#CMmeetup 6/21 – Conversations with AOL &

Tuesday’s meetup was another super-helpful, insight-filled one. It started with some light networking (including beers + pizza) for the first 30 minutes which led into two insightful bro-side chats moderated by our own Katy Zack and Dave Brown, respectively. The first Q&A was with social guru (yes, I hate that word too but there is seriously no other way to describe him) Matthew Knell from AOL.

Matthew has been in tech for 14 years. He was an early blogger at and has a patent owned by Google (what?!). He joined JetBlue in the early days which he described as “super fun.” That is until the great meltdown (you know, the one where JetBlue kept passengers on the plane for nearly nine hours stranded on the tarmac). We’ll start there. 

After the ultra-crisis happened, Matthew and his team decided they would go home and deal with it in the morning (like all great community teams do, right?). Morning came – quickly, I’m sure – and they still had no idea what to do. So, on a whim, Matthew proposed using YouTube for then-CEO David Neeleman to issue a public apology. He agreed, the video was shot with a normal video camera, and went live, accumulating 800,000 views on the way. They also created a customer bill of rights and sent a copy to each customer. At that point, people began praising JetBlue for their crisis management skills even though Matthew admits it was basically made up on the spot. We’ve all been there.

Katy interviewing Matthew

After that, Matthew started playing with a brand new site called Twitter. Quickly, he thought to himself, “why can’t a brand tweet?” So, being the experimental type that he is, he registered @JetBlue. Once he had it, he wanted to build an audience- so he reached out to Biz Stone and asked to be placed on the featured users list. After a couple hundred followers turned into a couple thousand, Matthew tried using @JetBlue as a marketing vehicle and, according to him, “it bombed.” So, Matthew figured he would simply ask the people what they wanted out of this. And guess what? They wanted help. From then on, @Jetblue took on a customer service role and, even though Matthew left at 25,000 followers, still continues to be a model of service in the Twitterverse.

After JetBlue, Matthew went to MTV where he utilized Flux to build their community and was among the first to integrate FB Connect into the site. Matthew got sick of corporate America and left to work for CafeMom. He found this experience to be very fulfilling and, being the innovator that he is, started their first blog as a way to distribute their content for marketing purposes. He even started the “Click Like If You Love You Kids” page which still averages about 20,000 clicks, 2,000 Likes and 50 comments per post (nice!). Matthew’s experience with Cafemom really helped him understand how to market content without necessarily marketing the brand. 

Matthew reached the pinnacle at CafeMom and realized he had taught everyone everything he knew, so he left and went to AOL, where he has been for 7 months now. He and his team (which includes the insanely-bright @SarahCooley) have already grown AOL’s Facebook page from 25K to over 200K, and Matthew describes AOL as a “TV brand for social” because of the many different brands that fall under it (Techcrunch, Huffington Post and Stylelist, to name a few).

Now the Q&A.

Katy: What’s the difference between marketing and community?
Matthew: If you pay for it- it’s marketing. If not, then it’s organic.

Katy: What if your paying to create the content?
Matthew: I consider that as marketing too.. how can you use marketing to boost awareness? Someone creates it, then we spread it out.. Let editors do what they are doing and how do we amplify their efforts? 

Audience: How do you take an old school executive and bring him/her into social?
Matthew: Explain why it’s valuable.. Make them understand that social is a distribution channel and a way to reach customers directly.. Teach the teacher.. Step 1 is to try it.. Basic training first.

Matthew then went on to say that he believes community managers are one of the most important positions in a company. “You’re the dialogue between company and consumer”, Matthew stated, “community management will never be obsolete, tools will just change.” Rock on.

Vadim: Is AOL going to start charging for content?
Matthew: I would not be totally shocked, but no immediate plans.

Audience: What is you best accomplishment?
Matthew: Being afraid not to fail is important.. and being reckless.

Audience: Analytics?
Matthew: Clicks is the main analytic.. You can draw success factors out of patterns.. I love Crowdbooster, because it measures reach and RTs.. We also tag every tweet with unique identifier to understand what the user does after they leave the post.

Audience: Do you pay attention to influencers that RT or just all RTs?
Matthew: We don’t focus much on RTers.. We focus more on headlines and making them very clickable.. We actually prefer randoms over influencers.. Good content over focusing on influencers.

Harrison: AOL fell behind once. How are you ensuing you don’t fall behind again?
Matthew: By integrating social within the operation, making sure it becomes something you just do- and constantly paying attention and being part of the convos.

Audience: How do you explain social to newbs that don’t get it?
Matthew: Try to de-amplify the tool and amplify the logic- the why over the how. Express to them best practices.. It comes with education and controlled experimentation.

Audience: Thoughts on creating a community on your site (forum, etc.) vs. Facebook?
Matthew: Go where the people are. Figure out where referral traffic comes from and set up there.

Want to connect with Matthew? Follow him here and ‘Like’ his page on Facebook here.

Next up was Matt LeMay. Matt is a senior writer for Pitchfork, a musician and the platform manager at bitly. What does that title mean? Matt doesn’t know. Fun fact: Matt wrote his Senior Thesis (At Brown University) on Sex & The City.

“Real time is schpeel time.” This is how Matt started off. It was awesome.

After quickly demoing bitly for us, he showed us a neat trick. Did you know that if you affix a “+” at the end of a bitly link, you’ll be taken to the link’s analytics page? Go ahead and try it. Pretty fancy. Matt then went on to discuss a new feature: bitly bundles. this gives user the ability to bundle links you have shared. The bundle is shareable and able to be commented on. They are even working on API for bundles! Have no idea what this means? Check out an example of one here.

Matt mentioned that he personally uses bitly to see what links his friends click on, which he admits aren’t many. I found this interesting as I’ve never thought to use bitly in this way.

On to the Q&A.

Dave & Matt (Sorry for the terrible pic, bros)


Dave: What’s a good workflow to get started with bitly?
Matt: bitly is built right in to many clients (including Tweetdeck, Echofon, etc.) and you can even share right from bitly.

Matt went on to say that bitly is important because it tracks data of human interest and intent in real time. He then talked about a story with major partner, Amazon, who usually tracks links organically being shared vs. what they are sharing. “At one point, the (Amazon) team was primarily sharing links to iPhone accessories. The organic shares skyrocketed (the link was for the Hurt Locker DVD as this was during the Oscars) and the team quickly shifted and started sharing this link. The audience was telling them what they should be focusing on.” Pretty amazing.

Dave: Can bitly predict the future?
Matt: bitly and you can predict the future. Over time you can predict off of trends, and really get to know your audience. It then becomes easy to give them what they want. +1.

Audience: Is a site redesign coming? Sometimes it’s hard to know some of these features exist.
Matt: The challenge is a communication one. Community management is harder than code. If you’re not communicating, none of the other stuff matters. We have a problem communicating that bitly is much more than link shortening. (Sounds exciting).

Want to connect with Matt? Follow him here.. and be sure to ask him about Teenage Fanclub- He’ll love it.

Lastly, the multi-tasking master and community manager of Fast Company, Sheena Medina, shared her recommended sites/apps/tools, which has now been dubbed, “the hi-five.” As always- be sure to check them out as they are guaranteed to make you smarter and cooler:

1. Crowdbooster – Measure and optimize your social media marketing
2. – Search for an hashtag and you will see it displayed inside a red cirle. The more popular the hashtag is, the bigger the circle. You can also read a popularity rating, from 0 to 100: The most used hashtag on Twitter would get 100.
4. The Email Game – A new way to read and respond to email. Works with Gmail and Google Apps The Email Game is a streamlined email experience. No clutter. Just one message at a time to focus on. Ready. Set. Email!
5. Obtract – Keep track of your productive and distracting activities over the course of your day. Compare your distraction level to your teammates over the day. Intervention. When you get too distracted, a maze intervention appears to slow you down and help you get back to work.



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About the author

Nick Rovisa

I'm a digital account executive with Ruder Finn in NYC. I find pleasure in connecting with new people and brainstorming innovative ideas. I don't claim to know everything, but I do occasionally organize my thoughts and post them on my blog should you be interested in reading them. I'm also a self-proclaimed foodie and a professional appreciator of design. Other things that interest me are (in no particular order): sports, logos and branding, music, technology, documentaries, deep conversations, and online activism.


Very thorough coverage, great job Nick!