social networks and services was slow and painful; in some cases non-existent. Where there was really good support, these services obviously needed to ensure that you didn’t try and abuse the service and take over somebodies identity. A disabled e-mail address does not help there.

Thus, plan for the future

The only way how to avoid such problems is to plan for the future. Basically you need to assume that you are run over by a bus tomorrow and ask yourself the question how easy would it be for successor to get started.

Here are some tips how to do this:

  • Where there are admins, make sure there are always several admins besides you. Make sure you always keep the list of admins up-to-date (i.e. replace an inactive admin with a new one).
  • Make sure the list of admins is written down somewhere. Some services don’t allow you to see who their admins are: so if you don’t know you can’t contact them. Googler Analytics is an example of one of those services.
  • Avoid using user IDs that are tied to your person. It’s OK to use your e-mail address if it is not used to identify your account and can be changed later.
  • Be careful not to use your personal twitter, google or other ID to create a new group. In particular when you know it cannot be changed later: or when you do not know. In this case, you probably want to create an identity which is tied to the job rather than yourself.
  • Make sure passwords are stored somewhere and shared with at least another person in your organisation.

Getting on top of the social media landscape

When you start in a new community, one of the other challenges is to find out what goes on on the web. The easiest way to do this, is to use commercial tools such as Lithium or Radian6 (note that by far these are not the only ones; google for “Social Media Monitoring” to find such services). Unfortunately almost all of these services are incredibly expensive and practically out-of-reach for open source users.

There are free alternatives

There are a number of free alternatives: you can use socialmention.com, which works really well if your project or community has a unique name. Google alerts also works well in this case. You start getting into trouble when your project has a common name. Well, Xen is such a common name and you will need to use complex search expressions to exclude keywords as you come across false positives. In the case of Xen, I need to exclude an ever growing list of terms such as guru, travel, incense, art, yoga, … you name it. In this case, brush up your skills on creating complex search expressions (I thought I saved a link for you, but didn’t … sorry).

However I found that even with complex search expressions, you still will get a lot of noise. So the only way how to eventually get on top of these is to use Google Reader, Yahoo Pipes or tarpipe to create yourself an aggregated stream of trustworthy sources as you come across them using search, socialmention, etc.

You should also be able to use Google Custom Search, but I have not tried this.

How do others cope?

This is it for today: my bit of recent wisdom. I would really be interested to hear how others in open source or other community managers grapple with these problems.

And, I promise that I will at least write one article per month from now on.

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About Lars Kurth

Lars Kurth is a highly effective, passionate community manager with strong experience of working with open source communities (Symbian, Symbian DevCo, Eclipse, GNU) and currently is community manager for xen.org. Lars has 9 years of experience building and leading engineering teams and a track record of executing several change programs impacting 1000 users. Lars has 16 years of industry experience in the tools and mobile sector working at ARM, Symbian Ltd, Symbian Foundation and Nokia. Lars has strong analytical, communication, influencing and presentation skills, good knowledge of marketing and product management and extensive background in C/C , Java and software development practices which he learned working as community manager, product manager, chief architect, engineering manager and software developer. If you want to know more, check out uk.linkedin.com/in/larskurth. Personally, Lars has a wide range of interests such as literature, theatre, cinema, cooking and gardening. He is particularly fascinated by orchids and carnivorous plants and has built a rather large collection of plants from all over the world. His love for plants extends into a passion for travel, in particular to see plants grow in their native habitats.
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2 Responses to Getting on top of Social Networks

  1. Stephen Spector says:

    Lars:

    Great post. As the person who left the mess you inherited, I did try and save all the various tools usernames, passwords, etc but even that made it difficult. Looks like a great new open source project concept for people to look into.

  2. Lars Kurth says:

    Stephen, you left things in as good a state as one could. A lot of the issues have to do with how some web services and social networks are designed. It works well for individuals, but many services do not appear designed with managing communities in mind.

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