Fortune 500 company Symantec is the largest maker of security software for computers in the world, with headquarters in Mountain View, California. Jason Rickard, based in Dublin, Ireland, is a product manager for community at Symantec. Communities that collaborate to provide translation for languages that would not or could not be covered otherwise is one way that Symantec is supporting more users in more languages.
Thicke: You have one of the more unusual job descriptions in the localization industry. What led you to become an expert in collaborative communities?
Rickard: Although I have a traditional management education and experience, I have always had an interest in everything web and community. I recognized early the power of community for engaging with the products I used, for getting help and as an effective learning tool. In the late 1990s I started creating my own forums, primarily using vBulletin and phpBB, for my own eStores and realized firsthand the value of vibrant communities. At the same time, I was active as one of the original members and moderators on both the SEO Chat and Digital Point Forums, which now boast a community of nearly a million users. With around 30,000 forum posts, I have had a lot of experience with every type of community member from lurker to guru to troll.
Thicke: I have to ask — what’s the difference between a lurker, a guru and a troll?
Rickard: A lurker is someone who regularly consumes content but doesn’t engage within the community. Many of our discussions are centered around how to incentivize this group to engage because they typically make up 90% of those who visit a site or forum. If you were able to get just a small portion of lurkers to engage, it would have a major impact. A guru is what we typically call a super user. This is someone who goes above and beyond, often making a massive contribution and spending a significant amount of time in the community, day after day. We regularly see gurus online for as many as 35 hours per week. They typically represent less than 1% of a community, so we are constantly looking at how we can identify and support these valued users. Trolls are simply those in a community who seek to mix things up a bit for their own enjoyment. They might be playing devil’s advocate, and more aggressive trolls may target individual community members. The most experienced trolls are ones who know the line that can’t be crossed and walk right up to the edge of it. The role of a community manager is to balance all of these user types to enable a vibrant and healthy community.
Thicke: Tell us about your current role.
Rickard: I joined Symantec in 2004 after moving to Ireland and started a community group in 2008, primarily focused on community translation (crowdsourcing). Since that time, the group has expanded to also support community management, social customer relationship management and additional crowdsourcing activities. We are always looking at ways we can engage our users, and a big part of what we do is looking at the future.
Thicke: Because of my work with Translators without Borders, I am keenly interested in communities and see them as an incredibly scalable way of solving some of the world’s problems. Why are communities important to Symantec?
Rickard: Long gone are the days where the only interaction you had with a company was buying its product. Users expect to interact more with the companies whose services and products they use. With the proliferation of more consistent and user-friendly forum platforms (vBulletin, Lithium, Jive) as well as social channels, it has become easier for companies to open up these channels. The benefit to companies is a direct line to their customers as well as enabling users to engage with other users, resulting in a nontraditional support channel.
Thicke: The idea of communities tends to be synonymous with volunteers. What advantages do users gain when they contribute their comments or translations to an online forum such as yours?
Rickard: From a user perspective, not only can they benefit from this peer-to-peer support, they can build their reputation and gain recognition by helping other users. Community also allows people to get involved with a product that interests them in a way that was never previously possible, ranging from technical documentation to making the product available to other users in their native languages.
Thicke: You once mentioned in a presentation that different groups have different motivations for participating in a crowdsourced project.
Rickard: Yes, that’s true. Students or recent grads are looking for experience. They are keen to develop their terminology knowledge and hope to develop contacts. They are driven by public recognition and being able to bulk up their résumés. Another group we see is super users. They feel a sense of giving back when contributing, and they want to be involved in shaping the product. Highly competitive, they thrive on recognition and rarely request or even accept rewards. As for professional translators, they participate to keep their skills sharp and stay up to date on terminology. They may cite their contributions on their résumés.
Thicke: Motivating volunteers whatever their situation seems to be key. Alexandra Jaffe, a review and translation manager for the microcredit group Kiva.org, has found that some of the best ways to motivate volunteers are education and recognition. What have you found?
Rickard: We had a lot of theories on ways to motivate the community before we launched our translation initiative, with one of the most common being “value” rewards such as a free iPod for a predefined number of translations. As the initiative rolled on and we started talking with the community, “No iPod for me, I’m doing this because . . .” became a common sentiment. We conducted community surveys early on, and people’s motivations were most commonly contributing to a product they liked, getting experience, making a product available in an underserved language and being recognized as a valued contributor.
We run a lot of initiatives around rewards that include certificates signed by product management outlining their important contribution, invitations to closed events and meetings, as well as public recognition such as inclusion in a product’s about box.
Thicke: So people aren’t particularly motivated by gifts such as iPods? That seems counterintuitive.
Rickard: Once you look at other examples of motivated communities or high-quality contributors, it starts to make sense. Two examples would be the open source community and Amazon reviews. In the open source world, there is no commercial interest, so it is only these motivations that apply. I’ve gotten involved in the past with Drupal, an open-source content management system that drives 2% of websites, including the whitehouse.gov website, purely because I wanted to give back to a product that I found very useful. In the case of Amazon reviews, there is no reward system in place but instead a way for your contribution to be recognized by other users via a ranking system. Contributors to Amazon often cite the usefulness of existing reviews and the impact it had on their buying experience as a motivation to provide the same experience to other users — in other words, to give back.
Thicke: Jaffe would surely agree with you. She says, “We have a monthly newsletter that we send out that gives volunteers insight into the inner workings of Kiva. Giving them this extra ‘privileged’ view into the work we do makes them feel like they are a part of the organization and also gives them context for their work.” As for recognition, Kiva features a Volunteer of the Month included in its newsletter and also posted around the Kiva office. With regard to demotivating volunteers, Kiva has found that one of the biggest demotivators for volunteers is feeling that they aren’t being heard. With 300+ volunteers, Kiva makes a big effort to address volunteers’ questions and welcomes any suggestions they have for improving the program. In your experience with the Symantec communities, what demotivates community members?
Rickard: Interestingly, the biggest demotivator is placing a monetary value on their contribution. If the “real” value of a contribution is $10, communities will often provide their contribution for free if the underlying motivations are there. Once you put a trinket amount to that, say $1, you have now monetized that contribution, and this leaves the community questioning its value, regardless of original motivation.
Thicke: How do you work with communities?
Rickard: Although we use the term community manager, those employees who support our user communities are more relationship managers. They are the primary contact and therefore the public face for the company. A lot of their time is spent supporting our top users or gurus. Our gurus typically spend 35 hours a week on community-related activities, which may be helping new users, creating original content or translating one of our products, hoping to make it available via a community language pack. It is these community members who make it possible to support a community of 200,000+ people.
We also work hard in the case of initiatives such as community translation to make the experience as simple and enjoyable as possible for users, while being sure to motivate and recognize their contributions.
Many community translation programs sit squarely in traditional localization departments for obvious reasons, but it is important to note that there are a lot of contributing factors such as guru development, motivation and reward, not to mention providing a user experience that may be different than the more structured (and often complicated, to the amateur) process.
Thicke: You say that super users are what make communities scalable and that the key is to identify and cultivate them early in the process. How do you identify them and how do they bring scale to communities?
Rickard: Super user identification for us is still a manual process. We have a list of criteria that includes not just high activity but the usefulness of those contributions. We ask existing super users to nominate others, and the community manager makes the final decision. Often the final decision is in their gut, as they would know these active users fairly well. We ask a lot of our super users so sometimes a community member decides not to be promoted, but instead continues to contribute as just a really good user. The scale comes in when super users help other users. They become an extension of our community managers, which translates into being able to help and engage with significantly more users. Without this role, you would probably need to hire more staff.
Thicke: What other systemic ways does Symantec support its communities?
Rickard: It’s really about engaging and empowering your community. Super users certainly see the most benefit in this area. A great example is our appreciation events where we fly them to San Francisco from all over the world to participate in a week of engaging with product teams, tours and other fun activities. Initiatives such as community translation are also great examples of community members having a direct involvement with the product.
Thicke: Your communities help provide translation support for some 15 to 20 smaller languages that would not otherwise be localized. When volunteers work together on a project and when review is provided by voting rather than by editing, how does that affect the quality?
Rickard: I certainly wouldn’t say the quality is worse than our traditional process, just different. One of the questions we ask ourselves when gauging quality is “Does this add value for the user who only speaks that language?” We tend to focus less on things like style and more on comprehensibility. We have had community language packs reviewed independently, and they have always stacked up very well. Although this may be surprising to some, it makes sense that users have great context due to their daily use of the product, often better than professional translators who may be relying on documented context.
Thicke: Would you say that crowdsourced translations could be as good as professional translations because the whole community in that language has the opportunity to scrutinize and correct?
Rickard: It depends on a variety of factors but in many cases, yes. If the translation community is large enough and the platform they are translating with is equipped with the right tools for them to do so, it can be. There are areas, however, where this is typically not the case, like legal and marketing, but for content like the user interface, there is great potential.
Thicke: Do you believe collaborative community translators can in any way replace existing service providers?
Rickard: No, and that is not the reason we engage in this activity. Community languages are typically those that don’t make the cut for the traditional process. In other words, if they weren’t done by the community, they wouldn’t be done at all. We look at it as a way to further involve our users with their product, not necessarily as a cost-saving scheme.
Thicke: What role could language service providers (LSPs) play in community translation?
Rickard: LSPs can bring a lot to the table. They have the language skills and tools expertise, and they could focus this knowledge to help companies build a strong translation community, without cannibalizing any of their existing services. That role could include building, supporting and moderating communities as well as offering up a translation platform that appealed more to end users than the more complicated internal platforms used by many companies. To me there is a gap in the market right now that has an incredible amount of potential.
Thicke: Symantec’s own research has concluded that community involvement in support can lead to a 25% call deflection. People get answers from the community and don’t need to consult the support desk. What other metrics do you measure in your communities?
Rickard: Metrics in the past for communities have always focused on basics such as page views, sign ups and the amount of content contributed, but for us, that tells a very small portion of the story. Right now we are looking at a more in-depth analysis that includes user classification and how different roles interact with each other, as well as other areas that speak more to the value of community than its growth. Existing models tend to assume a larger community is a better thing, whereas we believe it is more about the quality of engagement within that community.
Thicke: Sounds like a win-win. What is the downside of working with communities?
Rickard: When it comes to community translation, the downside for many would be giving up the control that the traditional process offers. For instance, communities don’t adhere to your schedules, so you need a level of flexibility to make that work. Communities can also consume a lot of resources if they aren’t scalable from day one, so you need to be quite proactive. The benefits of a healthy, engaged community far outweigh any of these drawbacks, though, and with the massive adoption of social and community worldwide, users now expect this type of interaction with the products they use