Sunday, June 29, 2008

You can't delegate community engagement

I did a presentation this week on "community engagement" and was showing some of the tricks used by bloggers and others to monitor online conversations. The talk didn't really focus on the how as much as the why.

One of the first questions I got was:

Should we be hiring someone to keep their eye on this stuff and to alert us when we need to know that there is something in our area of interest being discussed?

My answer was that community engagement isn't something that can be delegated. I know lots of organizations are hiring "community managers" and I couldn't disagree more with this approach. I'm all for hiring social media strategists with an internal focus, but I'm dead-set against making community engagement any one person's responsibility. No one is too important or too unimportant to be above the flow of the conversations.

For example, last week when I was standing in line to get my ticket and check my bag at the Oakland airport I tweeted:

k1v1n Southwest's computers are down. Big mess.

Much to my surprise I got this back from Southwest:

SouthwestAir @k1v1n Sorry about our computer trouble earlier today. Hope your flight went well and that it wasn't too much of an inconvenience.

Southwest gets major points in my book for monitoring tweets and responding so quickly. This is way cool, and I'm guessing puts them in a rather exclusive club. A quick scan of their @replies shows that Southwest isn't just sending boilerplate responses either, they are highly personalized. This is most excellent.

How much better, however, would the reply have been if it was from the system administrator responsible for the system that went down? If they'd taken the time to click once, and see that I was an IT professional. That I might actually have some empathy for someone trying to keep an ancient operating system running under great load. They also assumed that I had a problem-- which I did not. I was early for my flight and had all the time in the world. I simply made an observation that it was a big mess. It didn't impact my travel in the least.

So my point is that it would have been an even better response if it had come from someone directly involved with the issue at hand. Someone who could have commented with direct knowledge about what went wrong. "Hey Kevin, it takes us 15 minutes to get the system rebooted. We have to reboot two or three times a week." And it doesn't have to be a single person either. I would have loved a tweet from the CIO saying, "We're working our butt's off to upgrade our system and hope to have it rolled-out in the next six months." You get the idea.

In my organization I want everyone engaged and talking directly with the community. It's a dangerous precedent to delegate something so important.


DairyScienceMark said...

So, did Southwest tweet you again for the flight from Louisville to Baltimore? Did you make your later flight from Charm City?

Kevin Gamble said...

Well, I didn't tweet anything about the flight from Louisville. So they didn't have anything to respond to.

I made it with 5 minutes to spare. Which is remarkable when you consider that I was supposed to have a 4.5 hour layover at BWI. Certainly not a situation that Southwest had any control.