Online Community Moderation and Personal Networks with Kat French

Author: Gab Goldenberg

Here’s a refreshing interview with Kat French, well known in the SEOmoz and Sphinn community and certainly a person to keep an eye out for in search marketing. We cover online community moderation, the strength of social media and of personal networks, and much more.

Introduce yourself and tell us about your site/projects.

I’m Katina Beckham-French, aka KatFrench, a web copywriter and social media/search marketing specialist at an interactive agency. In addition to the services I perform for our clients and the agency itself, I just launched a new personal/professional blog, Internet-Bard, a copywriting, marketing and social blog [Ed: Sounds like she's in good company :). Besides Internet Bard, Kat's recently been promoted at Leapfrog Interactive. She's also got a psychology blog, and has recently done the copywriting on this sexy style quiz site.]

Basically, the big idea behind the blog is that smart copywriters and other brand marketing folks need to evolve into post-modern internet bards. It’s not enough to just come up with sharp, one-way copy. We need to learn to be masters of interactive storytelling. Skills like content strategy, social media expertise, and the ability to effectively interact with, influence, or even lead online communities are going to be increasingly important. Like the original bards, we need to be masters of improvisation and we need to acquire new skills quickly.

1) How will you go about reaching the agency folks and branding specialists?

Through blog and social media networking. Seeking out the best branding, writing and ad geek blogs and participating in the conversations there. Up till now, I’ve been more reading than commenting, but as I build up some value content on the blog, that will change.

I’ve really been enjoying Valeria Maltoni’s Conversation Agent blog. Jaffe Juice is another good one. I love Nathania Johnson’s Bold Interactive blog, and when it comes to nuts-and-bolts writing tips, Rebecca Laffar-Smith’s Writing Forward is awesome. I’m a long-time fan of the Kansas City guys who run American Copywriter. Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer is agency folk, and we’ve met in person after both of us were featured in an article about social media marketing.

Twitter has also been a fantastic tool for finding where the good, juicy online conversations are going on about all this stuff.

2) Share 10 post ideas you want to write/will write, and why your audience will care about them.

Well, I just finished a piece on editorial calendars, but it’s really just the appetizer to whet folks’ appetite on that subject. I meant what I wrote in the headline; editorial calendars can save your sanity when it comes to recurrent copywriting assignments like blogs and email newsletters. So definitely, there’s more to come on that topic. Also on the topic of content strategy, I’ll be writing about resources for keeping organized.

On copywriting, I’m going to be writing a series on developing brand personalities, and writing consistently as that personality. For example, I’m producing copy and doing social media marketing for two widely divergent verticals right now. I’ve found it best to segment my workweek, because it can be difficult to shift voices. I actually have to draw on a lot of my acting and improv experience because to a large extent, you’re playing a role. I’m very fortunate that for both those industries, the brand personalities I’m working with are backed by literally reams of research data, so I don’t lack for source materials for the characters. It’s just important that I stay in character while writing as each.

There are at least two books that I plan on reviewing in depth: Ron Rentel’s Geek Gods, Karma Queens and Innerpreneurs has been a wonderful resource for building both personas and brand personalities, and Debbie Weil’s The Corporate Blogging Book is really helpful in reducing the fear factor for larger companies when it comes to entering the blogosphere.

I’ll be doing at least one article about the risks of not getting involved in social media, at least at the level of monitoring for negative mentions on high traffic sites. Another one will be on the SEO value of social media participation. Oh, and there’s going to be a good one about why social media is so addictive. I have a theory I pulled from some of the reading I did in previous years on psychology, specifically Eric Berne and transactional analysis.

I’ll be doing at least one post on the terminology and one on the culture and etiquette of online community sites. It’s funny, because so many marketing folks are going to have to do a complete 180. They’ve avoided participating in social media and online community sites up till now because it’s been viewed as goofing off on the internet. Now their employers are expecting them to get up to speed and start representing them in a culture that feels really foreign and which uses a vocabulary that’s totally unfamiliar. They read words like trolls and flame wars and it just makes it that much more intimidating. I’d like to make it a little less scary.

3) What interests you about online community moderation?

Fostering community is a big deal to me. My other personal blog is mainly about spiritual stuff and psychology, and it’s amazing how deep the need for community runs in human beings. The industrial revolution separated people into little boxes; it stuffed them into cubicles in the workplace and demanded they compartmentalize their lives and leave their personal life at home. Homes lost their porches; neighborhoods lost their sidewalks, and everybody started putting up privacy fences. Kind of like The Matrix, really. Trying to turn people into batteries doesnt work.

In the last ten or fifteen years, we’ve seen city planners and smart companies start intentionally fostering community again. I think that in part, online communities are a part of that movement towards accepting that humans are social beings. We’e just using technology to realize the vision of a global village.

Also, I’m an idea person and I think that the best way to get at the best ideas is to get smart people talking. That’s really what online community moderation is, at its best: getting the smart people talking. It’s like being a good hostess at a cocktail party. Create an environment that sets people at ease, spur good conversation as needed, smooth ruffled feathers as needed, and make sure that if anyone starts getting out of hand, they are shown the door with a minimum of fuss and bother.

4) Why does online community moderation matter in a broader marketing context (like, if you were making the case to a Chief Marketing Officer)?

I think it comes down to empowering your brand evangelists, and giving them a platform where it’s entirely appropriate to talk up your brand. Trust in traditional, impression-based advertising is going to continue to decline. You’re going to need to enlist literate, persuasive consumers to build trust in your brand. Also, not if but when problems crop up, having a place where those who aren’t happy with your brand feel they can be heard is invaluable.

As long as the brand community is healthy, you have a vital, direct line of two-way communication between your brand and consumers. Part of the moderator’s job is to seed and direct conversations about your brand in such a way that the brand is reflected in the most positive light, but mainly, it’s keeping the community healthy and vibrant so your unpaid brand evangelists can shine.

5) Should an internet marketer be involved in every general-ish social media site above a certain size? That is, should they be on Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, Digg, SU, Reddit, Propeller, Ning etc.?

I think at least at the level of having a presence and some triggers in place for monitoring mentions of branded keywords, yes, you should be involved in all those sites. Now, will every internet marketer have the resources to do that? Probably not. But if we’re talking Best Practices for social media, yes.

6) Moving beyond attracting massive amounts of links with linkbait/viral content, what objectives can social media help a business achieve online?

First and foremost, social media creates a place and a context for consumer-to-brand interaction. Marketers have been talking about creating relationships with the brand for years. Well, in any relationship, the currency of exchange is interactions, and both the quality and the quantity counts. If you read relationship books, think of it in terms of Chapman’s Five Love Languages. It takes a certain number of positive interactions to make someone fall in love with your brand. Social media can be a place where you rack up those positive interactions. As much as I loved Jeff Jarvis rant about I’m not dating your cookie, you kind of are.

Social media provides a platform and context for those interactions, and since it’s on the web, the capability is there to track and measure those interactions. Really, for the first time, there’s a way to literally measure brand awareness without the artificiality of surveys. The big issue is determining what to track and how to interpret the data. Nielsen’s BuzzMetrics, Radian6 and others are just starting to tap that potential.

7) How do you measure success in social media?

That depends on the specific goals and activity of the campaign, client or program. Some clients are strictly looking for the SEO benefits of social media traction, and if that’s the only goal, then you have to look at traditional SEO metrics. Some are looking for brand awareness and affinity, and it gets a little trickier when you go there. But at a high level, it comes down to measuring interactions. If you’ve created a widget and deployed it on an OpenSocial network, for example, obviously tracking the propagation of that widget across the network would be a relevant metric.

If you’re participating in a forum on behalf of a client, you track replies, certainly. It’s also nice that most common forums show how many times a thread has been viewed, since we know that lots of participants in community sites are observers.

8) What makes a network more valuable than another? What makes a network more powerful than another?

From a user standpoint, I’d say the top three factors are community fit, content relevance, and user experience. Will I get along with the other people there? Will the content be interesting and useful to me? and Will the design and technology that runs the site enhance or detract from how much I enjoy participating? If you have that particular Golden Triangle of user appeal, then you’ve got a potentially powerful network.

From a marketing standpoint, it’s a rough balancing act between quality and quantity, both for the potential audience size and the relevance of the content. Ideally, you’d have a targeted, high volume niche site with a lot of influencers and bloggers participating. But since that’s not available for every topic or vertical, sometimes you have to pick one site for breadth and another for depth, maybe a third general use site for sheer user-base volume.

[Ed: I cleared up that I meant a person's personal network and Kat answered with this:]

The value of a personal network is two-fold. First, it enriches your perspective. Being around other people, with different points of view, values and circumstances forces you to look at things from outside your own POV, which is incredibly valuable. A copywriter needs to have a certain “everyman” (or everywoman) aspect in order to be able to reach and communicate clearly with the largest possible group of people. The second value of a personal network is that it enables you to make even further connections with people you might not otherwise have access to.

I think that when it comes to the value of your personal network, quality outweighs quantity of contacts, but quality is sort of an ephemeral thing to define in this context. And quantity is good, too, if quantity provides diversity.

9) How did you learn copywriting?

I was really lucky that as soon as I graduated high school, I got a job at the local AM radio station. I did basically anything that needed doing, including writing and producing almost all the commercials, promos, and news content. If you can write a compelling, memorable :30 radio spot for the local hardware store’s sale on toilet repair kits at the age of 18, it’s probably a good sign that copywriting is your calling.

I worked in the marketing department for a military contractor for a few years assisting with their proposals to build weapons simulators for various government agencies. That’s where I learned to work fast and take deadlines seriously. When the military says Respond no later than this date and time they mean it. You can’t turn in a proposal that’s due at 3:00pm on Friday at 3:01. Period. It was also a good place for honing my dejargoning talent. I had to translate dry, often handwritten, engineers notes into a convincing 200 page sales pitch.

I’ve also been the in house marketing person at several companies, including five years at a large commercial construction company. Obviously, there was a lot of copywriting involved in those positions. I wrote sales letters, website copy, press releases, and basically any kind of marketing material or advertisement you can imagine, including out-of-home.

As part of that position, I taught myself HTML, CSS and a smattering of PHP and javascript, which led to running my own freelance web design business, which eventually led to working at LeapFrog Interactive as a web copywriter.

10) Share the single most important lesson you’ve learned to date amongst all of the 5 topics your blog will cover.

When it comes to participating in social media and online communities, track everything and be completely transparent. Take copious notes, document everything you do, and at least at a high level, let your employer or clients know what you’re doing online. In the corporate world, that makes the difference between goofing off on the internet and investigating the value of social media.

It’s actually not that hard to get buy-in for the value of social media and online community participation, if you’re an in-house marketer, copywriter, or public relations person and have the available time to devote to it. But you have to be intentional and transparent about it. Nobody expects you to prove results before you experiment, but they do expect you to document your attempts and findings. Get my rss feed, if you liked this post.

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