I’ve been speaking to news organisations’ community editors on the lessons they’ve learned from their time in the job. Today, Sarah Hartley, head of online editorial for MEN Media, publishers of the Manchester Evening News and www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk. Her role includes managing and developing its online communities. She also blogs about online journalism at www.sarahhartley.wordpress.com and is on twitter @foodiesarah.
Unless you’re accepted as a member of the community, it will be difficult to successfully manage or maintain it. As in life, outsiders are mistrusted or their motives misconstrued.
Participating doesn’t just mean adding your own comments or clarifications to debates when required, but can also mean responding with further action.
If an inaccuracy is pointed out – amend it and don’t be worried about doing this publicly; it shows you’re listening. Taking on board legitimate points made by other members of a community you belong to is one way to ensure your blog/product/news service or whatever is more successful.
2. Not just a policeman
The MEN site is unusual among newspaper websites for pre-moderating all interactions with the public – comments, picture submissions, video etc. so my take on this may be slightly different to sites who post-moderate.
The pre-moderation policy means the team editing this material every day need to make snap judgements on what is, or isn’t, acceptable. No small task. The danger we have to guard against is that the activity becomes all about preventing things from happening rather than enabling them to happen.
So while policing for dangers is necessary, it’s important to remember that it isn’t the only activity – some encouragement and welcome is also needed.
3. Spell it out
Take a look at your terms and conditions. Are they written in English or legalese? Users can’t realistically be expected to understand what “defamation” means or have intricate knowledge about the race relations act.
However they can, for example, be expected to sign up to not insult others or use bad language.
Publish guidance notes on the standards of behaviour you do expect but make sure they have a friendly approachable tone to them. As well as helping users get an illustrated idea of what’s required, it also cuts a lot of time in explaining why something hasn’t been published because you can refer the user back to the policy.