I talked this morning with Mark Potts, co-founder of the defunct Backfence.com. Backfence was a company that built online communities around a handful of towns on the East Coast. Although it didn’t make it as a business and closed up shop last summer, it did successfully engage communities online.
Mark graciously agreed to share some of his insights with me. He also blogged about what he learned back in July in his Recovering Journalist blog: http://recoveringjournalist.typepad.com/recovering_journalist/2007/07/backfence-lesso.html
We talked mostly about building an online community. “The single most important thing,” he says, “is trust the audience. That’s hard for editors because editing is about control.”
Be clear about what the community is focused on and what’s OK in its digital space, and then turn it over to the audience, he says. “It’s powerful; they really do take care of things.”
What’s more, Potts says, their motivation for getting involved isn’t compensation. Folks who contribute don’t want money or gifts. “They want to be experts on their community,” he says.
A little recognition in the form of reverse publishing is nice, too. “Don’t train them as journalists; that’s a turnoff,” he says. “Put their name in the paper.”
Now THAT’S humbling to a journalist.