Until yesterday, I was planning to blog about a video I produced that shares the story of one insanely talented veterinarian, Dr. Matt Johnston, who performed surgery on a 17-foot python.
Never did I think I would ever feel empathy for a snake. But, I’ve never silently cheered so intensely for a slithery reptile three times my own height who was just inches away from me. (The anesthesia part helped.)
This empathy theme was propelled back into my life yesterday when I watched the same veterinarian — Dr. Matt Johnston — and a team of Colorado State University veterinarians and zoo staff make the heart-breaking decision to humanely euthanize a two-month-old giraffe from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
One thing I’ve learned from working closely with veterinarians (and zoo staff) is they love and care for animals more than anyone, even more than us animal owners. I’ve seen veterinary students and faculty sleep in enclosures with dogs who just came out of surgery and needed some extra snuggles. Dr. Johnston even pets the python to provide reassurance in the video above. I’ve witnessed their immense sadness and colossal happiness. But my heart has never broken for anyone more than yesterday when the decision was made to say goodbye to Penny, or as her #TeamPenny fans have nicknamed her, “Penny Lane.” I’m not going to go into the details, as this was a private and painful moment for those involved. However, what I learned from communicating about this on social media reminded me of my role as not only a social media manager, but a community manager.
Penny’s social media fans loved her, I mean LOVED her. More than four million people followed her story since her birth this past June. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo leadership and communications team wanted to be honest and transparent with their social media audience about Penny’s medical journey, and chose to share the updates with them through Facebook Live, even when Penny’s health took a turn.
The zoo’s social media community was sitting in the waiting room, standing by to hear news from the doctor, and the zoo chose to take care of its audience by sharing multiple updates as options were being weighed and decisions were being made about Penny’s health yesterday. They were all in it together. That’s a community I want to be part of.
The empathy, love, respect and support I saw between the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, its audience, and the veterinarians was truly one I won’t forget.
Below are the four updates provided by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and CSU. Watch or scroll 👇 for the rest of the article.
Community management, different from social media management, should be an integral part of leading social media. While social media management focuses on the strategy and content for the accounts, community management focuses on building relationships. These are two separate parts of the same job (or two entirely different jobs, for some organizations), but should be given equal attention. While social media management starts the conversation, community management builds on the conversation and strengthens the community as a whole.
Care by listening
Listening is so vital to community management. But how we listen to our community matters.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” -Stephen R. Covey
Author Luan Wise provides great insight on the importance of empathic listening, and a deeper understanding of the quote above, in her article for the Global Marketing Alliance. She encourages social media professionals to:
Step 1: Know why you’re listening
Step 2: Listen with the intent to understand, not reply
Step 3: Once you understand your community, then work to solve problems, provide customer service and build community
Understanding an audience and putting them at the forefront of every action is very similar to design thinking, which was first introduced to me by the brilliant professor, writer and most woke human I’ve ever met, Michael Humphrey, Ph.D. (I plan to blog about applying design thinking to social media sometime in the near future.) Never assume we know our audience or what’s best for them without first listening and asking.
One more reason to care
Studies have found there are real and lasting impacts on people who are frequently exposed to negative news, and can “lead to a pessimism and world-weariness that leads us to perceive the state of the world in an overly negative light — leading us to ignore and overshadow the many things that are working.”
Not to mention, studies have found links between social-media users and increased anxiety, depression, addiction, and lower self-esteem. Social media managers aren’t going to be the solution to these issues, but it’s vital that we don’t actively contribute to them.
It’s important to remember our digital communities are more than their accumulation of likes, comments and shares. Behind every like is a person validating and championing our brands. And each of those people have thoughts, feelings and emotions that I know I take for granted when I’m in the thick of a busy day.
Social media isn’t about creating a cool video to lure your audience into engaging with your brand. Sure, it’s part of it. But, it’s also about creating a space that allows your community to celebrate with your brand in its triumphs, and create thoughtful discussion and support on really crappy days. When people take the time to travel through the webiverse to get to your page or interact with your content, stop and say hello. Respond to comments, reviews, and recommendations. Share in your community’s good and bad days.
Call me naive, but I like to hope this was Zuck’s intentions with the recent Facebook algorithm change earlier this year: meaningful interactions. Not engagement-bait, not “comment below,” but taking care of our community in sincere and valuable ways.
I feel closer to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s community on social media. I feel closer to my job and purpose as a community manager. I’m spending the rest of my day taking care of the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s community, reacting and responding to comments and messages, and making sure they know they’re heard and cared for.
I’ll leave you with these lyrics by The Beatles, in honor of sweet Penny Lane the giraffe, and a reminder to care for your community.
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say “Hello”