Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

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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10 Responses to “Social media isn’t enough”

  1. David Says:

    You said, “You cannot build a community around content”. How do you plan to get them there then? You cant’ just say come over here and socialize. You have to give them an actual reason to be together in the first place.

    Like-minded people congregate together for a purpose. Not just because they have nothing better to do. I completely agree with you on the fact that just allowing comments on something does not make a community. It gives them a sounding board. That’s all.

    Give them a place and give them a reason.

    I find it a shame that the Gazette has not made any progress on this. So much talk yet nothing to show for it.

    Ah well.

  2. No, it’s not about content, it’s about project. It’s about building something (together). Whether it’s a book, a performance, a website, or a campaign to raise awareness for micro financing doesn’t matter. What is required is common purpose, shared values. That creates community, the feeling of belonging…


  3. Rachel Hape Says:

    Hi Annette – this is a great riff and particularly interesting since my husband manages the website (New England Cable News). I think journalism is in trouble because while they realized they served a community, they haven’t historically done a lot to enable it. That’s easier/cheaper to do online and I think you are right that news organizations should focus on building communities and bring in content (both their own and others).

    David – you are right but I think the point was that people don’t build community around specific content even though you need a lot of content to sustain a community. A community comes together around things like caring about their city or caring about foreign policy, etc….

    Nice post and an important topic as news organizations try to figure out how to reinvent themselves.


  4. Jamie Says:

    Amen Amen Amen.
    Comments are, at best, competeing monologues, not a dialogue. They’re a soapbox.
    And also amen to the fact we can’t build communities.
    What we can do is give communities a home and then use that information to better serve the readers.
    Keep preaching it!

  5. Tish Grier Says:

    Very good points, Annette! I’ve done a bit of “community development” in the online space for a few journalism-related special projects (Placeblogger, Assignment Zero.) I’ve seen community happen because people have been given a goal, something to do. But the people needed also to be organized by someone, so that the goal was achieved. Without the organizing, people simply drifted.

    I’ve also seen communities develop in Forums and Message Boards. These communities also coalesce around a common goal. Sometimes they go astray and get a little strange/dogmatic, but sometimes that’s because of an underlying and unstated “goal” set by the site administrators.

    It’s a lot like volunteer co-ordinating.

    And even if you give people great cracking software, there’s no guarantee anyone will step up to get things going. You will still need people, and people who can build conversation and relationships, for the community to take hold.

  6. Dale Says:

    Your gig is paying off, Annette. This stuff is really starting to make sense to us soldiers in the trenches — this old one anyway. Keep marching. I’m thinking you’re going to get this done. Thanks.

  7. […] nay đọc bài “Social Media Isn’t Enough” thấy đây là một quan điểm khá hay và đáng suy […]

  8. […] idea is that we need to implement features to get our readers more involved. It’s not the only tool in the tool box, but giving people a place to come together is a way we can start to help foster […]

  9. Marc Sirkin Says:

    Very much agreed here on your points – the content thing is a tough one. For me, it’s capturing the right amount and right level of relevancy to try to drive conversation. It’s super hard to get right from my own experiences – especially on the site I’m working on now – a CIO focused social network.

    As for the assertion that you cannot build community – it’s a provocative statement, but one I sort of disagree with a bit. It most certainly doesn’t just happen, it takes the right set of tools, policies and demand for a community to “stand up” and become a living thing. I’ve found that the “host role” is critical in those early days of setting the tone and creating the right atmosphere to create the community. The software is largely irrelevant..

    The host has to set the tone, provide early guidance and ensure that the community is moving in the right direction. Without that, I’m afraid that nothing much will happen.
    I should really do a blog post on this myself. Ahh well, back to work.

  10. […] nay đọc bài “Social Media Isn’t Enough” thấy đây là một quan điểm khá hay và đáng suy […]

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