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Fine-Tuned Corporate Social Media: Interview with Pandora Radio’s Community Manager, Aaron

Social media seems like a dream job (and in many cases, it is), but managing corporate networks is tougher than it looks. Clients turn to a company’s social accounts when they need a quick answer to a pressing question, when they have concerns about a product or service, and when they want to give a shout-out for a job well done. Handling social media inquiries is a rewarding experience if you understand how to navigate the whirlwind of information that approaches at any given moment.

No one knows how to handle that whirlwind better than Aaron M., the Community Manager for Pandora Radio. I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron after corresponding with him on Pandora’s official Twitter (and after experiencing an incredible result of his customer service — but more on that a little later). Here’s what he had to say about his job, his employer, and his favorite Pandora stations:

How long have you worked for Pandora? Were you a music fanatic prior to your employment there?

I was hired to Pandora’s Listener Support team three and a half years ago. I am, and have always been, a music fanatic. When I was a youngster my dad played pedal steel guitar in cowboy bars for a living. I learned to play guitar and bass when I was 12 and like many Pandora employees I’ve toured and recorded in bands. I still play every chance I get.

Tell me a little bit about your job as a Community Manager for Pandora. What responsibilities do you handle? Which aspects of your job do you enjoy the most, and why?

As Pandora’s Community Manager I am responsible for our presence on Facebook and Twitter. We take a very organic approach to social media. I am here to listen and engage with Pandora listeners. I enjoy the creativity involved in finding conversation starters. I enjoy hearing the great stories our listeners tell. I love learning about music with everyone else in our community!

Aaron at work on Pandora's Twitter

One would assume that social media would be a natural outlet for music lovers, but sometimes it’s tough to get people talking! Are there certain questions or discussion topics that generate more conversation than others?

Social media is a great outlet for music lovers. It is always a surprise to see what topics generate the most active conversations. I find that people really engage when they’re asked to look back to a time in their life and remember what songs they were listening to at specific moments. Music has such a cool ability to bring back memories. It’s also great to hear about listeners’ new music discoveries.

The last I heard, Pandora has more than 80 million active users. That’s a lot of potential feedback for you to field! Besides the “my station didn’t do exactly what I wanted” types of correspondence on Twitter, what seems to be the most common user concern? Do legitimate suggestions via social media ever make their way into the company suggestion box?

Currently we have more than 100 million registered users and 37 million active listeners.  I absolutely pass along listener suggestions within the company. I work very closely with many departments including music curation, advertising, engineering and listener support. We’re working to create the best possible personalized so listener feedback is a big part of it. I hear everything from specific music suggestions to “why can’t you create an app that can be melded into my brain?” Some suggestions are more plausible than others but I am all ears.

You do an excellent job of responding to questions and making subscribers feel appreciated on Twitter. Do you have any tips or tricks for other Community Managers? What’s your secret?

Thank you! My suggestion is to listen to your community and figure out what people want from you. Community Manager is an interesting job title, it can mean so many different things. Stick with a voice that comes naturally to you and keep on growing with it. Like anything else, you will get better with practice, it is very rewarding.

Are there any exciting changes in the pipeline for Pandora that subscribers should know about?

Yep! We’ve released a brand new Pandora interface. I’m super excited about the social features of the new site, I think it is really going to help people discover new music through their friends. You can check out my profile here: http://goo.gl/EdJP4

Last but not least, what are your personal favorite stations to listen to on Pandora? And can you recommend any features that would maximize users’ experiences with the service?

My personal favorite stations right now are Big Star Radio and a station that I created called ‘Fitz Heavy Riff’, I seeded that station with a bunch of songs from a music blog I liked – lots of old heavy 60s and 70s rock. To create this station I used the Add Variety button and entered the names of specific songs featured in the blog. It came out great!

Oh, I also like Miami Sound Machine Radio – no guilty pleasures here!

Our new comedy genre stations are also really fun, I recommend listening to them when you need a laugh.

___

As you can see, Aaron enjoys his job and works hard to address customer inquiries on Pandora’s social media accounts! As if his interview answers didn’t provide enough evidence of that, I can personally attest to his level of service. Last month, I responded to the following tweet from the official Twitter account: “Here’s wishing you a happy weekend from Pandora! What’s a good station to start this weekend off with?” And to my surprise, Aaron started following me back!

I immediately wrote him a thank you tweet and gushed about how much I love Pandora, not expecting anything in return (his follow was enough for me). However, Aaron surprised me again by sending me a direct message and asking me if I had a Pandora t-shirt yet. A Pandora t-shirt? Yes, please! A few days later, I received the shirt as well as a hand-signed letter from Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora. On a scale of one to ten, how psyched do you think I was? Take a look:

(Click to enlarge)

I’m officially blown away by Pandora’s social media efforts, and my loyalty to the company has increased even more since my interaction with Aaron. After all, I wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to interview him if he hadn’t been so approachable and personable in the first place.

Takeaways from Aaron’s strategy as a Community Manager:

  • Enjoy what you do. Do you think Pandora’s social media efforts would be half as organized if they were without a manager who was well-versed in music genres?
  • There’s no such thing as an insignificant comment. As Aaron demonstrates, all customer feedback is worth noting, no matter how implausible. You may not be able to reinvent the wheel with social media suggestions, but it’s a valid outlet for people to express themselves.
  • Practice makes perfect. Even if you’ve been fielding social media questions for years, keep an open mind. There’s always room to grow and learn.
  • Acknowledge your clients and reward your brand advocates. Promotional products are perfect for rewards! Pandora uses t-shirts, but any item that’s appropriate for your industry would do the trick.
What else can you learn from Aaron? Do you use Pandora Radio’s products and services? What are your most notable takeaways?

 Main image courtesy of Aaron.


Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

Comments

  1. amy

    This was a very interesting interview to read, Jill! I had no idea how much emphasis Pandora puts on their social media efforts, but it seems to be paying off for them. I love Pandora and regularly listen to it while working :) The biggest takeaway that I found was the “practice makes perfect” idea. Even if you’re a pro at your job, you can still learn something new every day.

    Great post, Jill!

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks, Amy! The amount of effort Aaron puts in is incredible – I don’t know how he handles all of their Twitter and Facebook inquiries on a daily basis. There are SO many of them! But he does it well, and with lots of empathy. That’s an crucial quality to have as a Community Manager, that’s for sure!

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    Such a fantastic interview, Jill! And Aaron, thanks for taking the time to give such great responses!

    Like Amy, I had no idea that Pandora was so hardcore about their social media, but they’re definitely creating a whole bunch of brand advocates from it. From your screenshot of his tweets, I think it’s cool that Aaron doesn’t just thank people and handle complaints, but also asked how someone created a channel! That activeness of making their product better through fan interaction is amazing.

    Thanks again, Aaron!

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks!! Aaron definitely knows how to get fans talking about music, and his social media strategy gets people to interact with one another. With all of the different music genres and tastes, there’s plenty of subject matter! ;)

      I love the responses he gives to users’ complaints – even if they’re particularly mean or accusatory, Aaron always answers with kindness and empathy. And that’s rare nowadays! Other companies should take notes and follow Pandora in this respect…

  3. Bret Bonnet

    Wow, wow, WOW!

    That is SUPER cool.

    I’ve honestly heard of Pandora Radio like 1000 times before but NEVER gave it a try until after reading this blog post today.

    I think I’ve just discovered the meaning of life… and it’s music! :)

    • Jill Tooley

      Glad this post could open your eyes to the beautiful world of Pandora, Bret! It keeps getting better and better with all the improvements they’re making. I spend $36 a year to get the premium (Pandora One) service without annoying commercials, and it’s worth every dime to me.

      You should get the iPhone app so you can listen to it in your car, too! :D

      • amy

        I use the Pandora app all the time when I’m at home but not near a computer. Works great!

  4. JPorretto

    I definitely appreciate what this guy is accomplishing, the appreciation and respect they show their fans, and of course the Pandora service in general. I personally don’t use it, but I don’t know anyone who has had a bad word to say about it! Which is a rare feat nowadays….

    • Jill Tooley

      Agreed, Jeff. They have positive feedback all around (although there are always going to be naysayers of ANY product or service). I’ve been listening to Pandora for years now, and they’ve never let me down!

      Thanks!

  5. Joseph Giorgi

    Jill, one word: Niiiiiiiiiice!

    This was such a cool and insightful interview! I’m seriously in the mood for some internet radio right now. ;)

    As far as maintaining its corporate social media presence, Pandora has done well to entrust someone like Aaron M. with the task. He obviously cares a great deal about what he does, and it’s inspiring to hear him talk about it directly. Given his obvious passion for his work and for interacting with members of the Pandora community, it’s no wonder why the site has done so well in bringing so many new users to fold.

    My favorite takeaway:

    “Acknowledge your clients and reward your brand advocates.”

    Every company should aspire to the level of engagement that Pandora puts forth. Members of any online community like to be recognized, and this was a case-in-point study of how brands and businesses should go about giving recognition.

    • Jill Tooley

      Joe, one word: THANKSSSSS! ;)

      I’m always in the mood for some internet radio! Which of my awesome stations to listen to, though, is the question…

      Passion is a HUGE part of any social media strategy, as far as I’m concerned. If you put an indifferent staff member up to the challenge, then they’re not going to give 100% when problems arise. They probably won’t answer questions with a smile and they’re definitely not going to display enthusiasm when they talk about the company! You can tell just from Aaron’s tweets that he’s passionate about music and about the company.

      I LOVE my Pandora t-shirt. I would have been just as pleased to be recognized with a follow (or even an @mention), but that extra effort on his part really put things in motion for this blog post. Unexpected treats usually do the trick when it comes to encouraging your fans! You go, Pandora.

  6. Peemo

    Great interview and great feedback!

    Glitch Mob Radio is where it’s at.

    Saturday night soundtrack type stuff right thurrrr.

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks, Peemo! My Saturday night soundtrack varies so much I don’t even know that I could mention just a few. That’s a tough one! I will say that 80s stations are among my favorites for Fridays, though. And I never get tired of switching up my Classic Rock stations with a bit of variety now and then! :)

  7. Rachel

    What a great interview! I use Pandora aalllll the time, but I had never thought to look the company up on Facebook or Twitter, so it was really interesting to learn about their social network endeavors. I could never imagine answering all those tweets on a regular basis–and always with such a positive attitude! Aaron seems to do a great job keeping the customers happy. :)

    • Jill Tooley

      Thank you, Rachel! It’s funny; some of my favorite brands have awesome social accounts like Pandora, but others seem to have accounts that do nothing but collect dust and user spam. It’s always surprising to see how many major companies don’t have an active (or sufficient) social media presence.

      And yes, he does a great job of monitoring everything! I can’t imagine how exhausted he must be by the end of the day!

  8. Cybernetic SAM

    Wow this is super amazing! What an honest to goodness company that shares in the joy of passionate music listening! I am definitely going to check out those stations he listed. I really liked Pandora before, now I love it! I remember exactly when I started listening years ago and was amazed by it. I have used things like Last FM etc.. and I ALWAYS come back to Pandora. It just feels safe, and like home. It is SO easy to use! Not to mention so easy to discover new great music, and for music freaks like me that does my heart good! ;) Great post!

  9. Jen

    I love Pandora! I wanna free shirt too!

    Great interview Mrs. N.! :)

    I usually listen to classical or piano music in the morning and switch it up to comedy in the afternoon. I get caught laughing out loud when I’m alone in my cube. Who’s a nerd with two thumbs? This chick (points at self with thumbs)!

    • Amy Swanson

      I’ve also listened to some of the comedy channels. Definitely fights those afternoon lulls ;)

  10. Jay

    Awesome, Jill!

    Now all you have to do is get him to buy all their promotional stuff from QLP!

  11. Emilee

    Great job Jill! Thanks for such an insightful interview, even if you are not in social media it is still a good lesson in customer service :-)

  12. Claudette

    Very informative interview. Keep up the great work! :)

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  14. Stantz

    Awesome post! I hope Pandora is around forever!

  15. Matt

    I sent them a thank-you email through their support line (they really didn’t have any other contact medium I could find.) I, too received an appreciation message asking me my shirt size and address. Just got the shirt and hand-written paper too :)

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