Community management in journalism and beyond…

Adam Tinworth is Editorial Development Manager for Reed Business Information and his Twitter profile describes him as “Journalist, blogger, good egg”. He blogs here…

Adam Tinworth

How do you define community management?

It’s the skill of facilitating discussion and sharing between a group of people, to help them develop the relationships that create a community.

What role do you feel it plays in journalism today both in print and online?

In print, we called them letters or readers editors. But there’s not much interaction inherent in print, so they didn’t play a big role until the advent of the Internet. Now, community management involves making sure that the interactions on the website go well, and meet the needs of the community. It involves reaching out to members of the community on other sites, if that’s where they’re interacting, and making sure that the community’s concerns are reflected in the print product, too.

We call our community managers “community editors”. That reflects the fact that, while they’re the community management specialists, every journalist has some responsibility for it. But this is nothing news – we just used to call I working the beat, or maintaining contacts. The only difference is that “the beat” can also publish now, and often choose to. That changes the dynamic.

In a lecture at City you said that “Audiences read, communities engage and therefore need managing” – how can a community manager get those readers to engage?

They can’t. They can encourage, facilitate and provide space where people will engage, but there’s no guarantee that they will. We have magazines that see very little community engagement, because of either the legal environment around the industry, or the personality types involved. And we have other markets where we can barely shut them up.

There are some basics you can do: welcome new members to a community, replay to what interaction there is, ask open-ended questions, and ensure a virtuous feedback loop with the published material, but none of these are guarantees.

What you shouldn’t do is post intentionally provocative material just to get engagement. You’re far more likely to get smash and grab hostility than any genuine community building.

Which newspapers engage with their communities best and how do they do it?

I think The Guardian and The Telegraph do a good job right now, but you’d be better asking Meg Pickard and others for their secrets…

How can start-up websites and/or blogs cultivate a community of followers that is more than just getting their friends to read what they write?

Write “open”. We tend to write closed journalistic pieces which neatly loop from opening statement, through argument, to conclusion. That doesn’t leave room for debate.

Be aware of the existing blogs and communities in their space. Link to them. Interact with them. Community isn’t just to do with people on your site, i’s also about the interaction between people who publish their own sites, be they a huge publishing business or a small hobbyist blog. Linking is the lifeblood of community growth. Ignoring the people who have already shown an affinity for online interaction is just dumb.

And actual reply to your community. How would you feel if someone you went up to and spoke to the pub just ignored you? That’s how journalists who ignore comments on their articles make their readers feel.

Which tools and platforms are most useful and important when it comes to community management within journalism?

All the obvious ones: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (in some cases). Blogs, forums, etc. It’s more important to figure out where the community already are and how they interact than to focus on platforms.

You recently did a short post on your blog about the fact people don’t regard community managers as journalists – How important are they in journalism of today and what does the future hold for a community manager?

It’s worth noting that not all community managers are journalists, but I believe that community managers that work full-time in a journalistic enterprise, and who do their work with journalistic intent are just as worthy of the appellation “journalist” as anyone else.

I think they’re increasingly vital – people are coming to expect to be able to interact with and around any content published on the Internet, and you have two choices: have that happen elsewhere, and ignore it; or facilitate and benefit from it.

Also, I think community managers have a huge role to play in bringing those virtual communities together offline – events businesses are one of the revenue models that will help support journalism.

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