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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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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Invest a little, gain a lot May 14, 2008

Filed under: content,innovation,social media — contentninja @ 5:04 pm
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AudienceImage via Wikipedia

I’ve been saying, “It’s not about us; it’s about the audience,” for a while now. Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang takes it a step further in a blog post today: “On the Value of Investing in Your Own Customers.”

Owyang is writing from a consultant’s perspective, but it’s interesting if we consider how journalism might apply the principle as well. He writes:

“By investing in your own customers, making them smarter, exposing them to best practices, and to let them form real relationships amongst each other, the benefits go beyond the pure relationship stated in the service level agreement, but bring an intangible human value that often can’t be measured.”

It seems to me that an online community is a great opportunity to invest in our customers. “Making them smarter, exposing them to best practices, and to let them form real relationships amongst each other” seem crucial to successfully engaging them in helping us build context around content.

I’ve been thinking about what features/functionalities a thriving online community would need and have come up with a list. It’s a pretty simplistic list, and nothing is presumed to be a given (because I don’t believe most items here have reached a saturation point for a majority of users). I have vainly titled it:

Content Ninja’s Wish List

  • Customizable interface: Lets users choose info that’s served to them. Require users to fill out a profile, and info is tailored to their interests? Or drag and drop content boxes, like iGoogle? Could advertising content be customizable, too?
  • Twitter feed. Twitter could be a useful tool for communicating with core group of activist members. Opt-in for others?
  • Content/context: Posting to the site must be super simple. User must register name to post, though.
  • One button “e-mail to a friend”
  • One button “rate this” polling
  • Comments: Easy to post, but not anonymous.
  • Build an event function: Like Facebook but better. Click “event” button, and it automatically pulls in calendar info for selected local event. Lets you invite friends. Lets invitees see who’s invited and who’s accepted/declined/pending.
  • Photo/video sharing: Must be super simple. One or two clicks simple. Or drag and drop simple.
  • RSS
  • Forums

What’s missing? What would you not include? What context can you add? Please share!

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