Q&A with Laura Oliver, community coordinator, news at the Guardian

What does your job involve?
My job is to be a bridge between readers and users of Guardian.co.uk and our news team and to try and find better ways for readers to engage with, interact with and consume our news output. As part of this I’m responsible for monitoring feedback to Guardian.co.uk on and off site, coming up with new ideas and editorial products off the back of reader ideas and demands and ensuring that guardian.co.uk‘s news is making connections to the wider web and other online communities to better distribute our news and find new audiences for it.
Laura Oliver the Guardian
What is an online community, is it just about comments?
Comments are a part of it but they only represent those readers who feel happy to contribute in this way. We need to work on ways to encourage and manage constructive comments whilst tapping into other ways to get our readers involved and – more importantly – represented on site and in the newsmaking process. Online communities exist in so many forms – from social networks and forums, to blogs with dedicate followings and gamers. They can spring up through interest, geography or platform. Being aware of the range of online communities out there can only help us reach a wider audience with our news, and if we’re clever about it we can find ways to serve particular communities without duplicating their existing networks.
Why are online communities important?
Simply put – because for online news this is your audience, this is who is consuming, sharing and spreading your work. Just as a good business will listen to what it’s customers especially regulars say, we too need to be aware of the people who are reading and interacting with Guardian news on and off site. They are important in lots of ways: for feedback, traffic, generating new editorial ideas, keeping us accountable and filling in the gaps in both our news coverage of a certain event and in a broader sense, by taking a story or issue to new angles and new discussions.
Why are newspapers in particular trying to create and encourage them?
To create a news product that is of the web and not just on it by bringing in interactivity; to hold us to account; to make use of the expertise and knowledge of our readers and encourage them to fill in gaps in our coverage and make it better; and because building a community will hopefully build loyalty and time spent on a site or page, which can also have commercial potential.
How do you manage a large online community?
At the moment we’re trying lots of things: rewarding good or constructive users (in different ways); working closely with our fantastic moderation team; encouraging all members of the news team to get involved in community building and management; using tools to track communities around news eg on Twitter and analytics to measure what they are doing on our site and when to inform future decisions. There’s no one golden rule – it’s about having different strategies that will work with different sorts of readers and can operate within the boundaries and language of other existing communities such as Facebook or bloggers.
Is this journalism?
I think this is a question that needs to die! It’s an increasingly important part of the news production process and a role that sits along with many that would either previously not have existed or not been considered journalism by those who want to keep that term reserved as a means of protection in a rapidly changing workplace. To anyone who questions the importance of communities to journalism, you have to ask- well what are producing this news for if not to be consumed by your audience? They now want to be part of the informing process and there’s no way to turn back that tide; journalism should no longer exist in isolation from its audience
What is the future for online communities?
In terms of online communities around news, I think we’re only just starting to see how news organisations can make the most of what the web has to offer to better serve their readers around news coverage. We’ll see more tools springing up to help us manage and build communities and lots more experiments in doing so – both good and bad. Hopefully we’ll also see continue growth across the industry in these kind of roles and understanding of why they are important.

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Filed under Lizzie Davis, online communities

Advice from an expert: Ilana Fox on how to get the best from your online community

Ilana Fox knows more about managing online communities than most.  In her career she has worked managing communities for the Daily MailThe Sun and online clothes company ASOS. While she was at ASOS she created from scratch all their  social media and community engagement. Ilana shared her tips for success with us.

1. Have a strategy in place before you embark

  • Be extremely clear about why you believe your company should be involved in interacting with customers / readers.
  • Work out your assessment procedure in weighing up which software and technology will help in your creation of the community.
  • Know who your competitors are, and determine who’s doing a good job and why.
  • Work out the different ways your community will make a positive impact on all areas of your company.
  • Work out the different ways your community can have a positive impact on both existing and potential revenue streams.

2. Be prepared for any eventuality – crisis management is important

  • Determine what the risks are of your company interacting with customers/readers.
  • Weigh up the legal differences between your company engaging with customers on social media vs us hosting your own community.
  • Think about the different types of moderation you may need, and work out resourcing, cost, and suitability before you launch your community. Reassess this at different points in your community’s life cycle.
  • Firm up how you’d respond if someone made a bomb threat against Head Office, or if a customer claims your organisation is racist. Know how you’d react now, so when the time comes you can move fast and appropriately.

3. Measurement is essential (both for community management and retaining your job!)

  • Determine how you – and your organisation –  defines success both within your community and in the wider company.
  • Plan how you’re going to measure campaigns that involve your customers.
  • Work out which tools you’ll use for sentiment tracking.
  • Make it clear to the rest of the organisation that it’s normal that only a small percentage of your active audience will participate in your community (before reminding them of the benefits!).
  • Ensure every stakeholder is clear how you’re going to measure ROI.
  • Have regular internal discussions about what success looks like to both you and those above you.

For more information check out Ilana’s website

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Filed under Katy Balls, online communities

Online community management guidance from experts at The Guardian

The Guardian has a very successful online community that is run by some very talented individuals. We caught up with some of the people in the know to gather the best advice for you.

Anna Codrea-Rado: Content co-ordinator for The Guardian

“The key to community management is identifying and understanding an audience. What we’re doing with the Guardian Professional networks is all to do with niche professional communities and how we can provide them with resources that make doing their job easier. We aim to give our audience a platform for them to share their insights about best practise in their professional field.

Community management is an organic process that needs constant attention and nurturing. You need to put a lot of effort into to it in order to reap the rewards.”

Laura Oliver: Community co-ordinator for The Guardian

“I think the [most important thing in journalism is the]  rise and rise of internet publishing. The power of the web that we’ve seen in the last few months in Egypt, in Gaza a couple of years ago and in Iran in 2009 both by people on the ground and now by main stream media knowing how to take advantage of that.”

So there you have it: the importance of an online community for any business, especially journalism, should not be underestimated and the process that it takes to nurture such a community is a hard but rewarding one.

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Changing Media Summit 2011: what happened?

The Guardian are leading the way in social media among so-called “old media” companies. their forums are thriving, their website is constantly updated and each individual section has its own individual twitter feed.

Is it any surprise, then, to find that they also host one of the most important events in the media calendar?

The Changing Media Summit took place last week and had speeches from the CEO of YouView, CEO and chairman of AOL, co-founder of Foursquare, director of partnerships Facebook.


Picture: barto, Flickr

At a few hundred pounds per ticket we lowly bloggers had to give the event a miss. But I’ve a hunch that many of you did too. Thankfully, the Guardian, wise wise media provider that it is have posted interviews with many of the speakers online. This is where all the developments are happening, community makers. This is future in the making.

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India leads the way in online cricket communities

Social networking and cricket? That's wicket!

In England the Cricket World Cup just put a dampener on our Ashes victory. Defeats against Ireland and Bangladesh embarrassed Strauss, Swanny and co. and we limped out against Sri Lanka in the Quarter Final after the viewing public had generally lost interest.

Not so for the rest of the world, however, as up to 1.25 billion people watched co-hosts India beat Pakistan in the semi final, one of sport’s biggest ever global TV audiences and almost certainly the highest audience for the cricket world itself. Cricket is big business, especially on the Indian sub-continent where the Indian Premier League is quickly becoming one of the most profitable leagues in world sport today.

Riding this wave are Digital Vidya, a New Dehli-based media firm, who have set up the world’s first cricket social networking site Soch.la under the slogan “Why watch cricket alone?”. Currently only working with Facebook, the site will soon allow members to create their own accounts and sync in other social networking platforms including Twitter. It allows cricket fans to “follow” and be “followed”, allowing their reaction to be seen and responded to by other cricket fans who are following the same match in other locations across the world. On top of this, the site concurrently provides users with score updates and uses opinion polls to gauge viewer thoughts on the match.

The site has already had thousands of users signing up, especially in the lead up to today’s blockbuster match. However, the platform and interface remain very rudimentary and the logo, featuring what resembles a cabbage patch kid in New York, a cabbage patch kid in Bangalore and, for some unknown reason, a gormless cricket-watching Ron Weasley in Dehli, is pretty bizarre. Nevertheless, this demonstrates a niche in social networking and online communities to provide specialist subject information in a live-text format alongside user-generated content and specialist communication via social networking. It also gives a further demonstration of how India, one of Facebook’s fastest growing markets, is not only adopting, but revolutionising online communities.

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Facebook Community

In this video we look at problems that can arise in large online communities such as Facebook.

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Filed under Aleeza Khan, Katy Balls, Lizzie Davis, online communities

Google vs Facebook: Online searching is about to get more social

Google is attempting to do what Facebook do best. This week it revealed its biggest social networking initiative since it launched the best-forgotten-about Buzz last year, in the hope of securing a stronger online community.

Google might be the most visited site in the world, but if Mark Zuckerberg (or this very blog) has taught us anything, it’s that the stronger the connections between members of an online community the better – and more lucrative.

The search engine group will not create its own full social networking site, but
will instead use features similar to those on Facebook in order to add a social element to the search service.

It will include Facebook-style “like” buttons which will display a user’s preferences to their contacts. On top of this new “+1” buttons will appear next to search results and users will be able to show their personal preferences, which will then be seen in the search results of their online friends. The company will use data from its existing services, such as Google Chat, to decide whose search options to show to which users.

Let’s hope that unlike earlier failed attempts by Google to get online communities involved, that this one brings something more valuable to their massive group of dedicated users.

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Filed under Beth Adamson, online communities

Leading your readers

As Robert Niles from The Online Journalism Review, insightfully said yesterday “writing in any interactive environment is an act of leadership.” You need to grab the leadership of your community with both hands and set the tone, style and informative model for your readers, otherwise someone else will.

In true leadership style Niles has written six snippets of advice – which he has invited us all to share with you – to encourage well informed, rewarding and interesting writing from your readers when they engage in your community.

1) Write what you know

The best posts come from people writing about a personal experience. Tell us about an activity you’re deeply involved with, a subject you’ve studied in-depth or an experience you’ve had. Maybe it’s just a review of a new restaurant you’ve visited, or a place you visited on vacation. Whatever you write about, forget for a moment about what others might say – or have said – about something and just tell us your story.

2) Don’t tell us if something’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’

Whenever a writer declares something ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the piece becomes about the writer, and not the thing the writer is writing about. Whenever you read a review like that from someone you don’t know, don’t you start thinking about whether you can trust this reviewer or not? So leave those types of words out of your writing.

3) Describe, in detail

Instead, describe your experience, using as many clear details as you can. Put us in the situation with you, and describe as you would to a friend who wasn’t there. Take us through the experience, step by step. Consider the fives senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch – and describe each, as appropriate to whatever you’re writing about. Consider these statements:

“The hamburger was terrible.”

“The hamburger looked and tasted like a McDonald’s heat-lamp refugee, thin and wilted, but it cost £12 instead.”

I’d much rather read the second post – it keeps the focus on the burger itself, rather than the writer’s reaction to it. I’ll certainly remember the second statement more than I would the first, too. And I’d be far more likely to forward it to my friends. Keep that in mind when you’re writing. Detailed descriptions really help other readers feel like they are there with you, sharing this experience.

4) Link, don’t copy

If you find something else online you want to share with other readers, don’t just copy and paste it to the site. Link to it instead. That way, other readers can see the original source for themselves.

(In following Niles’ advice myself, read the rest of his article here.)

5) Explain why you link

Whenever you link to something, though, explain why you’re linking to it. What’s it about? Why is it important to you? Why do you think it would be important to the rest of us? You explanation helps start a conversation about the link.

(I linked to his article as I believe it is extremely useful for anyone wanting to learn more about this topic. Not only is his article insightful, the entire site is a great read).

6) Respect, and respond

When other readers share their experiences on the site, respect them. If you don’t feel that their experience reflects your experience with the same event/subject/place, then respond by sharing your experience with it.

Again, leave out those judgmental words (especially the negative ones: ‘terrible,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘awful,’ etc.), and write instead about your experience. That helps keeps everyone’s focus on the subject under discussion, and not on a emerging flame war between readers.

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Legal responsibility in an online community

Once you have an active online community the challenges you face as manager of that community can be tough. There is none such tougher in terms of the consequences if it goes wrong than the legal issues that can arise. These legal issues are also not so black and white.

The legal question: If a user writes a defamatory comment in an online community is it the user or the publisher of the online community who is responsible for it? And does the audience number matter?

Don't lose your money. Avoid defamation.

Rob Minto raises these issues in an insightful post on the Online Journalism Blog lookig at two landmark cases and their impact on the issue.

Case 1: A case of libel between Caerphilly town councillors Eddie Talbot and Colin Elsbury.  Mr Talbot sucessfully sued Mr Elsbury for £3000 for defamation after he tweeted that Mr Talbot had been removed by police from a polling station.

Case 2: Jane Clift lost her case against the Daily Mail, where she tried to obtain the identities of two users who left defamatory comments on a Daily Mail article.

Rob Minto makes the valid point that while the Tweet went out to Mr Elsbury’s 30 followers the Daily Mail comments would’ve been seen by millions.

Confusing yes?

Until the law becomes clearer on the matter, our top tip is avoid publishing or making defamatory statements in general. Just to be safe.

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Online community to watch fundraising concert for Japan

Classical music audience

Royal Albert Hall. Photo: St Stev, Flickr

In just under half an hour two colossi of the classical music scene – Simon Rattle and Daniel Barenboim will conduct a concert with two of Berlin’s legendary orchestras (the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Berliner Philharmoniker). They aim to raise money to help survivors of the Japanese earthquake.

The fact that these two conductors and orchestras are performing on the same evening and in the same venue may be unusual enough but why would I be writing about it here?

The answer is that it is being broadcast in the “Digital Concert Hall“, an online video link, essentially. But like a physical concert hall, you have to pay for a ticket. This digital hall is run by the Berlin Philharmonic with the aim of broadening their audiences and taking their music to a much larger number of people per concert.

For each concert, therefore, the Berlin Phil create a one-off online community – a digital echo of the audience physically there in the concert hall. And, of course, the fact that they charge means more revenue or – in this evening’s case – more funds raised.

Do buy a ticket if you can – these orchestras are truly brilliant and the proceeds could not be going to a worthier cause. Doors have just opened!

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