For a good part of 2010, and for some part of 2011, I was in charge of the social media channels for Samuel Adams. And though I only spent a short time at the helm before moving onto Hill Holliday, I learned more about community management in this role than I had before or have since.
And I don’t mean “best practices” sort of stuff, like when the best time to post is, and what formats get more engagement. None of that actually matters as it turns out. That’s all nonsense. More on that in a minute.
What I learned, was that the key to running a successful brand community in any social space, was to be part of the community and never above it. Here’s what I mean…
Every person that works at Samuel Adams is a beer person. They fucking love beer genuinely. Regardless of what your job function is at the company, from Jim Koch himself, all the way through to the finance department and the interns, every person in that building shares one thing in common. And that’s their love for drinking, tasting, making and talking about beer.
So therefore, the approach to social for Samuel Adams was a simple one - connect with people over a shared love for beer, by being part of the community, not by lording over it or patronizing it.
Tactically, and on a day-to-day, post-by-post basis, I looked at it like this:
We ALL loved beer. It was the common thread between myself and all of the brand's fans and followers. And in particular, we all loved Samuel Adams. But it just so happened, that when I got up and went to work in the morning, I’d walk by Jim in his office, tasting Boston Lager samples, or step over hoses being used by Bob Cannon as he washed the brewery floor. Or maybe I was part of a homebrew taste panel. Or perhaps I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at our most prized creation.
Whatever the particulars, I was Charlie and this was the Chocolate Factory. And my job was to help get your mind off of TPS reports and the humdrum of office life, by giving you access into my world.
The tone was meant to be “HOLY SHIT. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS IS MY JOB??!!”
And by taking this simple approach of sharing my genuine excitement and wonder at what I had access to every day, I was able to connect to fans on a level that wasn’t manufactured authenticity, but was actually authentic.
Since I’ve left Samuel Adams, I’ve had the occasion to work with lots of people, who in some way or another, are responsible for over-seeing or managing brand communities. And what I see more often than not, are content calendars, best-practices outlines, tone/voice guidelines, and other devices meant to operationalize authenticity and connection with the people in these communities.
We all talk about the importance of connecting with our communities on a human level. We all talk about being personal and having a voice. We all talk about doing the right thing. But then we go out there and literally do none of those things. We treat these channels like a sales-brochure, and we post rehearsed, tone-deaf, advertiser-centric junk, that everyone sees right through.
So my advice is to ignore best-practices, don’t make content calendars, and for god’s sake, please try and see the irony in formalizing documents on how to have a voice and be authentic.
Instead, hire smart people, and match those people by interest, to the brand communities they oversee. If you have a fashion brand, staff that community manager role with someone who genuinely loves fashion. Have an automotive brand? Get a car-nut in that community manager’s seat. Don’t waste your time looking for people with “community management experience”. Look for people who already have a voice and connection with the community, and the rest will be easy.
If you go this route, you won’t have to spend time teaching someone to have an authentic voice, because it’ll just be there naturally.