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It is so easy to read through your favorite blog posts and chime in with a cursory comment such as: “Spot on,” “great post,” “I agree with you 100%” and “Me too.”

The same goes for online communities and forums.  While I enjoy reading the actual posts, sometimes the best content is in the comments. It’s the different perspectives and point-of-view that add value while also introducing you to people you may not have otherwise come in contact with.

I can recall a time when I was a very active commenter on my favorite blogs. It comes in waves now based on my workload but I always strive to post something of value. So whenever you see one of my comments, you better believe that I thought about my words before posting them and felt like I had something worth adding.

As a community manager, you come to value comments in a way that is indescribable. I’m sure that bloggers feel that way too. But when you are charged with growing a community, you truly associate the comment with the person’s time. You see the direct correlation because you are painfully aware of the fact that there  are so many choices online and you’re grateful that for that moment, you were one of their choices.

Comments yield opportunities  

Another reason to be smart about your comments is that you never know who is reading. I’ve gotten great opportunities from comments. It’s nice to get an email from someone indicating that they read your comment on  a post and they’d like to interview you for a story or connect with you in some other way. It happens all the time, so you’re actually helping yourself when you do this.

Posting thoughtful comments isn’t hard to do, but it’s much easier when you care about the topic or feel some sort of emotion as a result of what you just read. But even if that emotion is lacking, you can still add quality to the conversation beyond “Spot on” and the others mentioned above.

If you want to get started on improving the quality of your comments, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Post a different perspective with no intention of starting a fight
  • Explain why you agree with the author
  • Always post more than one sentence
  • Quote exactly what you liked and add a bit about why it struck you
  • Encourage the author to write more and tell them what you’d like to see discussed next
  • Offer new ideas

I recognize that some of these tips may be painfully obvious, but if they really were, I think we’d see many more thoughtful comments. And if you’re on the receiving end of those comments, be sure to express some gratitude and thank people for their time.

Remember, they could be anywhere else on the web, and the fact that they are with you is something you have to learn to appreciate.

The news here for most people is probably that the Museum of Modern Art has launched a free iPhone app, giving users access to it’s huge collection of modern and contemporary art and a slew of other tools. After all, that’s the headline of the organization’s press release and it is big news, especially considering all that it allows users to do. Smart.

But what I find awesome about it is how it encourages user-generated content, and then turns around and rewards the user for their efforts with something tangible, useful and that they will probably find quite intriguing.  Here is the excerpt from the release that I found most exciting:

As a useful companion for visits to the Museum, the MoMA App offers users a chance to snap photos inside the Museum and send them as postcards

I think that’s pretty neat. I do wonder though if there were any internal discussions about that feature potentially stealing revenue from the gift shop where I’m sure they actually *sell* postcards. But it’s good to see that it didn’t hinder this cool feature if it did surface as an issue. We are all using our mobile devices as content generating machines. It’s good to see someone leverage that in a way that’s helpful.

Good job Museum of Modern Art.

Here’s the complete release:

MoMA Launches Free iPhone App on App Store

Access The Museum’s Renowned Collection, Exhibitions, Events, and More Through iPhone and iPod touch

NEW YORK, Aug. 12 /PRNewswire/ — The Museum of Modern Art today announces that the MoMA App is now available on the App Store. The new application for the iPhone and iPod touch provides users with instant access to 32,000 works of art in the Museum’s vast collection of modern and contemporary art; a dictionary of art terms and a database of artist bios; calendar information for exhibitions, film screenings, and events; and a variety of audio tours, including special tours for children, teens, and the visually impaired. As a useful companion for visits to the Museum, the MoMA App offers users a chance to snap photos inside the Museum and send them as postcards, and allows visitors to select tracks from their own music libraries to listen to while touring the Museum. The application’s highly engaging visual interface was designed in-house, and when used with the new iPhone 4G and its high resolution and retina display, artworks can be viewed in the highest possible quality. The MoMA App is available as a free download from the App Store, and follows the spring 2010 release of the Museum’s first e-book app Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night.

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Whenever I create or cull content for my online community, I tend to think long tail. Sure, I capitalize on the news and interests of the day to drive conversation, but oftentimes I do it in such a way that it will bring people back to read the comments even when the subject-matter isn’t as fresh.

For instance, instead of starting a simple blog about the state of the economy, I asked the community: “Are you worried about losing your job?” It’s still going strong and is now up to 146 comments.

When you have an idea or even when you’re perusing content to see how you can bring it all together in a more meaningful way, think long tail. Sometimes it’s simply the way you present it, or the way you phrase your headline. You can’t lose with long-tail content.

Start building your arsenal today!

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Do you belong to an online community? Have you built one? Tell me about it.

Do you hang out on a site for moms, fashion designers, social media fanatics, cooking gurus, brides-to-be or technology geeks? How about DIY types, music lovers or people obsessed with the Andy Griffith show? I’d like to know where to find it.
Have you built an awesome community for dancers or teachers, book lovers or clowns-in training?
Whether you frequent the site or manage it yourself, post it in the comments area below.
Just leave the URL of the site in the comments area, along with any other interesting info about it. It’ll pay off. Trust me on this.

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It’s time to get your holiday ideas in gear.
Make a list of 10 things you can implement during the holiday season and mobilize the efforts of your online community.
Remember, people love to talk about themselves and show off their handy work.
Ask them to upload pictures of the Thanksgiving Turkey. Start a contest for the most creative Christmas tree.
Oh, speaking of Christmas trees, have you ever seen one made of Mountain Dew cans? A member of my online community uploaded this image gallery today.

So, get your holiday ideas in gear. I’ll be back with my 10 ideas in my next post.

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obamaThis is a question I don’t want to ponder, and unfortunately I believe I know the answer. I wish I didn’t but I do. I’ve seen it in full effect since the election of Sen. Barack Obama two days ago and it is truly disheartening.

While we as a county have certainly opted for change and the racial lines seem to be blurring, this change is clearly an atrocity to some who will likely use the web and the “cloak of anonymity” I’ve mentioned many times before, to share their anger and spread their hate.

Among some of the content I’ve dealt with today were comments about black criminals getting off easy now because they will have backing “straight from the top,” watermelon seeds being planted at the White House, appointing “Reverend Ike” as Secretary of the Treasury, and Richard Pryor, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin to other positions in his Cabinet. Not to mention all of the other stereotypical madness that is so easy to deliver via keyboard.

Am I writing this blog while emotional? Yes, and that could be good or bad. You decide. But as the Managing Editor of User-Generated Content at WRAL.com and GOLO.com, it is my job to develop guidelines for how we manage UGC and I deal with a great deal of it. So this is affecting my job. It’s affecting something I believe in.

So yes, I’m emotional but this is my blog and this is where I chose to vent today. So thank you for hearing me out.

Now, I will go home, reapply my thick skin before bed and come in tomorrow to live and work another day. There is no alternative, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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What do you do when you realize user-submissions are getting low, or your community members seem to be slacking in the photo uploading department? What about when the quality of blogs seems to be tanking and decent conversations are nowhere to be found?

You could complain about it, pour over last months stats and simply hope that things will get better, or drown your sorrows in a series of diet cokes or another beverage of your choice while staring at your monitor. Or, you can ramp up and move into overdrive.

As the community manager it is your job to engage users, so engage. Keep in mind that people love to talk about themselves and share their opinions. They also like to tell what they know, so why not ask them to do all three?

I’ll give you the beginning of several questions and you fill in the blanks based on what’s happening in your community, what people are talking about or anything you find interesting.

What’s your favorite ____________?
What do you think of _________?
Have you seen the new movie, _________?
Do you plan to visit __________?
How much money do you spend on _______?

And if it’s photos your after, be specific. The holiday’s are coming so ask for holiday photos.
Draw out the competitive spirit and ask for pictures of holiday decorations. Put on a contest if you want to get things moving quickly and offer a cool prize.

It can be tough when you depend on others to produce content, but if you make it worth their while and make sure they know how much you value the time they take to do it, things begin to look up fast. I’ve already got several ideas in the works and recently put on a contest called “November madness.” Anyone who picks the winners in the federal and state races will win a prize. People love prizes, so give them what they want.
What you’ll soon find is, it will ultimately get you what you want.

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Some alarming news out of Maui this week.

Alarming to me that is.

Anyone who has read this blog on a regular basis or some of the comments I post on various journalism, and social media focused blogs, knows that I am an advocate of user-generated content, particularly allowing comments on news stories.

So, when I learned about the Maui News killing comments all because of, (get this) ABUSE I saw it as a huge loss and felt extremely disappointed. I still am, and it’s days later.

Of course there’s abuse!!! This is the internet, and we all know that the cloak of anonymity can bring out the worst in people. It’s all laid out in detail in this MSNBC.com story.

But abuse can be managed. This is not that difficult. The answer as I’ve said time and time again, is to hire moderators. This can be done and done well, without stifling the conversation. Moderation is not the end of the world. It can be the beginning of a new world where a news site can actually have civil discourse generated by users, connected to their content.

Set guidelines, but be fair. Don’t give up altogether.

Suggesting that internet users opt for sending in letters to the editor as opposed to leaving a real-time comment is pretty, well…old media.

Engage your community. Give them a voice.

But set limits. Make “civil discourse” the goal and define what that means. If you weed out the crap while being fair and consistent, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Just don’t give up.
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If there’s one thing members of your online community want from you, it’s feedback. Positive feedback, or not-so positive feedback, they want to hear from you.

As in most group settings, the squeaky wheels tend to get most of the attention, but if this is where you are focusing your efforts, it’s time to stop. Yes, you have to deal with troublemakers to keep the community in tip-top shape, but you can’t neglect your top posters, continuous content creators and keepers of the community.

If it sounds like a huge task, that’s because it is. It’s an important one too and should be done on a daily basis. It isn’t something you have to spend hours doing, but it’s wise to carve out at least 30 minutes of your day to recognize the members who keep the community afloat, and spend a good portion of their time on your site.

So how can you do this effectively and efficiently? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Comment on blogs or forums and be sure to compliment the author publicly. (“This is a great conversation piece. Good topic.”)
  2. Make a helpful suggestion. This indicates that you value their content. (“Great post. You might want to add a link to your last blog since it’s related.”)
  3. Make a direct request. (Loved the pictures from your garden. When can we expect to see more?”)
  4. Ask a question about their content. (That recipe looks awesome, was it passed down to you?”)
  5. Suggest a blog topic. (I see you’re passionate about drunk driving, you should consider writing a blog.”)
  6. Ask for their opinion based on what you know about them. ( “I’m heading out your way this weekend, any good barbecue spots in Sanford?”)
  7. Encourage communication with other community members. (“Johnny23 is looking for tax advice, aren’t you an accountant? Maybe you can help”)
  8. Make a promise, and keep it. (If you do decide to take more pictures let me know and I’ll highlight them on the home page.”)
  9. Tell them you miss them. (“Haven’t seen you in a while, I hope everything is okay. We miss your humor.”)
  10. Send a personal e-mail.. (Hey, you were one of our top posters last week. Just want you to know how much I appreciate your time. Keep it up!”)

Easy enough? Why not get started today? Pick a number between 10 and 20 and decide to issue that many or more compliments to your users on a daily basis. It will show them you care and that you value their time. It will pay off as they become more loyal and you’ll ultimately see the fruits of your labor.
Do you have any helpful hints on connecting with users? Feel free to share.

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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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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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