By: Hillel Fuld
Working as Community Manager for a company with millions of users is not a simple task. You need to walk the fine line of being overly professional and therefore boring, and on the flip side, too personal and amateurish. Richard Barley, the Community Manager of Tweetdeck does this perfectly. Anyone who has ever had a question about Tweetdeck knows they can ask him on Twitter and expect a response within seconds. Richard keeps his audience interested and displays a high level of professionalism in his work.
I have been in touch with Richard for close to a year now and must have asked or forwarded hundreds of questions his way, never once did he ignore a question or brush it off with a “leave me alone” kind of answer.
With all the 3rd party developers out there as well as the new Twitter, the competition is starting to heat up, but I am pretty confident that the majority of Tweetdeck users, myself included, will not abandon this application. The reason is that on top of a superior product created by some amazing developers who continue to innovate, the Tweetdeck team cares about their users and their high level of customer support on and off Twitter proves that clearly.
Thanks Richard for this interview, I know you’re busy, so it is very much appreciated.
The following is the interview I conducted with Richard:
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you end up at Tweetdeck?
I was working as a consultant for a company based in Maidenhead and had to spend a lot of time staying in the UK (I live in France…). During the evenings I would be tweeting from TweetDeck, a product that I really enjoyed using, and put some of my “spare” time to good use by helping out other users and creating some FAQs about TweetDeck. Given that, at this point, TweetDeck was a one-man operation, my help articles soon became the “missing manual” for TweetDeck.
Eventually Iain spotted me performing my unofficial support role in the evenings and approached me with a view to joining as official Community Manager. Did someone say “Dream job”? Of course it needed no consideration and I joined the company shortly after.
2. We just read today that Tweetdeck is the leading Twitter client after the site and the other apps that are made by Twitter itself. How do you explain Tweetdeck’s success?
I think a large part of TweetDeck’s success is down to the attitude that permeates the whole company of just keeping our heads down and doing a great job. There are no rock stars in the company, no egos, no celebrities. We’re a small but very focused team who have never chased headlines or courted publicity. Instead we have just continued to build products that do a great job and that people seem to love. While that is working for us, we’re going to keep on doing it.
3. I think everyone wants to know how Tweetdeck as a company is going to monetize.
Yes indeed, everyone does seem to want to know this for some reason. Fortunately we have some great investors and therefore have the luxury of time. We have never dived blindly into anything, but have always taken a more considered standpoint. And this approach is reflected in our attitude to monetisation. Of course we will start making money, but how and when is still something that we are carefully considering.
4. What are your thoughts on location? Is Foursquare, GoWalla, or Facebook Places going to win this race and will it be around in five years or is it just a fad?
Considering the changes in technology and attitudes over the last five years, predicting anything further than the next few months is impossible. On the current location “race” though, it is hard to imagine the might of Facebook being overcome by anyone. I would imagine it will be a battle between to the innovation of the smaller players compared to the sheer weight of Facebook numbers. Hopefully the niche players will provide Facebook with enough competition in the space that the consumer wins in the end.
5. How do you think Twitter should monetize its business?
I think so long as Twitter find ways to monetise their own business without it restricting the innovation of other businesses that rely on their services, then they can pretty much do whatever they like. Their forays into “promoted” items seem like a good first step on the ladder, but I don’t think we’ve seen everything they’ve got just yet.
6. You just recently released an Android app, what do you think about the issue of charging for Android apps? Developers are facing a challenge with that.
For many developers, charging for apps is totally the right way to go and good luck to them. Our approach is that we want as many people to use our products as possible, a goal that would not be achievable if we charged to download our products. The fact that this also avoids us getting caught in the complexities of the Android Market charging policy is a fortuitous coincidence…
7. What mobile phone do you use and why?
Having been a Nokia fanboy for many years, the N97 finally killed off my love for that platform. This coincided with getting the job at TweetDeck, so an iPhone 3GS was the logical choice at that point. For all its restrictions and quirks, I love the iPhone and still do. There are no surprises there, you pretty much always know what you’re going to get, even though it may not aways be what you want!
Then as we started to develop our Android app I obtained a Nexus One and I found a new love 🙂 The Android platform ticks so many boxes for me in terms of flexibility and features, even if it suffers from a more complex user interface. Once we had a workable app for Android I started using it as my main phone every day and have never felt the need to switch back to the iPhone.
8. What are your thoughts on the tablet market including the iPad and the new Samsung Tab? Are they going to kill the netbook and laptop industries?
I don’t think tablets will “kill” netbooks and laptops, but they will certainly make an impact as tablet prices come down and specs go up. Tablets will certainly appeal to some people, and I could certainly see one working well as a pick-up-and-use device in out living room. But netbooks and laptops will always have their place, especially in normal every-day homes. The tablet revolution may come eventually, but it will be a long, long time before the laptop old guard surrenders completely.
9. What would be the most important piece of advice you would give a new developer, whether Web or mobile?
As I’m no developer, this is maybe not an easy question for me to answer. As a user I guess i would say: its OK to be cool, but only if it works. I would rather your app be simple but awesome, rather than cool but trash 🙂
10. Since you are the Community Manager for Tweetdeck and not the developer, let me ask you to describe your job on a daily basis. Do you think social media is changing the world of marketing and how?
My job as Community Manager has several facets, which make it the best job I have ever had.
There is the support angle – reaching out to people on Twitter with answers to questions or cries for help. We (myself and @conradoldcorn) also operate the TweetDeck Support site, where we answer support tickets, respond to forum posts and ensure that we have a good supply of support documentation at all times.
There is also the content angle – authoring or editing posts for the TweetDeck blog and acting as the “voice” of TweetDeck. While we are a team of many individuals, maintaining a common tone in our products and official communications is an important part of my role.
On the flip side of this is the idea of being an advocate for the users. While we have our own roadmap and our own ideas about our products and services, is important that we listen to the opinions of our users to ensure that we are always moving in the right direction. It is not unusual for me to stubbornly stand my ground over issues that I know are important to our users, when the rest of the team is trying to do something different. It’s okay though, they don’t stay cross for long 🙂
As someone who uses TweetDeck constantly every day I spend a lot of time testing new features, which is always exciting. Of course I love to tease my followers with such snippets too…
And there are a hundred other little tasks that make up my days too, such as finding and sharing interesting and relevant articles and blog posts around the web and reaching out and commenting where people have taken the time to blog about TweetDeck. Seeing my role as a “marketing” role, without social media it would be impossible to perform. Without the likes of Twitter and Facebook, how else would I reach out to over half a million people instantly?
From a broader perspective, marketing in general is certainly being changed by social media. However, for every great Facebook pages or clever viral videos, there seem to still be a hundred ill-conceived Twitter spam campaigns. It seems to be a case of two steps forward and one step back, but at least its heading in the right direction.