Tag Archives: online

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

Simplicity in support groups

Online support groups are the kind of community that everyone needs at some point.

Whether it’s a tricky question that needs answering or you need to figure out the best way to do something technical or you just need to work that lovely new camera you just bought, everyone has been to an online support forum.

I’ve definitely done this to answer technical questions I need answering about my mobile, camera and laptop, but I can safely say I have never asked a question, I’ve simply scoured the forum to find the answer the the question I know has been asked before.

Cisco posted this great video giving just that advice, as well as four other top tips to simply and quickly benefit the most out of online support groups.

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Filed under Aleeza Khan, online communities

Guardian article on defining online communities

Online communities can engage all sorts of users

Check out this excellent Guardian article by Louise Kidney about how tapping into online communities can help councils engage with their citizens.

She asks: “How do you identify a community that you can’t see – one which exists in a space which allegedly has no borders? And how do you quantify the value of a digital community, surely it’s just a load of people sitting around chatting?”

An excellent read if you are interested in the difficulties of trying to define a community and its use value.

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Filed under Beth Adamson, online communities

Creating an online community from scratch: EastBound Magazine

City University’s annual XCity Magazine which is distributed to City Alumni, this year enhanced their online community through interactive features on the website. This included awards that meant the reader became a part of the magazine as they got involved through voting and online conversation. They were very successful in doing this and building on a readership that has been growing for decades.

However, what happens when you try and build an online community without any previous readership established?

This is the challenge a group of us faced recently when we set out to start a new East London area magazine called EastBound.

In this case, before we could even make our site interactive we had to establish an audience and then from this a community. When starting an online community from scratch there has to be a reason for your target reader to visit your site.

Sure- polls, competitions, comments, guest blogs and lively discussion is the ideal but before you can get that going you need people visiting your site in the first place.

What EastBound taught us:

Establish a need. There needs to be a reason that a user is going to visit the website or blog. In EastBound’s case aswell as having features that would interest our reader we put up event listings that they would need. By making the website a place to refer to for directions and what is going on each night in East London we drew in users.

Entertain and sustain. Keep the user’s interested with features, interviews etc that they want to read so they spend longer on your site.

Visuals are important– users aren’t going to stick around and interact if the site is dull to look at regardless of how good the content is. Use pictures, logos and colour to create a distinctive style that they can then on associate (positively) with it.

Encourage interaction and interact yourself– once you have established an audience make them into a community through polls, surveys, posts that encourage comment and comps. To start the ball rolling, start making conversation yourself. Make sure that you reply to any tweets or comments.

Use twitter, facebook and other social platform media to reach out to new users and keep contact with current members of the community. Asking questions about topical issues guarantees a response.

In simple terms- make it as easy as possible to be interactive.

The finished EastBound website

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Filed under Katy Balls, online communities

Interview: the difficulties of trying to start your own online community

The Burn the Jukebox logo

Managing communities catches up with James Atkinson, who has just entered the world of online communities with his group blog Burn the Jukebox. We discuss the challenges of trying to set up and manage a community.

What is Burn the Jukebox?

We are a DIY music and gigging collective formed of friends who started at university and have an open membership so anyone can take part.

Why did you decide to start an online community?

We live all over the country since graduating and the onlne community is  a way of everyone still communicating no matter where they are. The secondary purpose is to promote or at least make our members aware of upcoming gigs that we’re putting on and it’s a good way of getting in touch with other promoters and like-minded communities.

What kind of response have you had to it?

Although I just began the site and social media for it a month ago it’s already had a fantastic response, and we have new people wanting to participate.

How does it work on a practical level?

Every member knows the login to the blog so content is uploaded by them and then editorially reviewed, not taking any of the content out, just for formatting. Content appears on there all the time and all of us can review it as well.

What has been the best thing about starting an online community?

It helps us retain our collective identity even when geogrpahy means people can’t always take part.

Have you encountered any problems so far?

It’s not really a problem but we had to provide instructions of how to use WordPress because not everyone who wanted to be part of it was necessarily used to blogging. Moderating spam comments is always a pain!

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Filed under Beth Adamson, online communities

Local Communities Online: WHampstead

So far, this blog has dealt with communities centred around interests or specific websites. But what about old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood communities which have flowed-over (or over-flowed) on to the web?

As a resident of NW London – Willesden Green, to be precise – I am lucky enough to be part of a vibrant, witty and extremely useful online community. @WHampstead is a micro-blogger based (surprisingly) in West Hampstead who tweets about anything and everything WHamp-based. There are travel updates, hashtagged with #whamptravel, reviews of local restaurants and important news (#whampnews) from, for example, council meetings.

All hugley useful, but @WHampstead has not managed to gain nearly 2000 followers simply by re-tweeting council reports. Oh no. Because of the opt-in/opt-out set up of Twitter, it is a site which lends itself to bloggers who are not only useful but also entertaining and @WHampstead is that in droves. So his followers might get an update on the (inevitable) delays on the Jubilee line but mintues later something like this might be tweeted.

WHampstead also recognises that Twitter is not a megaphone. He retweets as much as he tweets and engages the members of his community in conversation.

So hurrah for WHampstead and his varied, informative, ridiculous Twitter stream. Here are a few of my favourites:

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Filed under Lizzie Davis, online communities

Profile: My Football Club

Internet users bought their own football club for £35 a pop

Myfootballclub.co.uk is “the world’s first web community owned club”. It owns Ebbsfleet United, the Kent team currently playing in the Conference South. The club was taken over by the site when around 27,000 members paid £35 each in a deal estimated at £700,000. It shows what the power of a well-managed online community, when a footie fan can own part of a club for a bargain price and make real decisions regarding its future from the comfort of his living room. How does it work in reality when an online community has the power to make real decisions?

Funding An annual subscription from members pays for the running of the club

Boards The members are represented by a Society Board of 7 elected members. They monitor internal processes, set strategy, handle the confidential side of management and liaise with staff.  Any current member of My Football Club can stand can stand for election. There is also a management board of three people who make day-to-day decisions at the club.

How does it work? Any member can raise a proposal for activities at the club. Their ideas will then be discussed in the site’s forums before being offered as a formal proposal.  It will then be put to all the members and voted on.

Votes: Members can vote on any club management issues including player transfers, kits and ticket prices.

I think this is the type of thing we’ll be seeing more of in the future as online communities become more niche, focused and better managed.

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Filed under Beth Adamson, online communities