Tom points out the difference between an audience and a community, citing Adam Tinworth‘s argument that “audiences read, communities engage and therefore need managing”. However, this definition is not without its flaws, and it was within the same discussion as Tinworth’s comment that Guardian community management guru Meg Pickard announced: “Sometimes participating is just about showing up”.These statements are somewhat contradictory and show the problematic nature of defining what makes an active community, even before we begin to consider how we are to manage them.
It goes without saying that different people use the internet for different things. The same goes for online communities. Each member has their own self-prescribed role within the community, and surely the role of a spectator is as valid as any other. Even if this position is merely a transient one, in the sense that a newcomer to the community may find it more comfortable to sit and watch before becoming more ‘involved’, this is still a valuable asset to the community or group.
To dismiss the audience, or readers if we’re talking in old-school terms, in favour of a more active, out-spoken community, is a dangerous move for any community manager. One prime example of this reared its head last week when the Hackney Gazette posted this article on a councillor who made a flippant remark on her Facebook site about a local pub, which was more than a little one-sided in it’s condemnation. Cue a significant amount of complaints to the Gazette regarding their ‘irresponsible’ journalism, causing the paper to post this well-disguised apology article. This is a textbook example of how news outlets disregard their audiences, and the rebuttal/recognition of the readers’ power goes to show how those in the driving seat must mould their content to interplay effectively with the community surrounding it.
So although a more active online collective is better in terms of propagating a community, the passive reader or audience member must not be ignored, as from within these silent masses another aspect of the community could rise at any moment.