Tom Barfield's blog

Personal musings of a young journalist in London

What’s in a Community Manager’s Toolbox?

with one comment

A quick writeup of last night’s London Community Managers meetup for the benefit of anyone who wasn’t there. Props to Elana Zak for organising and moderating the whole thing, and for coming up with the questions for the panel.

On the panel were @BlaiseGV (hereafter “Blaise”), @Ninja_Bytes (Ngan), @MAJohns (Mark) and @lucaben1n1 (Luca).

What CM tools do you use?

Blaise gave the first and most pragmatic answer – “use the tool that’s right for the job”. Since there are plenty of free tools around it’s easy to find one that suits you – just make sure you can export data easily and watch out for API changes that could leave you scrabbling to fill a sudden hole in your workflow. Ngan namechecked Tweetdeck for Twitter, Gremln for monitoring cross-platform conversations and posting short URLs, and Facebook Analytics – “really useful for a free tool”.

Mark pointed at HootSuite – “simple and powerful enough” to introduce journalists to participating in social media, and SocialFlow for its valuable scheduling and publishing from RSS features. He also took the opportunity to big up The Economist’s own commenting system – “we prefer to be in command of our own destiny” is how he explained the choice to stay away from Disqus or similar.

Luca works for BuddyMedia. He explained what the company does (building off-the-shelf multiplatform tools for community and social media managers). He highlighted (as others already had) the ability to export data as critical for a really good tool.

Free or paid apps – remember, CMs (usually) have a limited budget!

Luca pointed out that agencies have a particular need for paid tools – managing thousands of client pages at once is another step up again from the in-house community manager as power user. “What brings you as an individual to use TweetDeck… brings large organisations to go another step with technology that works at a different scale.” Ngan agreed, but pointed out that for an in-house CM a paid app might only become worth it when it has a feature that will have a big impact on your work and that you can’t find elsewhere.

Mark agreed, saying “The time you know you need to upgrade to a paid app is when you realise you’re not getting what you need [from a free one].” He pointed out that paid apps also mean there’s a chain of accountability – they’ll generally keep track of who’s doing what if a tweet about breakfast goes out on the company account. Blaise took this a step further, saying that big businesses are almost certain to pay for reliable data and accountability when something goes wrong. On a personal level, his rule is “if it’s going to improve your productivity, it’s worth paying for – your productivity is stunted by being active on social media anyway!”

What tools are definitely worth paying for?

Ngan advocated for Omniture with its in-depth analytics and data – she’s been using it at EA, but she’s looking forward to playing with Radian6, Sysomos and BrandWatch at her next job. Blaise noted that brands will be worried about libel on social media, so a tool like Conversocial could keep the lawyers off your back by surfacing otherwise-hidden postings. He also mentioned SproutSocial for making FB Analytics pretty, and the “very expensive” Tableau for making pretty graphs fast.

Some audience members chimed in on the various advantages of Sysomos’ tools, such as Heartbeat, discussing different use cases. This is when the conversation came back around to APIs, with Luca pointing out that “as a tool provider, you’re very much reliant on what’s open for you to innovate with” – citing the few third parties invited to work with the G+ API. He did point out, though, that in Russia or China platform providers are “completely unused to the idea” of providing an API in the first place.

Mark got some laughs by saying that he would murder for a tool to bring together all the conversations happening on-site and on different social media platforms – “whether that even makes logical sense or whether people will look at it and shake their heads I don’t know!”

What tools do you wish could be developed to make your jobs easier?

Luca lamented the lack of a reliable way of defining sentiment for listening tools, remembering that many attempts end up with your tech being as reliable as a coinflip. “The best listening tools are humans,” is the conclusion for now, something Ngan agreed with strongly.

An audience member shouted out that there should be a tool to prove the ROI of good community management – Blaise agreed and noted that too often CM activities are divided into buckets that should really all be part of the same flow. Luca suggested that this was an avenue BuddyMedia would be exploring in future, but Blaise sounded a note of warning, saying “we’re stepping further and further away from the actual people who we’re supposed to be interacting with.” Mark agreed – “we should never get carried away with our own cleverness, it’s about hard work too.”


And that was that, apart from some quick discussion about best sources of info for new tools (names thrown out were TWitter, Mashable, Engadget, Crunchbase and 10,000 words) and a quick 2-minute pitch from SoDash, a company that hopes to solve the sentiment problem using artificial intelligence from Scotland.

Hope it was useful and thanks for reading!


Written by Tom Barfield

May 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks for mentioning us at Brandwatch.

    It’s funny how each CM will have a different suite of tools that they find most useful. It’s about getting that balance perfectly right for the job.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: