What Don Draper Can Teach Us About Community Management

I admit it: I’m a huge fan of the AMC series Mad Men.

Like other Mad Men fans, I’m eagerly awaiting the long overdue return of the series on Sunday. In the meantime, the next best thing to watching Mad Men is blogging about Mad Men.

Anybody familiar with the show knows that the protagonist, ad man extraordinaire Don Draper, is not exactly a role model. But he is a creative genius with a certain set of admirable core values. So let’s look take a look back at the first four seasons of the show to see what Don Draper can teach us about online community management.

Know your goals

When three brothers that run an auto parts company can’t decide whether to advertise to professional mechanics or do-it-yourselfers, it’s suggested that they employ a strategy aimed at both types of consumers. Don refuses on the grounds that a muddled strategy is bound to fail. Launching an online community with a muddled strategy is also a surefire way to fail. If your company is launching an online community, be sure to have clear and measurable goals along with a plan to achieve those goals. If you’re a community manager and a company without clear goals wants to hire you, think twice about taking the job.

Never go along with a bad idea

The theme of Don Draper sticking to his guns is one that pops up repeatedly. He would rather lose a client than agree to a concept that won’t work. When executives from a bathing suit company reject his idea for a racy ad campaign for their bikinis and ask for a more wholesome concept, he angrily demands that they leave his office. Of course, community managers should never lose their cool. But they shouldn’t agree with every idea the community throws at them. You always have to listen to all ideas, good and bad. But you never have to go along with the bad ones, even when they come from the most vocal members of your community. When bad idea is suggested, be honest — but polite — about why the concept isn’t feasible.

Words are important

When Don is asked to come up with an ad campaign for Kodak’s new slide projector with a circular tray, he proposes they call the product the “carousel,” suggesting the ability to go back to a more innocent time. With that single, well thought out word — carousel — he wins the contract. Words are a community manager’s most powerful tool. When communicating with members of your community, take the time to write well and choose your words with care. It’s always worthwhile.

Don’t forget those that helped you along the way

When the agency has a chance to land a big-time contract with American Airlines, they need to clear the decks by getting rid of another airline client. Don resists the move to end their longtime relationship with Mohawk Airlines, questioning whether he wants to be part of company turns away clients that helped it grow. (He ends up doing as he’s told, but he doesn’t like it.) If your online community has been around for a while, you often need to bring in new members to keep things vibrant and growing. But never forget about those longtime members that helped build and grow your community.

You are the face of the company

When a reporter from Advertising Age interviews Don, he’s reluctant to talk about himself and the capabilities of the agency. The resulting article fails to put the agency in a good light. He then persuades the Wall Street Journal to do a story on him, wows the reporter, and the paper publishes an article that promotes both him and the agency. What happened in between? Don realized that he’s the face of the company and an article that makes him look bad makes the agency look bad. If you’re a community manager, you’re also the face of the company. Always deal with members of the community professionally and politely, because failure to do so doesn’t just make you look bad — it makes the company look bad.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to purchase some whiskey and skinny ties in preparation for the season five premiere.

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