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.