Being Accessible…

As a community manager, one of the most important things that I learned is that you have to be accessible.  This time, when I talk about being accessible, I’m not talking about making the Web accessible to people with disabilities.  I’m talking about being available and easily reachable.

When I was in college, my major had all these great computer labs with all the latest state of the art equipment.  The guy in charge of the Networking Lab was my Freshmen orientation teacher.   He was telling us about how he was getting ready to select the next set of graduate assistants that would work in the labs and help undergrad students with their home work.

He told us about how he wanted the grad assistants in the labs to be known amongst the undergrads.  He’d post photos and schedules of the grad assistants all over the building.  He wanted to makes sure that if we ever had a question that we knew who we could ask for help.

I talk to a lot of folks who work at companies that want to build these great customer communities but they setup all these walls so that their customers have to jump through hoops in order to get in touch with them.  That is stupid.

You have to be accessible.  You can’t form a relationship with someone… You can’t connect with someone if you can’t find each other.

So…you want users to send you feedback about how you can improve your product but you make them fill out this ominous looking contact form.  It looks like one of those deep whole in the earth that you can’t see the bottom of.  You’re going to put in your message and then never have anyone get in touch with you.

Put your person e-mail address on your Web site.  Spam filters have advanced A LOT in the last few years.  I hardly ever get spam and you’d have to be really bad at using the Web to not be able to find my e-mail address.

There are some companies that even have a phone number on their Web site, where you can call them and talk to a real person.  Shocking…

I put my photo on our company Web site. (click the link and scroll to the bottom of the page)

Travel and go to conferences that your users may be at.  Blog about going there.  Put a note about it in your company newsletter.  When you’re at the conference, Twitter about where you are so that folks can find you easily.

Finally, institute an open door policy.  I remember we had these in college in our dorm room.  The RA’s wanted us to keep the doors to our rooms open so that folks could stop on by and you’d make more friends.  It sounded silly but it worked.

Have an open door policy at your office.  Encourage folks to stop by and say hi.  It’s easy to know when I am and I’m not at the office.  I love having folks over to the office for lunch.   We keep our beer fridge pretty well stocked.  We have a killer espresso machine.  There’s nothing better then being able to sit down and chat with someone in person.  After a while, you get tired of sending e-mail.

In closing, it’s funny to me about how much folks want to build community and build relationships with their users but they don’t actually want to be close to anyone.  They don’t want to jump in and get their hands dirty.  There is no other way to do it.

Community managers often will compare the trade of building community to dating.  You’re never going to get to kiss the girl, if all you do is just look through the glass.  You have to be willing to go up, say hi, and introduce yourself.

So… go.  Put yourself out there.  Make relationships.  Build community.

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6 thoughts on “Being Accessible…”

  1. Hm interesting article. I think it largely depends on your job and the nature of the work you do. As a software developer, I find that giving out my e-mail address can come back to bite me.

    At my previous job, I was responsible for several infrastructure systems, and so it was not unusual to get paged if something was broken. Well about a year ago, while sitting in class I got a high-priority e-mail with the subject line “URGENT! NEED YOUR HELP NOW…”. I discretely left the room to start walking across campus, and finish reading the e-mail.

    As it turns out, the issue wasn’t urgent and I had left class to walk halfway back to work for no reason. My client should have contacted the help desk, who would have sent a ticket to the Systems team. And if the issue needed my immediate attention, I would have been paged. These “hoops” exist to maintain order within the business.

    I think for most people, the mode in which we contact support is less important than fixing whatever problem might exist. If filling out some form on your website will actually yield positive results, then I have no problem using it.

  2. Hey Bob. Thanks for the comment! Yeah I think when you do customer service, it’s easy for people to lean to much on you and not think for themselves. I think knowing when to respond and knowing when they’ll figure it out for themselves just takes a lot of discernment.

    In terms of using person means to contact someone versus a system, I don’t disagree with with your saying. I just think there needs to be a balance between efficiency and having a certain level of personal touch. For example, I filed a bug with Twitter the other day about a bug they had which was affecting us. I followed their system. I got an automated response. I don’t think anyone has read it nor will anyone read it.

    Could it be an inaccurate assumption? Sure. But… due to how impersonal their system was, I had no confidence that I was going to be taken care of in reasonable amount of time.

  3. Love the story of the computer lab, it is so true that people will approach for help if they are more comfortable with you. I find Twitter to be the great equalizer. I can @reply to a CEO or a Web Design idol or the President of the United States. Everyone with an (unlocked) account is accessible to me.

  4. I like your thoughts on making yourself personally available for people to contact. On most of the websites I have set up or built, I always include some sort of contact form, thinking that it will be easier for the user to fill out then booting up an email platform.

    However, thinking about it a more now, maybe that decision is not mine to make. I like how you put yourself out there and give users as many options as possible, allowing them to use the tools that are most comfortable for them. While Twitter and Facebook give us the option to message someone somewhat directly, the email address is still the holy grail connection (and often most protected).

    I’ll be taking your advice and updating some of my contact methods to make sure it is easy for people to get ahold of me, using whatever method they prefer.

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