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I am going to use this space to share a comment I posted on a South Florida blog I frequent, called The Daily Pulp.
It essentially characterizes my thoughts on the resistance to change in the newspaper industry, which I do know something about having worked at a newspaper as part of a department charged with introducing new ideas and incorporating multimedia and news partnerships into the daily culture. We asked reporters and editors to step outside of their comfort zones on a daily basis. That was part of the job.
On the day I made my initial comment, my former paper had just launched a redesign that was not very popular throughout the comments area, and I chose not to bash them and simply offer mild praise for the fact that they tried something new.
My comment prompted a response from someone within the organization, which The Pulp’s author, Bob Norman liked so much, he posted as a single blog with that comment being the focus.
There are some good ideas there. Really good ideas. But the author is so frustrated with the politics of the news organization and the industry as a whole, he or she may never share them, and I think that’s too bad.

Here’s my comment:

Those are awesome ideas. I’m lucky that I now work for a place where we really try new things. Things that are out of the box, and things that might not work, but then again they might. And that’s enough. But that is not the newspaper culture. Should it be? Yes, but it isn’t. That is why I chose not to criticize the redesign that day and simply offer up mild praise for trying something new. You’re right, there have been lots of ideas tossed around the SS for years that could have been implemented. Heck, I worked for the man who brought many of those to pass and anyone can tell you that we pushed and pushed the multimedia wagon with some success but there was a lot of resistance. What’s important here is the resistance was tolerated. It was an option. It should not have been an option. For too long, innovation has been optional. Now it’s required and that takes a different mindset.
Have you all followed the big whoop about the Philadelphia Inquirer’s decision to hold all enterprise, investigative and trend pieces for the paper only? The backlash they’ve received in the blogosphere is crazy. But a few have spoken up and said, “Hey, at least they’re trying a new model.” I was one of those people who thought it was totally backwards initially and blasted them for it. Part of me still has my doubts because on the surface it is. BUT–they are trying to have exclusive content in the paper and they are going to publish simultaneously so that readers can expect something different in the paper, that hasn’t already been out for a full day. So, again I say: At least they’re trying something. My suggestion to you is to see if you can get someone to listen to those ideas. Speak their language. Put it in a memo, draw up a proposal. If you really care and want to be part of the change you have to keep trying. It’s better than doing nothing. And when you quit and move on to greener can say: “At least I tried.”

So, I say you have to share those ideas. Tell someone. Even if you think they’ll be shot down, it’s worth a shot. Change will never, ever come about it if the people with the best ideas remain silent.

Let’s face it, everyone likes a good trinket. I’ve made a habit of waiting for the final day of the numerous journalism conventions I attend, to swoop in like a vulture and confiscate every little rubber ball, musical dice, crooked pen and furry pencil I can find. Heck, I sometimes start sooner, depending on the quality of the trinket and the chances that they’ll be gone before the last day.
I’m looking at three purple Yahoo! notepads sitting on my desk right now. Those were high-quality trinkets, so I needed more than one. I picked those up on the first day of an NABJ convention.

Yes, most times they’re donned with TV station call letters or the names of newspapers, but who cares? I’ve always needed a handy-dandy triangle-shaped multi-color highlighter thing, and I wasn’t going to pass it up just because of that. You never know when you might need quality highlighters, and thanks to the Times-Union, I’ll always be prepared.

So what’s this all about? I’m suggesting that you spread some trinket-love to your community members? Just think of a reason. Any reason will do. Identify the top posters of the month or the people with the most pictures in their image galleries and tell them they’ve won a prize.
Just make something up.
It’s easy to get caught up in development or managing and growing the community and then suddenly realize that you haven’t been very engaging, or that your core audience hasn’t heard from you in a while.
This happened to me just yesterday. So, I delved into some stats, identified twenty people who met a certain criteria and sent them e-mails requesting their addresses.
This morning, I sent out 20 GOLO mousepads.
A small chore, but the result will be a grateful group of people who feel valued and know that their participation isn’t taken for granted.

So, if you don’t have any trinkets lying around, get some.

Have you ever come across a comment on a news story that you knew should not be there? I’m specifically talking about on websites where the comments are moderated.

We already know that a large percentage of comments on newspaper websites are not moderated by humans, but simply vetted by a filter which can only do so much against the clever commenter’s of today who are intent on spewing hate and pushing their crude agendas. So, when you see those types of comments on those type of websites, you’re usually not shocked.

But, comments on certain types of stories can make it past the best team of moderator’s when the moderator isn’t well-versed on the topic or is faced with some other “barrier to entry.”

That barrier can be cultural or racial. It can be caused by a generation gap, geographical differences and even personal backgrounds.

It’s important to remember that news stories are extremely diverse and the content runs the gamut.

So, much like news organizations have strived to build newsrooms that reflect the community, it’s important that those who are now dealing with content submitted by the community have diverse backgrounds as well, so that they can work to decipher what is being said, and whether or not it’s appropriate.

In my next post, I will share several resources that moderator’s can turn to when faced with unknown acronyms, clever slang and other types of content and innuendo that’ likely not the type of content you’d want affiliated with your organization.

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While catching up on my twitter reading tonight, I came across this comment from Patrick Thornton aka jiconoclast:

I want to talk about comments some more. It seems to be that building community has to start from the beginning.

I have to disagree with that. Now, I’m the first person to rag on newspapers for moving at a snails pace, requiring that even the most minor decisions are made by committee and for blatantly ignoring the obvious for years through institutionalized denial and arrogance.

But, I’m not sure that many news organizations were aware of, or expected the kind of drama that comments connected to news stories would bring. Yes, it’s ugly and it will only get worse before it gets better. But it can be done. I know this for a fact.
We moderate comments on news stories at and as the Managing Editor of User-Generated Content, I am largely responsible for the policies that come along with it. Comments weren’t always moderated, but we took control of the content associated with our brand, made the change, and we’re still going strong. Do we get complaints? Yes, but not nearly as many as you would think and most importantly, people also know that they can come to us and engage in civil conversations about the issues that affect them and the community they live in.

So, is it too late? No! I think all news organizations should moderate comments, and the sooner the better. Would it have been ideal to start from the beginning? Possibly. But, you may even score points for changing the situation for the better.

I was thinking tonight about some people, real or otherwise, dead or alive, who may have had some pretty intriguing twitter updates given the opportunity. Here is my top 10 list of people I would have followed on Twitter in a heartbeat.

  1. Mr. Rogers – “Would you be mine, could you be mine…won’t you read my updates…”
  2. Harriet Tubman – Updates from the Underground Railroad? Priceless.
  3. Batman’s sidekick, Robin aka, the Boy Wonder – Holy Shnikes! Batman’s doing 100mph out of the bat cave.
  4. Fat Albert – “Hey, hey, hey…”
  5. Mr. Snuffleupagus – I’m sure he knew what was “really” going on on Sesame Street
  6. Richard Pryor – #@%$ &^%$# *&^%T
  7. Richard Nixon – “I am still not a crook”
  8. Anyone on The Titanic – For obvious reasons
  9. Michael Jackson – Not sure why, but it would have to be during the Thriller years
  10. My mother – So I could hold it all against her and prove she was no saint!

How about you? Who would you follow on Twitter if the opportunity presented itself?

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It’s only Tuesday but I am off to a seriously productive week.
My to-do list was cut in half yesterday, and I’ve posted some pretty intriguing blogs, stroked a few egos and offered up some cool ideas to members of my online community hoping they’ll run with it. I’ve also gotten the green light to make a few changes that I feel will improve the user-experience a great deal. All good news.
So why am I feeling such a void?

I think it’s because I’ve been somewhat MIA from Twitter for the last two days. And I’m realizing that I don’t like it.
I’ve come to depend on those I follow to give me a cool snippet of information or point me in the direction of a compelling story or must-read blog, or to simply post something that I can say to someone else and seem pretty profound for saying it.
So, while I typically use this blog to dole out advice about engaging online communities and to go on and on about how I manage to do it on a daily basis, I’ve come to a realization.
The one doing all of the “engaging” is actually being “engaged.”

Twitter is engaging and I miss it when I can’t be there. But it’s not because of any ONE person. It’s what I get from everyone there as a whole that means so much. Twitter is the sum of it’s parts apparently and it just may take a twitter village to engage a fellow twitterer.
Well, my village is doing one heck of a job and that is why it has been missed.

I have to say though, that I have somehow culled a lesson from this and maybe you can too. It seems that as I continue to grow my own community and seek to engage others, I need to focus more on what my members collectively bring to the table. If I want my users to miss this community, the way I’ve missed twitter, I need to tap into the village and organize.

If we, as community managers can somehow highlight content in such a way that there’s something valuable there for everyone on any given day, they’ll want to come back, and they will.

Community managers walk a fine line when it comes to dealing with problem users, and that fine line can often feel like a tightrope.

On one hand, you want to grow the community, and on the other hand, you have to uphold your standards for the community so that others will find it attractive and want to spend time there.

During GOLO’s first year, I was very accomodating. I rarely marked content as abuse and gave second and third chances. It was only the most egregious offenders whom I banned outright and I sometimes worried that if I was too heavy handed, everyone would leave.

Well, what a difference a year makes. Experience is undoubtedly the best teacher and I am now officially over that fear. If you’re still holding on to it, I challenge you to let it go. It’s really quite liberating.

If you’re having problems laying down the gauntlet in certain situations and keeping people in line when it absolutely needs to be done, try these tactics first:

  • Reach out to the member via e-mail and inform them of the offense. Make sure your tone is pretty neutral, and let them know you will give them a pass this once.
  • If it’s a well-known member who contributes often, remind them how much you value their participation and gently let them know that you were a bit miffed at their recent post, image or other content in question.

If they challenge you in any way, engage. This is often the time when a breakthrough may occur and it also gives you an opportunity to share information about guidelines and why you have them. It starts a dialog that could really turn into a positive. But be careful about how long you let it go on. If they are questioning you just for the sake of ruffling your feathers, shut it down.

Now, if those don’t work or if you come across content that is completely unacceptable and that you could possibly be held accountable for, you have no choice. Those are the times you cannot think twice and you have to act. You can’t get caught up in the fact that this user was your top poster last month or that they are the leader of the most popular clique in the community.

If you do, you will lose control. Some will argue that the goal of the community manager is not to control. I agree to some extent. You do not want to control a community, you want to nurture it.

But keep in mind that boundaries have to be set, and know that certain members will push you until you literally fall off the cliff.

So before you fall off of that cliff, do something. Engage your community, but set the standards and make sure they are respected and upheld. Will you sometimes fall short? Yes. Absolutely yes.

But if you have to choose between falling short from time to time, and falling off a cliff after walking on a tightrope for weeks or even months…I’m pretty sure you’d choose the former.

You’ll feel it in your gut and your heart may even skip a beat.

I know this sounds dramatic but it’s true, and if you manage an online community you know exactly what I’m talking about. .

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August 2008

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.


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