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I’m sure you’ve read all of the social media predictions for 2009 by now.

Most notable, and heavily linked is Peter Kim’s list.

While online communities play a major role in the social media sphere and were likely top of mind at the time of the predictions on Peter’s list, I maintain that small, niche communities are somewhat in a class by themselves and therefore deserve their own separate list of predictions.
With this in mind, I posed the following question to three community thought-leaders whom I respect a great deal.

How will online communities evolve in 2009? Here are their thoughts:

Martin Reed, author of Community Spark & creator of Female Forum

“I think online communities will become even more subject specific and niche focused in 2009. People will increasingly realise that trying to compete with the ‘one size fits all’ social networks like Facebook and MySpace is a bad strategy. People want to connect with others that share their passions and interests – the large, generic social networks aren’t good at that. The smaller, close-knit, subject specific online communities are (or at least, can be), and for that reason they will become even more prominent in 2009.”

Jake McKee, author of Community Guy & Principal at AntsEyeView

“I don’t know that the communities themselves will evolve, per se. Online communities, in some form, have been around for decades and while the tools alter over time, the social dynamics stay the same. That said, certainly our understanding of how best to implement community and social activities will continue to grow in 2009. In fact, with the recession, I wouldn’t be surprised if social media doesn’t get a boost in usage by companies. When budgets are tight, people start looking to other opportunities.
My real hope, however, is that 2009 is the year when agencies and brands alike start to think in terms of wholistic customer experience and business strategy rather than social media and community building. I’d like to see the financial crisis of 2009 bring out the strategic thinkers in all of us, connecting marketing to support to customer service to product design in order to best serve customers.”


Rich Millington, author of Feverbee: Ideas for Building Online Communities

A lot of companies will want to replicate Obama’s success. Politicians, especially, will be eager to snap up some online community hotshots.
I also think my mum will join an online community. Not just my mum, but millions of internet newcomers like her who will discover technology is actually rather easy. The benefits of joining a community will finally outweigh the harsh learning curve.


I predict that *some* marketers will realize what they’ve been missing and decide that niche communities are worth their time and can ultimately add to the bottom line. Fingers crossed!

Other predictions you may have missed:

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An interesting conversation unfolded on Twitter today when I tossed out a question that was spawned from this post on BuzzNetworker.

After reading Collen’s take on self-proclaimed social media experts, rock stars and gurus, I posted a rather lengthy comment sharing my views on the subject.

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote in the comments section of that post:

“…I believe that having been in an arena for a short period of time just might mean that you still have something of value to offer. Maybe you see things that others do not. Maybe you’re not yet jaded and bring a different perspective. Maybe you’ve made a discovery early on that others missed and might find value in. You could be entrenched in it in a way that others have not been. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, let’s all be honest, and maybe if some of that is shared in the introductory phase and less emphasis is placed on a title that no one really understands, then we can all continue to learn from those who have something new to offer. So as I type all of this a new word comes to mind. How about “practitioner?”

So, the question I posted on twitter was this:

What’s of more value? A “strategist” or a “practitioner?”

Here are some of the responses:
@ChristineTatum: Depends on what you need. It’s tough to value “practitioners” who have no vision or smart sense of priorities.
And then it’s tough to value “strategists” who don’t know how to put all of their great ideas into action. I just think people’s specific strengths should be respected. Many times, strategists and practitioners aren’t the same.

@feste1: a practicing strategist? srsly–strategist when talking with execs, practitioner when talking with operational ppl.

@beckiparkhurst: re: strategist or practitioner, I think it depends on the goal to determine the value.

@HappyAbout: Typically a “practitioner” is more valuable than a “strategist), but it does depend on the task.

@brandingdavid: I had a chat with a friend about that, and practitioners are what companies want. They don’t want ideas, they want actions! I think in 2009, the words companies will avoid when hiring include: planner, strategist, organizer, etc…They’ll want action people. Specialists that can take their needs and solve them, not just give them a plan to solve them.

And then. Collen responded to my comment on her blogpost with this:

@angela everything you’ve said is dead on… I agree someone with a new perspective can be totally useful, but I still don’t want to see a new perspective calling themselves an expert.

So what do you think? Strategist or practitioner? And just how long do you have to be in practice to call yourself an expert or strategist?

Be sure to post your twitter name at the end of your comment.

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In the midst of Seattle’s biggest snowstorm in a decade, and what she called “an incredibly sleep-deprived week,” Tracy Record, editor and co-publisher of West Seattle Blog was somehow able to carve time to answer a few questions so that you, the readers of this blog could benefit from her knowledge.

I’ve long been a fan of West Seattle Blog and asked Tracy a few weeks back via twitter if she wouldn’t mind a little Q&A about her passion. (She’s both @westseattlenews and @westseattleblog)

Lucky for me, she didn’t mind at all. Here she shares her thoughts on everything from why her blog isn’t really a blog to why it takes a 24/7 commitment to succeed.

Angela: What made you start a neighborhood blog?

Tracy Record: It’s not a neighborhood blog. West Seattle Blog is a commercial, journalist-run neighborhood-news service. “Blog” is just a publishing format; it wouldn’t be in our name except for the fact that three years ago, we started the site as a more classic “blog”-format site, with personal opinion and observations. And “Blog” isn’t even our only format – we also send out content via Twitter, Facebook, Blip, and are always watching for any other way that a fair amount of people are starting to procure news/information.

Angela: Why do you think it’s so popular?

Tracy: We are providing accurate, reliable, timely (often real-time), thorough neighborhood news and information 24/7, as well as facilitating community discussion of what’s happening, and thousands of people in West Seattle clearly are interested in that. We also keep our opinion out of it as much as possible – and our personalities – the site’s not about us; it’s about
West Seattle.

Angela: Is the local media threatened by your existence?

Tracy Record: Again, a matter of words – we ARE part of the media. Credentialed, even.
But if you mean is the “conventional media” threatened, kind of mixed. There is a weekly newspaper that has served this community capably for 85 years but has been very slow to do much on the Web. Its former editor had said he considered our site “competition.” He lost his job recently in what the newspaper-owning family called a cost-savings move … days later
he contacted us, and so far we have run one well-received editorial he wrote (and we are paying him, of course, as we do for all freelance assignments). But the citywide media doesn’t quite seem to know what to think – they deal with us in a variety of ways, from suggesting
partnerships to requesting story leads.

Angela: How difficult is it to build community around a blog, where everyone invested has their physical community in common?

Tracy: Funny thing is that we didn’t TRY to build community, though now that we have it, we spend time making sure that the community has what it needs (on a tech level too, such as adding forum features that members request). It naturally grew around the neighborhood coverage we offered that could not be found anywhere else. Our greatest evidence of that has come in the week-plus snow/ice semi-crisis that has gripped our neighborhood and much
of the rest of the region — the comment sections of our weather posts have turned into incredible neighbor-helping-neighbor discussions with people sharing information on everything from whether the bus is running to where to buy/borrow a snow shovel.

Angela: How long does it take to create a substantial online community?

Tracy: If you start out with a vision, which we didn’t, it can be done within a half-year or so, as Cory Bergman has shown with MyBallard.com in another Seattle neighborhood, launching it in late 2007 and gaining decent traction by summer. He is one of the few others around here that is operating an editorially overseen, journalist-run site, as opposed to multiple contributors who can publish directly to a site.

Angela: Why haven’t news organizations figured out how to own hyperlocal?

Tracy: The question for some is really, SHOULD they? I think that newspapers, which even with their much-lamented cuts still have comparatively HUGE content staffs – I spent most of my old-media career in TV news, where you might have a dozen reporters/editorial managers spread across seven days and three dayparts, while big dailies still have dozens – should focus on context and perspective. Until and unless we add more staff, I can’t do that in a major way, though we do longer-form articles and enterprised stories/features when we can, and look for alternate ways of offering context and empowering people to find it themselves. Aside from that, some companies still think all they have to do is aggregate their content that mentions or targets a given neighborhood and voila! it’s “hyperlocal.” Doesn’t work. There’s no “there” there, and if ever you need a “there,” it’s when covering a “here.” You need a trusted guide, a sense of
neighborhood, even if that person/team (like us) doesn’t give opinions.

Angela: You’ve gotten lots of mainstream press. Was that unexpected?

Tracy: To some degree, yes – but we don’t kid ourselves that it’s because we’re brilliant or innovative – it’s mostly because unlike many neighborhood-news site operators (so far – certainly this will change), we are doing this as a business, and making a living. And we’re pretty hardcore about it, with the 24/7 commitment and a high volume of production, which some find fascinating – I was always the workaholic type anyway, so there was no question of doing anything less.

Angela: Do you have a five year or even 10 year plan or do you pretty much go with the flow.

Tracy: Given that even two years ago I couldn’t have foreseen this becoming a business, a 5-year plan is hard to imagine but when asked this recently, I said it’s pretty simple … we would like to have a few employees, both editorial and sales, to do a better job of covering the community and a better job of working with local businesses.

(…To be continued)

In my next post, find out how West Seattle Blog got its very first advertiser and just how long it took to make it happen. Also, Tracy’s entrepreneurial advice for laid-off journalists and what she’d do differently if starting West Seattle blog today.

If you don’t want to miss it, be sure to Subscribe to this blog, Online Community Strategist, and Get the blog delivered to your inbox.

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It’s been a great year for me. I fell in love with blogging my heart out and have met some amazing people through this blog and and various other social media platforms. Not to mention the fact that I just landed a publishing contract!

At any rate, if you’ve just found my blog in the last week or even the last month, here is a list of the blogs that garnered the most interest this year. Enjoy!

Here are some of my top posts from 2008:

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What if credit card companies have been holding meetings behind closed doors for the last 6 months developing strategies to utilize social media platforms to collect more debts?

What if during the first quarter of next year you start seeing bill collectors posting on Facebook walls and sending tweets reminding you that your credit card is over-the-limit, or that you haven’t paid your bill in three months?

What if they’ve comprised a database of customers and assigned account specialists to find these customers on the web and verify that they are indeed the culprit?

Perhaps they were able to verify this by birthday. Your birthday is likely on Facebook, right?
Perhaps they verified identities based on geography. Your home state is more than likely listed on your numerous profiles, right?
Or maybe they verified the information based on job history, which is easily accessible via your LinkedIn profile, right?

What if they create a Facebook Group called Bill Collectors United or Catching Deadbeats Inc. Maybe they’ll have a Friend Feed room where they all get together and work the feeds to see what they can find about people.

Maybe they’ll find your blog and start leaving comments asking for payment. Perhaps those endless phone calls will turn into endless tweets that are sent out every hour on the hour. What if they decide to use your twitter alias to create a searchable stream of potentially embarrassing and damaging pleas for payment?

Would it be up to our beloved social media platforms to protect us and block these people from ruining our carefully crafted and hard earned reputations? What if they first infiltrate your network and blast all of this information to your friends?

Could we sue them for defamation of character perhaps? Maybe defamation of a twitter alias or Facebook wall? Defamation of a Friendfeed? How about spreading erroneous information via social media? Obstruction of social media justice?

With all of this information so readily available and posted voluntarily, we could be providing a gateway for this kind of thing to happen.

What do you think? Is something like this on the horizon?

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It started off with this DM from BryanPerson on November 23rd:
@Bryan: Really enjoying your blog, Angela. Any chance for a phone call this week to say hello and introduce myself?
Me: Yes! Call me at work! 919.821.8545

During this introductory phone call, Bryan and I discussed a myriad of topics. He told me all about LiveWorld and how much he loves his work and also about the social media breakfasts he’s initiated in several states.
Among other things, I told him that I’m writing a book and I’ve been shopping my proposal around in search of agents.  We laughed a bit, shared a few war stories and doled out some mutual admiration. We also spoke of working together some day on an idea that we are certain will materialize.

Well before we hung up, Bryan told me about an agent/publisher he once spoke with about a project that he’s since tabled and promised to search his email archives and send me his name. As promised, he sent me the contact info for Mitchell Levy.

Here’s what happened next:

  • I followed up and sent a query and proposal.
  • Mitchell wanted more and I obliged.
  • He sent an email a few days later asking me to call him.
  • We spoke on the phone.
  • I shared my vision and he liked it. We discussed strategy.
  • We exchanged a few additional emails.
  • He said he wanted to work with me.
  • He sent me a publishing contract.
  • I’m sending it back in a few days.

Yep, I’ll be a published author in 2009. And all because Bryan Person makes a point to reach out to people and introduce himself once he’s established a relationship with them online.

That is the power of a social network!

If you want to follow my journey, please subscribe to this blog and follow @communitygirl on twitter.  I will share a lot about the process and would love to have you along for the ride.

Thanks Bryan!

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I often share my thoughts on this blog and in the comments area of other blogs about the importance of large corporations taking the time to interact beyond their own communities and reaching out to smaller niche communities where conversations about their brands are also taking place.
Yesterday I decided to perform a little test to see if I could facilitate that reaction.
I placed a call to Walmart corporate and followed up with this email at 3:20pm:

Hello. My name is Angela Connor. I manage WRAL.com’s online community GOLO.com and recently spoke to Ashley Hardee in media relations who suggested that I use this email address.
It is not uncommon for our community of more than 10,000 members to share their experiences and there have been several instances where
Walmart has come up.
In one particular blog, which was posted today, the blogger is discussing poor customer service at one of your photo studios and will likely have great influence on other members with this account.
You can find the blog here.
It sounds to me as though there may have been a scheduling mix-up that caused the problem and I think if someone from your organization got involved in the conversation or issued a statement that I can post, it might serve you well.
I am sure it is not your practice to engage in all of the conversations taking place on the web, but this may be a good place to start.
Please let me know if I can help in any way. I do hope to hear from you.
Regards,
Angela Connor

I received this response just 30 minutes later, at 3:50pm:

Good afternoon, Angela. Thanks for the e-mail.
Obviously, the experience detailed on your site isn’t one that meets our expectations. That said, the PictureMe Portrait studios are an independent business which leases space from Walmart in many of our stores (much like a McDonald’s or Subway do from the convenience dining aspect of our store experience). Your inquiry would be better directed to PictureMe, which is a subsidiary of St. Louis-based CPI Corp. (cpicorp.com).
I don’t have any contact info for their press office and it wasn’t readily available at their website, but I did find a name and number attached to one of their investor relations news releases:
Jane Nelson, CPI Corp.,
+1-314-231-1575
Hope this helps!
Thanks!
Dan Fogleman, Sr. Manager, Media Relations

I then posted a blog in the community titled: A response from Walmart sharing the e-mail response from Walmart.

It was greatly appreciated and now the community sees me as even more of an advocate for them, and appreciates the time I took to send it. I sent Walmart a link to that blog so they could see the feedback from the community but I also indicated that there was no need to respond a second time.

I think we’re on their radar.

I will do this more often, and I think you should too.

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There is a school of thought and many blog posts out there about the idea of one master profile that merges our professional and personal profiles in one place. It will essentially be you all wrapped up in one hefty online package.

While many feel as though they can be separate, others see that view as naïve.

I once held that view, but it was misguided.

That became apparent a while back. As the Facebook friend requests rolled in, I was seeing my cousins, the wife of my husband’s former boss, colleagues from two moons ago, my boss, his boss, my former bosses, my work acquaintances, ex-boyfriends from high school and even a former nemesis or two. Talk about a wild mixture. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s happening on almost every platform I use.

So, as I began to combine applications and import feeds from other social media platforms I started to think that those people who know me personally will have no interest in my professional blog, my live tweets from various conferences or what I’m experiencing in the workplace and that is largely what I discuss and share. For me, professional is about 75% and personal may be 25%.

So while I did fret over it a bit at first now I realize that it’s up to them to filter my content based on their level of interest, not the other way around. That’s my stance and I’m sticking to it.

When I asked the question out in the twitterverse, I received the following replies: The question, again, is:

Can professional and personal social media strategies successfully coexist?

@akenn: “Isn’t that what personal brand is all about?”

@techherding: “I have yet to find it to be soe.”

@marcapitman: “I’m finding a personal/professional split to feel more & more artificial. Are you?”

@tkpleslie: I think they can. I do it so far but always announce if something I tweet is for or about a client.

Based on that answer, I asked @tpkleslie if she used twitter for more personal than professional use.

Her response: “I use a little more for personal, but about even.”

What are your thoughts? Is this an imaginary split? I am feeling more and more like it exists only in the mind.

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2009 will be the year of community convergence, according to Tracy Record.

Tracy is the editor and co-publisher (along with her husband Patrick Sand who focuses on sales and community relations) of West Seattle Blog, a very successful hyperlocal neighborhood blog that has gotten major press.

Tracy sent me that little gem about community convergence via twitter and I hope she’s right.

She also predicts that the evolvement of online communities will involve finding and adopting ways for conversations to continue across sites and services seamlessly.

Laura Norvig who focuses on social networking for non-profits says with more and more people gaining comfort with the tools, participation will widen, conversation will expand and we’ll see more points of view.

A self-proclaimed “chatterbox” known on twitter as Beta_Boy and evangelist for Current TV warns that user interaction will happen on and off your site. He says that RSS Widgets, iPhone apps, podcasts, and the like will all spread your content to a new audience who will then engage with you.

Those are the three predictions promised in the headline. Now, here are my thoughts:

I’ve long said this and truly believe that the conversations taking place in online communities can equate to a gold mine for the right marketers with the right attitude and willingness to invest time in an online community.

While I do understand the concept of scale, it seems that at some point, a targeted approach that can achieve success on a micro-level would be better than one on a macro-level that produces nothing? I’m no advertiser, but that alludes to the common sense factor in my mind.

It is my sincere hope that someone out there agrees with me, and will ultimately follow suit and make big, providing a model for the naysayers and non-believers.

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Have you given any thought to the prospect of losing your job next year?
How about next week, or even tomorrow?
What is your plan of attack should this be your fate?

I don’t mean to bring you down or create an unnecessary panic. But think about it for a minute.
You’re reading this blog so you do spend some time reading blogs and it’s highly likely that you also spend time interacting on social media sites.

You likely have a twitter account, a blog of your own, a Facebook account and may very well have a FriendFeed account. You’re probably on LinkedIn as well.

That’s all good. It really is.
Now answer this: Do you think it will help you find a job?
Do you use any of the platforms in a way that will help you find a job?
Do you follow successful entrepreneurs who can influence you to bring your “A” game and provide tips on starting your own business or collaborating with like-minded people?

If you answered no to any of those questions, make a few changes over the next week or so that will allow you to answer yes to them all.

2009 is going to be tough.
Let’s get ahead of the problem and be prepared.

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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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