Alison Michalk Brands Online Community Management and Social Media Moderation with Quiip Startup Scaling
by Rado Durina, 16th March 2014
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Hi Alison and welcome to!

Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself and your Quiip - your online community management and social media moderation agency. How did you come up with the idea?

"Whilst working as Editor/Community Manager of one of Australia’s largest online communities (Essential Baby) in 2008 I became aware that there was likely to be a skills & knowledge shortage around developing and managing communities in a business context. Social media served to supercharge this need. As I was already managing a team of 30 volunteer moderators, this became the idea for a business model, where a team could work closely with a range of communities. And communities being a passion for me, it was the perfect fit.

As for me, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak. From selling my (very poor) drawings to families, setting up a “cafe” in the kitchen and outsourcing my ironing duties to my younger brother (with a small profit margin of course!)."

How exactly does Quiip help other businesses?

"We help build and manage communities that foster loyalty, create connections, share knowledge and align with business objectives. We do this across all platforms from traditional communities (forums) to social media. We also create content, monitor social media and provide community consultancy."

What does your typical day look like? What roles do you have in your business and how do you juggle them?

"Although we have capacity for 24/7, the business typically operates on a 15-18 hour day. Once I’m untangled from the chaos of getting small children out the door, it’s onto work! The morning is spent catching up on any pressing activities from the night before. As we operate as a distributed team our staff are highly autonomous & responsible, so usually everything is running smoothly! Of the five primary business functions (strategic/exec, ops, marketing/sales, finance and HR) I wear at least 3 hats, although I’ve more support in Ops and Sales now, which is a huge relief. This year I’ve been factoring in time to exercise, and ones entrepreneurs should build into their routine before it’s too late and they are burnt out."

How did you build your expertise as a community manager?

"In 2008 I attended a Community Managers’ Roundtable run by Venessa Paech who was CM at Lonely Planet (Thorn Tree forums) at the time. I then took the baton and organised roundtables in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra. The roundtables grew in size and popularity and we then launched Swarm conference. The first community management conference in the world! We’re now in our 4th year and the event attracts over 140 Community Managers. Venessa and I hand select the speakers, which is a great opportunity to build our expertise."

In addition I run the AU/NZ Community Managers Facebook group with over 750 Community Managers, which is also a great place to learn. And at Quiip we have a team of 10 brilliant Community Managers, so we get to learn from the best of the best" :)

What makes the difference between a good community manager and a not so good one? What are the most common mistakes in community management?

"A challenging question! In many cases, when it comes to “not so good Community Management” the organisation is to blame, whether they hired someone junior and did not invest in training, or they don’t treat social seriously (slow to get responses, don’t act on feedback). I see Community Management as a senior role - where you act as the public representation for a brand. A responsibility not to be taken lightly. You are also in charge of building what may be the most significant asset for an organisation - it’s community.

I think a common mistake - or challenge - is being stuck in a reactive role. Putting out fires all day without any time to review the business objectives, and analyse the performance of the community in line with those."

 With the pace of social media marketing being as rapid as it is, how do you stay ahead of the curve?

"Being active in professional online groups has been key. We’ve built a really supportive community of Community Managers, who share news and tips daily, as you can get at least 5 qualified answers within minutes to most questions! Being that Quiip is a team of 10 Community Managers, we also work very collaboratively to share what is, and isn’t working across our communities."

What are your top online resources for community management and social media you would like to share with our startup community?

- I’ve a list of 30 books for Community Managers here!

- And a list of top Community Management Resources here!

Coming back to the entrepreneurial part, what do you enjoy most about running your own business? And what do you enjoy least?

"I truly love running my own business, it’s always felt right to me! My goal now is to create a company inspired by the likes of Zingerman’s, Patagonia and others that have succeeded in creating places where people truly want to work. And I’m not talking about a foosball table in the lunchroom!

As for the least. I miss being hands-on in communities, and I definitely wear a few hats that don’t particularly interest me. But that’s not the long term plan!"

What was the most challenging when you started up?

"I had a 3-week-old baby! So I managed to ‘launch a baby’ and ‘birth a business’ at the same time. One of our first projects ran 24-7 for six weeks, so being awake in the night due to my young baby, came in handy. Although I don’t recommend it!"

"However like so many successful working mothers, I had an incredibly supportive partner. I’ve never had to “do it all” because I share household & parenting responsibilities with my husband — which is my mind is what an equal marriage is about" ;)

What are the 3 most important mistakes you would like to avoid if you were to start again?

-    I wore too many hats for too many years, only using our own capital to grow. I’m not a huge advocate for outside capital unless you require it, but there were points where I should have hired more managerial/operational roles, earlier in the business.

-    Have a pro-active accountant from the get-go. Someone who can help with financial forecasting, hold you accountable for expenditure, and help build sales targets etc, especially if accounting is something you’ve a fondness for.

-    Whether law firms, business coaches, bank managers or consultants, arm yourself with questions and thoroughly interview a number of them before hiring them. They should try to win your business. The better the fit of all your external partners, the more invested they’ll be in your success.

Is there anything you would like to say to startup founders striving for exposure and their own voice to be heard?

"Share knowledge, help others, be genuine. Don't always be looking for a way to get exposure or hawk your wares. Build relationships first, and the rest will follow. Earn the right to ask people for help or advice."

What are your top tips for growing and running an online community? Any words of advice for our team on attracting and managing our online startup community? :-)

"Start small. Reach out and invite targeted people one-by-one. Give them a reason to participate. Build a core member base of ‘founders’. Ask for referrals. Avoid the “big launch” as articulated by Rich Millington in The Proven Path (also strongly recommend reading Buzzing Communities also by Rich). Create content about the community."

Three keywords to describe yourself?

"Driven. Passionate. (Slightly) crazy."

Finally, where can our startup community find you online?


Twitter: @alisonmichalk or @quiip

Thanks Alison, we wish you great success with Quiip and all your online community management initiatives creating many happy customers!

Author: Rado Durina

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