May 16 2009

building a community doesn’t have to be drama

i had the pleasure of being asked to host a workshop for the students of the multi platform writing course held in cardiff by cyfle last week. the writers participating on the scheme were some of the best BAFTA award winning television writers in wales, who have credits for doctor who, torchwood and casualty. i felt very insignificant in comparison 🙂

the writers came together to launch an online drama series – each have vast experience of writing for different platforms but wanted to learn more about harnessing social media to build a community around the project and to try new tools and techniques to “spread the word” and “gain some love”.

the project that they’re working on is really interesting and turns the traditional drama/film model on it’s head. the concept of the project is that each of the writers comes up with a character, the thread that all pulls them together? a self-help group run by the guru. each of the characters has real world facebook, twitter, myspace accounts and blogs etc. the characters are gaining real world friends and holding conversations – taking the story into real life.

it was really interesting for me to get involved with a project that is challenging the boundaries and merging the lines between online and real world experiences. i drew upon head trauma as a case study for the course which integrates real world gaming, interactive and film. the lead up to the film involved secret screenings, participants had to await tips on twitter, facebook, myspace etc.

the project can be seen at where each of the new episodes will be posted a couple of times per week. i know that i’ll be eagerly watching to see what happens with the development of the project. thanks to rhys and the guys for making the workshop so enjoyable!

i’ll be posting my slides below, but i’m afraid they’re mainly images, so might not teach you that much… it’s just how i roll 😀

May 6 2009

interview on social media with boagworld

for those of you who haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, the lovely paul boag of boagworld invited me to talk to him about social media and marketing on last week’s podcast.

if you’ve got 20 minutes to spare and fancy hearing my voice for a change, you can check it out here.

Boagworld Screengrab

thanks to paul for inviting me, i was honoured to be the first interview on marketing… had a blast 🙂

Dec 14 2008

how much is too much?


everyone’s had it happen to them at some point, whether it’s that homework that the school bully copied or the css being stolen from your site, we’ve all experienced having our hard graft stolen and other people taking the credit for it. infuriating doesn’t even begin to explain the emotions involved when you experience this for the first time, infact come to think of it, at any time.

however what happens when your ideas are stolen when you’re pitching for work? how much should you give away? before now, the focus has been on code that some cheeky blighters have copied and pasted but what about when you’re consulting for strategies and marketing?

you obviously want to go in there prepared, to show that you’ve given THAT specific company thought and attention and that your recommendations are tailored to their needs. but, what happens when you give away lots of your ideas (i.e. specifics that you’d implement and ideas for viral activity) and then they choose not to hire you but implement your ideas themselves?

go in to the pitch with high level ideas and no specifics and you risk looking “fluffy” and without giving any indication of what they’d actually be getting for their money, so where’s the happy balance?

the answer is that i’m still trying to establish this – i want to give good value for money, to show that i know my stuff and to prove that they’ll be getting the personal attention with me that they wouldn’t with a big agency. i guess you just have to accept that you might run in to some rotten apples along the way but it’s all a learning experience and they aren’t the type of people you’d want to be working with anyway.

in my eyes, the most effective projects are those where the company and the consultant are singing from the same hymn sheet… i know for sure that i wouldn’t just put my name to just anything, i work with ethics and i want to work with companies that have ethics too… it’s just such a shame when you give it your heart and soul.

i’d love to get your thoughts…

Nov 21 2008

swn festival – harnessing the power of social media

last week, i was lucky enough to be invited to speak at swn festival alongside matthew cashmore of lonely planet, matt jones of dopplr and tim morgan of mint digital.

the common theme throughout all of the presentations was the power that is being handed over to the users – companies can no longer make their own agenda, they need to listen to the demands of their users. data needs to be openly available for users for users to access and play with, business models are changing and power shifts are taking place.

i did a presentation on harnessing the power of social media having built a community from scratch for i’ve embedded the slides from slideshare below or alternatively you can check them out here.

thanks so much to huw stephens for the fantastic organisation of the day, it was a truly enjoyable day and i’m looking forward to being part of the advisory panel for next year.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: socialmedia social)

Nov 20 2008

i want to play with you…

fancy joining in? there’s a “random” gift up for grabs and the odd few smiles along the way too…

YouTube Preview Image

don’t forget to submit your answers, whether that’s in the comments below (ideally), by twitter ( or email (melkirk1 at

hope you’re having a splendid thursday!

over and out!


Jul 23 2008

personal vs professional

community bricks

i’m currently working on the social strategy for a really fun project. it’s challenging and rewarding. it’s what i enjoy and it’s something that i’ve spent a lot of time developing. as such, i’ve gone through what i consider to be the basic steps of building a successful community:-

1. establishing who the community is that you serve
2. deciding what problem it is that you’re solving and how you plan to solve it
3. working out where your community are having their conversations and how they want to be communicated with
4. finding out what it is that interests the members of the communities, what it is that bonds them, what tools they use etc.
5. what it is about your service/product that is actually going to distinguish you and make them give a damn

the company thang

having done that and established the networks i believed our users have adopted, i created corporate accounts on a number of sites that people who were interesting in what we were doing could connect with us on. for me, the benefit to this was that they’d easily be able to identify the tone and character of the brand and creates something for the company that anyone can use, rather than just myself. that makes sense right?

well why is it then that i still find myself updating content on my own networks as well as the branded networks? you’re guaranteed if i post a link on twitter i’ll get more than ten times the response as if i were to post it on the corporate twitter account. fact.


the change in our culture of late has meant that people zone out when they’re being marketed to – they rarely listen to ads, hate sales people (especially those of the stripy suit variety) and can see through thinly veiled social media attempts from the old boys trying to be cool.

someone that i barely know can recommend something on twitter or save a link on magnolia and i’m way more likely to check it out than a company persuading me to do so.

do your job

Brian Oberkirch recently wrote a really interesting piece about consumers not wanting to be talked to all of the time and i couldn’t agree more. for me, the perfect combination is having a company that let’s me have a nose (without that annoying person on your back asking if they can help until you have enough and leave) but is still on hand if you get lost and need a little point in the right direction.

the perfect company is one that uses their products and services as much as you, knows it inside out and is part of the conversation because they truly have something interesting to contribute, not because they feel they need to be seen to still be in the loop.

the insider

if the truth be known i think that people want to know who’s behind the scenes, they want to interact with someone that they know or have heard of, they want to know you’ve got flaws as well as sheen (why do you think so many mags sell when there’s pics of celebrities with blemishes – people don’t like perfection).

i realise for corporations that brings with it issues. you can’t rely on your marketing coming from a few individuals, after all what happens when those people leave? i’ve thought about this issue long and hard and i’m still not sure that i know the answer to be honest. it is a risk, but it’s a risk that you need to take, at the beginning anyway. surely it’s better you have people doing a bloody good job and getting your product or service out there into the domain and cross the other bridges when you come to them – after all, the hope would be that the brand would be well recognised by the time that happened?

the solution that i’ve settled for is to use both personal and professional. i converse with community members using the corporate name, encouraging people to recognise that there’s a human voice behind it. however, those same community members are also more than welcome to talk to me using my personal accounts. on twitter for example, my followers know if they follow me, they’ll hear about good days, bad days and the days where my heel snapped on the way to work. if they follow the work twitter account, they’ll hear about website developments, legal issues and exciting launches.

it becomes a different issue again when you throw seeding companies into the mix… but i won’t even get into that here. maybe i’m a small town girl with small town ideas but i’m going to stick with my beliefs. my beliefs that if you’re genuine, you care and you want to make a difference, your community will build. have nothing to hide, don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve and willing to share (collaboration is much more fulfilling than the feeling of hiding your ideas to keep that competitive advantage!).

onwards and upwards

it’s really not an easy situation to tackle and i think you need to remain open and flexible with your approach. be okay with the fact that you’re learning and developing – you’re on a journey and given time, your community members will be coming along for the ride too. i’d be really interested to hear how others approach this issue…

Jun 30 2008

All things community with Tara Hunt

I’ve got a super shiny treat for you today! As you know, I love all things community – I think it’s all that love sharing… anyway, who better qualified to talk about community than THE Tara Hunt? I asked Tara to share some of her pearls of wisdom and here’s what she had to say:-

Tell us a bit about yourself…

My name is Tara Hunt, but most people know me by my superhero moniker, ‘missrogue’, which comes from superhero Rogue of the X-Men (’cause I’m geeky like that). I’m a Canadian living in San Francisco. I’m a longtime blogger and now an author (first book coming out later this year) and I write about online communities and marketing strategies in the new relationship economy. I also run a coworking space in San Francisco called Citizen Space and a company called Citizen Agency. I travel quite a bit to speak at various conferences on web stuff and marketing stuff and juggle all of this with being a mom of a 15 year old.

What is “whuffie”?

Whuffie is a term coined by Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame. He wrote an awesome sci fi novel called Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom where in the future, money has been replaced by a form of social capital called Whuffie. In basic terms, when we meet, I would ping your Whuffie to get a score. A high Whuffie score would mean that I could trust you to work with, share ideas with and generally trust your opinions. You can also use Whuffie to rent an apartment, buy a car or pay for your meals. One raises Whuffie through creating beautiful things that benefit a community (works of art, useful tools, etc.), gaining people’s trust over time and building a network.

In my book, The Whuffie Factor (pending release date later in 2008 or early 2009), I say that Whuffie is neither the future or science fiction, it is how we currently relate to one another in online communities and, although we cannot currently use it to buy cars, pay or rent or buy meals, it indirectly affects our cash flow, so in essence, we do pay for our lifestyles through attaining Whuffie.

What are the highs and lows of your career to date?

The highs have definitely come since I moved to San Francisco and started working with startups advising on online marketing and community outreach. The ultimate high was getting my book deal with Crown Publishing (Random House Business division). The lows were when I was in Toronto struggling to get work because my ideas were a little ahead of their time. I knew I was on the right path, but because I didn’t have the Whuffie to win people over and there weren’t so many clear case studies out there to point to, when I talked to people about the idea of online communities and relationship building with individual customers, they would dismiss me. Everyone wanted SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts and traditionally focused marketing. It wasn’t until, a startup in the Bay Area, took a chance on my ideas that I could actually prove myself and build a case study (and Whuffie) that things took off for me. And since then, it’s been an amazing ride.

What do you think of building communities to monetise them?

Well, I don’t think you can monetize a community. You can definitely turn social capital into currency by building something people love and are willing to pay for (directly or indirectly), but monetizing a community doesn’t work. It turns people off.

Is there a minimum timescale you think that it can take to build a solid community?

I’ve seen people build a strong community through authenticity and passion in 6 months, but I’ve also seen the same authenticity and passion take years. There are always other factors involved. Is the market ready for the idea? What else is capturing their attention? Is the technology advanced enough to make it a good user experience? Is it a mainstream or a niche idea? Twitter took over a year to explode on the scene, but now it’s the strongest community I know. YouTube took 6 months. LinkedIn, a network that has been around for years, is just starting to really pick up. Pandora needed to wait for the technology to emerge before it exploded 4 years later, then it grew like wildfire.

In your opinion, are online community activities required for all businesses in all fields?

I think so. Even if it is indirect. I think of my hair stylist, Gilbert. He has a website with salon information, but doesn’t really participate in online communities. Still, he understands the power of them. When I go in to get my hair done, I take photos and post them to Flickr of before and after and I tweet my experience. This has driven several new clients his way. So, he’s taken it upon himself to encourage his other clients to do the same and it is working well for him. I spent a bit of time talking to a woman who grows beautiful dahlias for a living and we discovered the flower growing communities online that could really help her connect with other businesses and exchange tips on growing and growing her business. There is always a way to engage with online communities that will help your business, even if it seems unrelated.

What shouldn’t you do when building a community?

Well, you shouldn’t lie. You shouldn’t go into it with the attitude that you are only building community to make a buck. There are so many benefits from being open, transparent and authentic – like better feedback, growth of Whuffie, better networks, happier customers, increased word of mouth, etc. – that by engaging on any other level is a waste of time for both you and your customers.

How do you measure success?

In a couple of ways.

1. By my ability to have friends everywhere I travel. This means that people have to trust me as well as read my tweets and blog. So when I say, “Hey, I’m coming to Boulder!” I have at least a few people who I can sit down and have a nice dinner discussion with.
2. By the number of people who spread my message. It’s not the reader numbers or the followers, it is the number of people who enjoy what I have to say enough that they will pass it along. I also love it when it becomes their own message, which leads me to #3.
3. By the number of people who I can pass the fire onto. This means that they see what I’m doing and what I’m saying and either challenge it or carry the torch to effect world change on their own terms. I don’t want a fan club, I want to inspire people who want to inspire more people…
4. And to be honest, I also measure my success by how long I can sustain this amazing lifestyle I have. I get to travel all over the world, meet amazing people, sleep in late many days, research and write and take the occasional consulting and speaking gig that keeps me on my toes and offers me the ability to pay my rent – as long as that keeps happening, I’m doing something right.

Many people believe that being a woman in the web industry can be a hurdle, do you believe that this is the case or that it gives you an opportunity to shine?

It’s both a hurdle and an advantage. A hurdle in that I have to go further to prove myself in geek circles (but much of that is because I’m in marketing, too), but an advantage in that there aren’t so many of us, so I get to stand out.

In years to come, if you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

Making a difference. And by that, I mean creating more opportunities for people to build their own Whuffie and succeed – creating more opportunities for more people to shine.

Thanks to Tara for taking time out to talk to me, I hope that you got as much out of it as me :). Good luck to Tara with the book launch.

Jun 15 2008

what does it take to build a successful community?

web 2.0 logos

i should set the preface that i’m just a normal girl, working in an industry that i love, doing a job that i’m passionate about. i have as much as the next person to learn, but hey i’ve got fire in my belly, so just roll with me on this one…

i spent this afternoon doing my favorite sunday pasttime, reading blogs. yes i know, i really should get out more, but to be frank, it was just damn cold today. anyway, back to my original point, i came across this site where it taught you in 7 convenient steps how to build a community:

Step 1: Develop a networking plan
Step 2: Select a networking “platform”
Step 3: Market to your users
Step 4: Training and technical support
Step 5: Set up and manage a public online information forum
Step 6: Use networks for collaboration and problem solving
Step 7: Creat the spirit of the community

this is the part where i go into a bit of a ramble, so you might want to make yourself comfortable. whilst it’s all good and well to advise on building communities in 7 lovely steps and they make sense, there’s SO much more to it than that.

i’m often asked which sites i choose to build communities – the answer to which is whatever sites your “people” use (for me personally i’d use every site i could – every pocket of community is important no matter the size). I could go ahead and list sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Digg etc, but in honesty, I believe that social strategies should be fluid and always changing.

let me put that statement in context for you. when the likes of Tara Hunt, Kathy Sierra and Gary Vaynerchuk do their fantastic work to show people that communities are the way forward for organisations, i agree. i agree that 2 years, 1 year or heck ever 6 months from now, we’ll see a ton more community manager roles out there and i sincerely believe that’s a positive shift.

but, here’s the thing – i don’t believe that companies or individuals should try and build communities because that’s the cool thing of the moment. do it because you care, because you want that interaction and because you’re genuinely passionate about what you do, the service that you provide or the products that you sell.

i expect that the last thing that you want to hear is me telling you that you can’t just hire anyone to fill that role, but it’s true. you can’t just hope to pay someone enough for them to become passionate about your brand. they have to be your biggest advocate – to love what you do and embrace each and every community member – no matter the size of your community.

when i started work at Carsonified, i was taken on as event manager because of my experience in that field. at that point if i’m honest, i would have made a terrible community manager (even though i had a background of marketing). i didn’t know that much about the web or online communities, but the MOST important factor of all is that i didn’t have the fire in my belly (there’s that fire again 🙂 ).

within 6 months of doing the role, i had fallen truly and deeply in love with the industry and everyone within it and that’s when things finally clicked for me. i believe now, that i can build communities in any industry and i say that because i “genuinely” love bringing people together, empowering them to communicate and to create their identities. i’d like to think in return that people know that anything i associate myself with is genuine – i really care about what i do and i REALLY care about people.

you need to realise that you have to be able to “listen” as well as speak, there needs to be open dialogue and you won’t always get an ego stroke. the first thing that you should be doing is setting a google alert for your name or brand (including misspellings) and tweetscans. the reason that i say this is because it gives you a chance to reach out to people and put things right as soon as you hear they’ve not had the greatest experience – and trust me, that direct contact, showing that you care, will have a deeper and more meaningful connection than any “customer relations” you could do.

if people are interested, i can of course write a more detailed post about exact steps that i think are worth taking, but i leave you with my final thoughts. love what you do. do it from your heart. be open and transparent. collaborate. remember that every member is important. reach out to as many people as you can. care. be true to yourself.

ok, rant over, i’m off to have a nap – all this community stuff is exhausting. i’d love to hear your thoughts.

m 🙂

p.s it would of course be just wrong not to take this opportunity to thank everyone for taking 5 minutes out of their day to read my silly blog. i love you all. really 🙂

p.p.s there’s a spot prize for the first person to guess the amount of times i used “communities” in this post!

Jun 3 2008

i’m leaving carsonified…

after almost two years with carsonified, i’m announcing today that i’m moving to pastures new.

i’m more proud than words can say to have been part of a team that has gone from a few web apps, workshops and 2 large conferences a year – to numerous workshops, conferences, expos and web apps. i know the effort that goes into each of the events that carsonified lays on and i know that the team will continue to go from strength to strength. i thought it might be quite fun to recap…

during my time, i’ve…

reason for leaving

i know that many people will think that i’m mad for leaving such a forward thinking company, positioned in my opinion, in one of the best industries in the world.

i’ve been offered a 6 month contract with the oscar winning aardman animations (makers of wallace and grommit, heck yeah!) looking after their online communities and driving the strategies for their online presence. it’s an opportunity i feel that i have to take – i’m passionate about bringing content to the masses and community work is where my heart is, so i’m excited to apply this to another industry (whilst still being a web chick of course).

in the long term, i’d love to have my own consultancy some day – helping people connect with their users/communities and i think that this is vital experience in helping me along the way – plus, come on… it’s wallace and grommit! the first project that i am working on will be reaching out to animators, so if you have any work that you’d like to showcase, remember to keep me in mind…

my last day with carsonified is 5th June and then i’ll be out in the wilderness, yikers!

so what now?

i love you guys. i love the web. i love everyone who spends 5 minutes reading my silly blog about things that really don’t matter. i love the way everyone gets more and more amazed (and often baffled) by my random videos. i know that’s cheesy but it’s true. the friendships and connections that i have made over the last couple of years are genuine, i really care about you guys and i hope that they continue and everyone stays in touch.

the web is the best industry in the world. a revolution is taking place. connections are happening between people in the world that couldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the sites and technologies that you guys are working on, i’m so honored to be part of it. man i love the web 🙂

mel xox

p.s. i think i’d be quite good at oscar acceptance speeches don’t you think 😀

p.p.s you can stay in touch by…

email:         melkirk1 at gmail dot com
facebook:   mel kirk (bristol)
aim:            melkirk2006

i’m basically all over the web!!!