Reimagining Customer Support Communities

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to speak at the 5th annual SWARM Conference in Sydney, Australia. SWARM is one of my most favorite events in the community space, and I've "watched" from afar, via Twitter, over the last 4 years. The in-person experience did not disappoint in the slightest!

The closest thing to having my name in lights! 😂

The closest thing to having my name in lights! 😂

Talks were held at the New Law Building on the University of Sydney campus, and it was nothing short of breathtaking! Had I gone to college on that campus, I probably would have found ways to avoid graduation just so I could stay a few extra years. 

This was *not* the New Law Building, but a very lovely building on campus nonetheless.

This was *not* the New Law Building, but a very lovely building on campus nonetheless.

Alison and Venessa are the most incredible women, and excellent hosts. If you're in the community space, and don't know them, you should. These two really know how to put together an action-packed event that mixed traditional presentations, lightning talks (10 minute quick talks with no slides), and even a good 'ole fashioned debate on the future of community management (spoiler: I lost). It was an amazing event, and we had the #swarmconf hashtag trending on Twitter before 10am on day 1! 

The beautiful Venessa Paech & Alison Michalk, as captured by Mark Woodrow. 💞

The beautiful Venessa Paech & Alison Michalk, as captured by Mark Woodrow. 💞

My talk centered around the topic of customer support communities, and how we can improve upon our accepted standards. I've been in software long enough to know that your customers will either rant about you, or rave about, depending on the situation. But if they don't say anything, then that's when you need to worry. Sadly, we don't hear nearly enough (if any!) people talking about the great experiences they've had in customer support communities. We don't hear about the money they've saved, the time they've saved, or even the friends they've made. I truly believe that we can make memorable, praise-worthy customer community experiences. We just have to dream big enough, and put in a bit of effort. So my goal for this talk is to inspire all of the customer community managers out there to reach a little higher, and think way outside of the box about what we might be able to achieve.

Have a look through the slides and let me know what you think. Also, here are a few great recap posts written by fellow Swarmees:

Or you can just scroll down and look through a few more photos from Sydney. Your choice. 😉

Resetting Community Boundaries

Every now and again we all get a little big for our britches. We puff out our chests, we share drama with friends, and we blow things out of proportion in our heads. And then we sit down at a keyboard.

Community managers and moderators are typically at the receiving end of this banter, and everyone handles it a bit differently. Most people will try and talk with the offending members one on one, but sometimes a situation calls for a different approach.

Below is a copy/ paste of a post from Brandon Stanton, founder of Humans of New York (HONY), a photo blog that provides a small, rare glimpse into someone else's life. In 2014 the comments on HONY's associated Facebook page started to take a beating, so Brandon went online to remind everyone of the rules and why they're there. 

Hey Everyone,

Wanted to say a quick word about the comment section. Been getting some emails from people who have been banned. So I wanted to clear a few things up. First of all, nobody has actually been banned. Anyone can see the material. You MAY no longer be able to comment. But rest assured, this was not my decision. I have assistants who moderate the comment section. So, I assure you, I did not make a personal decision to hate/persecute/silence/oppress you. I'm sure we actually have the same worldview. No doubt we are walking arm-in-arm toward the bright dawn of a new day.

But the moderators have very clear instructions: ban anyone who is attacking the subject. If you're attacking the subject with an erudite, graduate level vocabulary, you're still attacking the subject. Again, you're not being oppressed, silenced, persecuted, or targeted for your beliefs. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I'm absolutely sure of it. But please, write about it on your own blog. Humans of New York can continue to exist without your enlightenment. But it can't exist without subjects. Some of you may have noticed recently that some portraits have disappeared shortly after being posted. You can now probably guess why this happened. So if you're making HONY an uncomfortable place to be, by using the comment section to cast extreme judgment on someone you know only through a single quote, you are probably going to be banned from commenting. We don't hate you. Not a bit. Feel free to continue enjoying HONY. Just no more comments.

For the most part, I love the comment section. There are plenty of awesome ways to contribute to the discussion without being judgmental. My favorites are personal anecdotes. If you can add to the subject's experience by sharing a similar or contrasting experience, that is awesome. I really think it expands the work. Just please, keep it about you. Also feel free to joke. We aren't stiff or prudish. But we do know the difference between being funny and being a dick. And you should too. As always, feel free to comfort or encourage. I still firmly believe this place has the nicest five million people on the internet.

Thanks everybody. 
Hoping to keep this a good place as we grow.


(Post Source)

I thought this was a great example of a community-wide level set. It's easy to let the negatives engulf the positives, and take the whole community down with it as result. But Brandon refused to let that happen. Instead, he published a thoughtful, transparent, and very mature response to the people who were keen to tear others down. It's a response that we can all empathize and agree with. It's firm, without feeling parental, yet friendly, without feeling too corporate. It reminds us all that there are real people on the other side of each one of his images and posts.

I'll admit, I'm not a daily follower of the HONY page, but taking a few moments to peruse through the comments today revealed a community with a significantly different tone. One that I'm not sure would have been there had Brandon not reset the boundaries when necessary.

My Biggest Project To Date!

One of the most fun, yet challenging aspects about working for a small company is that you have to be willing to go out of your comfort zone to get things done on behalf of the business. If there's software that you need to use, you're going to have to learn it. If there's a strategy you need to create, yet don't have experience, you're going to have to research and figure it out. When the question of outsourcing to freelancers comes up, you're going to have to decide if it's worth the time and energy to bring them on board.

The project I recently completed entailed all 3 of those challenges, and so much more. It took a lot of long days, and late nights, and a fair amount of swearing at my MacBook Pro. But the work has been done, and now I'm so proud, and thrilled, to share it with you.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome FeverBee On-Demand. A brand new, self-paced training platform for online community managers!


Community management is a really hard job. A really hard job. You're required to be as creative as a designer, as empathetic as a therapist, as responsive as a customer support agent, as witty as a copywriter, as aggressive as a sales professional, as innovative as a product manager, as energetic as an events manager, and as connected as a CEO. In fact, aside from a CEO, I don't believe that there is any other single position within an organization that requires as much multifaceted thinking and execution than that of a community manager.

Most of the top community managers learned on the job because they had to. There was never any real training for community professionals before 2010, so the people who have been in the game for a long time are truly pioneers. Ellen Petry Lense, Bill Johnston, Susan Tenby, Joe Cothrel, Blaise Grimes-Viort, John Coate, Randy Farmer, Amy Muller... these are just a few of the many people who have paved the way in the practice of online community management. We owe a lot to each of them. 

While there is plenty of value in learning from the school of hard knocks, the industry has matured significantly in the last few decades. It's outdated to expect that every community manager should have to figure it out for themselves when proven best practices have emerged from the field. No two communities are unique, so there is still opportunity to to learn on the job. But community professionals don't have to learn everything on the job.


FeverBee created the original Professional Community Management Course in 2010 as an exclusive resource for clients. As the need for community management training grew, we opened the course up to the full market in 2011 in effort to bridge the gap between personal and professional experience. The original course has been a smashing success, and still is. In fact, I trained 17 professionals last semester alone! (Testimonials)

FeverBee On-Demand takes the original course modules, and delivers through a self-paced, responsive platform that can be used on any device. Students can start and stop at any time. Binge, or snack. Sprint, or stroll. You get the idea. :)

How To Start An Online Community is perfect for those who are brand new to online community management, or if you've never started an online community before. Believe me, there's a big difference between managing an existing community and starting a new one from scratch. This course teaches how to do the latter, following our proven process. 

Successful Community Management is fantastic for anyone who has already "launched" their online community and reached critical mass, or for those who are managing an existing community that's in a good place. It focuses heavily on the day-to-day tasks that you need to execute in order to move your community through the different phases of the lifecycle.

Advanced Community Strategy is designed for those who are working a bit further beyond the day-to-day community management tasks. This course focuses on things like strategic planning, time management, scaling strategies and techniques, holistic business integration, and more. Oh, and we talk in depth about how to calculate return on investment too. NBD.

Click through the links above to view the individual syllabus associated with each course. You can also read through the business case as well.


I've packed as much value into each one of these courses as as possible. All of the lectures have been recorded in 720 and 1080 HD, and I've included exclusive presentations from our SPRINT conferences and podcast interviews to reinforce the learning concepts.

Students will get access to our corresponding templates and worksheets. I've also included my personal recommendations for blogs to follow, articles to read, and apps to use. Students can partake in group discussions via the integrated Disqus threads, and can also download an in-depth companion PDF that covers all of the lecture content, and the cited articles from all of the social science research.

Once the lectures have been completed, students will be able to download their digital badge and certificate of completion to proudly display. These skills are really valuable, and marketable, so they should be featured on LinkedIn,, relevant community profiles, and on personal websites! Additionally, students will have access to the course for as long as the site exists. This means free access to any updated videos, new PDFs, or any additional content that gets added to the course. 


The scariest part about putting your work out into the world is just that... it's out there. I've put everything I have into building this product, with the ultimate mission of being able to provide a program that will help both professionals and amateurs alike, all over the world, build stronger communities.

I hope you like it.

Building Community On Twitter: How #TChat Gets It Right

FeverBee defines community as "a specific group of people who have developed relationships around a strong common interest." In this definition the platform, or place, that serves as the community’s meeting point doesn’t matter. It's not even part of the equation.

Relationships are a defining characteristic of both online communities. If you’ve got a bunch of people who are following you or your brand, but they’re not building relationships with one another, then you’ve actually developed an audience. This might be an attentive audience, or an audience that likes you enough to promote your content, but its an audience nonetheless. And audiences are very different than communities. :)

Twitter is a place where many communities and audiences can take shape. Unfortunately the practice of building a community on Twitter is largely misunderstood for the practice of developing an audience. In fact, if you Google the phrase, “building a community on Twitter,” the first page of results will advise you in tried and true audience building techniques.

This week I interviewed Kevin W. Grossman on the topic of building and sustaining communities on Twitter. Kevin is the co-founder and co-host of #TChat, a thriving community of HR practitioners and enthusiasts that come together weekly to discuss new happenings and insights in the world of work on Twitter. The community is centered around a weekly chat that takes place under the #TChat hashtag, every Wednesday from 7-8pm EST. Though the topics vary weekly, this core discussion has taken place without fail, since November 2010.

There are a few different characteristics that make #TChat a community, and not an audience. The most obvious one is that members have developed relationships between one another. The same people come back each week, and they know what’s going on in each other’s lives. Members check in with each other during the week, and share photos from where they’re participating. They offer jokes, and have rituals.

The community ebbs and flows based on the schedules of members, but there are regulars in the community who have participated nearly every week since the start. Some have since taken on volunteer roles to help ensure #TChat’s success and vibrancy. Newcomers are greeted, and made to feel welcome. More established members show their support of newcomers by retweeting their thoughts, and answering their questions.  

Finally, the concept of #TChat is based around the core topic of “the world of work.” It’s not based around Kevin and his co-founder, Meghan M. Biro’s, personal follower counts. It’s not based around the products or services that their firms provide. They understand the community isn’t about them personally, and are happy to act as guides, facilitators, and investors in its broader success. They listen to their community members, and have experimented with the timing, content, and platform as result.

What #TChat, and other successful Twitter-based chats, prove is that communities can be sustained on the platform. The true key to unlocking the success is recognizing that the community is so much more than just a Twitter following. You have to be present in the conversations, and work to make connections between community members so they find value. You have to be consistent in your presence. And you have to recognize that, like any other form of community building, it takes a lot of hard work to create something truly transformational.  

If you’re interested in learning more about building a successful community on Twitter, or about #TChat specifically, I invite you to check out my latest podcast — available from CommunityGeek, iTunes, or Stitcher. I'd also love to hear your thoughts on the topic... do you think Twitter is a sustainable platform for building an online community?

The FeverBee Podcast is Back!

I don't spend a lot of time blogging here, because I spend most of my days creating content for the company I work for, FeverBee.

Last fall I took over FeverBee's podcast, and revamped it with a little bit of my own style. I seek out community professionals with unique stories, and have a relaxed, personal conversation with them. I try to tease out new and interesting nuggets of information, or emerging tactics.

The podcast went on a bit of a break at the end of last year, but is now back and ready for the new year. I've kicked things off with an interview with Amanda Swan, Community Manager for Optimizely, and we largely discussed her A/B testing strategy that helps to drive increased registrations for her community.

Next week I'll feature Sara O'Connor, Digital Fiction Director for Hot Key Books and Picadilly Press. Sara will be sharing an incredible story of how she's leveraged forums to get authors and school children to collaborate on developing fiction books. It's an incredible adventure that's excited and inspired many children to read.

You can access the podcast from the CommunityGeek site, or by subscribing on iTunes. If you like it, please share with your friends (#fbpodcast) and even consider leaving a review! If there's someone you'd like to see interviewed on the podcast, please don't hesitate to leave a comment with your suggestion.

Caty Kobe
My first EVER Klout Perk — thanks Fair Trade USA!

Klout is an interesting service that helps individuals to monitor and measure their social influence. They partner with brands to offer 'Perks' to influencers on specific topics of the brand's choosing. 

I've been on Klout for years, but unfortunately have never cashed in on any of the Perks that I've been eligible for. Then, several weeks ago I saw that I was eligible for a Perk from Fair Trade USA. I fully support the ideas and intention behind the Fair Trade model, and was thrilled to see they were using Klout to increase the visibility of their cause, so I decided to go through the process to redeem the Perk.

My Perk was waiting on my doorstep when I returned home from visiting my family for Christmas. Opening the box was like having Santa swing by for the second time in one week! I am a *huge* chocoholic, and the Perk contained several different chocolate-related products. Barefoot & Chocolate, Caleb's Kola, Lake Champlain Chocolates, Nourish Organic, Pact, Weaver's Coffee, and World's Finest Chocolates were all the brands participating in this Perk curated by Fair Trade USA.

My official unboxing video goes deeper into the products that were shared, so check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments! Though I received the products for free, I was not asked to create this video nor was I paid for any of it. I simply wanted to share my gratitude for the great Perk, and help spread the Fair Trade message.

It's now my goal to #givefair all through out the year!

Caty Kobe
An Easy Tip for Increasing Online Community Activity

Are you ready for a really easy way to increase activity in your community?

Ask for it.

Think about how busy you are in a day. How often do you participate as a community member in your favorite communities? Unless you're totally addicted to a particular site, you likely only go into a certain community when you need something. 

For example, I only check in on the Cake Central community when I'm looking for cake decorating tutorials, and I tend to visit the Tone It Up community when I want to find recipes that fit with the nutrition plan. I visit the Lithium community when I have questions about using the platform.

Your community members are the same way. They're busy dealing with their daily jobs, taking meetings, soothing angry customers, and trying to figure out their next big win. For most of us community managers managing a branded community/ forum, it's quite unrealistic to expect that community members will to pop into the community every day just to browse.

Unfortunately, most of us get sucked into this expectation that community members will come to the community just to hang out because our communities are just so cool. That's rarely the case! If you need a quick boost, or if there's a killer topic that is in need of a response, just ask someone. Here's how to get the most from your ask:

  1. Be specific — don't send someone a general email and ask them to "start a topic." Give them a specific discussion to respond to, or ask them to share about a particular experience. Make sure to thank them, and offer your help or expertise if they need it!
  2. Make it a match — don't send over discussions that don't match with a community member's interests or expertise. It's a waste of time for the community member, and makes you look like you don't know what you're doing.
  3. Get creative — there are a million ways to ask for participation. You can feature an article, or tweet one out from your company's account. You can build custom mailing lists based on community topics, and reach a broader range of people. You can always remind people to participate at the end of videos or blog posts.

    If there's a specific person you want input from, I always recommend reaching out to them in a way that works best for them. Tweets and emails are easy. Perhaps they'd respond well to a personal phone call? If you want results, you'll need to get outside of your comfort zone.

Keep in mind, these tips are meant for short-term boosts. If your struggle for activity is constant then there could be a bigger problem with your community's concept. Constant activity will come when there is a strong sense of community between members, and a sense of community will build around a strong concept. But that's another blog post entirely. :)

If you want to build a bigger, stronger community, then come learn from the best in the business at FeverBee's SPRINT event on October 29th and 30th in San Francisco. (details) I hope to see you there!

Caty Kobe
Tips & Tricks for Building a Community Management Reporting Dashboard

Creating dashboards that your management team will actually review is a tricky task. I spent the last year of my community management career heavily focusing on reporting and community objectives, and thought I'd share what I learned with the broader community tribe.

  1. Map to Your Business Objectives
    This one is the no-brainer, that everyone in the world recommends, but it actually works. :) If you don't map to your business objectives you might be waking up in the morning feeling like your work doesn't matter. Mapping to these goals helps to put purpose behind your work, and also makes your execs pay closer attention. If you can prove that your work is helping them to achieve their overall number, then it puts a lot of value on your role & community efforts.

    If you're not sure how to map reports to business objectives, check out last week's blog post for tips: How to Create a Community Dashboard that Maps to your Business Objectives
  2. Keep it Short
    VPs and C-level executives don't have a lot of time to be reviewing reports. They need the most important insight right up front, ideally in a large-point font and with graphs to illustrate. This means, they're not going to be interested in every lower level metric that you track and that's ok! Its your job to keep on top of the tactical, day-to-day performance, and their job to monitor trends. Keep the dashboard short, sweet, and easy to understand... they'll thank you for it.
  3. Include Context
    Most reports don't make sense unless you have context. Since your management team is likely not involved in the day-to-day happenings of the community, it's really important to include a few sentences clarifies the importance behind the report. Adding context is especially important if you have a dashboard that covers multiple functional areas (which most should!)
  4. Embrace Your Inner Graphic Designer
    That might be taking it a little far, but make sure you pay attention to the overall layout of the dashboard. Be mindful of your headers, horizontal break lines, and white space. Mix up your text/ number heavy tables with a colorful graph or chart. Smashing too many reports together makes the dashboard look chaotic, which is not an adjective that you want aligned with your work as a community professional. Additionally, if you have to incorporate data from multiple sources, it's often easiest to build your own reporting template and manually update it each week. (Sorry!)
  5. Delivery Matters
    How you deliver the dashboard is equally important as how it looks. It doesn't matter how amazing, useful, or otherwise wonderful your dashboard is if your audience doesn't want to log into your tool to view. Find out how your team wants to receive this information, and then get to work to make it happen! If email is the requested delivery method, investigate whether or not your reporting platform can automatically schedule reports to be emailed out on a repeating basis.   


I know many of you out there are interested in analyzing community data (it kinda comes with the job!), so let me know what you think! What are your tips for making sure your community dashboards are actually reviewed by your management team? What doesn't work?

I originally wrote this post in November 2013 for the Get Satisfaction community. See the original here.



Caty Kobe
How to Create a Community Dashboard that Maps to your Business Objectives

When I listen to webcasts or read blog posts about measuring the value of a community initiative, I’m often met with the same initial advice: map your community metrics back to your overall business objectives. It’s a sensible recommendation because in order to get budget approval for your community, you’ll have to prove its value to those who are signing the checks.

Those who sign the checks tend to be higher up the corporate ladder, and the higher up the ladder you go, the simpler the objective is — hit the number. Really, that’s all that matters to most C & VP level executives, so if you can tie your work back to their numbers, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll continue to have money available to support the community.

Unfortunately that strategy is a lot easier said than done. Lets discuss exactly how to go about tying your work in the community back to your organization’s overall objectives.

Step 1: Clearly Understand the Objectives

Business objectives change often, sometimes even monthly. Before you start building reports, take time to clearly understand your company's high level objectives so that you don’t end up having to rebuild reports. Find time to speak each of the relevant, high-level stakeholders and ask them the following questions:

  • What are your top objectives for this quarter/ year? What numbers have you committed to?
  • What insights/ patterns from the community are you interested in?
  • What format do you prefer your reports? Year-to-date trends, or data tables?
  • How much information do you need? How many pages/ dashboard tabs will you look through?

High level stakeholders in community initiatives tend to be marketing, customer support/ customer success, and product/ engineering, but the departments involved will vary depending on your company. Depending on the size of your organization, some C-level executives may be involved as well. Arrive to your meeting prepared, try not to take more than 30 minutes of their time, and don't forget to take notes!

Step 2: Build A Framework

Now that you know exactly what numbers are pushing the needle forward, you can start the process of building the dashboard to map to those needs.

Dashboards tend to be the preferred reporting delivery vehicle for most executives, so you need to deliver your community’s insights to your executive team in the same manner. Dashboards are a combination of text, charts/ graphs, tables, and large numbers. Most reporting tools include dashboard building features, but you could also manually create the dashboard in some sort of a page layout software. Ultimately, you want to deliver a PDF or an Excel file where your management team can easily see your important community insights.

Start this process by building a basic framework of what you’re looking to achieve. And I mean literally draw/ write it out. List out ideas for reports, sketch the format of the dashboard, and write out the objectives in one sentence so they’re easier to understand. Include specific requirements from your executive team on the framework, like, “use line graphs for trends,” or “fit it all on 1 page!” A framework will help you get organized before you set to work in your reporting tool of choice, and will ensure you stay on track once you get in the weeds of reporting.

For kinesthetic learners like me, drawing something on paper works wonders! You might also use a simple wire-framing tool.

For kinesthetic learners like me, drawing something on paper works wonders! You might also use a simple wire-framing tool.

Step 3: Build Your Reports

Once you get the framework together, it’s time to build the reports that translate to those top-line objectives. Some objectives are related specifically to a number, for instance: “reduce customer support costs,” but others are a bit more broad, like: “make the community a place where customers get value.” Regardless of the goal, it’s your job to find 1-2 reports that clearly show the community is meeting the defined objective.

Objectives That Are Tied To A Number

Objectives tied to a specific number tend to be the easiest for building reports. If the marketing department’s objective is to increase organic search traffic in effort to reduce spend on PPC, show a bar or line graph of the community page views that originated from search engines by month.

Graphs that go up and to the right are always well received!

Graphs that go up and to the right are always well received!

If the customer support department is concerned with deflecting costs by leveraging peer-to-peer support, you might show a monthly trend report of topics that have been solved by other customers.


You could further blow your manager’s socks off by doing a direct deflection calculation and showing how much money is being saved by leveraging peer-to-peer support as a strategy.

Objectives That Are Not Tied To A Number

Objectives that are not tied to a specific number are a little trickier to build reports for, so you have to think critically about how the data shown in the report can tie into the overall objective.

For instance if the leader of a product & engineering organization’s objective is to gather more customer feedback, show them a table of the number of active ideas in each product-focused category in the community. You could take this a step further by segmenting the ideas by status so he or she can clearly see how many customer ideas have been implemented by their team.


You could take this a step further by working with your finance/ sales team to determine how much additional revenue has been gained by the release of these features.

A VP of Customer Success might be interested in ensuring customers are receiving value from the community. One way to show value is to show the number of revisits to the community on a monthly basis, or to show monthly active users.

Provide context around how engagement numbers contribute to your company's bottom line.

Provide context around how engagement numbers contribute to your company's bottom line.

There are many other ways to measure objectives, so get crafty with it!

Step 4: Put It All Together

The easy part is putting all of the reports and supporting text into a dashboard that’s easy to consume. Most community platforms will come with some type of built-in reporting, so see what your options are for building a dashboard. You can always build one manually if you have to!

Here are a few tips for making sure your final dashboard is effective:

  • Keep It Short – C-level executives don’t have time to thumb through several pages of reports. Make sure your dashboard can fit on 1 page of paper when printed.
  • Include Context – If your dashboard covers multiple functional areas, which I would expect it to, make sure to have a line of text that clarifies the overall objective to all who are reading. If you’re showing a report that maps to an objective where a quantitative value isn’t quite clear, add a line of text that clarifies the report.
  • Be Mindful of White Space – Though you want your dashboard to be short, you also want it to be pleasing to the eye so that others take the time to read it. Be thoughtful towards the amount of white space between different text boxes and reports, and the overall layout of the page.

Step 5: Iterate

Once your dashboard has been shared, figure out a way to gather feedback from the recipients! Find out what’s working and what isn’t, and then continue to refine your dashboard until your management team is satisfied with the format and results. Don’t forget – business objectives change yearly, if not quarterly, so keep in mind that you will likely need to modify the dashboard to align with the overall needs of the business.

What is your process for creating dashboards for your community? What tips do you have to share?

I originally wrote this post in November 2013 for the Get Satisfaction blog. You can find the original here