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Let’s be honest.

Many online communities are filled with people who are not who they claim to be. Charlatans, masters of disguise, self-proclaimed trolls and would-be stalkers can hide behind a cloak of anonymity, never to be revealed.

But on the flip side, there are also people who hide nothing. They are comfortable in their skin offline and online. They’re honest, readily share their opinions, enjoy a good debate and make friends along the way. In other words, they’re genuine. They’re real.

Having managed the online community, GOLO since its inception, I have come to know a whole lot of people. They have connected with me as I have with them, eventhough I have no idea “who” they really are.

One member showed up at the station unannounced last December and brought me three Christmas CD’s. Another sent me a box of vegetables from her garden a few months back. I’ve also received cards and lunch invitations and even access to coveted company perks, none of which I’ve accepted, of course. I also get a slew of hate mail, but that’s par for the course.

Most recently, I received a card in the mail adorned with an image of the confederate flag. I heard about it before it ever reached my office. Our in-house mail deliverer informed me last week that he’d seen a piece of mail addressed to me with the name “Old Rebel” on it and that I should be careful.

The woman who brought it to my office gave me an equally concerned look when she handed it to me, and I in turn sat it down on my desk thinking “Not today.”

When I finally decided to open it, fearing the worst, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a thank-you card. The sender had recently received a mousepad from me in the mail, and he wanted to acknowledge it.

I’d recently asked ten users for their home address so I could reward them for being “top posters” on the site and he was one of them.

He simply wanted to say “thank you.”

So what’s the lesson here? The lesson is that I too am learning things about people and that even I can judge their intentions base on my preconceived notions.

The confederate flag is a symbol of the south to him. And I know from his posts and image galleries that he loves the area and will likely live here until he draws his final breath.

As a black woman from the north, it means and has always meant something different to me.

But I can’t help but understand that he was sharing who he really is, and meant me no harm. It’s quite the opposite. His sincerity was apparent.

So what did I do? I went directly to his profile page, posted a hearty thank-you of my own, and told him that he had made my day.

Am I now a fan of this flag? No. But I just may reevaluate its significance to some and do a little research of my own.

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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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One of the most important aspects of my job as Managing Editor of GOLO.com is cultivating a relationship with users. I’ve learned that it’s only as tough as you make it and that you can connect with people online in many ways. Often it’s just by sharing a blurb about your own life or even asking a simple question about theirs.

In an effort to grow our new GROUPS feature, I’ve created several groups that I am pouring content into on a daily basis. One group is geared toward teachers and the other focuses on Brides-to-be. Good idea, right given the fact that there will never be a shortage of either?

Well, just last week I wrote several simple blogs posing simple questions, but questions I knew everyone would want to chime in on. Here are a two examples:

The results were great, and by reading all of the comments, I was able to come up with slew of new ideas.

So my advice is this: When it comes to connecting with users, don’t “over-think it.”
Start a conversation, and sit back and watch it grow. Consider the community a huge group of your friends, and act accordingly.

Managing user-generated content can be tough, and weeding through it looking for the best can be a daunting task. But maybe that’s not your issue. Maybe it’s integration and getting the traditionalists to get on board. Do tell. What’s your biggest issue?

My name is Angela Connor. I live and breathe online communities. I am currently nurturing the online community, GOLO which I have managed since it’s launch on July 2, 2007. I am a journalist and I am intrigued by the changes that my industry is undergoing. It has been evolving since I entered it, and that’s what makes it fun.  Join me as I chronicle this journey and do my best to help others along the way. There is nothing traditional about traditional media.

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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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