Now the big upgrade to Movable Type 4 is done, I’m pulling together a strategy to develop our blogs. At the heart of that is slowing down the expansion of them, and upping the quality (or humanely putting down) those we have. And for those of you who are familiar with blogging, it should be no surprise that I want to inject a greater sense of community into both our blogs and our blogging. It is, after all, at the heart of what blogging is about.
And the response I get can roughly be summed up as “But why do you want to make blogs a community thing? That’s what the forums are for”. This response makes me want to either bash my head repeatedly against my desk, or write a long, passionate blog post giving my response. And given my liking for blogging and my dislike of brain damage, you can probably work out which I chose to do.
Here’s what I believe:
Community is not a place. Community is an approach to publishing.
You either care about your readers, or you don’t. Creating forums, and then making that your only point of community interaction with your readers is roughly like inviting some guests round – and then not letting them out of the guest bedroom. It shows that you’ve heard of the idea of hospitality, but aren’t really all that keen on the idea of, y’know, socialising.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I think forums are tremendously valuable. I think peer-to-peer social interaction without the need for the creation of something for them to interact around is a valuable part of what niche sites like the ones we publish can offer readers. Indeed, having sites without forums is roughly like inviting guests round to stay, but not giving them anywhere to rest or sleep. And I think Andrew is doing a great job in supporting our community editors in really making forums work for our readers.
But to really, genuinely engage with your readers you have to embed it in everything you publish to some degree.
Think about Flickr, the photo-sharing site owned by Yahoo. Imagine that, rather than building a community-integrated site, they’d just built forums on the side of photo sharing functionality. It wouldn’t have worked. Instead of the social interaction you get about a created object (the image), you would just have had images and a lack-lustre forum off to one side. The approach that the Flickr team took – by building community features in from the start, and then allowing users to create their own forums through the groups functionality – was what made the site so compelling, and which allows it to continue to thrive. In short: Flickr is primarily a community site, with photo-sharing as the objects people interact around. But too often we in the media miss that and just see that photo-sharing is really successful, and so we’d better have our own gallery site.
It’s all too easy for people from a traditional media background to see community as a place – something off to the side where the readers go, while the journalists sit over here in the real part of the site. They are content-focused, not people-focused. After all, that’s what the job’s been all about for the last century or so. Sure, they may occasionally deign to join in a few threads. Or include a letters page in the print title. But, usually, it’s very much “them and us”. You can see shades of this in everything from the early days of both The Guardian’s Comment is Free and The Telegraph’s My Telegraph, to the URL choice for our Farmers Weekly forums: http://www.fwi.co.uk/community/
While each of these sites are good in their own way, they do create a touch of “that’s for you over there, but the real stuff is over here”. But the traffic figures tend to show that the community stuff is just as much the real stuff to the readers as the journalist-created content. In a sense, holding community apart from professional content only harms the professional content creators. It bars them from seeing and exploring the reaction from their customers to their work. It stops them developing relationships – friendships even – with those they ultimatly work for.
And, given the traffic volumes that community strategies give us, that’s just plain dumb.
Golly and, indeed, gosh. An e-mail arrives from one Kyle at The Atlantic, pointing me to the video they’ve produced following up an article about Rupert Murdoch and the future of newspapers – and providing a handy-dandy embed code for me.
Now, given that I’m a subscriber to The Atlantic, and that the discussion is actually pretty interesting, how could I resist? Find out why Murdoch still thinks print is worth investing in:
This way of accessing Plurk makes it a different experience for me than Twitter. I have Twitter running all the time, getting updates either through software on my computer, or my mobile phone. It’s firmly in the arena of ambient awareness. Plurk, on the other hand, is somewhere I visit, more akin to a forum, but with a very low time commitment. And you have the ability to have little conversation thread below each plurk, as well as sharing videos and photos. As a result, it has a real sense of fun that I don’t get from Twitter. And maybe that’s why I use it so much.
Well, that and the quest to boost your Plurk karma (which gets you more options in the service) is pretty addictive…
Sadly, though, I’m been absolutely thrashed in the poularity stakes by two of my colleagues, Nathan and Nicki of Travel Weekly, who are 7th and 17th in London respectively. The shame, the shame.
3. Must enjoy technology. These days, the tools of digital media are (or should be) easy to learn. Your community manager will understand — and be able to adapt quickly to — upgrades in tools. She or he also might suggest new tools, and will learn new tools pretty quickly.
Participate. When a reader posts incorrect information, offer up a correction or clarification. When a reader posts an assertion that would benefit from factual support, ask for it. When someone makes a statement that reminds you of an interesting quote or event that didn’t make your story, leave your own comment about it. Your participation not only makes the conversation more interesting, and keeps people coming back, it gives you credibility when it comes time to play cop.
One day I’ll figure out why that one is so hard for journalists. And then I’ll become a consultant and make a fortune…
It’s just a series of the best quotes from bloggers and others about the rapidly changing state of journalism and publishing.
This serves two needs. First of all, it’s something I can point my colleagues to as a resource to quickly understand the thinking going on around digital and networked journalism – as well as the threats to traditional model.
And also it’s a great way for me to deal with all those open tabs in Safari with great blog posts, that I can’t actually think of anything to add to but “whoa, cool post”.
My Plurk followers got an early peek at this at the weekend, and a couple of people have already found it thought-provoking, so I’m feeling confident enough to push it public and see if anyone’s interested…