Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

You. Me. Us. July 30, 2008

Filed under: community,social media,Uncategorized — contentninja @ 5:05 pm
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Commercial Street, Bangalore.Image via Wikipedia

Reading about best practices of online community engagement led me to this rather existential question: Do we need a comprehensive strategy for community/social media for the company or just collaboration across departments?

Beth Kanter blogs today about whether orgs really want an online community (read: relationships) or just want content (read: dialogue around a topic of shared interest). There IS a difference. Kanter was discussing strategies for community engagement, when a reader posed the question: Do you really want community? The reader suggests that an org decide what it really wants and tailor strategy around the answer.

Then I found Augie Ray’s post today at Social Media Today. Ray argues that companywide strategies are more of a hindrance than a help to effective use of social media/community because “social media is a tool to be used in different ways under different circumstances” and spending time setting the strategy won’t get you where you need to go now. He also says that no one department in a company should “own” social media, but the departments should collaborate to effectively get what they need out of the tool and to cut down on duplication.

I see the merit in Ray’s arguments. Strategy can become gospel — That’s the way we do things! — and when needs change, it can take an act of god to change strategic course.

Here at GazComm we don’t have a comprehensive community/social media strategy (as yet). There are overlapping initiatives across departments –- the ninja project, The Gazette’s social media guide, the Web Best Practices Group, social media R&D for online niche products and, one assumes, future social media efforts by the retooled marketing department. (Online communities are hot in marketing.) I’ve probably missed some projects here, and I apologize in advance.

It’s all interrelated in some way, but mostly happening independently of each other, and many of us are probably covering the same conceptual ground in our research.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that the folks in these initiatives don’t talk to each other or don’t share information. We do, but I don’t think we can really call it collaboration, either. Not yet. I’m thinking we need to get there, though.

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Time is (not) on my side July 22, 2008

Filed under: community — contentninja @ 6:05 pm
Robitussin cold medici...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Time is fleeting. Time is relative. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Nearly five months. That’s how long I’ve been doing this ninja gig, and I’ve come so far. Mountains of work, research and insights. Four focus groups, one concept paper, a handful of books and endless feeds later, I have a vision for online communities. Enough learning, time to DO, but the pace is slowed by forces I cannot control.

Lest you think this is some sappy swan song, no, my work is not done here. God help me, but the hard part is only starting. I must help people to understand what I’m trying to do and what I mean by online community. That mission is complicated by the misconceptions of those who think they get it and the personal agendas of others. Throw in some office politics, and it’s about as palatable as cherry cough syrup. (Anyone who ever gagged on Robitussin as a kid knows exactly what I mean.)

Lord, I sound petulant, don’t I? There are bright spots, you know.

Today I met with Mike Richards, a local Czech Village activist for post-flood neighborhood preservation. He is an interesting man who’s passionate about grass-roots networking, open-source social tools and the power of people to effect change.

He and his wife, Lynette, are heading to New Orleans in early August to spend some time with Beacon of Hope, a grass-roots organization that helped ravaged neighborhoods there coalesce online and advocate for themselves. Mike is excited to be a catalyst for us and to help nurture an online community for his neighborhood if we can provide the platform.

The timing is so right, and time is of the essence. Truth is, he planned to do this before I asked for a meeting, and he’ll find a way to do it without us if he has to. Digital tools make it easy. He’s heard of Drupal, and he has his own tech-savvy resources, people he found through the networks he already has.

See? It’s time to go.

It has been suggested that I stop waiting on other people and cobble together a temporary platform of my own on some system with a low learning curve (meaning even I could figure it out). That may well be what happens, but it’s not my first choice because it comes with risk — that it’ll feed the inertia.

If the stop-gap site undercuts a sense of urgency and we don’t deliver on assurances that we’ll have something better “soon,” we can kiss our credibility, and the community, goodbye.

Perhaps a better option is to take the ride with Mike. A partnership in which we build it together might bear tastier fruit and faster. Hhm, now that gives one pause.

John Lennon supposedly said that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Time marches on, and so do I.

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Get ’em talking July 16, 2008

Filed under: community,content — contentninja @ 4:58 pm
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most talked about brands - 2008Image by Will Lion via Flickr

I have wrung my hands here, repeatedly in fact, over whether I’m adding value to the conversation.

Yes, says Umair Haque and his colleagues at Havas Media Lab. They’ve put out a paper called “The New Economics of Consumption: User Generated Context.” In it, they argue that user-generated content is in short supply, but what the market has lots of is user-generated context. Huh?

Take Content Ninja’s blog. A lot of what I offer here is my riff on the stuff I read in my feeds — good points made by bright minds in the field and then I analyze and expand (or try to) on them. What I’m doing is adding context to someone else’s content.

Haque et al. suggest that media’s future lies not in figuring out how to get user-generated content and use it for little or nothing.  The key is to put content out there that generates a contextual discussion. That discussion is important for two reasons: 1) It’s proof that your content is of value to users, and 2) the value of the context comes not from individual users but from the collective discussion.

“A naked rating, ranking, or review on its own has little value or meaning – but millions of them, in
the aggregate, weave complex and multilayered webs of meaning. Put another way, context is the result of the complex, multilevel, network effects that happen when millions of consumers connect,” they write.

And the context is specific to a community or network. Outsiders won’t get it. Think of it as a circle. Give the community content of value to members, and they’ll want to provide context of value to the community.

The white paper goes on to discuss how this viewpoint can be used to change the way advertising, business models and media strategy are done. How that works is less clear to me, but I’m sure Haque and his folks will have more to say.

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Social media isn’t enough July 10, 2008

Filed under: community,social media — contentninja @ 5:20 pm
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A group of youth interactingImage via Wikipedia

Rachel Happe makes an excellent point today that “Social Media Is Not Community.”

An online community is the people gathering at the site and participating for a common goal, from articulating the history of a flooded neighborhood to parents bragging on their talented teens. Social media are simply the tools that the community can use for relationship and network building. It’s about many-to-many conversations.

A common goal is important. I hadn’t articulated it that way before, but it seems so obvious now. The goal could be high-minded — say, exposing local government corruption — or more granular — like, which of the flooded neighbors on your street are going to rebuild. But it must be there because it’s what motivates people to come to the space.

While you can build social media around content, you can’t build a community around content.  “ABC allowing people to comment on specific news stories with comments and ratings is not a community. Rating and ranking books on Amazon does not create a community,” Happe writes.

That’s so important, I’m going to say it again. You cannot build a community around content. It’s about people and relationships. Content is important, but it’s not the community’s raison d’etre.

A lot of news types erroneously believe that if we allow comments on our Web sites or ask people to give us their photos that we’re building a community. SNORT.

Which leads to another good point. We cannot build a community. It just happens — because people who care come together and make connections around the shared goal.

What we can do is build an infrastructure where the community can live, and we can invite people who care about a subject to come on in and start talking. We can provide them with the social media tools that make connections easier and fun.

And when someone says, “Hey, we need a subgroup, and I care so much I want to start it and run it,” we let it happen. Because that’s a community, too.

Well, that’s nice, you say, but what does it have to do with journalism? We’re building relationships, too, with the folks in those communities. We’re building good will and even building brand.

And to the most trustworthy members of the community, we say, “Let us publish you.” To our product managers we say, “Hey, the community is really lit up today over this issue. You should consider a story.”

Wait a minute. Where’s the new business model? That’s beyond the ninja’s scope, but Jeff Jarvis takes a stab at it. His controversial suggestion that newspapers get out of the manufacturing and distribution business entirely and just do journalism is generating lots of comment. Turn those things over to Google or AP, he says. See his post “Google as the New Pressroom.”

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A view into the future July 2, 2008

Filed under: innovation,newspapers — contentninja @ 4:46 pm
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Photo of knitted hat, yarn, and k...

Image via Wikipedia

Tim McGuire of the Arizona State J-school gave a speech June 23 that gives quite possibly the most concrete vision of newspaper journalism’s future to date.

Yes, content is moving to the Web, he says, but “a lot of readers covet the prioritization offered by a newspaper.” In McGuire’s opinion, newspapers have another 20-25 years left in them, and he suggests that they do it really well for the audience that wants a print product.

He says: “I am convinced newspaper companies need to protect their newspaper franchises while they become digital entrepreneurs. I think there is money to be made in the next twenty years, but more importantly, I believe time is essential if our society is going to figure out how we are going to deal with the blow to democracy the loss of newspaper journalism would inflict.”

He goes on to suggest that we accept that the print product has a different mission than the electronic product. He says newspapers should stop chasing the elusive non-reader because it’s costing them core readers. Provide a great electronic product for a younger audience and those who prefer it, and provide a great print product for boomers and those who prefer it, he says. Yes, the latter audience will dwindle as members die, hence the 20-25-year lifespan.

He suggests reinvigorating the Sunday paper as THE mass product of the week (delivering inserts as well as news en masse) and downsizing papers for other days to meet news and advertising demands. He sees daily print products coming in different shapes and sizes, with a mix of niche products, too, and maybe even different business models for each day of the week.

“What I have just described represents a new delivery and sales reality …” he says. “Consistency of process has been crucial to your success. Yet, what I am describing will make every day’s delivery hugely different from the other. Each day’s product might be priced differently too. And, even more frightening, mix and match options might have to be offered to consumers.”

And what about connecting with the community? “Newspapers must convene all sorts of audiences in all sorts of imaginative ways. In a fractured media world it is incumbent on the democratic responsibilities of newspapers that newspapers lead, guide and direct everything from democracy to knitting clubs.”

While I generally find McGuire’s vision of the future fascinating, I quibble with that point. It still puts the journalist at the center of the universe, and I just don’t believe that’s going to work for connecting with our communities around content, especially online.

Our communities don’t want us to lead their knitting groups. They want us to acknowledge that the local knitters know more than we do about knitting, thank you very much,  and let them be the experts on it and share their expertise with and through us.

As for delivering a great newspaper to the audience that wants it and a great electronic product to the audience that wants it, he’s right. Know your audience and give them what they want.

He concludes with some pretty blunt advice for all of us: “… if you can’t be a source of positive energy in your media workplace get out. I said there is no shame in ceding the future to the young and engaged.  But, if you stay you must commit to being part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

“… If you are genuinely ready for the future, you cannot become one of the whiners Dean Singleton complains about. You must become an innovative doer ready to forget about the past and ready to build a new way for publishers to meet the needs of reader and advertiser customers.”

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