Tag Archives: community management

#ijf11: Are paywalls incompatible with community engagement?

A member of the audience in this morning’s online community engagement session at #ijf11 asked the panelists this interesting question:

Are paywalls entirely incompatible with community engagement?

The general response from the panel was no, not necessarily. Justin Peters from the Columbia Journalism Review compared community engagement behind the paywall to a private members club:

At a private club, membership is restricted, so there are less people there, but you could say that they feel more connected to each other and to the club. The quality of the interactions and ties that are forged are stronger.

But, Peters added, “the bet is, does anyone want to join the club? Is it sustainable?”

Ed Walker, online communities editor at Media Wales, (pictured left) referred to Joanna Geary’s keynote speech at Journalism.co.uk’s most recent news:rewired conference, in which the Times’ communities editor talked up the value of having a smaller number of readers that the publisher knows more about, and who engage with the content in a more valuable way.

With Media Wales, Walker said that “it is better to have two really well informed comments than twenty that just say something like “I agree”.

How to approach comments formed the heart of the discussion during the session, with panelists addressing how publishers can drive comments on more complex or long-form content and whether good comments should be promoted somehow.

Walker said that the problem with users commenting on certain stories and not others was to do with confidence. He said that Media Wales had tried to address the issue by encouraging users to use recommend buttons as well as commenting.

We turned to recommend buttons, because people don’t have the confidence to comment on the large investigations or complicated stories. And when you look at the stories that have been recommended, compared with those that have comments, they are often very different.

Walker also described how Media Wales often take the best comments and publish them in the next days newspaper, often alongside a related article, as a way of encouraging print readers to become more involved online.

In terms of publishers attempting to promote and reward good quality comments, the Huffington Post’s Josh Young said that the site encouraged its quality commenters by offering badges for a history of good contributions, but he stressed that it was essential for news sites not to shut out comment threads that became off-topic conversations.

Its great that people are talking on your website instead of in their living room, you should be proud of that. If you can restructure, rearchitect your site so that poeple can have conversations like they have in cafes and in their living rooms, you have really succeeded.

Young added that the Huffington Post had experimented with two ways of promoting quality comments on the site:

You can absolutely find ways to elevate the most enlightened comments. At the Huffington Post we had two ways of doing this, one was an editorial way in which the writers indicated which comments were good, then readers would get a little badge that indicated they had a history of good comments in politics, for example.

The other way was a machine learning engine. We took a thousand comments and entered looked for statistical tendencies about what makes a great comment and what doesn’t. It doesn’t work perfectly but it works beetter and better as we continue to improve it.

Paola Bonomo, head of online services at Vodafone Italia, said that she thought that using technology to improve the quality of comments was a good thing, but echoed that a balance was needed between rewarding quality comments and heavy moderation, which just discourages people across the board, she said.

Ed Walker took part in a similar session at Journalism.co.uk most recent news:rewired conference. You can see video from the session here: news:rewired video: Building an online community from scratch

See the full agenda for Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming news:rewired at this link.

Engagement, technology, and strawberry ice cream: Paul Bradshaw’s inaugural lecture

Is ice cream strawberry?

That’s a thinker, as they say. Translated, the enigmatic title of Paul Bradshaw’s inaugural lecture as professor of online journalism at London’s City University begins to make more sense:

Asking ‘is ice cream strawberry’ is like asking ‘is blogging journalism’?

And asking ‘is blogging journalism’, he said, is just like asking: Is writing journalism? Is printing journalism? Is broadcasting journalism?

History is littered with those who have confronted new ways of doing things with apprehension and mistrust. I’m sure there was more than a little consternation when News International staff arrived at Wapping to find computer terminals everywhere. Likewise the telephone, telegraph, and so on. Bradshaw was keen to get across last night that it isn’t the tools and technologies that really matter, they are all just different flavours of the same thing.

But new tools and technologies aren’t merely incidental, they don’t just come and go without having an impact on the way we do things. They have a pretty profound impact on the way some things are done and that can’t be ignored. For example: technology has brought about the much-discussed opening up of journalism into a kind of two-way street.

Some young, “digital native” journalists swagger down this two-way street, happy to meet and greet people as they go, making conversation, listening to others, and so on. And there are undoubtedly old Fleet Street hacks who have taken to it like a duck to water. But there are undoubtedly those, young and old, who are afraid to stray into that part of town.

Two examples:

Example 1

Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones published a piece recently on that cropped photo of the 7/7 bombers.

It received some pretty critical responses in the comments boxes below.

And in the spirit (perhaps formative, misguided in this case) of the new, web 2.0 world, Jones engaged with his readers:

Example 2 (from Bradshaw’s lecture)

In my first class here at City a student asked why they should waste time engaging with people online. I rather testily replied ‘Why publish your work at all? Why bother dealing with editors and subs and your colleagues? Why bother talking to sources and experts? Why not keep your precious piece of journalism locked away in your basement where it will never be sullied by the dirty gaze of other people? If you don’t want to engage with people, write fiction. (My emphasis).

Picking up on Jones’ comments, Fleet Street Blues advised: “The best advice? Don’t read the comments, ever.” But Bradshaw’s retort to his student, neatly summed up by that soundbite of a last sentence, points to the fallacy in the Fleet Street Blues’ stance. Pushing out content and walking away isn’t going to be an option for much longer, and throwing a very public tantrum isn’t a forward-thinking alternative.

There is a pragmatic and structural dimension to this whole argument, many journalists would pretty quickly tell you it is a fanciful idea that they have time to engage with readers, tweeters and commenters and large organisations may prefer to have their audience engagement dealt with by people who are trained, and aren’t going to suddenly demand a fucking apology and some respect.

Some news organisations are nearer the head of the curve, taking on dedicated community managers to engage with readers and guide reporters in doing the same, or taking steps to address how they manage communities of anonymous commenters. Some undoubtedly have a way to go.

Despite the attitude of that particular student of Bradshaw’s, perhaps there is a new generation of journalists coming through now, familiar with the technology and attitudes, for whom this stuff will be second nature.

Bradshaw advised his audience last night: “Don’t perpetuate the myth that technology causes things to happen. People do.”

I’m sure that technologies – which have a habit of turning out to be great at things they weren’t intended to do and influencing thinking and attitudes with their own unexpected capacities – have a more active role in “causing things to happen” than Bradshaw makes out. But however you see the balance, development will continue in the direction of opening platforms up and increasing communication between journalists and readers in all sorts of ways.

So if you’re not up for it, you’d better hope you have a novel in you.

Image of strawberry ice cream by joyosity. Some rights reserved

Lost Remote: Media brands stand to benefit from new Facebook features

Media brands stand to benefit from some of the new features being rolled out by Facebook, according to Lost Remote.

One of the most important new features is the ability for page administrators to post comments as the corresponding page brand (in our case, “Lost Remote”), not just as themselves. This certainly comes in handy when moderating a comment string and sharing the admin duties across several people. You’re communicating as a brand, not as a bunch of unrelated people. To avoid dehumanizing pages entirely, admins are displayed in the upper right of the page, which is a nice touch.

Full post on Lost Remote at this link.

Sky News forums: what went wrong?

Suw Charman-Anderson looks at what went wrong with Sky News’ forums, which were shuttered last month. A thoughtful post on community management more generally:

If Sky News have not been paying full attention to their community, then they only have themselves to blame when things go south. You can’t just leave people to it. As human beings we are used to living within constraints, and the idea that the web is a place where they are not needed is a myth. Communities need limits, and those limits need to be communicated, discussed and thoughtfully enforced.

Full post at this link…