Meet Joseph Mwakima, the Ultimate Community Manager

In online circles we believe a community manager is someone who cultivates and activates a group or a brand following on a social network. In Africa I met the ultimate community manager, Joseph Mwakima, a fellow busy activating his community and inspiring change in Kenya’s Kasigau Corrdidor REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) Project area through word of mouth.

But unlike his American counterparts, Joseph doesn’t use a Facebook Group, Instagram or Twitter as primary tools of his job (though he is on those Wildlife Works community relations officer, he regularly meets with people engaged in projects throughout the region.

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Joseph could have gotten a job in the city. He has a wife and baby, and could easily justify seeking more bountiful land. He’s also college educated, speaks fluent English, and is well travelled. But he instead came back to the region he calls home to make a difference. His community needs him, as does the overall Wildlife Works effort.

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A variety of issues are impacting the region, including rapid deforestation through slash and burn farming and charcoal harvesting, a lack of jobs in the community, and disappearing wildlife. The REDD+ Project Joseph is part of seeks to counteract challenges with a sustainable community development program that creates jobs and protects the forest.

Joseph Talikng to Us

I got to see Joseph at work, thanks to working with Audi as part of its documentary project produced by VIVA Creative (you can see Joseph talking to the VIVA team above). Audi supports Wildlife Works as part of its carbon offset program that compensates drivers for the manufacturing and first 50,000 gas-driven miles of the new A3 e-tron being released this fall.

Widespread Community Activation

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Nestled between Kenya’s Tsavo East and West National Parks, the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project is widely considered to be a leader in sustainable carbon offsets. Wildlife Works applies a wide set of innovative market-based solutions to the conservation of biodiversity.

Joseph works in the community to socialize the solutions and encourage adoption of them. Here is what I witnessed Joseph doing:

World Environment Day

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Marasi Primary School hosted a World Environment Day celebration the day after we (the documentary team) arrived. It acknowledged many of the positive changes that have occurred as a result of the community’s fight to stop deforestation. There, I watched Joseph help a child plant a tree, speak with children, and converse with many of the community leaders in attendance.

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The school in many ways symbolizes the future of the corridor. In total, Wildlife Works pays for the school fees of more than 3,000 students in the area, including partial scholarships for some college students. Most people who work for Wildlife Works reinvest their wages in their children’s education.

Rangers

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In this picture below you can see Joseph talking with several Wildlife Works Rangers. The rangers are an 80+ person ranger corps that protects wildlife throughout the corridor’s 500,000 acres from poachers seeking ivory. They also stop people from slash and burn farming or from simply cutting down trees for charcoal. So part of Joseph’s job is explaining to them why the rangers are stopping them from using the forestland, and what alternatives they have.

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We spent seven days in the company of Joseph and Evans and Bernard, two of the Wildlife Works Rangers. I was impressed by their work, their passion for the wildlife in the Project area, and the danger they face from poachers. A poaching incident occurred on my last day in Kenya, and the pain was evident on their faces. You can see the rangers at work in the Animal Planet reality TV show “Ivory Wars.”

Eco-charcoal

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Instead of slash and burn farming and chopping down forests for charcoal production, Wildlife Works offers new alternatives to citizens. These include job opportunities, smarter farming education, and alternative methods of creating charcoal. This latter effort — the creation of eco-charcoal — offers an innovative, yet pragmatic approach to fuel.

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Joseph showed us how the eco-charcoal is created. Teams clip small branches, collect fallen tree limbs, and burn them. The ash is then mixed with a pasty substance, and poured into casts for eco-charcoal bricks. The end result is a brick that burns longer and better than the charcoal most Kenyans make when cutting down trees.

Women’s Groups

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Joseph introduced us to three different women’s groups in the region. The loosely knit associations of women engage in entrepreneurial activities like producing arts and crafts that are sold in the U.S. and Europe through Wildlife Works. In all, there are 26 registered women’s groups in the Corridor, touching 550 women, or four percent of the total population.

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The women use the resulting money to build clean water tanks, buy solar lights and clean cook stoves for their households, and provide an education for their children. Husbands see the positive impact on their households and are encouraging their wives’ newfound roles in the Kasigau community.

Joseph Small

These are just some of the programs that Joseph supports in the community. Wildlife Works engages in other economic development actions such as textile production, better farming practices and more to build a sustainable future for Kasigua Corridor REDD+ Project Area.

This type of community management shows the real-world impact that such a role can have in the right situation. When local people like Joseph interact with the community and serve as a liaison for Wildlife Works, adoption of sustainability programs increases, and ultimately transforms the entire region for the better.

Disclosure: Audi paid for me to visit Africa and capture content as part of a larger documentary that will be released this fall.

Monetize Influence and Lessen It

There is a movement about how to monetize individual blogger and online personality influence. Influencers considering monetization of their online trust should also weigh how such strategies can lessen trust within a community, and hurt search rank.

This old debate goes back to paid blogging and affiliate marketing. As in those past cases, every influencer today needs to weigh how monetization efforts tax their good will.

Influence online is often a result of becoming an integral part of a community and providing good information. When you add affiliate links, sponsorship, consultancies, clients, advertisements, products and other forms of monetization to the mix, a transition occurs. In the paid, earned, and owned model of media, you are moving from earned (natural word of mouth) to owned or paid media. Both of those types of media are less trustworthy to communities.

Part of building trust is putting your customer ahead of profits and operating honestly. It’s no coincidence that one of the biggest causes of trust deterioration in the financial sector is conflict of interest and scandals.

Performance-Clusters

No one wants to begrudge monetization. Creating and building a significant online presence takes a strong and sustained consistent effort over months and years. Peer trust requires consistency. Why shouldn’t one benefit from it?

Certainly, done in a strategic way, such as books on a topical area, paid speaking gigs and the like, business strategies can actually enhance a strategy. But others add a factor of distrust.

When I read a consultant’s blog about xxx professional service area that the author is promoting a business. And I take that into context. So do most readers.

People take these motives into consideration when they read my blog posts and books on marketing. I’ve been told so by more discerning customers.

That’s why I am very careful about how many asks I make of readers, the content I share, the lack of paid advertisements here, etc. For example, I almost never take pitched blog ideas, and don’t offer affiliate links. The trade off isn’t worth it, in my opinion, especially considering that I consult, sell books, and raise money for causes here.

The suggestion that one should monetize influence may not be constructed correctly. Rather, a personality should weigh whether that monetization strategy is worth the negative impact.

What do you think?

Blog Sabotage!

Long time readers have probably noticed a metamorphosis. Even more personal, focusing on life and issues outside of marketing, this has become much more of a writer’s blog than a professional marketer’s vehicle. Along the way over the past four months, I shed about 50% of my traffic! One could say I sabotaged my own blog.

Certainly if you are one of the seven angels of blogging doom, the critical pen is flying right now. Not so fast.

A year ago, I would have been freaking out about such a traffic dip (In fact, I was). This time I’m not.

The renaissance of this blog that began last summer was part of my effort to market the last book. In doing so I built superfluous traffic related to marketing. This was done by playing some popularity games known to generate eyeballs on today’s social web.

Then after SxSW I changed course.

Why?  If I had kept going as I was, when I launch Exodus this August most readers would likely have felt robbed. Imagine getting non-stop marketing blogs every week, year after year, and suddenly have a post-apocalyptic science fiction book dropped in your feed.

I also realized that from a reputation standpoint, I don’t necessarily need a well trafficked marketing blog to generate business. At this point in my career, continued public successes like the Demand Success conference, and general online visibility matter more.

Why not start a second blog? Because I want to write fiction, and am a man that works, who fathers a child, and who desires work life balance. I’d rather write one blog well than two poorly. So I made my decision, and redirected my resources rather than redeploy new ones.

If my blog was a garden, I pruned back bushes, cutting away dead growth, and replanted several vegetables and flowers. As a result, while smaller, those of you that visit and comment seem more engaged and frequent. Thank you for that.

Now I simply need to stay the course and let the blog grow. Here are the things I did to cut back and refocus:

1) Shifted Topics

I shifted topics, added essays, and focused more on science fiction, writing, essays, philosophy and general musings on writing. That was the first clear cut. People were visiting for marketing and social media schtick.

While readers still get a blog or two a week on marketing, it’s when there is something to add to the conversation as opposed to meeting a weekly quota. The lesser marketing conversation will continue, but it is not the business blog that old readers were visiting.

In addition, it’s been a while since I wrote an essay, but that has more to do with fatigue and readying Exodus. I expect to return to long form in the not too distant future.

2) Removed Share Counts

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Image by IkariCologne

When social sharing counts first became popular during the rise of Facebook and Twitter, many bloggers resisted including the numbers. We argued content should stand on its own merit, and become shared because it was good, not because it was popular.

But the social web thrives on attention and popularity. When people see high share counts, they are more likely to reshare. And to some extent — like almost every blogger — I succumbed to that.

As time passed, I even made fun of it with posts and commentary. After joining Triberr, my share counts swelled thanks to new distribution. And as those numbers grew, I enjoyed a new perception of popularity, right or wrong, with high public share counts. I am not sure that perception was accurate given the nature of Triberr (which I still love and use).

To this day I think many total share counts are gamed, the blogging equivalent of the steroid era in baseball. Automated tweets plus anomalies like Buffer counts cause me to snort when I see these numbers. For example, the Buffer reshare number is added to the total share number, in spite of Buffer shares getting double (or triple or quadruple) counted when they are sent through networks like Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn.

I know too much about share counts to consider them a valid metric, even if they create more traffic. Look, I want my stuff read. But I want people to share my content because its awesome or it caused them to think or some other reason.

If my content is popular because of its strength then I’m OK with that. I’m not OK with the perception of popularity based on reshares, though. To me that wreaks of an attention bubble. So I made the change in late April to remove share counts. You could call this move a return to old school values.

3) Cut Frequency

I found that writing essays, publishing four times a week here, once a week on the Vocus blog, and book development this Spring was exhausting mentally. I needed to cut something, or start sacrificing my work and family life quality. So I reduced a post a week, and also rerun the periodic relevant Vocus post.

Boy, that move from four to three posts was a precipitous blow. I lost 30 percent of my traffic by simply going from four to three blogs a week. Frequency matters a lot when you are building the fly wheel. It matters most to Google and the search indices, but it matters.

Now that I am through editing Exodus, I still have book work to do (production and marketing), and am not eager to return to a higher frequency. There is a short term fix for frequency that will be revealed during the September/October/November timeframe.

But after that I intend to go back three posts a week so I can start working on The War to Persevere: Book Two of The Fundamentalists this winter.

Conclusion

Sometimes the road less traveled is the one that feels best. I can live with the lesser result in exchange for focusing on my current writing projects, as well as writing what my heart desires.

What do you think? Pruning or self sabotage?

Featured image by Thomas Kilpper.

The Library Is Dead. Long Live the Library!

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Image by Camera Obscura 1975

The other day Caitlin told Soleil they would visit the library for story time. Their conversation unleashed a well of hope within me.

I had come to believe that libraries were dying, just like the traditional publishing business that fills their shelves. I remembered reading that libraries were dwindling, and just wrote them off. Like many other things in our world, it seemed the library could not survive the ongoing Internet revolution, and its eReaders, blog posts, and Twitter archives.

Well, the library is alive and well. In fact, the library stands as a critical part of American communities, and a fundamental aspect of a child’s formative years. According to Pew, 97% of parents believe libraries should offer programs for children, and 69% of all Americans use a library.
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Open Letter to Cathryn Sloane

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Hold Back Time, Plate 2 by Thomas Hawk

Well, it’s pretty much over now.

The rain of negativity landed upon you.

I don’t care whether your post is right or wrong about the best age for community managers. The vitriol expressed by many of the dissenting voices in comments and responses was reprehensible.

Some have been measured in tone, but generally you received a crash course in negative commenting and personal attacks.

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Wasting Time on Klout and Influence Metrics

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Klout only gives President Barack Obama an Influence Score of 48

It’s been an interesting week with all the news and ensuing hub bub about Klout’s new formula. Beyond the curiosity of the moment there’s not much to talk about, though. See, people that waste their time on Klout, determining influence on it, debating its merits, etc., are wasting time.

Enough has been said about Klout, high scores and their deficiencies, as well quantifiable metrics in general. Scores are an easy way for PR people to build a list of top voices in a topic area so they can spam, er, pitch them.

Yet great scores — the sign of someone who has had success — don’t necessarily produce context or relevance to an individual community or on a particular issue. Frankly, the most influential people in any given sector aren’t on social media. They hire other people to serve as community managers.

Still for the online game, you want those digital voices. In most cases high scores are demonstrative of context in one particular area. Without a relationship it would be extremely hard to get that high scoring influencer to invest energy into your effort. Instead you would have to focus on the magic middle and build your own influence from the ground up.

The best way to build community is to be a part of the community. Relationships are built by investing time in people. In the end, some sort of symbiotic relationships is built, quid pro quo. Further, understanding which influencers with the real levers in a community can only come by intimate familiarity.

When we focus on influence rankings — tools that quantify a media form’s participants like it was run by journalists — we walk away from the basic truth about these particular types of media. They are relational. They are SOCIAL media.

So, by focusing on lists and not dialoguing and adding value through relevant content and investment, a practitioner is not present. Their effort is bound to have fundamental weaknesses. Building relationships in real life at events, meetings, and through social media are the ways to cultivate better influence.

What is the real reason to quantify big social media influencers? If relationships are your desired outcome, why waste time?