A Day In The Life Of A Community Manager – A Chat With Phoebe Venkat

Every month, we conduct an online chat in our customer community with customers leading each chat based on their areas of expertise. Last month, community manager extraordinaire Phoebe Venkat shared her expertise on – you guessed it! – Community Management. Phoebe Venkat was the community manager for Tyco’s 24,000-person network, and is now the social media/digital director for ADT (which still includes enterprise community management as one of her responsibilities). Here are the highlights of what she shared with us:

What does community management mean to you?

To me, it means being the “bumpers” – guiding, helping, connecting, leading, driving, but not dictating. At Tyco, we created the “Yammer Credo,” which establishes the rules of the road. The Credo takes an informal, yet professional, tone vs. the “command and control” approach

I think the community manager is also someone who models the behaviors we want to see flourish in the culture. If you want a culture that takes more (calculated) risks, how do you convince people that it’s okay? You don’t. You show them. At Tyco (and the same with ADT), we want the silos between employees, managers, execs, businesses, etc. to be more permeable. Community managers help make those connections stick. 

What does a day in your life look like?

My job was part-time in theory, but really full-time in practice. The other half of my time focused on internal and executive communication, and these two roles complimented each other well. On a daily basis, I set concrete objectives for myself, but also let the serendipity of what comes up come in and influence my thought process. I “have to have goals,” but find non-traditional ways to meet those goals. It’s also important to find others that excel at things you may not be good at. For example, I work heavily with the legal and IT teams because they are the experts in their fields.

How do you encourage the quieter members to come out of their shell?

With “quiet” users – otherwise known as “lurkers” or “listeners” — I would say don’t spend too much time trying to convert them to post publicly. Active listeners are just as important because they tend to read and “see” more. They may even help evangelize your efforts with other listeners. Direct your quieter users to key 2-3 key working groups that can deliver value right away. They can focus on those groups and when/if they feel comfortable, jump into the “ocean” with everyone else.

To engage various types of users, have a public group that doesn’t require public action in order for someone to get value from it. For example, at Tyco we started a public corporate news group that has ~8K members. The majority simply read the articles. They don’t have to “like” or reply to feel part of something important. Lurkers may convert, but I think a better use of time is helping them promote their experience to others that may be wary like them. Keep in mind that lurker may be getting a lot of value out of their experience, too.

How do you onboard new members?

Different tactics will work for different people. Some just need some hands-on training as they may not be currently using social tools. Others may be blocking themselves from wanting to participate by saying it’s “yet another thing.” It’s all about helping people find catalysts to make their experience more positive.

What happens if someone posts something inappropriate?

In the unlikely case that something posts something inappropriate, we direct them to review the Credo and explain that Yammer is business tool. Any company rules are valid whether you’re on a conference call or on Yammer. When necessary, we loop in HR and the person’s manager, but this is very rare.

I had a private “jokes” group that was posting inappropriate content. I reached out to the two admins of that group via a call and walked them through why we launched yammer. They told me that they were the only ones using yammer on their team. I realized they just needed guidance and some “atta boys.” I also told them that our president paid for Yammer… 😉 The troublemakers then went back to their Jokes group and told them to calm down and post clean content. They subsequently started business-driven groups and expanded their use of Yammer.

How do you guide people to post things that move the conversation forward?

What if content posted is not inappropriate, but is considered less valuable by other members? Guiding noisy folks involves modeling the behaviors you want to see. Focus on positive reinforcement for those that seem to be doing it right instead of swatting those over the head.

How do you help people communicate across languages and cultures?

Tyco translates key exec messages into 15 languages, so that everyone gets official news. It’s important to encourage bilingual users to post in their native language and direct non-English speakers to their posts. Tyco has language and country-based groups where native speakers can converse, but they are also encouraged to start conversations in other groups, including the company feed, in their native language.

How does a company know it needs a community manager?

I think you need one overall CM, as well as a mix of Yambassadors (informal champions) and communications leads. At Tyco, there are several business units, so it’s important to have those BU co-community managers play a key role.

The CM is valuable because she or he is on the pulse of employee sentiment. We are valuable advisors in the “trenches,” and a lot of time can get more authentic feedback from employees because of our visibility. Some execs may not have time to filter through all the posts, so the CM serves as a liaison that can easily bubble up key themes to execs.

What makes a good community manager?

Number one most important characteristic is to be 1000% transparent. You have to be able to take the good and bad feedback — and everything in between — and make sense of it without taking it personally. Believe me, there are times when you get upset, but you have to be able to make it work for the greater good. And when you misspeak, be honest about it. You have to admit when you’re wrong, do it quickly, and make amends when necessary. That helps build trust with people you may never meet in person. Additionally, the community manager has to be connected, empathetic, fast, a (smart) risk taker, and fun! 

Do you have any advice for a new community manager?

I would recommend that you surface likeminded champions — Yambassadors, as I call them —  of employees across the business to help guide others. It’s good to have a cross mix of functions, titles, and experience levels — especially in huge, highly matrixed organizations.

For more of Phoebe’s wisdom, please check out her talk from last year’s Pivot Conference:

Business Transformation with Phoebe Venkat from Pivot Conference on Vimeo.