"World Domination Via Collaboration" panel. The presenters were: Jory Des Jardins Co-Founder, BlogHer LLC; Betsy Aoki Program Mgr, Microsoft; Jessica Hardwick Founder and CEO, SwapThing; Lisa Stone Co-Founder and Pres of Operations and Evangelism, BlogHer LLC; and Jenna Woodul Co-founder, LiveWorldThe SXSW conference has multiple panels going on at the same time. I started my SXSW experience by attending the
Jory Des Jardins opened the panel by stating that in 'web 1.0', community was a "nice to have". In 'web 2.0' the new reality is that community is "the business". The panel then jumped in, focusing back and forth between two topics:
(1) Tactics and policies to build a community organically, and
(2) How to convince other individuals in your organization to actually spend time and resources developing a community.
Build a Community Organically
The panel discussed two keys to build a community organically. First of all, you need to understand the members and ask them what they want. Second, you need to make sure you protect the community from spammers and trolls.
When discussing how you would understand a community, there were a number of tactics discussed. First of all, the panel pointed out the obvious - that you should greet your members and simply ask them. While obvious, it is amazing how many web services overlook doing this. As an example, the panel pointed to the greetings that early Flickr users received (interesting explanation here).
In addition to these tactics, Jenna strongly recommended that sites consider forming advisory boards. She pointed to the 'eBay voices' as a good example of this advisory board structure. However, she also emphasized the importance of rotating membership of this group. You don't want it to stay stuck with the 'old-timers'.
In terms of protecting a community from spammers and trolls, there was an interesting question posed by a member of the audience: "Is anonymous commenting the cryptonite of an online community?" While everyone agreed that at a minimum, you needed to allow people to create online personas that might appear annonymous to the community (i.e. not their real name), there was some disagreement around whether you should allow completely anonymous commenting. BlogHer does not allow people to comment with out first creating an account. This is so they can block individuals who repeatedly add comments that end up later needing to be moderated; or as Lisa said, they "are building BlogHer not BlogPorn".
Interestingly, Betsy talked about how she allows anonymous commenting, because if people want to take the time to write a comment on her blog (even if it is rude or errant), she wants to react to it. (She does block spam). Betsy also pointed to the Slashdot 'Anonymous Coward' as an interesting example. It shows that the community respects people who comment publicly more, but they are open to taking feedback even from anonymous individuals. She explained that while it has added some work monitoring flame wars in her role at MSFT, she did feel it added value to the Slashdot community. Unfortunately, as this topic was heating up the panel ended - but it was an interesting thing for community builders to consider regarding their own sites.
Convincing an Organization to Build a Community
Previous to starting BlogHer, Lisa was a consultant who helped a number of organizations embrace community. She consistently followed a 2 step process on these projects. First, she would monitor and circulate conversations occurring online, in real time, about the organization. Then she would transition to getting her internal champions (regardless of level) to start blogging in order to champion the concept.
Betsy pointed out that the employee blogging program at Microsoft skipped the first step, but was entirely 'grass roots'. A number of 'feisty people' felt it was important to blog and made it happen. She runs the internal email distribution list and said that they're even more feisty on that list! As senior managers became aware of the blogging, it was discovered that Microsoft had no formal policy around their employees blogging. Note: Microsoft has decided to continue operating without a blogging policy.
Jenna talked about her experience helping large corporations (like BMW and Dove) create community. She explained that at the end of the day her argument comes down to the ROI of customers who are engaged in community versus those who are not. She pointed to an eBay Case Study by Harvard Business Review (link here) that showed participants in an eBay community purchase 56% more and listed 4 times as many items.
This was an excellent first panel of the show. While I wasn't necessarily surprised by what was said, the examples like eBay, Flickr and stories from the front lines at Microsoft were fascinating. I'm sure the community at Read/Write Web has a number of other good examples of community building. Please consider leaving these in the comments below.