Sometimes It’s Best To Just Get Out Of The Way

The following also is my latest MediaPost column

Sometimes It’s Best To Just Get Out Of The Way

The AdWords Help forum, hosted on Google Groups, is one of the most valuable community resources for search advertisers, especially beginners. To keep a pulse on advertiser trends and give back to the larger search-marketing community, my team at Clickable regularly reads it and lends search-marketing advice to people in need. However, we noticed that Google’s own AdWordsPros – full-time Google employees – recently stepped up their presence, often being the first to answer questions on the forum. But this was a problem.

While forum participation with your customers is commendable and usually a wise idea, it also requires restraint. Why? Because a heavy and authoritative presence can become intimidating – even alienating. It can suppress helpful crowd-sourcing by eliminating perceived opportunities for experts to engage with and assist their fellow community members. It can literally shut down your biggest fans and ambassadors.

This issue was superbly explained in the AdWords forum recently by Google Adwords Pro Sarah. Demonstrating transparency and etiquette while confronting the problem, she said:

“Dear Fellow Posters, The AdWordsPros met this morning, and, in reviewing the state of the forum, came across a troubling trend. When one of the four Pros post, it seems that the dialog on that thread comes to a halt. And, while we want to help answer as many posts as we can, we don’t always want to have the last word.”

She continued:

“As ‘pro’ as we may seem, I think we can all say that we learn a great deal from the people who take the time and invest in this forum. We would love our answers to remain a small part of the space and encourage you all to add to and correct our answers based on your experience….Keep up the posting!”

That acknowledgement prompted some thoughtful replies, and helped rekindle the feeling of opportunity and recognition that is so critical in fan and customer-support communities. For example, forum member Cobnut said:

“[A]lmost all my posts are responses to questions that haven’t been answered or where I feel further or additional information could be useful. This means I tend to open the board and scan down to find questions with no (or very few) replies. If I see that a Pro has answered, I can usually safely assume that the original question has been answered and it’s unlikely I’ll even open the thread unless the subject line is of particular interest.”

My own colleague, Clickable SEM Guru Tony, said:

“I must admit that it can be rather intimidating for a non-Google employee to follow-up an ‘AdwordsPro’ post. I would imagine that no matter our level of experience, a newbie would defer to a Pro’s guidance whenever the opportunity presents itself. I think there is something to be said about AdwordsPros providing positive feedback publicly to posters when a quality response is given…to cheer on quality responses and develop the perception that some of us outsiders are ‘Pros’ in our own right.”

Marketer mandate? Think about your customer and community’s goals. Now think about your presence and involvement. Are you friction or a catalyst?

At a time when all you marketers are figuring out how to “jump into the conversation,” it’s important to remember one thing: Sometimes it’s just better to get out of the way and let your customers and community do their business.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

Leave a comment