The Gods of Community Management have been smiling upon me recently and I’ve had the privilege of giving talks and meeting with many people as a result. The two questions that always come up any time I meet someone new are:
- What is Community Management?
- How long have you been doing this and how did you come up with the “Social Fairy”?
I keep telling the story, but I just realized, that the “About us” page here on the site doesn’t tell the whole story (shame on me!) so here it is… in a separate post because it’s quite a long one J
I’ll start with the creation of the Social Fairy. The Social Fairy is my (Elinor Cohen) creation and brand and it is identified with me, as the founder, leading Community Manager, Engagement Strategist (I’ll explain ahead) and visionary. I founded The Social Fairy back in 2012 (actually started working with clients in 2011, even before the Social Fairy was officially founded) and I did it because I realized how much Community Management is needed.
Back at the time I was still working with an online gaming start-up doing Community Management and Content Management (also writing) for the games and the gamer communities (there was more than one). I had a blast. I was good at what I did, I enjoyed my work, I loved the people working with me and I had fun. I was paid to have fun and do what I love – play online games, communicate and network with people and write. It was, by all means, the best paid job I ever held. And then it ended. The Start-up had to close due to funding issues and we had to go home. It didn’t happen abruptly, thankfully, so I had some time to think about what I wanted to do and as my job was gradually being decreased in scope from full time to (in the end) 40%, I needed to come up with additional ways to make a living and decide if I wanted to go out and look for another job, or start my own venture.
I took stock of my situation and this is what I came up with:
- Israel, 2011. The job market is bad. Really bad. Especially for people like me, with a job title no one has even heard of then – “Community Manager”.
- Social Media Management jobs, which were the only thing I could hope to find, were paying less than half of what I used to make at the Startup.
- To earn that less than half, I would have had to take a job in the Center of Israel, whereas I lived in the north, forcing me to commute a long time back and forth. No one wanted to even consider working from home, even partially.
- Even if I was ready to make the commute, companies didn’t want to pay the full amount for travel expenses (and the law didn’t require them to).
- If I took a social media management job I would end up doing something that I already knew was shallow and very much insufficient for a brand’s growth. It would be a downgrade of my skills, knowledge and I would not bring real value to the company I work for. That one went against my personal value of Integrity.
And so it became clear there was no point in looking for a job. I did try it for a while but all the offers I got only corroborated my above insights. The other option was to go on my own way, start a venture and get clients. The issue with that one?
- I had to educate a market about the existence and essence of Community Management
- I had to find clients
- I had to price competitively. I would be competing against freelance social media managers and social media agencies, giving the client a lot more value for their money, but I would need to explain and prove it to them. Until I could do that I would have to charge the same as others but give more work and value for the same price.
Casting the first spell – first client isn’t always hard to get
I knew what I wanted to call my business even before I incorporated it. I love fairies, fantasy books, fantasy and strategy games (mmorpgs) and I was a Community Manager and Social Media Strategist, so I started talking to all the people around me about “The Social Fairy”. I created a vision board, I used the name on emails. I created the reality of the Social Fairy.
The Gods of Community Management must have been smiling upon me for quite a while, and out of the blue came the request to participate in a bid and quote one of Israel’s leading hi-tech and business incubators, in my home town, for Social Media services.
I was actually asked to submit my proposal one day before the deadline. I went home, wrote up an offer for much more than Social Media services (I offered full Community Management) and I priced it in a way I knew would be good for me and not too expensive in terms of the market.
I won the bid. I didn’t really expect this but I won. And I started working with hiCenter – Haifa’s business Accelerator. All was good and soon the Startups within hiCenter started getting recommendations about me and the snowball kept rolling and growing.
Not long after that more Startups, not related to hiCenter, started hearing about me and even larger brands. I don’t always brag about this one, but I worked with SanDisk in Israel for a year, doing their Facebook page management. Life was good. The Social Fairy was well on its way to success.
I started getting requests to give talks and teach workshops on Social Media, Community Management and Online Marketing. I loved it.
I went to meetings and came back with a contract (most clients agreed to start working even before the official quote). I rarely had clients bargaining for a price reduction. Business was booming!
Business Growth – the make or break point
There is a point in the life of every business where you have to grow or close the doors, even if it takes making a leap of faith and expending money you don’t have, or as it was in my case, add someone to the business to take off some of the work load and share your revenue in order to grow and make more revenue.
I took the leap and brought in a partner. It was a friend whom I trusted and thought I knew. That person was struggling to find a job at the time and I knew them to be talented, fast learner and dedicated. I also knew them to be a specialist in their own field (nothing to do with Social Media and Community Management) and I thought it would be a great added value to my clients, mostly Start-ups at the time, to offer a full scope, 360o service – from Business plan and strategy to Community management and growth hacking.
I put my faith in my partner and even allowed that person to use the title “co-founder” of the social fairy (although that was not the case) and I “sold” their service and expertise whenever I could. I even wrote posts about the field my partner was supposed to be an expert in to put on the site in their name to help their branding in their field and revamped their LinkedIn profile for them.
I won’t go into details (it is painful enough as it is) but very quickly I learned that I was deceived. I found myself sharing my revenue but not my increasing work load, and unable to offer the added value I was trying to give my clients. In some cases new clients, who started to work with my partner as their account manager, simply left (without paying and feeling very negatively about our business and about us as people), in other cases I had to jump in and take over to save the account and the client (It came down to actual financial risk to the client in cases of applications for grants and investments).
It wasn’t even 3 months after the partnership started, that I asked to dissolve it. It took a few more months in which I kept sharing half my income even though I had asked my former partner not to do anything (for personal reasons and because of our friendship I agreed to let them have the income for a while). The clients did not want to work with my ex-partner, I did not want any more damage caused and I was stressed and angry.
When the partnership was finally dissolved, I was left with a broken business, less accounts (some left), more work than I could handle but with debts. This was a very painful and very expensive lesson.
But I needed to get up and keep going. And so I did.
Educating a market about something they’ve never heard of
I still have to explain what Community Management is to most people I talk to. Like everything else in the Start up nation, if it’s not technological innovation, it arrives here and is adopted about 5 years later than anywhere else in the world. Only now, when writing these lines in 2015, Community Management is beginning to make its official entry to the social media scene but it is still just a buzz word. I am sad to see that most people who say they do Community Management or try to teach it, don’t really understand what it means. In the best cases I’ve encountered it’s just customer service done on Facebook (that’s just a very small part of actual community management), in the worst cases it’s just social media management (and often not very good) branded as community management.
There is also a hype around hubs and communal work spaces and the position of office or space manager is now also dubbed “community manager”. I guess if you are the go to person when the milk in the hub kitchen runs out, it makes you a community manager now.
No, Community Management is not social media management. Social media management is just one tool and skill a community manager holds. Community management is also not just customer service online. That too is only a part of what a community manager does or at least should do. Being a community manager is not something you can learn. You can be trained in the tools maybe, but you have to have the talent, character and passion. These are things you are born with. You either have them, or you don’t. Community Management is about being part of a living organism and leading it. The Community Manager has to first be part of the community – equal to everyone – and then rise to the status of leader. The leadership has to be authentic. It has to come from a pure place in the community manager’s heart in order for the community to relate to him or her.
The rest are just tools.
When I explain that to people I meet there is an “a-ha” moment. It is always there because no one else relates to marketing, branding and business growth with such a holistic approach. Most brands will meet agencies that promise to engage their fans on social media but no one talks about real sense of community, leadership, authenticity.
And no one else offers to provide all that but also more. The Social Fairy’s concept of Online Marketing, took Community Management to a whole new level.
Engagement Strategy – Community Management on steroids (or growth potion!)
Very quickly and pretty much at the beginning of my way as The Social Fairy, I realized that the way I perceived and practiced Community Management was quite different, and very much broader, than the classic definition of enhanced customer happiness and engagement. I cannot ignore my set of skills and everything I’ve learned along my way working various positions in the world of Website building, Internet Marketing and Content.
I realized I was combining all my skills of Content writing (for various purposes and of different types – brochures, presentations, Press Releases, blog posts, website pages, social media posts), Social Media management skills, Community Management approach, Strategic thinking and much more, to deliver a brand new service to my clients.
My clients got the value and content of work normally done by 3-5 positions holders, in one person. It’s a lot of work but when one person does it all and does it efficiently, it saves the brand money, time and leads to actual growth without having to hire different people and manage them all together. Imagine what that means for a lean Start-up with hardly any budget…
For a while I still called what I do Community Management. Then I called it “Community Management +” because, well it was more than Community Management. Recently, in collaboration with my life partner who is now also part of the business, we came up with the very appropriate term “Engagement Strategy”.
The Strategic process we employ to help our clients, involves competitive analysis, niche and market research, complete online presence strategy, online marketing & Community Management strategy and personal online branding for key individuals at the company. We then create a detailed work plan with action items such as (but not only): content creation, content marketing, social media, community management, social PR (blogger and press relations online), personal branding and much more, depending on the needs and challenges the client faces.
Looking forward – what’s in the cards for the Social Fairy?
One thing is for sure, Engagement Strategy is a lot of work! The Social Fairy could no longer be a one fairy show, so we expanded. The right way this time. With me training 2 more Engagement Strategists, teaming up and co-founding another venture – Litchi Online Marketing – and backed by a vast network of strategic partnerships with web design companies, graphic artists and video editor, we can now help much larger brands and a lot more Start-ups.
We’re also cooking up something special for Start-ups, connecting entrepreneurs with investors and helping them grow. We have special programs for technology hubs, VCs, accelerators and Start-ups (check out our VentureSpell program).
We’re expanding and working with more and more brands in the U.S and Europe and we also broadened the scope of fields we master in. Tourism and Jewelry being the leading niches.
We’d love to put our spell on more brands so if you are in need of some Fairy Dust, give us a shout!