Tag Archives: community management

6 ways to get started in community management

Following on from my previous post on the network journalist role, and as part of a wider experiment around the 5 roles in an investigations team, I wanted to flesh out what exactly a community editor role means when adopted as part of a journalism project.

First I need to add a disclaimer: the terms “community editor” (CE) and “community manager” (CM) are used to refer to a very wide range of jobs in a number of industries. I’m not sure what distinction there is – if any – but my hunch is that the title ‘community editor’ has been overtaken by its ‘manager’ variation because it rightly places the focus more on the community than its content.

Even within journalism, the role can vary enormously. This is partly because the communities themselves, and the challenges that they represent, differ so much. For example:

  • A mass market – anonymous and diverse, which a CM must try to somehow ‘convert’ into one or more healthy niche communities
  • No community – the CM is asked to ‘build it from scratch’
  • The CM’s website(s) already have active communities. The CM’s role is to maintain, support, and further develop those.
  • Communities exist, but not on the website(s) of the CM’s employer – the CM is asked to engage with those (this is more of a Community Editor role)

This post will be dealing with the last situation, which is the one in which most journalists first find themselves: with neither a platform nor a community.

With that out of the way, here are 6 things I think an individual can do as part of their first foray into community management/editing as a journalist:

1. Know where the communities are

This seems like a no-brainer but it’s all too easy to miss communities because you can’t find any evidence of them on Twitter or Facebook.

Along with specialist social networks (LinkedIn for professionals; MySpace for musicians; even profession-specific networks such as Doctors.net), there are forums, wikis, mailing lists, and various other places where people gather to share information and support.

The social media prism by Brian Solis (shown below) is one useful tool for checking if you’ve covered every possible angle on this front. For example: have you thought of looking for your community on Flickr? Last.fm? Digg? A locally popular platform? (LiveJournal dominates in eastern Europe, for example, while QQ is China’s answer to Twitter, Mixi is Japan‘s answer to Facebook, and Orkut and Hi5 have a healthy userbase in places like Brazil and India)

social media prism

Look for the communities in every corner of the net – don’t expect them to come pre-labelled. For example, the forums of local football clubs and local newspapers often contain corners devoted to topics other than football and news. And follow people as well as topics: if you find someone in your field, search for their username across the web and see what other places they contribute to.

One other place to look: the physical world. Live events, conferences, meetups and other gatherings are ideal places to build relationships with members of the community – as well as a great opportunity for providing live coverage online that will lead you to others, and others to you.

2. Look for problems to solve

Once you’ve identified and are following the community, try to find your best role within it. Remember that the community is not here to serve you: barging in and asking for case studies will get you the same response as if you did that in any physical social space: blank stares and muttered insults.

The simplest way to find a place in a community is through solving problems.

Listen for questions that people are asking, or complaints that they make. A key skill of a journalist is to find the answers to questions, or get responses to complaints – so that’s likely to be one way you can contribute.

Those answers and responses, of course, also make for good evergreen content (which can help you attract other members of the community), so cross-post them on your blog as well as on the platforms where the community gathers.

You might also see the need for physical meetups or other events – don’t be afraid to get stuck in and organise one.

3. Be interested – listen and ask questions

You will be both a better journalist and community editor if you listen as much as possible, and ask when you want to hear more about something.

It doesn’t have to be newsworthy – in fact, it’s sometimes better when it’s not – because often it’s an understanding of the small details and complex context which makes for better journalism and, by extension, better – and more – relationships with contacts.

4. Create content out of the process of discovery

As you explore a community a good practice to adopt is to record your research in ways that make it easier for others to engage with the community too. This helps you see what is interesting about a community, as well as creating content which can help contacts find you.

Examples of typical content created from the process of community research include:

  • ‘Top 20 people in [an industry] to follow on Twitter’
  • ‘The best forums for [your field or issue]‘
  • ‘The hottest discussions about the [issue] right now’
  • ‘Where do [profession] go for advice on [problem]?’
  • ‘The best blogs about [your field/issue]‘
  • ‘Forums roundup: what people are saying about [issue/question]‘

You may need to make a choice on where to post this content, especially if the community is not a big user of blogs. Don’t publish in a way that is disconnected from the community that you are supposed to be serving: at the very least cross-publish to the platforms where discussion is healthiest. Don’t spam shared spaces with links to external content.

You might also profile members of the community, or – at a later stage – create something that pulls together profiles, points of view, or experiences. For example: this Times Educational Supplement piece collects excluded pupils’ experiences (incomplete version online); We Are The 99 Percent uses Tumblr to pull together the experiences that inspired a protest movement; and Spitalfields Life seeks to document the places and people of the area, while this Guardian interactive allows you to explore the voices of 100 NHS workers on health reforms.

5. Link, retweet, attribute and comment

Finally, it’s important to link to content from your community as often as possible. This does two things: firstly, it demonstrates good attribution and demonstrates that you are not looking to take credit for yourself which belongs to others. And secondly, it makes other people aware of your work: a link to another blog generates a ‘pingback’ which alerts the author to your piece. Twitter users are notified if their tweet is retweeted by you, Facebook users if you ‘like’ their update, and so on. Comments are an extension of the same principle of acknowledgement.

Linking – or ‘linkblogging’ – is also the simplest way to begin engaging with a field and its communities, and a good habit to get into if you want to understand an area and get in the habit of keeping up to date with it. For more on that, 7 ways to follow a field… is a good guide.

6. Read about community management

As you gain in confidence and reputation, you may find yourself doing more and more in your community. Community management is, to my mind, one of the hardest roles in online journalism to do well, and the more insights you can gather from others, the better prepared you will be.

This list of resources from FeverBee is as good as they come. You should also follow blogs in the field – that list contains a section on those, but if you just want 5 to start with, here’s a bundle to subscribe to.

PS: If you want to see explanations of job descriptions of the CM, and other roles such as social media manager, this post by Blaise Grimes-Viort does a very good job of trying to unpick the subtle differences and links to typical job descriptions. More on traits of community managers at ReadWriteWebThe Constant Observer and Business2Community.

20 free ebooks on journalism (for your Xmas Kindle)

For some reason there are two versions of this post on the site – please check the more up to date version here.

20 free ebooks on journalism (for your Xmas Kindle) {updated to 64}

Journalism 2.0 cover

As many readers of this blog will have received a Kindle for Christmas I thought I should share my list of the free ebooks that I recommend stocking up on.

Online journalism and multimedia ebooks

Starting with more general books, Mark Briggs‘s book Journalism 2.0 (PDF*) is now 4 years old but still provides a good overview of online journalism to have by your side. Mindy McAdams‘s 42-page Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency (PDF) adds some more on that front, and Adam Westbrook‘s Ideas on Digital Storytelling and Publishing (PDF) provides a larger focus on narrative, editing and other elements.

After the first version of this post, MA Online Journalism student Franzi Baehrle suggested this free book on DSLR Cinematography, as well as Adam Westbrook on multimedia production (PDF). And Guy Degen recommends the free ebook on news and documentary filmmaking from ImageJunkies.com.

The Participatory Documentary Cookbook [PDF] is another free resource on using social media in documentaries.

A free ebook on blogging can be downloaded from Guardian Students when you register with the site, and Swedish Radio have produced this guide to Social Media for Journalists (in English).

The Traffic Factories is an ebook that explores how a number of prominent US news organisations use metrics, and Chartbeat’s role in that. You can download it in mobi, PDF or epub format here.

Continue reading

Strategies vs tools redux

Yesterday I chaired a panel on ‘UGC and Social Media’ at Birmingham’s Hello Culture event. Determined that it did not descend into the all-too-common obsession with tools that often characterises such discussions, I framed it from the start with the questions “Why should we care? Why should users care?”

The panellists were grateful – and the tactic seemed to work. We talked about the tension between creating content and building relationships; between the urge to ‘get people on our platform’ and going to their platforms instead. We discussed how the experience of designing physical spaces might inform how we approach designing digital ones; and about revisiting strategic priorities as a whole instead of simply trying to ‘find time’ to ‘do the online stuff’.

In other words we talked about people rather than technology, and strategies rather than tools.

So this morning it was good to be brought back down to earth and reminded just how embedded the technology-driven mindset is by Richard Millington.

Richard writes about a ‘State of Branded Online Communities’ report that uses Bravo TV as an example of a “successful” online community. The problem is that by any sensible measure, it isn’t. And I think Richard’s quotes on just how flawed the example is are worth reproducing here at length:

“If simply posting a standardized thread each week and leaving people to their own endeavours is seen as good community management practice, what exactly is bad community management? This is community management by autopilot.

“… You judge a community’s success by it’s stage in the life cycle, the number of interactions it generates, it’s members sense of community and the ROI it offers the organization. ComBlu defines success by what features the platform offers. By that assessment, nearly all of the most successful communities would be considered failures. [They struggle to get more than 10 members participating in a community at any one time.]

“ComBlu credits Bravo with an array of successes which have no impact on the community’s success. Only one suggestion is offered:

“[..] On our Bravo wish list? A better gamification or reputation management system.”

“There are a variety of things the community needs, a better gamification system certainly isn’t one of them.

“How about hiring a community manager to take responsibility for stimulating discussions […]?

“… Content sites branded as communities are still content sites.”

Ah, gamification: I’ll tip that to be next year’s QR code/Facebook page. How about an iPhone app? Everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t we? Remember when everyone had to have a space in Second Life?

It’s a point I’ve made before in Technology is not a strategy: it’s a tool (and its follow-up), and which is explored at length in my Online Journalism book. Too often in an organisation or in a student project someone decides that they must launch a Facebook page or ‘be on Twitter’.

I recently compared this to someone approaching a TV producer, saying they wanted to make a documentary, and explaining that their strategy would be to “use a camera”.

No producer would accept that, and we need an equally critical attitude to the use of new technology. Otherwise we’re just hammers walking around seeing nails.

2 great books on online communities

I’ve been meaning to blog for a while now about 2 excellent books I’ve read this year about communities online, both of which are pretty much essential reading for anyone involved in community management.

the wikipedia revolution

The first is Andrew Lih’s book The Wikipedia Revolution. Lih is for me the world’s leading academic on Wikipedia, not least because he’s been a participant in Wikipedia himself and has a great understanding of how the community works from the inside.

The book charts how the community has evolved from one that was maintained by personal connections to a whole stratified society of rules, roles, technologies and norms.

Particularly key are the sections on the development of the ‘Spanish Fork‘ (the mere mention of a commercial version of Wikipedia led to members of their Spanish site effectively leaving in protest and setting up their own encyclopedia) and Chapter 5: The Piranha Effect, which I gave to my MA Online Journalism students as one of their first readings.

The book also deals with trolls, vandalism (the Siegenthaler incident) and censorship.

18 Rules of Community Engagement

The second great book is from experienced community manager Angela Connor: 18 Rules of Community Engagement (also available as an e-book). This is a great complement to Lih’s as this comes from a very different, practical, angle drawing not just on her own knowledge but those of readers of her blog. In fact, it’s a very bloggy book generally.

Connor emphasises the need to invest lots of time in any community developing relationships, making connections and fostering relationships. She looks at the importance of content (of the right type) and questions, of rules and culture, egos and compliments, influence and complaints.

It’s a breezy book that doesn’t impose one solution on every problem but frequently returns to the fact that every community is different, and so even common problems like trolls and spamming will have different solutions. That said, there are plenty of experiences offered.

These are probably the best 2 books I’ve read on online communities – but if you’ve read something good in the area, please let me know.

Lessons in community from community editors #3: Andrew Rogers, RBI

After the first two of my interviews with news organisations’ community editors , Reed Business Information’s Andrew Rogers blogged his own ‘3 lessons‘ he’s learned from his time as Head of User Content Development. Reproduced by kind permission, here it is in full:

1. A community is only really a community if it builds (or builds on) genuine relationships between the members.

Otherwise it is merely interactivity. A corollary of this is that an online community needs to be focused around a common interest, need or passion (or simply “something in common”)

2. The most important tool for dealing with problems is your Terms of Use / Ts&Cs.

If you are to deal effectively with problems of misbehaviour you need to be able to point to the rule which says the user can’t do that.

You will still be accused of suppressing free speech/being a Nazi of course, but at least you can justify your actions in removing posts, banning users etc.

Spend a lot of time on developing the rules and lay them out in simple language

3. Find ways to reward the best or most prolific contributors

This might be through a reputation system, increased rights, or simply highlighting their contributions in some way.

Many users are driven to upload their photographs to the Farmers Weekly website in the hope that they will make it into the magazine.

It’s also true, of course, that one should aim to reward all contributors by ensuring that someone pays attention to them.